First two T129B ATAK helicopters arrive in the Philippines

T129B ATAK helicopters

Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) has delivered two of six T129B ATAK helicopters ordered by the Philippine Air Force (PAF), the service announced via its social media channel on 9 March.

The PAF said the two new helicopters arrived at Clark Air Base along with associated logistical and support equipment aboard two Turkish Air Force Airbus A400M transport aircraft. The remaining aircraft will be delivered in batches of two between 2022 and 2023.

The service expects to put the new helicopters through acceptance testing and pilot orientation before formally inducting the aircraft, although no timelines were provided.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana earlier announced that the Department of National Defense (DND) had earmarked around US$286.6 million for the attack helicopter programme and noted that the new helicopters will enhance the rotary-wing combat capabilities of the PAF, which currently uses the MD 520MG and AW109E Power helicopters to support ground and counter-insurgency operations.

The PAF’s technical working group had selected the tandem-seat, twin-engine T129B platform – originally produced under license from AgustaWestland (now Leonardo) and based on the A129 Mangusta – for its attack helicopter programme as far as late 2018, the acquisition process had been delayed for years due to export restrictions on the US-made LHTEC CTS800-4A engines.

However, Turkish Aerospace officials told media in May 2021 that the US State Department had cleared the sale of the engines and that production of the PAF helicopters could proceed.

In April 2020, the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) announced that the Philippines was cleared to acquire six of the Bell AH-1Z Viper or Boeing AH-64E Apache attack helicopters – including engines, weapons, parts, and training – worth a total of US$1.95 billion, although the country would only select one of the two offered platforms.

Local defence observers have noted that the high unit and operational costs of the US-made helicopters meant that the only realistic choice had always been the A129B.

by JR