WASHINGTON: As terrorists re-launched a campaign of terror against the nation this week, Pakistan too expedited its efforts to combat them and is quietly acquiring equipment and weapons required for combating militancy.
The US media reported at least three such deals this week, which involve helicopters and military vehicles that would enhance the military’s capability to pursue militants in difficult terrains.
Earlier this week, Pakistan concluded a deal with an Italian aerospace and defence firm, Leonardo S.p.A. for purchasing an unspecified number of AW139 helicopters.
“The AW139 is the perfect fit to Pakistan’s operational environment, delivering outstanding capabilities with hot and high performance unmatched by any other existing helicopter type in the same class,” said the firm while announcing the deal.
Despite uncertainty about bilateral relations under a new US administration, Pakistan is also purchasing weapons from the United States. Last year, the US Congress stopped the sale of eight F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan but the move did not affect the weapons needed to combat terrorists.
The US media reported on Tuesday that an American aerospace manufacturer, Bell Helicopter, would deliver three Bell AH-1Z Viper twin-engine attack helicopters to Pakistan this year. This will be the first of a total shipment of 12 helicopters. The remaining nine will arrive in 2018.
In April 2015, the US State Department approved the sale of 15 AH-1Z Vipers, missiles and communication equipment at an estimated cost of $952 million. Pakistan ordered the first three helicopters in August 2015 and placed an additional order for nine helicopters in April last year.
A US Department of Defence notification said nine AH-1Z Viper helicopters would cost Pakistan an estimated $170.2m.
Pakistan’s original request included the sale of 1,000 AGM-114 R Hellfire II missiles as well.
The AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters will be equipped with H-1 technical refresh mission computers, AN/AAQ-30 target sight systems, 629F-23 ultra- and very-high frequency communication systems, H-764 embedded global positioning and inertial navigation systems, helmet-mounted display and optimised top owl, APX-117A identification friend or foe, AN/AAR-47 missile warning systems, AN/ALE-47 countermeasure dispenser sets, AN/APR-39C(V)2 radar warning receivers, joint mission planning systems and General Dynamics M197 20mm cannons.
Pakistan has already announced that it will deploy the helicopters in counterinsurgency operations. The US Defence Security Cooperation Agency reported in April 2015 that the helicopters would enhance “Pakistan’s ability to conduct operations in North Waziristan, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), and other remote and mountainous areas in all-weather, day and night environment”.
Pakistan will also receive four Russian-made Mi-35M attack helicopters in 2017. The US media noted that the Mi-35M was the export version of the Mi-24 gunship and was particularly suited for operations in mountainous terrain. Pakistan Army Aviation could acquire up to 20 Mi-35Ms in the years ahead.
Islamabad is also considering the Turkish Aerospace Industries T-129 attack helicopter or the Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group Z-10 helicopter gunship as an alternative to the Mi-35M. The new gunships would slowly phase out Pakistan Army Aviation’s obsolete fleet of US-made AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters, the media reported.
Pakistan signed another $35m deal with a US firm, Navistar Defence, for manufacturing 40 mine-resistant ambush-protected MaxxPro Dash DXM vehicles. The contract, awarded under US foreign military sales arrangement, includes manufacturing of various support items, logistics and technical support services.
The manufacturing will take place in West Point, Mississippi, and will be completed by Oct 31, 2018.
A press release announcing the deal said that “Pakistan will use the vehicles to protect troops against attacks from jihadist militants and other insurgents operating between Pakistan and Afghanistan”.
In a separate press release issued in Rome, Leonardo announced that Pakistan had placed orders for an undisclosed number of additional Agusta-Westland AW139 intermediate twin-engine helicopters. The aircraft will be used to perform utility and transport operations across the country. Deliveries are expected to begin in mid-2017.
Published in Dawn, February 23rd, 2017