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Attack Helicopter (Horizon 2) Acquisition Project of the Philippine Air Force


To improve its combat capability especially ground support and strike missions, the Philippine Air Force (PAF) has embarked on the acquisition of Attack Helicopters for their premier attack unit, the 15th Strike Wing.

Currently the PAF has a shrinking fleet of MD Helicopters MD-520MG Defender light armed helicopters, which are now nearing the end of their service life, and replacements are needed. An earlier attempt to replace them with the AgustaWestland AW-109E Power light armed helicopters has proven to be insufficient, and the PAF has decided to go for purpose-built attack helicopters, despite being more expensive to acquire.


The TAI T129 ATAK attack helicopter, originally selected by the PAF and DND until supply issues and CAATSA sanctions that may arise due to Turkey's feud with NATO and the US forced DND and PAF to cancel negotiations.

Overview:
The PAF has always been looking at acquiring purpose-built attack helicopters since the 1970s. All attempts have been unsuccessful due to lack of funding and support from the government.

Originally the project was meant to follow-on with the earlier acquisition of eight (8) AgustaWestland (now Leonardo) AW-109E Power light armed helicopters, which are now being utilized by the PAF as "attack helicopters" despite their limited capabilities.

The PAF has embarked on the Attack Helicopter Acquisition Project under the Horizon 2 phase of the Revised AFP Modernization Program, with an original plan to acquire 24 light armed helicopters to equip 2 squadrons of the 15th Strike Wing: the 18th and 19th Attack Squadrons which currently utilize the ageing fleet of MD Helicopters MD-520MG Defender light armed helicopters.

The MD-520MG are small, easy to maintain and operate, and simple helicopters that have been in service with the PAF since the early 1990s when the Philippine government acquired more than 30 brand new units from the US government under a Foreign Military Sales (FMS) deal.

The quantity ordered was large enough to fill 2 squadrons, and retire older air assets.


In 2016, it was decided that the PAF would need to eventually replace the MD-520MG Defender fleet, which have now shrunk to less than 20 units in total after several units were written-off after accidents, or where cannibalized for spares and never returned to service.

The plan was to purchase 24 light, twin engine armed helicopters which can carry a variety of weapons including rocket and gun pods, and can be alternatively used for other missions including search & rescue (SAR) and utility.


A budget of Php13,800,000,000.00 was allocated under the Horizon 2 phase for the fulfilment of the project, with several helicopter models considered for evaluation. The final shortlist included the following helicopters:

* the AgustaWestland AW-109LUH, which is an improved version of the PAF's existing AW-109E, with more powerful engines and better avionics.
* the Airbus Helicopters H145M, which is said to be the best in its class 


Everything changed on the project, when the PAF re-evaluated its capabilities and performance during the Battle of Marawi in 2017 against ISIS-inspired terrorists. It found out that the MD-520MG Defender and the newer AW-109E Power armed helicopters did not have sufficient firepower.

This further complicated the decision making when in 2017, the Philippine government received confirmation from the Jordanian government that they would be handing-over two (2) used Bell AH-1S Cobra attack helicopters, with options for more subject to the decision of the Jordanian government.

This means that the PAF would be getting purpose-built attack helicopters, despite being old, which would improve the firepower delivery capability of the PAF during internal security operations.

The project changed its direction, and instead of acquiring higher quantity of light armed helicopters, it is now interested on getting purpose-built attack helicopters even in smaller quantities.

Several attack helicopters were considered during the evaluation process, with models coming in from the US, Russia, France, Turkey. In the end, the shortlisted helicopters are the following:

* the TAI T129 ATAK attack helicopter from Turkey, which is the cheapest Western model in the evaluation. It uses Western subsystems and munitions, as well as Turkish-developed munitions.
* the Bell AH-1Z Viper, said to be the favorite among PAF pilots due to its capabilities and its ability to be readily deployable to ships,
* the Boeing AH-64E Apache Guardian, said to be the best attack helicopter in the world although it is also among the most expensive.

In the end, the PAF's Technical Working Group (TWG) selected the TAI T129 ATAK due to it being more affordable than its American competitors. MaxDefense sources confirmed that TAI was able to offer 6 units for the PAF's budget, compared to just 5 AH-1Z Viper helicopters from Bell, and around 4 units of Boeing AH-64E from Boeing.


Turkey also promised to provide soft loans to allow the acquisition of more units, and limited technology transfer to allow the repair and maintenance of the helicopter in the Philippines. 


Project Summary:

Attack Helicopter (Horizon 2)Acquisition Project:

Note: Edited as of 02 March 2020.

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

Quantity: no specific quantity, cost dependent


* Modernization Phase:
 Horizon 2 Phase of RAFPMP


* Project ABC:
 Php13,800,000,000.00


Acquisition Mode: Government-to-Government deal, originally 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: 
TBA


* Winning Proponent: TBA

Product for Delivery: TBA


* Contract Price: TBA


* First post by MaxDefense: TBA

* MaxDefense Searching Hashtag: #PAFAHAcquisition

* 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, PAF and DND remained committed to T129, although MaxDefense sources confirmed that further delays could make PAF and DND decide to shift to other shortlisted models by mid 2020.

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U P D A T E S:
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28 November 2018:
MaxDefense has released a blog entry discussing the selection of the TAI T129 ATAK attack helicopter by the PAF's Technical Working Group, as well as some background on the project.

It was also noted that a certain individual / group close to Pres. Duterte is undermining the project, in favor of one of the contenders of the project that failed to reach shortlisting.


The blog entry can be accessed on the link provided below:

"Philippine Air Force Technical Group Picks TAI's T129 ATAK as its Future Attack Helicopter" - first posted on 28 November 2018

The T129 ATAK during an airshow in France. Photo credits to original source.
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18 December 2018:
The Philippines and Turkey signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Defense Industry Cooperation that will focus of Government-to-Government (G2G) acquisition and production and technical cooperation on defense industry development.


You can see in the video that the Turkish official gave a model of a TAI T129 ATAK attack helicopter, which was passed also by Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana to PAF Commanding General Lt.Gen. Galileo Gerard Kintanar.




CNN Turk picked up an important detail from Turkish Defense Industry President Ismail Demir. He mentioned that the budget of the Philippine Air Force allows for the acquisition of less than 10 units, but there is also an option to allow for the acquisition of more than 10 units.

Below is an English translation of an except from the report:

"Demir also gave information on the point where the negotiations with the Philippines and Atak came. "Option is more important for us. The first number isn't too big, just a little under 10. There's an option above 10. " he used the expression."

Also, it can be noted that Turkey intends to expand it's offerings to include land, air and sea assets other than the T129 and all other previous deals made with Turkish defense companies like FNSS, Aselsan and MKEK. Another excerpt translated to English:


"Currently, many projects are being created and sales of pistols and ammunition have been carried out in the past, as well as night vision binoculars and sales have been carried out and marine vehicles such as Atak helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles, MILGEM and boats are on the agenda. Although the helicopter is prominent, the issue is not only Atak, but also air, sea platforms, tanks on land platforms, mid-range tanks, modernization of armored vehicles, shooting platforms, etc. These issues are important in the agenda. Our training planes, unmanned aerial vehicles, general purpose helicopters, will have the opportunity to talk all of them broadly. "

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29 June 2019:

MaxDefense released a blog entry discussing the delays in the Attack Helicopter Acquisition Project due to negotiations between Turkey and the Philippines for the TAI T129 ATAK attack helicopter falling through. 


CAATSA has been a contributing factor for this, and the Philippines has become an indirect victim due to Turkey's feud with NATO and the US government over their decisions and dealings with Russia.

More information can be found on the new blog entry, which can be accessed through our main website page, or through the link provided below:

"Purchase of T129 ATAK Falls Through, What's Next for the Attack Helicopter project of PAF?" - first posted 29 June 2019.


The T129 ATAK attack helicopter. Credits to original source of the photo.

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20 July 2019:

The Philippine Ambassador to Turkey Amb. Raul Fernandez visited Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) and was showed the T129 ATAK attack helicopter.

This is despite no movement happening on acquiring the helicopter despite being selected for the Philippine Air Force's Attack Helicopter acquisition project under the Horizon 2 phase.

MaxDefense previously reported that the plan to purchase the T129 ATAK has hit a roadblock due to Turkey's issues with the US due to their acquisition of Russia's S-400 Triumf long range air defense system.

Based on info we received, the PAF and DND are hesitant in pushing through with the deal for T129 since it would become a potential problem should the US decide to push through with sanctions against Turkey.


This is the reason why the Attack Helicopter has not pushed through, and was not even among those announced by PAF chief Lt. Gen. Rozano Briguez during the PAF's anniversary. And now MaxDefense was informed that the PAF is studying their options again if they will continue pursuing a purpose built attack helicopter, or go for a battle taxi.

The Philippine delegation in TAI's facility in Turkey. Photo taken from DFA website.
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01 September 2019:
MaxDefense released a blog entry discussing updates on the project. And considering that after a lot of delays in the awarding of the Attack Helicopter Acquisition Project to Turkey's TAI was halted by the DND due to issues on US export license issues, the DND has finally made a selection based on the Philippine Air Force and DND's re-evaluation of everything on the table.

They decided to stick to TAI's offer despite all the problems. One thing is certain, something "practically dead" could even come back especially if changes in the overall situation has happened.


"After delays, the DND finally selects the Philippine Air Force's next Attack Helicopter" - first posted on 31 August 2019.

Some of the helicopters evaluated by the PAF for the Attack Helicopter project as an alternative to the T129 ATAK. Clockwise from top right: Sikorsky S-70i Battlehawk, TAI T129 ATAK, Mil Mi-28N Night Hunter, and Bell AH-1W SuperCobra. 
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03 September 2019:
Apparently there is a twist in the Attack Helicopter Acquisition Program that MaxDefense has not discussed in its latest blog on the project.

According to our sources, the Philippine Air Force's 15th Strike Wing was split on the issue between brand new TAI T129 ATAK and refurbished AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters. Despite not brand new, a lot of PAF 15thSW pilots find the AH-1W more "charming" than the T129, while also fearing that acquiring it could have potential supply and parts issues since Turkey's spat with NATO and the US is not fully settled.

While the DND did release a Acquisition Decision Memorandum again confirming TAI's T129 ATAK as the selected platform, the reason for going to such decision was based not on overall performance, but more on time.

The DND is hurrying up to award the project to a proponent since its already September, and if they fail to award the project, sign a contract, release the Notice to Proceed and release the funds before yearend, the money goes back to the national treasury.

Of all the proponents, their discussion with TAI is the most advanced. So if they decided to go to someone else, they risk losing the funds, and delaying the project because of the need to request for it again.


This is the problem of the procurement system of the country. Its full of BS. MaxDefense was hoping that since the present administration has strong support from both Congress and Senate, something can be done with this ASAP.

A pair of T129 ATAK attack helicopters of the Turkish armed forces. Credits to original source of the photo.
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04 October 2019:
This was from a few months ago, but apparently the conditions are still the same. Turkey is still not getting the Rolls Royce-developed LHTEC turbine engines despite the replacement of British PM Theresa May, and despite requests by the Turkish government and Turkish Aerospace Industries to allow them to import the engines for its T129 ATAK attack helicopters for the Turkish Armed Forces and for export.


So how will TAI deliver T129 ATAK attack helicopters to the Philippine Air Force if this is still the case now?




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10 December 2019:
More than a week before the Philippine Air Force 15th Strike Wing's anniversary, MaxDefense has been gathering information from multiple sources on what is the status of the Attack Helicopter acquisition project. This is the reason why MaxDefense has not posted any updates on the project since then.

Days before the anniversary, MaxDefense already knew that the TAI T129 ATAK from Turkey remains in the forefront of the AH project. This was later on confirmed by CGPAF and A4's speeches during the 15th Strike Wing anniversary, wherein both mentioned the T129 ATAK and that the DND is negotiating for them.

What surprised MaxDefense is that it appears that both the PAF and DND are going around circles with regards to the issue of potential export problem of the US-British LHTEC engines to Turkey. It appears that they have not receive any formal confirmation from the US government on the real status of their stand on exporting the engines to Turkey.

The PAF side claims that they cannot make the formal query since it is the DND's job to do it. They also claim that they cannot make a revised decision since the DND has not given them the go-signal to do so. So PAF could only continue with procurement process based on T129.

Meanwhile our defense sources confirmed that the DND has not made the formal query with the US Embassy in Manila, but that is because Turkey was guaranteeing to them that they can get the engines from the US. As for making a revised decision, DND claims that PAF can do it without asking the DND for a go-signal as long as the reasons for the revised selection is valid. So until the PAF makes a revised selection, the DND will continue to negotiate with the Turkish side.

The problem is, until a formal query by the DND or PAF is lodged, the US government will not be proactive to give their answer. So it means someone must formally lodge a request for information (RFI). Until then, the US Embassy won't make any comment, nor will support American proponents like Bell or Sikorsky.

So we'll make this simple: just for the sake of making sure everything is indeed alright, the DND should make the formal query with the US government.

If the reply is that they have not stopped the export of LHTEC engines to Turkey, then the DND can proceed with the procurement of the T129 ATAK attack helicopters, subject to PAF's selection.

If the US government says the engines are indeed not for export to Turkey, then move away from the T129 deal and avoid having problems in this project.


What we don't want to happen is for the PAF to have Php13 billion worth of hangar queens.

The T129 ATAK as described on the PAF's news magazine. Photo shared to MaxDefense by a contributor who wish to remain anonymous.
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11 December 2019:
Based on the CGPAF's speech during the 15th Strike Wing's anniversary last month, the PAF and DND is still pushing to acquire the Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) T129 ATAK attack helicopter despite issues on the export of engines from the US.

According to CGPAF Lt.Gen. Rozzano Briguez, the DND is still negotiating with TAI and the Turkish government on the sale of six (6) T129s, but no deadline was made due to issues still surrounding the engine export.

MaxDefense also got information from sources that the DND is trying to push if TAI can deliver more than 6 units for the same budget.

As for the Bell AH-1W Super Cobra, the PAF is still interested in acquiring used birds from the US Marine Corps, although it will could be affected if the PAF and DND finally selects the T129 ATAK over the Bell AH-1Z Viper for the Attack Helicopter acquisition project.

Photo shared to MaxDefense Philippines by Lima Mike Romeo.
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12 December 2019:
Meanwhile somewhere in Turkey....PAF personnel conduct flight tests with the TAI T129 ATAK attack helicopter. Looks like there's no stopping them on going with the Turkish attack helicopter despite issues of possible sanctions by US on Turkey.


A PAF officer (left) trying out the T129 ATAK attack helicopter in Turkey. Photo shared by a contributor.
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20 December 2019:
Inquirer's Frances Mangosing was able to make a lengthy detailed report regarding Boeing's media presentation, wherein focus was given on the CH-47F Chinook and the AH-64E Apache Guardian helicopters.

1. Emphasis on use of (Tactical Data) Link 16 and interoperability with friendly forces. Something that is missing when operating Russian or non-NATO standard equipment.

2. PAF sent information and pricing request for 6 to 16 units of Apache last October. This means that back in October there is still doubts on their selection of the TAI T129 ATAK from Turkey due to issues of possible export license rejection or sanctions against Turkey.

3.While the average flyaway cost for Apache @ US$32 million and Chinook @ US$50 million, take note that it does not include standard package inclusions like training, logistics, spares, munitions, and other specific subsystems. Expect more than the flyaway price should the PAF acquire them, usually expect 20-30% more than flyaway cost.

4. For those who still can't understand, the Chinook and Russian Mi-17 are not on the same category. The Mi-17 is a medium lift helicoper while the Chinook is a heavy lifter.

5. Boeing confirmed PAF interest on Harpoon but did not mention JDAM interest which is also a product from Boeing.

More on Inquirer's report on the link provided HERE.



An AH-64E Apache Guardian of the Indonesian Army. Photo credits to original source.
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12 January 2020:
Should the Philippine Air Force push through with the TAI T129 ATAK for their Attack Helicopter requirements, it would probably have to wait for at least 4 years for Turkey to be able to develop its planned indigenous helicopter turboshaft engine and integrated to the T129 to replace the original LHTEC T800 turbine engine sourced from the US & UK. That long waiting time with no guaranteed success is unacceptable and could be an issue with regards to meeting PH laws like RA 10349.

It is obvious that Turkey is being given the priority to supply the Attack Helicopter as part of Pres. Duterte's campaign to be "friends will all, enemies to none" where he is spreading defense acquisition across several countries by assigning certain projects to them.


But with sanctions painted all around Turkey, it won't be in the Philippines' best interest to push something that will negative affect our own programs. The DND can simply move away from the T129 for now, and see what other offers Turkey can provide that are not much affected by sanctions. This would definitely not ruin the good friendship between the Philippines and Turkey.

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27 February 2020:
Pakistan is already losing hope on the Turkish-made TAI T129 ATAK attack helicopter, and is starting to look at Chinese alternatives. Pakistan knows that TAI is trying to integrate a Turkish made engine into the T129 ATAK helicopter, but does not think it would be happening soon considering the engines are still under development, and integration with a platforms usually take more than a year or two to get cerification.


The Philippine Air Force and DND officials with direct access to the Attack Helicopter Acquisition Project should wake up to their senses rather than gamble on something that is uncertain. Bell and Boeing's offer are just around the corner with their Viper and Apache Guardian. And both are willing to make their offers juicy as possible.

More on the article from Flight Global discussing the situation on the link provided HERE.


The TAI T129 ATAK (top) and the CAIC Z-10 (above) attack helicopters. Photo taken from Flight Global.
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First edit and release: 29 June 2019
Copyright MaxDefense Philippines / Philippine Defense Resource



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