The Pakistani military confirmed on Wednesday that a $1.5 billion deal to buy 30 attack helicopters from Turkey had been abandoned.
Major General Babar Iftikhar, director general of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the military’s PR wing, spoke about the attack helicopter deal during a press conference on Wednesday.
Responding to a question, Iftikhar said, “As far as the Turkish deal is concerned, we have moved on”. He confirmed Pakistan was in negotiations with China for attack helicopters, noting “hopefully, we will be getting some gunships [from them]”.
In 2018, Pakistan agreed to buy 30 T-129 'ATAK' helicopters made by Turkish Aerospace Industries. The T-129 is an upgraded version of the Italian-designed A-129 helicopter. The T-129 has a gun and can fire rockets and missiles. The Pakistani deal was the first export contract for the T-129. The T-129 uses engines made by LHTEC, a joint venture of Rolls Royce and Honeywell, a US company. The Donald Trump administration had declined to give LHTEC export clearance for selling the engines to Pakistan.
The US refusal to allow export of the LHTEC engines had been linked to the spat over Turkey's purchase of the Russian S-400 missile system.
Turkey had made considerable efforts to persuade Washington to change its mind. In December 2020, media reports claimed the Turkish government had hired Capitol Counsel, a lobbying firm, to aid in efforts to obtain export clearances for the LHTEC engines.
The Turkish government had also embarked on a project to develop an indigenous engine for the T-129, but this was unlikely to be ready before 2025, according to reports.
Pakistan had given extensions to Turkey to fulfil the contract.
The T-129 was selected by Pakistan to replace its aging fleet of US AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters. In 2015, Pakistan sought the purchase of 15 AH-1Z 'Viper' attack helicopters from Bell Helicopters, a US firm, at an estimated cost of $952 million. However, the transfer of the AH-1Z fleet to Pakistan was embargoed in June 2018 after the Donald Trump administration announced a freeze on military aid to Islamabad.
Since 2020, there have been reports, Pakistan could consider the Z-10ME, an upgraded version of the Chinese Z-10 helicopter. Compared with earlier model Z-10s, the Z-10ME is equipped with upgraded engines, sensors and self-defence equipment.
Interestingly, Pakistan had conducted trials of both the T-129 and earlier model Z-10s in 2015-2016. Reports suggested the Chinese helicopter had under-performing engines, which minimised its effectiveness in carrying a maximum load of weapons in operations in high-altitude areas.