In June 2008, US GAO auditors released a report that documented issues with the USA’s billions of dollars in “coalition support fund” aid to Pakistan. One of the items cited involved Pakistan’s 20-28 AH-1F “TOWCobra” helicopters; despite reimbursements of $55 million to maintain Pakistan’s MI-17 utility and AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters, the Pakistani army was not in fact maintaining them, causing poor readiness rates for these critical assets.
A recent DSCA announcement indicates that Pakistan may be getting more serious about maintaining its attack helicopters. Whether it becomes more serious about using them in areas under al-Qaeda’s control is another matter…
The AH-1F was the final Cobra upgrade in the US Army, which phased in out of active army service in 1999 and National Guard service in 2001. They are still in use in number of countries, including Israel, Jordan, South Korea, Turkey, Taiwan, et. al. This model improved upon previous Cobra variants by adding a new fire-control system with a laser rangefinder; an improved cockpit layout with a head-up display (HUD) for the pilot; an AN/ALQ-144 IRCM (“disco ball” infra-red counter-measure) unit mounted above the engine; a cable cutter above and below the cockpit to protect the Cobra in NOE (nap-of-the-earth) flight; and a long exhaust pipe to reduce the helicopter’s infrared signature.
Subsequent upgrades to the fleet included improved night-fighting equipment via the C-NITE Cobra Night Attack system that gave the helicopters the ability to target enemies at night, and in bad weather that obscures normal vision.
Contracts and Key Events
August 5/16: Military reimbursements to the tune of $300 million will not be paid to Pakistan by the Pentagon. Sourced under the Coalition Support Fund (CSF), the program aims to reimburse US allies that have incurred costs in supporting counter-terrorist and counter-insurgency operations. Since 2002, Pakistan has received $14 billion from the CSF, however US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter has not told Congress that Pakistan was taking adequate action against the Haqqani network insurgent group.
Sept 26/08: The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency announces [PDF] Pakistan’s official request to refurbish and maintain 8 AH-1F Cobra attack helicopters. The Government of Pakistan has also requested warranties, system integration, delivery of spare and repairs parts, support equipment, personnel training and training equipment, and other related elements of logistics support. The prime contractor will be US Helicopter in Ozark, AL (a.k.a. Bell Helicopter Services), and the estimated cost is $115 million.
Implementation of this proposed sale will require multiple U.S. Government and contractor representatives in Pakistan for approximately 3 weeks to ensure delivery and operability of the equipment. This will be followed by a 3-person Field Office that will provide technical assistance and contract administration for the Pakistan Army for 3 years.
Feb 2/07: The USA transfers 8 C-NITE equipped AH-1F Cobras to the Pakistan Army, at the Qasim Airbase near Islamabad.
Sources indicate that Pakistan already had about 20 AH-1F helicopters, which were assigned to the Army’s base at Multan in central Pakistan. American issues with Pakistan’s nuclear weapons prevented further shipments, but systems upgrades were shipped in the mid-1990s. Pakistan’s newly-acknowledged status as a necessary ally against al-Qaeda has relaxed American sanctions, and made advanced weapon sales possible again despite some Congressional concerns. See fuller background in “US Transfers 8 More Attack Helicopters to Pakistan“.