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The Philippines Wants To Buy Weapons From Turkey

December 31, 2018

The T129 attack helicopter. Via Wikimedia Commons.

A memorandum was signed this month at the main headquarters of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) between the defense ministry and Turkey’s arms exports office. No further details were provided by the Department of National Defense (DND) although the state-owned news agency did reveal “transfer of defense technology” was covered by the memo. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) isn’t a serious customer for equipment manufactured in Turkey but the signing at Villamor Air Base on December 18 was attended by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who had earlier told the local press the air force wanted Turkish attack helicopters.

The PAF’s search for attack helicopters was announced after the Battle of Marawi in 2017. But without a government-to-government agreement by Manila and Washington, DC, preferred models such as the expensive AH-1Z Viper gunship are beyond reach. A budget option is buying decommissioned Cobra gunships from a willing supplier, but a supposed deal with Jordan hasn’t materialized. During the recent ADAS 2018 arms show, in fact, Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) displayed a tabletop model of its new “light attack helicopter” based on the Airbus AS565 that had a pivoting cannon under its cockpit.

It’s apparent the PAF, even as it’s awash in funding, wants to explore all of its options. Maintaining its fixed wing and rotary assets are paramount too and Turkey’s role as a vendor of avionics and life extension/modernization programs could have made it an attractive partner for the PAF. Aside from attack helicopters, the PAF is following separate timetables for light transports and utility helicopters and until these are ordered its current inventory must remain functional.

The Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) T129 ATAK is a variant of the Leonardo Mangusta attack helicopter. It’s now in service with Turkey’s military and will soon join the rotor fleet of Pakistan’s army after. The T129 is flown by two crew and comes armed with a three-barrel rotary cannon and four hardpoints that can support either rocket pods or air-to-surface missiles. Should the PAF ever fly T129’s their immediate missions will be as close air support for army operations against insurgents and terrorists.

There are two other opportunities for Turkish arms exports in the Philippines. First is the ongoing search for new armor by the Philippine Army (PA), which includes finding a viable light or medium tank whose gross weight is below 30 tons. The PA want a large batch of wheeled APCs too that are amphibious and can support large caliber weapons. Turkish companies like Otokar and FNSS are well-placed to vie for these multimillion dollar tenders. It isn’t a coincidence that both were present as exhibitors at this year’s ADAS.

A second opportunity is firearms and infantry force protection. The state-owned Government Arsenal (GA) may have begun its own joint venture with a South Korean partner for mass-producing carbines, the different branches of the military are allowed to buy their own firearms and equipment. The Turkish company MKEK, with its enormous catalog and industrial footprint, remains competitive as a potential supplier for ammunition, optics, spare parts, and even technology transfer.

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