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Philippines eyes procurement of up to 24 new attack helicopters

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World Defense & Security Industry News - The Philippines
 
 
Philippines eyes procurement of up to 24 new attack helicopters
 
The Philippine Air Force (PAF) is considering the acquisition of over 20 attack helicopters to beef up the country`s counter-insurgency (COIN) capabilities, according to the chief of the Department of Defense`s public affairs bureau Arsenio Andolong.
     
Philippines eyes rocurement of up to 24 w attack helicopters 640 001The PAF currently flies a mixed fleet of MD 520N and AW109E armed scout helicopters
(Credit: PAF)
     
He said the aforementioned procurement would be included in the so-called 'second horizon' modernization program (RAFPMP) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), which would be implemented in 2018-2022. However, the final approval for funding the procurement had yet to be provided by the government, the official added. "We have programmed the procurement of 24 attack helicopters. We are now awaiting the final approval of the Office of the President on the RAFPMP Second Horizon," Andolong emphasized.

Manila has already confirmed its strong attention to procure a batch of rotary-wing platforms. On November 21, the president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte said that the new helicopters were urgently required to support the country`s COIN operations. "I am in a hurry. Maybe next year, I will be able to reveal everything. We have an acquisition of 23 attack helicopters. That will be sufficient to fight rebellion," Duterte said. According to the president, the procurement of the new platforms would be conducted through the medium of a long-term soft loan. "I will send some military officials to other places for prompt negotiation. If our request cannot be granted - it is humiliating to always ask for new weapons - we will ask for a loan, payable in 25 years. It will be a soft loan for new arms," Duterte emphasized. However, he did not specify the model of the helicopters to be bought.

The rotary-wing fleet of the Philippines cannot be described as a mighty one. The PAF is reported to operate 12 MD 500 light helicopters supplied by the United States in the early 1990s, eight AgustaWestland AW109E Power light attack helicopters acquired in 2014 and eight PZL Swidnik W-3A Sokol attack helicopters received from 2012. Therefore, the service is not equipped with heavy rotor-wing platforms armed with heavy air-launched weapons.

The IHS Jane`s think-tank says that Leonardo promotes its AW109E platform to the Philippines, while Airbus is planning to offer the H145M (formerly known as the EC645T2) light utility helicopter that can be a light gunship. However, Manila has apparently faced an economic crisis. The intention of Duterte to get loan for procurement of the helicopters may result in the selection of Russian or Chinese rotary-wing platform.

However, the downselection of a Chinese-made helicopter stands little chance. The People`s Republic of China`s biggest aerospace exporter, AVIC (Aviation Industry Corporation of China), does not have robust gunships in its portfolio. The corporation offers several variants of the Eurocopter`s (now a subsidiary of the Airbus Helicopters group) platforms built under license. AVIC`s competences in this area are based on the AS365 Dauphin (Chinese designation: Harbin Z-9) utility helicopter. The corporation promotes its armed variant designated Z9WE, as well as the Z19E light attack helicopter derived from the Dauphin. The payload of both platforms is limited and does not exceed 1,500 kg. Moreover, the helicopters lack integrated automatic cannon. Thus, the Harbin Z9 and its derivatives do not meet requirements to gunships. At the same time, CAIC (Changhe Aircraft Industries Corporation), an AVIC`s subsidiary, offers its Z-10 attack helicopter. However, the Z-10 suffers from several drawbacks related to its WZ-9 (1,350 h.p.) turboshaft engines. As well as the members of the Harbin Z-9 family, it has a payload of nearly 1,500 kg. As of 2016, the People`s Liberation Armed Forces (PLAF) are reported to have received 95 Z-10s with 24 more helicopters of this type on order, and the export potential of the platform remains unclear.

It should be noted that the Philippines seems to have no requirement for cutting-edge heavy-armed combat helicopter, like the Mi-28N Night Hunter, the AH-64E Guardian or the EC665 Tiger. Manila urgently needs a cost-effective gunship armed with both ballistic and guided weapons that can successfully accomplish COIN missions, including transportation of special teams and fire support, in tropical climate. In such a context, the modernized Mi-24P or the brand-new Mi-35M would be the best option. Both platforms feature excellent cost-effectiveness ratio, and their use during the counter-terrorism operation of the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) in Syria has confirmed the high operational potential of these helicopters. The Mi-35M is fitted with a powerful armament suite that incorporates two GSh-23L 23 mm automatic cannons in an integrated mount, S-8/S-13 non-guided rockets, and guided missiles (particularly, Shturm or Ataka). The Mi-35P`s armament suite is similar, featuring a right side-mounted GSh-30K 30 mm automatic cannon instead of the GSh-23L. Both gunships have a payload of 2,400 kg or 60% over their Chinese counterparts. The reliability of the Mi-24 in harsh climatic conditions is noteworthy also. The helicopter can transport up to eight servicemen with weapons and individual equipment.

At the MAKS 2017 international aerospace show held in July in Zhukovsky outside Moscow, the Russian Helicopters holding (a subsidiary of the Rostec state corporation) presented a new variant of the Mi-17 helicopter designated Mi-171Sh-VN. The Mi-171Sh-VN is essentially a combination of a military transport helicopter and a gunship. It fully meets the requirements to a COIN rotary-wing platform: the helicopter`s armament integrates ballistic weapons (gun pods and heavy machineguns), medium free-fall bombs and unguided rockets. The basic protection of the Mi-171Sh-VN`s compartments has been reinforced with applique armor plates. The helicopter has also received two gyrostabilized platforms for optical-electronic payload, a 'glass' cockpit compatible with night vision googles and an infrared searchlight. Therefore, the Mi-171Sh-VN fully reflects the experience of recent armed conflicts. The platform`s payload allows fixing of two problems of the Philippine military, namely illegal trafficking and militant groups. In such a context, the Mi-171Sh-VN has an outstanding cost-effectiveness ratio, as it integrates the capabilities of a military transport helicopter and a gunship.

Russia has recently boosted the military-technical cooperation (MTC) with Manila. In October, the Government of the Russian Federation and the Government of the Philippines signed an agreement on MTC. Russia`s Defense Minister General of the Army Sergei Shoigu and the Secretary of National Defense of the Philippines Delfin Lorenzana affixed their signatures to the contract. On the same occasion, Shoigu and Duterte participated in the ceremony for the delivery of a batch of defense hardware, including small arms and military trucks, to the Philippines.

Manila is reported to have started the negotiations to get a loan for material procurement. In May, Duterte requested such a loan during his meeting with the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin. "I need to buy, if you can grant me a soft loan, we will [use] the money and pay it right away because the arms that we ordered from America [were] cancelled," the head of the Philippines said at the meeting.

The AFP may get the first batch of the helicopters before the yearend, the Budget Secretary of the Philippines Benjamin Diokno said in an interview with the Philippine Star newspaper. The official pointed out that the government finalizes the procurement process that is planned to be settled before the yearend. "There will be partial delivery before end of the year because there are some stocks available. I cannot give you any more details since this involves military information," Diokno said.

Therefore, the delivery of the helicopters will beef up the AFP`s COIN, counter-terrorism and counter-drug capabilities.
     
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