Philippine Air Force Receives Last Two of Six Turkish T129 Attack Helicopters

T129 Attack Helicopters
Personnel from the Philippine Air Force’s 15th Strike Wing at Sangley Point, Cavite with the two T129 ATAK helicopters on May 19. Source: 15th Strike Wing, Philippine Air Force on Facebook.

The T129 helicopters address the capability gap identified in urban warfare.

The Philippine Air Force (PAF) has received two Turkish T129 ATAK helicopters. The aircraft were delivered at the 15th Strike Wing headquarters in Sangley Point, Cavite.

The Philippines ordered six T129 units under a $269 million government-to-government contract with Turkey, signed in July 2020. The acquisition program is part of the Horizon 2 phase of the Philippines’ military modernization plan. According to reports, the latest arrivals are the fifth and sixth helicopters of that deal.

Adding Teeth to the Philippine Air Force

The PAF’s 15th Strike Wing said in a Facebook post that it received the two helicopters, with tail numbers 1505 and 1506, in simple rites presided from the Air Command chief Maj. Gen. Araus Robert F. Musico and 15th Strike Wing commander Brig, Gen. Juliano C. Llarenas at the Atienza Air Base, Sangley Point, Cavite City on May 17.

The Philippine News Agency (PNA) quoted the PAF: “The two T-129 ‘Atak’ helicopters performed a low pass before landing on the active runway. Upon taxiing and exiting, a water cannon salute was rendered to the two aircraft – the traditional and ceremonial welcome to honor the newly procured attack helicopters of the 15th Strike Wing,” it added.

“The acquisition of the T-129 ‘Atak’ helicopters was part of the priority projects under Horizon 2 of the AFP Modernization Program. The T-129s are the fifth and sixth T-129 ‘Atak’ helicopters acquired through negotiated (government-to-government) procurement with Turkey. These dedicated attack helicopters are expected to enhance the combat operational capability of PAF and address the capability gap identified in urban warfare,” a Facebook post by the 15 SW said.

The first two aircraft arrived on March 9, 2022, in two Airbus A400M Airlifters of the Turkish Air Force, landing at Clark Air Base outside the Philippine capital Manila. The cargo aircraft were also carrying unspecific logistics support equipment.

Employment Purpose

The 15 SW made an interesting revelation about the deployment and role of the attack helicopters. The two aircraft will be used alongside the PAF’s armed light observation and transport helicopters, “enhancing the combat operational capability of the force and address the capability gap identified in urban warfare.”

This admission comes after the devastating five-month-long Battle of Marawi, fought between the Philippine military and the Islamic State (IS)-affiliated Abu Sayyaf and Maute fundamentalist groups. In October 2022, the Filipino publication Mindanews published an excerpted article featuring portions from a book by Filipino author Gail Ilagan about the operation.

It noted that military equipment, such as tanks, were unsuitable for maneuvering Malawi’s narrow alleyways, while the insurgents’ hijacking of fire trucks and other public vehicles made it difficult for soldiers to identify their adversaries in the urban combat environment.

However, the article concludes that hard lessons were learned from the siege of Marawi that make a similar insurgent takeover unlikely in the near term. “The military has changed its organizational structure, acquired new equipment, and improved training methods to prepare for urban warfare,” said a report from the Foreign Military Studies Office (FMSO).

Another shot of the two T129s with PAP personnel. Source: Facebook

T129 ATAK’s Other Customers

The T129 ATAK aircraft is a twin-engine attack helicopter designed for armed reconnaissance in hot and high environments and day and night missions. This also marks attack helicopters becoming a symbol of the Turkish defense industry and military exports after carving a niche in combat UAVs like the TB-2 Bayraktar and the Ankinci drones.

Based on Leonardo’s A129 Mangusta helicopter, the derivative carries avionics and weapon systems developed by Turkish Aerospace industries. Its armaments include an M197 20-mm three-barrel rotary cannon, eight 160-mm anti-tank guided missiles, and up to four pods of unguided rocket systems.

Its other operators include its developer country, Turkey, and Nigeria, which ordered six T129s in 2022. In November 2023, Nigerian Air Force (NAF) acquired the first batch of two TAI T129 ATAK attack helicopters from Turkey.

In 2018, Pakistan opted to acquire T129s to replace its fleet of AH−1F Cobras. Islamabad had signed a $1.5B deal with TAI for 30 T129s. However, the US declined to issue the export license for the engines.

The ATAK’s T-8004A turboshaft engines are an export version of the LHTEC T800-4A power plant, a joint venture between US firm Honeywell and British defense and Aero Engine prime Rolls-Royce. Washington has stalled its exports over the Turkish acquisition of the Russian S-400 air defense system. Iraq’s defense minister had announced a plan to purchase 12 ATAK units, while Ankara is also looking at Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Brazil as potential customers.

About Parth Satam
Parth Satam's career spans a decade and a half between two dailies and two defense publications. He believes war, as a human activity, has causes and results that go far beyond which missile and jet flies the fastest. He therefore loves analyzing military affairs at their intersection with foreign policy, economics, technology, society and history. The body of his work spans the entire breadth from defense aerospace, tactics, military doctrine and theory, personnel issues, West Asian, Eurasian affairs, the energy sector and Space.