The Philippine Air Force (PAF) is considering purchasing another 16 Sikorsky S70i Black Hawk helicopters from Lockheed Martin even if delivery of the initial six from the first batch of 16 orders have yet to be completed.
Five of the combat utility rotary-wing aircraft arrived last month aboard a Russian Antonov plane.
They were formally accepted by military officials led by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana at Clark Air Base in Pampanga.
“The Air Force commander has intimated to me that the Air Force want another 16 units of these Black Hawk. The chances of that being fulfilled is very big actually, so we’ll see,” the defense chief said in his speech.
He revealed the defense department has sufficient funds to acquire more helicopters from other suppliers, although they prefer the Black Hawk model as recommended by the PAF.
“[I was told] it is better to have the same type [of helicopter for the purpose of]… maintenance and the pilot would no longer need to study and train, even with the supply of spare parts are just the same,” Lorenzana said, adding, “It’s easier to maintain a fleet if they are all Black Hawks rather than of various types.”
The last 10 of the initial 16 helicopters are expected to be delivered next year. They were acquired under the overall modernization program of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. The Air Force already has acquired a squadron of South Korean-made FA-50 fighter jets and Brazilian Super Tucano planes.
“These brand-new combat utility helicopters will be used for missions such as transport of cargoes and personnel, medical evacuation, casualty evacuation, aerial reconnaissance, disaster relief operations, troop insertion and extrication, combat resupply, combat search and rescue and limited close air support,” Lorenzana said.
“These aircraft would greatly help the Armed Forces operational readiness. Equipped with the Black Hawk, our Air Force can now provide prompt and sustained day and night tactical lift, as well as combat and non-combat search and rescue operations,” he added.
The Air Force was supposed to have acquired Bell helicopters, but the contract was scuttled at the last minute by the Canadian government due to its concerns on the country’s human-rights record, a decision Lorenzana, which described as a “blessing in disguise” for the government.
“That the Bell 412 was canceled was a blessing in disguise. We got a better deal with these aircraft. Not only it’s Black Hawk, more powerful, there is more payload and has longer range, but we also got them at the price with the Bell 412 which is a cheaper aircraft,” he said.
Lorenzana said the delivery of the Black Hawk forms part of the defense equipment that the Trump administration wanted to give to the Philippines before their term ends. He added that the US has given billions worth of assets and equipment during the past days, including unmanned aerial systems, precision guided munitions and missiles and much-needed counterterrorism equipment.
Lorenzana dismissed views by Chinese officials who considered the successive visits of US officials into the country to turn over the military equipment as fomenting regional chaos. Lorenzana said the US officials also visited other parts of Southeast Asia.
“That is their opinion. For us, we don’t see it that way. They are here to maintain their relationship with the Philippines because we have the Mutual Defense Treaty and they have been our ally for long,” the defense chief said.