Philippines gets Turkish-made choppers with eyes on greater cooperation
The first Turkish-made attack helicopters were officially delivered to the Philippine Air Force (PAF) on Wednesday, as the two countries continue talks that could pave the way for new defense deals, Trend reports citing Daily Sabah.
Two T129 Tactical Reconnaissance and Attack Helicopters (ATAK) arrived in the Philippines last month and were subject to a technical inspection and flight tests.
They were delivered to the PAF in a ceremony on Wednesday marking their acceptance for service to the PAF.
Philippines had ordered six helicopters designed and developed by Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) in 2020, in a deal that is said to be worth approximately $280 million. The Philippines is the first country abroad to use the ATAK.
An Airbus C-295 tactical transport aircraft also entered the air force's inventory at the event at Col. Jesus Villamor Air Base, attended by Philippines Defense Minister Delfin Negrillo Lorenzana, head of Turkish Presidency of Defense Industries (SSB) Ismail Demir, Turkey’s Ambassador to Manila Artemiz Sümer, TAI CEO Temel Kotil and many other officials and executives.
Addressing the ceremony, Lorenzana said it was a “great day” for the Philippine Air Force.
Emphasizing that the ATAK helicopter is a first for the Philippines, Lorenzana said that they have restructured their fleet in this area.
“I am very happy that the dream of the Philippine Air Force has come true, but we still have a long way to go to fully equip our home,” he noted, stating that the Turkish-made chopper will support the Philippines’ fight against terrorism.
For his part, SSB’s Demir said with the defense industry cooperation memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed between the presidency and the Ministry of Defense of the Philippines, cooperation in this field has reached the interstate level. The MoU was signed between the two countries in 2017 in Istanbul.
Demir said the two countries were in talks on several other projects, in addition to ATAK.
“Within the framework of the state-to-state agreement, we have made a fundamental move to improve our relations in the defense industry. Our various companies have some ongoing work here. As a result of those works, other products may hopefully come into play after ATAK,” Demir was cited as saying by Anadolu Agency (AA).
“We have created a framework to develop and strengthen defense industry cooperation on the basis of friendship and common interest,” Demir added.
He stressed that Turkish defense industry companies become global players with their proven systems and products.
TAI’s Kotil said they would complete the delivery of all six helicopters within 2022, and also noted there were additional demands from the Philippines.
“These are being discussed, and we have offers. Maybe we won’t sign (an agreement) here, but hopefully, we will sign it in the coming days,” he said.
As part of the second package of ATAK helicopters, a draft price offer is said to have been conveyed to the Philippines and negotiations have started.
Turkish defense industry companies have so far exported multiple defense products to the Philippines, including armored vehicles, ammunition, light arms and night vision binoculars.
The sale of the T129 helicopters had been delayed due to the export license barrier but the process gained momentum after the United States greenlighted the export of the choppers, powered by an American engine, in May.
Stressing the high interest, Kotil said they are still waiting for the export license from the U.S. to export the helicopters to Pakistan.
Pakistan in 2018 agreed to buy 30 T129 choppers, powered by engines made by LHTEC, a joint venture of British Rolls Royce and Honeywell, a U.S. company.
Foreign companies are obligated to obtain export permits for U.S. military-grade commercial sales.
Some linked the long-lasting limbo with the U.S. over the export license to Turkey’s acquiring the Russian-made S-400 air defense system, a major driver of tensions between Ankara and Washington over recent years.
TAI’s engine manufacturing subsidiary, TUSAS Engine Industries (TEI), embarked on a project to develop a domestic engine for ATAK, the turboshaft TEI-TS1400, which will also power the country’s first indigenous T625 multirole helicopter named Gokbey.
When mass-produced, it will equip the T129 helicopters in the inventory of the Turkish security forces.
The T129 ATAK is a next-generation, tandem, two-seat and twin-engine helicopter specifically designed for attack and reconnaissance.
The TAI has so far delivered around 76 helicopters, including their upgraded versions, to the Turkish Land Forces Command, the Gendarmerie General Command and the General Directorate of Security. This figure will reach 83 by the end of the year, Kotil said.
He said ATAK is a helicopter that “will sell a lot, it is the best in the world in its class, its engine is very powerful, it has new avionics and weapons systems.”