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A high-level delegation from the Pakistan Army, led by the Army Chief of Staff, was expected to visit Ankara during Paris Air Show 2017. It led to the Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) leadership, including TAI Chairman and CEO, Temel Kotil, returning home. TAI’s new boss visited Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) Kamra in late May to see the facilities there, and was suitably impressed. He told MONS in Paris: “I was very impressed with their capabilities and I’m sure we can do much work together in the future.”

Pakistan’s interest in TAI’s T129 ATAK Tactical Reconnaissance and Attack Helicopter continues to grow following the completion of the technical evaluation. As part of that procedure, TAI’s T129, P6, which is in the static display at the airshow spent 10 days undergoing hot and high evaluation trials in Pakistan during late May 2015. It saw the ATAK operating in temperatures of 52° C and was flown by a Pakistani Army Aviation pilot alongside a TAI test pilot. During the trials in the Hindu Kush in the Himalaya mountains, the T129 ATAK flew over 14,000ft. A source said, “the helicopter is the best fit for all the Pakistan Army’s requirements.”

Contract discussions are believed to be now underway for 30 T129s, with a deal expected to be announced in late 2017 or early 2018. If it happens you can expect it to be big news at next year’s Farnborough International Air Show, the source continued, adding, “we could make deliveries in a very short time period.”

The Pakistan Army currently flies a mix of AH-1F/S COBRAs based at Multan, that forward deploy to several forward operating bases/forward operating locations. They have been heavily involved in Pakistan’s war with militants in the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) and have been known to fly up to 15,000 feet.

That’s well above their maximum height restrictions, but due to the threat of SAMs in the high mountainous area, it’s a must. One Army pilot MONS spoke to two years ago said the helicopter ‘creaks and makes strange noises’ at that height, but what option do we have?’

Soon they may several options, because in addition to the T129 ATAK, the Pakistan Army has also ordered 12 Bell AH-1Z VIPERs. Bell Helicopter revealed at Paris Air Show that the first three helicopters ordered in 2015 under a FMS deal are expected to be delivered by the end of the year. A Bell spokesman at Paris told the author that the first is due to fly imminently, and training of Pakistan Army crews and maintenance personnel is underway.

They will join four Mi-35Ps believed to be on order and three Chinese built Z-10s which have been based at Multan since 2015, although there has been strong speculation that the latter are not currently flying. The fear of sanctions, means that Pakistan often spreads its bet by acquiring platforms from different nations, however much of a logistical headache that maybe!

Alan Warnes

 

TAI’s T129 test aircraft, P6 is on show at Paris and was the example tested in Himalayas. (Photo: Alan Warnes)

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