Within the course of the past week, there have been renewed indications that the Philippines could be moving towards finalizing a deal with Turkey as the preferred option for a longtime need for combat utility helicopters. These indications have once again spotlighted both the developing relationship between the two countries on the defense side as well as Manila’s ongoing efforts to boost its limited military capabilities.
Over the past few years, Turkey and the Philippines have been looking to develop ties in the defense realm due to convergent interests. Ankara has been exploring opportunities in Asian markets as it looks for newer markets beyond the challenging business environment in the Middle East, while Manila continues to look for sources as it develops its military capabilities which lag some of its neighbors. Beyond the usual components such as visits, exchanges, and port calls, both sides have begun working out and pursuing collaborative endeavors on the defense side, with a notable one on defense equipment being the sale of armored vehicles starting in 2010.
That has continued on into 2018. For instance, when Philippine trade and industry minister, Ramon Lopez, was on a visit to Turkey in February, the defense aspect of ties got a focus, with Lopez reinforcing the fact that Manila viewed the development of this realm of the relationship within the context of Philippine military modernization and both sides inking a memorandum of understanding to facilitate wider economic cooperation that also included some defense areas too.
One of the potential areas for collaboration that has been in focus in recent months has been helicopters. Following the cancellation of an earlier deal where the Philippines would buy combat utility helicopters from Canada – a procurement valued at around $230 million featuring between 12 and 16 helicopters – Manila this year had been considering a range of options that included Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) T129 ATAK multirole combat helicopters.
Last week, renewed indications surfaced that the Philippines had identified the T129 as being the option to go with. While no formal announcement has been made as such, Commanding General of the PAF Galileo Kintanar reportedly disclosed that the T129 was the technical working group’s preferred option, and that the PAF had now passed the recommendation to procure the T129 to the DND which will engage with TAI on a potential acquisition.
Assuming those steps are taken, the endpoint is expected to be a government to government deal between the Philippines and Turkey for the helicopters. While specifics remain unclear, that would no doubt represent a landmark deal for the defense relationship between the two countries, where defense equipment transfers and sales have been discussed but have yet to manifest themselves in concrete, significant deals.
To be sure, at this point, Philippine officials have made clear that no final decision has been made at this point, and a number of steps will still need to be taken by both sides before anything is actually realized. Nonetheless, given the significance of a potential deal, it will continue to be one that is closely watched in the coming weeks and months.