The Pakistani government and Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) have signed a contract for the sale of 30 T129 multirole attack helicopters for service in the Pakistan Army Aviation Corps (PAAC) last month, according to a political manifesto that Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) released on May 24.
The manifesto states that “a very short while ago a contract for the sale of 30 attack helicopters was signed with Pakistan,” without elaborating on details. It is unclear when the first helicopter gunships will be delivered to Pakistan, which are intended to replace the PAACs aging fleet of AH-1F Cobra helicopter gunships in the coming years.
The T129, a twin-engine, tandem seat, multi-role, attack helicopter, is a Turkish-built variant of the Italian A129 Mangusta first introduced into service with the Turkish Army in 2014. According to the manufacturer, the gunship has been specifically designed for high-altitude operations in a hot environment and rough terrain.
The T129 is an all-weather helicopter gunship capable of conducting attack, armed reconnaissance, precision-strike and deep strike missions at day and night.
The helicopter is armed with a 20mm turreted gun, up to 76 70mm unguided rockets, 16 70mm laser-guided air-to-surface missiles, and eight UMTAS long range air-to-surface anti-tank missiles (or alternatively AGM-114 Hellfire missiles), in addition to up to eight air-to-air missiles (AIM-92 Stinger, Mistral or AIM-9 Sidewinder).
PAAC has been conducting extensive trials with the T129 since 2016. Additionally, the Pakistani military has been testing three of China’s Changhe Aircraft Industries Corporation (CAIC) Z-10 Thunderbolt attack helicopters as a possible replacement for the AH-16Fs. At the end, the T129 prevailed over the Z-10. China’s equivalent to the U.S. AH-64 Apache has so far failed to attract an international customer.
As I reported previously, one of the reasons for the lack of export success of the Z-10 could be the helicopter’s two under-powered WZ-9 turboshaft engines, which has been preventing the Z-10 from carrying its maximum payload during military operations. (PAAC deployed Z-10 helicopters during counterinsurgency operations since 2014.)
Islamabad has been going on a helicopter shopping spree of late. In April 2015, the U.S. State Department approved the sale of 15 AH-1Z Vipers, missiles, and communications equipment at an estimated cost of $952 million to Pakistan. PAAC is also in the process of inducting four Mi-35M attack helicopters ordered from Russia in 2015. Pakistan and Russia signed the $153 million helicopter deal during then-Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif’s visit to Russia in June 2016.
Overall, PAAC is interested in procuring up to 20 Mi-35M attack helicopters.