Philippine Air Force Technical Group Picks TAI's T129 ATAK as its Future Attack Helicopter

After keeping the information for sometime now, MaxDefense can finally discuss this publicly after it made public by the Philippine Air Force (PAF) itself during a major event this week.

During the founding anniversary of the PAF's 15th Strike Wing last 26 November 2018, no other than the Commanding General of the Philippine Air Force, Lt. Gen. Galileo Kintanar, confirmed in his speech that the Technical Working Group (TWG) handling the PAF's Attack Helicopter Acquisition Project has selected their choice in the form of the Turkish-made T129 ATAK attack helicopter, manufactured by Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI).

Although there was no further mention of the status of the acquisition, MaxDefense believes that the choice by the TWG was already approved by the Senior Leaders of the Philippine Air Force, including the CGPAF himself, and was already submitted to the Department of National Defense (DND) to prepare for the negotiations and actual acquisition process with TAI and the Turkish Ministry of Defensce. It is expected that the project will be a Government-to-Government (G2G) deal between the Philippines and Turkey.

While the PAF TWG and the Senior Leaders selected TAI's T129 ATAK, may we remind our readers that selection of the helicopter only means that this would be pushed to the DND for implementation and preparation for negotiation and acquisition. THE PROJECT IS NOT YET AWARDED, NOR CONTRACT SIGNED WITH TURKISH AEROSPACE INDUSTRIES AS OF YET. Like all other acquisition projects, this would undergo several processes that would determine not only the product's compliance to specs, but also the capability of the manufacturer to deliver the project smoothly and within schedule.


The Technical Working Group for the PAF's Attack Helicopter acquisition project selected the TAI T129 ATAK attack helicopter, and was submitted to DND for implementation.
Credits to original source of the photo.



The PAF's Attack Helicopter Acquisition Project:

Originally the PAF's Attack Helicopter Acquisition Project calls for the acquisition of 24 armed light helicopters that will ultimately replace the existing fleet of ageing McDonnell Douglas (now MD Helicopters) MD-520MG Defender single-engine light armed helicopters that have been in service with the 15th Strike Wing since 1990. The allocated budget for the project was originally at Php11.8 billion in 2016, before it was adjusted at least 2 times, and approved for implementation with a budget of Php13.8 billion in 2017.

The plan was to select a dual-engine armed light helicopter model, similar to the Leonardo AW109E Power armed helicopters that are already in service since 2015. Dual engine was preferred due to its safety features in case one of the engine fails while in flight, an important feature when flying especially over bodies of water. Among those considered were the following dual engine light helicopters:

1. An up-engined variant of the Leonardo AW109 helicopter from Italy, 
2. France's Airbus Helicopters H145M with the HForce weapon system,
3. An armed variant of MD Helicopters MD902 Explorer;
4. Hindustan Aerospace Limited (HAL) Rudra from India,
5. Armed variant of the Bell 429 GlobalRanger


Initially the PAF was looking at acquiring armed light helicopters, with the strongest contenders being a more powerful and armed variant of the Leonardo AW109 helicopter (top) and the Airbus Helicopters H145M (above).
Credits to original sources of the photos used.


Based on information gathered by MaxDefense from sources, in addition to its own research, the leading contenders based on the light helicopter platform were the Leonardo AW109, which benefits from being already in service with the PAF, and the Airbus Helicopters H145M, which is actually the leading choice of the PAF due to its superior performance over the AW109. 

But sometime in 2018, the PAF started to also consider purpose-built attack helicopter models, which are more capable in terms of performance and combat capability, but are also more expensive to acquire than armed light helicopters. 

It is believed that the proposal to acquire real attack helicopters started when the Kingdom of Jordan confirmed its donation of at least 2 used Bell AH-1F Cobra attack helicopters to the Philippines, which MaxDefense was first to report back in August 2017. The mere idea of having attack helicopters, despite old, opened up the PAF's mindset of considering purpose-built attack helicopters aside from just limiting itself to armed light helicopters.

Among those purpose-built attack helicopter models considered by the PAF, based on the press releases, information from MaxDefense source, and interviews during ADAS 2018 and other defense exhibitions include the following:

1. Bell's AH-1Z Viper attack helicopter, apparently the PAF's favourite choice;
2. Boeing AH-64E Apache Guardian attack helicopter;
3. Russian Helicopters Mil Mi-28N Night Hunter, as marketed by Rosoboronexport;
4. Russian Helicopters Mil Mi-35 Hind, as marketed by Rosobornexport;
5. TAI T-129 ATAK attack helicopter;
6. Airbus Helicopters Tiger attack helicopter


The Mil Mi-28N Night Hunter (top) and the Bell AH-1Z Viper (above) were among those considered by the PAF when they decided to also look at purpose-built attack helicopters as options for the project. The AH-1Z was even said to be the favourite of PAF pilots.
Credits to original sources of photos.



In a previous poll started by MaxDefense in its Facebook page, majority of voters believed that the PAF would be better off acquiring purpose-built attack helicopters rather than armed light helicopters. Various reasons were made to support their choices, but MaxDefense believes that the main reason for the PAF to forego acquisition of light helicopters was for them to introduce new and additional capabilities that are not possible with armed light helicopters like the AW109 or H145M.

It was reported that the US offered attack helicopters and F-16 fighter aircraft to the Philippines, as admitted by Pres. Duterte himself. Upon checking with MaxDefense sources from Malacanang and the defense department, it turns out that the US offered the Bell AH-1Z Viper and Boeing AH-64E Apache Guardian, and was packaged with US Foreign Military Financing (FMF) and Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programs. But despite this, the DND and PAF was said to be concerned by the steep price, and the long delivery lead time common with US FMS-implemented projects. 

Apparently it is not Pres. Duterte's rejection of American hardware that made the PAF decide against these helicopters, as the DND and PAF didn't take the president's words seriously, according to a cabinet member that MaxDefense talked to a few months ago.


Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana views the Mil Mi-28N Night Hunter attack helicopter during the Russian Army 2018 defense expo in Russia last August 2018 (top), and visited the booth of TAI during IndoDefence 2018 in November 2018 (above).
Top photo credited to Philippine Ambassador to Russia Carlos King Sorreta's FB page, and above photo to TAI's Twitter account.



The DND and PAF did look at Russia's Mil Mi-28N Night Hunter and Mil Mi-35 Hind attack and assault helicopters, but did not take them seriously due to issues on inter-operability, compatibility, pricing, and requirements. Apparently the Mil Mi-35 Hind is too big and too expensive to operate, while the Mil Mi-28N is also expensive, although cheaper than its American counterparts.Several trips were made by the DND, including Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana himself, and the PAF to Russia to check on the Russian offers.

While the PAF also considered the Airbus Helicopters Tiger, it did not give too much attention due to its reputation of not meeting expectations of users. Apparently the Australian Army did provide feedbacks on the Tiger attack helicopter several years back, and the PAF seems to have remembered them well.

The T129 ATAK is currently Turkey's main attack helicopter operated by the Turkish Army, and is also being actively offered for export by TAI, with Pakistan signing up as its first export market.
Credits to original surce of the photo.



The T129 ATAK Attack Helicopter:

The TAI T-129 ATAK attack helicopter is apparently the second cheapest purpose-built attack helicopter in the PAF's list (the Mil Mi-35 Hind said to be the cheapest to acquire), and appears to be the smallest as well. Even compared to the AH-1Z Viper, it is smaller and lighter by a huge percentage. It was said to be first offered by AgustaWestland to the PAF in 2012, as reported by IHS Jane's, although serious consideration for the type only happened in 2018. While its small size may have reduced its operational range and carrying capacity compared to other attack helicopters, it is also an advantage for the T129 as it allows for a smaller radar cross section, as well as being more difficult to see and target especially by unguided weapons.

It is based on AgustaWestland's A129 Mangusta attack helicopter, which was first in service with the Italian Army in 1990. AgustaWestland provided the technology transfer to Turkish Aerospace Industries using the A129 Mangusta International variant as part of the deal for the Turkish Army to acquire the T129 version as its future attack helicopter. TAI then used locally-made or developed parts, increasing the Turkish content of the T129 compared to the Italian A129 Mangusta.

The Agusta (later on AgustaWestland) A129 Mangusta was the basis for the TAI T129 ATAK, as part of a deal between AgustaWestland and the Turkish government for the selection of the helicopter for acquisition as the future attack helicopter of the Turkish Army.
Credits to original source of the photo.


TAI also improved the design by using upgraded engines, and improved transmission system and rotor. It was also redesigned to allow operations in hot, humid weather as well as cool weather, which is the general Turkish environment in both the European and Middle Eastern side of the country. This would be beneficial for the Philippine Air Force as the local weather is mostly warm and humid. It is yet to be confirmed if the PAF will require its attack helicopters to have saline treatment to protect from the local naval environment of the country.

It can carry a wide variety of weapons, including an M197 triple-barrel 20mm gatling cannon and 2.75" rocket pods and BGM-71 TOW missile, similar to those installed on the AH-1F Cobra helicopters that the PAF is slated to receive. In addition, it can also carry and fire several other types of anti-tank missiles including the American AGM-114 Hellfire, Israeli Spike-ER missile (which the Philippine Navy already uses),  and the Turkish UMTAS missile. It can also fire the Rocketsan Cirit laser-guided rockets, as well as AIM-92 Stinger, MBDA Mistral, and even the AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles for protection against enemy aircraft or helicopters.

The T129 attack helicopter is fully aerobatic, as demonstrated during several air shows where the T129 was being marketed for export.
Credits to original source of the photo.


This is already an advantage compared to the weapons that armed light helicopters carry, considering the budget won't be sufficient enough for the units to arrive with upgrades to fire air-to-surface missiles and other weapons.

Currently only the Turkish Army uses the T129A and T129B variants of the ATAK, although Pakistan was already confirmed as an export market and would be receiving 30 units as part of the deal between the two countries. The T129 has also been used in combat over Syria against Kurdish forces, although at least 1 of Turkey's T129 has confirmed to have been shot down only last February 2018 after being hit by an RPG round.



Project Expectations:

MaxDefense was informed by sources that previous statements made by the DND and PAF, as well as by the president himself that the Attack Helicopter (as well as the Combat Utility Helicopter) acquisition projects are the highest priority projects of the Philippine Air Force under the Horizon 2 phase of the Revised AFP Modernization Program (RAFPMP). This is in line with the national government's campaign to be prepared for any future terrorist attack, as well as to increase its combat capability against the terrorist New People's Army (NPA) and various Islamic terrorist groups.

If all goes well, MaxDefense believes that an award can be made, as well as  a contract can be signed between the DND and TAI (or the Turkish government) by 2019, after passing all requirements. Based on similar projects, it is expected that TAI may be able to deliver the first aircraft only after 2 years from contract signing. MaxDefense also believes that a maximum of only 6 units can be acquired based on the budget allocated by the government for this project, although more units can be lined up for acquisition as part of the Horizon 3 phase between 2023-2028.

Another side of the T129 ATAK attack helicopter during an airshow in France.
Credits to original source of the photo.


While 6 units won't be enough to form a decently sized squadron, it is expected that the 2 AH-1F Cobra helicopters will be used as a training platform for PAF pilots to transition from armed light helicopters to purpose-built attack helicopters, and will join the T129 squadron as well, in case no more used AH-1Fs are acquired from Jordan or any other sources. Apparently the PAF desires to raise at least 2 squadrons of 12 aircraft each, while the ageing MD-520MG Defender would be de-armed and used as a training helicopter.

MaxDefense also expects that the PAF may not initially acquire anti-tank missiles for the helicopters, and may rely more on standard 2.75" rocket pods and gun pods, although the PAF may consider acquiring laser-guided rockets, since they are already determining its viability for use on the AW109E armed light helicopter already in service.

Why MaxDefense Released This Information?

To be honest, MaxDefense believes that releasing this information is quite premature considering the status of the project being in the pre-procurement phase despite the TWG's selection of the T129 attack helicopter. But I believe it is the best time to put this out considering the CGPAF himself made the confirmation in public (although within the PAF and visitors) in addition to the information MaxDefense received from other sources.

Our reason is based on information we got that there is someone with influence and close relations to Pres. Duterte that is undermining the project, by pushing the PAF's TWG as well as the Senior Leaders themselves to cancel the recommendation on the acquisition of TAI's T129 ATAK. And instead, recommend the acquisition of another armed light armed helicopter  being offered by the foreign company represented by this influential official's close friend and associate. MaxDefense would refrain from naming people and the company represented for now. Apparently the local representative if an election contributor to this influential official, who is running for public office next year.

Publishing this blog this early allows the general public to know that there is already a decision made by the PAF's TWG and Senior Leadership, and that any changes in it, or even in the PAF's table of organization, could be because of the illicit practices of these corrupt officials close to the president of using their power and influence to make changes, despite being unqualified or inexperienced to make the decision.

What we saw in the Philippine Navy's Frigate Acquisition Project has become a prime example of what could happen if those in power intervene in the AFP's decision making - even military leaders can fall and projects affected for the sake of personal interests by a few. And it is not impossible for it to happen again, this time with the Philippine Air Force.

We hope that the PAF's TWG and Senior Leadership would be strong enough to resist any interference from government officials, or stand for what they believe is the right product to go for.



So What's Next:

At the moment, all we can do is wait until the PAF and DND iron out things, and start the negotiations and acquisition process with their Turkish counterparts and with TAI. Until a contract is signed, there are still many things that could happen that may result to changes in the acquisition plan, or even to the cancellation of the project. Until then, all information in this blog entry are still subject to changes although are all based on the latest information from our sources, as well as from the Philippine Air Force itself as explained earlier in the blog entry.

MaxDefense would monitor developments in this project, whatever happens to the TWG's decision.


Summary:

1. Attack Helicopter acquisition project


End User: Philippine Air Force (15th Strike Wing)
Modernization Phase: RAFPMP Horizon 2
ABC: Php13,800,000,000.00
SARO Release: to be updated
Status as of this writing: proposed to DND for negotiation and procurement
Winning Proponent: None yet, still in pre-procurement phase
Contract Price: not yet awarded.

Comments

Popular Posts