U.S.-Turkey Diplomatic Row Delays Delivery of 30 ATAK Helicopters to Pakistan

The withheld engines were believed to be part of Washington’s punishment of Ankara for its refusal to back out of its $2 billion S-400 air defense system deal with Moscow.

ISLAMABAD (Dec 1, 2018) — Ankara’s sale of 30 Turkish-made T129 ATAK helicopter gunships to Pakistan will be delayed by at least six months due to Ankara’s ongoing diplomatic row with Washington, Russian Sputnik news reported.

The $1.5 billion deal between Turkey and Pakistan will be pushed back due to the U.S.’ failure to deliver the gunships’ CTS800 engines, Sputnik said, quoting a representative from Turkey’s Presidency of Defense Industries.

Turkey and Pakistan signed a deal for the Turkish-made helicopter gunships on July 13, with a delivery date of the first helicopter within one to two years, Sputnik said.

But the Pentagon refused to provide Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) with an export license forcing it to look for a replacement to US and British-made turboshaft engines. Ankara and Islamabad have agreed to look for a replacement.

Pakistani officials have gone on record saying their current AH-1F Cobra gunships lack the capability to perform adequately over the higher altitudes of the Hindu Kush mountain range, separating Afghanistan and Pakistan.

This summer, the two countries had settled on the joint Honeywell and Rolls-Royce-made engines to meet performance requirements in high-altitude flight and poor weather conditions common in the Pakistani mountains.

The withheld engines were believed to be part of Washington’s punishment of Ankara for its refusal to back out of its S-400 air defense system deal with Moscow worth over $2 billion. The purchase will be made in rubles or lira, and not in US dollars.

The Trump administration also this year suspended $1.66 billion  of security aid to Pakistan including withheld reimbursements against the coalition support fund citing Pakistan’s refusal to tow Washington’s South Asia strategy in Afghanistan.

While Turkey is a Nato ally, Pakistan still remains to be a “non-Nato ally”, but the countries which have a close relationship between themselves are otherwise on a rocky relationship with Trump’s administration.

Tensions also heightened between Ankara and Washington this year over Turkey’s detention of U.S. Pastor Andrew Brunson on terror charges. Washington sanctioned two Turkish ministers, and U.S. President Donald Trump pledged to double tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum exports to the U.S., sparking a financial crisis which caused the Turkish lira to lose over 40 percent of its value against the U.S. dollar this year.

Now, according to Hurriyet, engine makers in France and Poland have each expressed an interest in replacing the US and UK-built engines with French or Polish-made ones, with Turkish officials said to have received a “positive response” from both. Earlier, a senior Turkish defense official told Russian media that a Chinese engine maker was being considered as well.

One of these countries could win the engine contract pending testing. Pakistan originally requested that the T129 ATAK helicopters’ engines be tested in the Himalayan Mountains in poor weather at a height of up to 14,000 feet.

If the tests prove successful and an agreement is reached with one of the countries, TAI hopes to complete the Pakistani defense order of 30 choppers in five years.

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