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Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Is Italy's Leonardo involved in engine supply for T129B Attack Helicopters for the Philippine Air Force?


Previous posts we made confirmed that the Department of National Defense (DND) already released the Notice of Award (NOA) for the Philippine Air Force's Attack Helicopter Acquisition Project in favor of Turkey's Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI), and has signed the contract with TAI a few months ago.

This was after TAI, which offered its T129B ATAK attack helicopter, was selected by the PAF for the project, and the DND's Bids and Awards Committee finding TAI and the T129B ATAK meeting all requirements it submitted as part of the tender.

The TAI T129B ATAK attack helicopter, which is contracted for delivery to the Philippine Air Force. Photo credited to Reddit.

But due to issues surrounding Turkey's ability to have a steady supply of US-made engines, specifically the LHTEC CTS800 turboshaft engines, due to Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) being potentially imposed on Turkey, the DND delayed the project's contract signing with TAI. And even when the contract was signed, the DND held the release of the Notice to Proceed (NTP) for sometime.

CAATSA Against Turkey:

According to MaxDefense's military, defense and industry sources, as well as sources from the US, all confirmed that Turkey was indeed affected by the declining relations with the US, and has failed to get the export license for the supply of LHTEC CTS800 turboshaft engines powering the T129B ATAK attack helicopters.

The LHTEC CTS800 turboshaft engine, the main issue of TAI's problems to supply the T129 attack helicopter to the Philippines. Photo credited to Honeywell Aerospace.

The ban, which was said to have been set in early 2020, jeopardized TAI's export of the T129B ATAK, in addition to its existing contract to supply 30 units to the Pakistani Army, and a potential to sealing a deal with the Philippines DND to supply 6 units plus follow-on orders for the Philippine Air Force.

Without the engines, it would be impossible for Turkey to close its deals, and secure further export orders in the global market.

Further information shares to us by American sources confirmed that in early 2020, the DND was urged to talk to the US Embassy and to Joint US Military Advisory Group - Philippines (JUSMAG Philippines) to confirm the US government's export license rejection. But for some reason, the DND did not make an official enquiry, which could  have allowed the US government to provide a formal reply and explain the situation to the DND.

Turkey's insistence to procure the Russian S-400 long range air defense system (above), plus its activities in Syria and Armenia may have contributed to the rejection of export license of the LHTEC engines. Photo credits to Popular Mechanics.

The Waiting Game:

Between the time the NOA for the PAF's Attack Helicopter Acquisition Project was released to TAI up until mid 2020, the DND was said to be in continuous talks with TAI and the Turkish government regarding the issue of the helicopter engines and avionics availability, despite a contract already signed between the 2 parties.

Before the contract was signed between the DND and TAI, the PAF was getting ready for a possible cancellation of the NOA with TAI, and it made a re-evaluation of the project which resulted to the selection of an American-made helicopter as a possible replacement to the T129B ATAK.

Among those reconsidered were the Bell AH-1Z Viper (top) and the Sikorsky S-70i Armed Black Hawk (above). Photos credits to Flight Global and Defense News.

For some reason, the DND decided to continue negotiations with TAI, despite the growing list of reasons for the US government to reject its export of the LHTEC engines to Turkey, and even further imposing more sanctions against Turkey. Apparently, Turkey gave a guarantee to the DND that they can supply the helicopters with the complete engines and avionics, which was the reason why the DND continued with signing a contract with TAI.

A few months ago, we received confirmation from DND sources that Turkey negotiated with the DND on the Notice to Proceed (NTP). Apparently, TAI was pushing for the release of the Notice to Proceed (NTP) to be put on-hold. This is to allow TAI enough time to secure the LHTEC engines, and delay the start of production of the helicopters and the delivery date as this would be based on the date the NTP was released by TAI.

This is unfair to the Philippine side, since Turkey securing the LHTEC engines may take years considering its poor situation with the US government. If TAI never get to secure the engines, it means they are not liable for late deliveries should the Philippines agree to such arrangements.

Use of Turkish Engines Not an Option:

Despite Turkey developing a new indigenous turbine engine to power locally-made helicopters like the T129 ATAK and the T625 Gokbey helicopters, Turkey itself confirmed that development and testing of the engines are still ongoing, and it will take a few years for the engine to reach serial production, most likely by 2024 at earliest.

MaxDefense also mentioned before that testing, type certification of the T129 powered by the new engine, and other processes will take years, and it would be too late for the PAF and DND if it waiting for the local engine to be used on the T129 attack helicopter.

Even within the PAF and DND, it appears that the use of unproven Turkish engines are out of the question, as a major subsystem like an engine will need to meet the Philippines' legal government procurement and AFP modernization acquisition requirements that requires it to be a proven product.

The PAF being made as a guinea pig is definitely not acceptable.

The TEI TS1400 turboshaft engine from Turkey is still far from production, and is still an unproven product even by then. Photo credits to Defense Turkey Magazine.

Turkey Provides Guarantee to Supply Complete Helicopter:

Recenty, our sources confirmed that the DND has recently released the 15% initial payment for the Attack Helicopter Acquisition Project, which means that the DND already has released the NTP for the project. Thus, it means that TAI is now legally liable for the delivery of the helicopters for the PAF.

This also means that the DND has accepted the guarantee from TAI and the Turkish government that they can supply the T129B ATAK attack helicopters with the needed engines and avionics, and provide support, spares and logistics needs for the aircraft.

So how did Turkey get a secure source of LHTEC engines for the Philippine T129Bs?

According to our sources, the engines would be supplied through TAI's Italian partner on the T129 program, defense conglomerate Leonardo.

The A129 Mangusta attack helicopter, which is the basis of the T129 ATAK attack helicopter. This example is with the Italian Army. Photo credits to

For those who are unfamiliar, the T129 ATAK was actually based on the Agusta A129 Mangusta (Mongoose), which is now a legacy product of Leonardo. The T129 is essentially an A129 helicopter but was modernized and improved by TAI, while using a large percentage of Turkish subsystems and parts, and integration with Turkish-developed munitions. The A129 uses the less powerful and older Rolls Royce Gem 2-1004D engines.

Also, Leonardo has good experience with the LHTEC CTS800 turbine engine as it also powers the AgustaWestland AW159 Wildcat naval helicopters. And to make things better for TAI, Leonardo is supporting the CTS800 engines found on the AW159 Wildcat helicopters of the Philippine Navy.

Leonardo has partners in the Philippines that can do the engine installations on the T129B ATAK on behalf of TAI. Photo credited to Scramble Magazine.

Potential Arrangements:

So, with Leonardo in charge of engine supply, it means that TAI will still be in charge of supplying the complete helicopters being the main contractor for the project. But the process might be different in this case.

It is highly possible that TAI will start building the helicopters, and will receive the engines from Leonardo. But while the helicopters might be completed in Turkey, there is also a chance that the helicopters might be delivered to the Philippines without the engines, and that the engines will be installed, integrated and tested in the Philippines.

If that happens, Leonardo might be doing the engine integration on behalf of TAI since Leonardo already has partners in the Philippines who can do the engine installation and integration works.

If such arrangement happens, the flight tests would also be done in the Philippines, and so is the pre-delivery inspection and acceptance by the DND and PAF's Technical Inspection and Acceptance Committee (TIAC) and Project Management Team (PMT).

Risks and Potential Problems:

MaxDefense Philippines believes that while this is possible, this could be a risky undertaking by both TAI and the DND, since Leonardo may encounter problems of its own in obtaining the LHTEC engines, especially if the US government takes notice of the arrangement. It is very obvious that TAI is using Leonardo as a proxy, and the US government may still impose export license restrictions.

Should Leonardo fail to get the engines, it means delays in the Attack Helicopter Acquisition Project, since time spent on dealing with TAI would be worthless, and getting back the payment could be a sore legal issue that could take time to settle.

Also, should TAI be successful in delivering the T129B attack helicopters completely in any arrangement, there is still the risk of TAI possibly failing to provide proper support for the helicopters especially with regards to the engines and select avionics affected by the US export ban.

In foresight, even if TAI succeeds in delivering the 6 T129B attack helicopters to the PAF, there is also a chance that it could encounter issues in the future if the PAF decides to do a follow-on order, considering the situation between Turkey and the US remains tense even with a new leadership in the US government under President-elect Joe Biden in power by 2021.

Alternatively, the DND could have just gone with better options rather than take a risk that could be detrimental to Philippine interests and security plans.

Project Summary:

Attack Helicopter (Horizon 2)Acquisition Project:

Note: Edited as of 23 December 2020.

* End User: Philippine Air Force (15th Strike Wing)

Quantity: 6 units

* Modernization Phase:
 Horizon 2 Phase of RAFPMP

* Project ABC:

Acquisition Mode: Government-to-Government deal with Turkish Ministry of Defense.

* Source of Funding: GAA Funds through AFP Modernization Program Trust Fund, to be paid via Multi-Year Obligation Authority (MYOA) process.

* SARO Release/s: 

* Winning Proponent: Turkish Aerospace Industries

Product for Delivery: starting late 2021, complete by 2022.

* Contract Price: TBA

* First post by MaxDefense: TBA

* MaxDefense Searching Hashtag: #PAFAHAcquisition #PAFAHPhase2Acquisition

* Status: TWG selected TAI T129 ATAK as basis for the Attack Helicopter project in 2018. Despite re-evaluation made in 2019 after Turkey had problems obtaining US and EU-sourced subsystems, NOA awarded to Turkish Aerospace Industries although PAF is looking at alternatives to the T129. Contract signed with TAI in 3rd quarter 2020, NTP and initial funding released as of November 2020.

The T129B ATAK attack helicopter. Photo credits to HeliHub.

First release: 23 December 2020
Copyright MaxDefense Philippines


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