U.S. State Department approves possible sale of attack helicopters to PH

JC Gotinga
U.S. State Department approves possible sale of attack helicopters to PH
To give the Philippine military a much-needed boost in air power, the government is looking to buy 6 attack helicopters from US-based suppliers

MANILA, Philippines – The U.S. Department of State approved the possible sale of either of two kinds of attack helicopters to the Philippine government, the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) announced on its website on Thursday, April 30 (U.S. East Coast time).

The Philippine government earlier requested to buy 6 attack helicopters through a government-to-government arrangement with the United States. This means the purchase of the assets from private manufacturers is coursed through the US government under its Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program.

The State Department cleared the possible sale of either 6 AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters or 6 AH-64E Apache attack helicopters – but the Philippines has yet to decide which platform it prefers.

“The Philippines is considering either the AH-1Z (Viper) or the AH-64E (Apache) to modernize its attack helicopter capabilities. The proposed sale will assist the Philippines in developing and maintaining strong self-defense, counterterrorism, and critical infrastructure protection capabilities,” the DSCA said.

One big difference is the price. The package including 6 Viper helicopters, equipment, weapons, spares, training, support, and other services amount to an estimated $450 million, or about P22.7 billion by the current exchange rate.

The package for the 6 Apache helicopters comes with a longer list of equipment and weapons, and its price tag is much higher, at around $1.5 billion, or about P75.8 billion by the current exchange rate.

Texas-based Bell Helicopters and Massachusetts-based General Electric (GE) would be the principal contractors for the AH-1Z Viper helicopters. The package would include 14 GE T700-401C engines, 7 Honeywell Embedded Global Positioning Systems/Inertial Navigation with Precise Positioning Service, 6 AGM-114 Hellfire II missiles, and 26 Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System all-up rounds.

For the AH-64E Apache helicopters, the principal contractors would be Arizona-based Boeing, and Florida-based Lockheed Martin. The package would feature 18 GE T700-701D engines, 15 Honeywell Embedded Global Positioning Systems/Inertial Navigation with Precise Positioning Service, 200 AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, 300 Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System kits, and 200 FIM-92H Stinger missiles.

Boeing earlier claimed the AH-64E Apache to be “the most advanced multi-mission attack helicopter of the US military and at least 15 other armed forces in the world,” the Inquirer reported in December 2019.

Whichever platform the Philippine government chooses, the agreement will include the US government and the contractors sending personnel to the Philippines for training, technical assistance, and logistics support over a period of two years.

“The Philippines will have no difficulty absorbing this equipment and support into its armed forces,” the DSCA said.

The Philippine government is considering a 3rd option for attack helicopters – the Turkish-made T129 ATAK – although a report said there is an issue with the supply of a major component of this platform.

More air power

'MOST ADVANCED.' The AH-64 Apache helicopter by Boeing, Photo from the Boeing India website

The new attack helicopters will give the Philippine military a much-needed boost in air power.

The Philippine Air Force’s current fleet or choppers includes 8 AugustaWestland A109E Power helicopters, 12 MD 500MG helicopters, and two Bell AH-1 Cobra helicopters handed down from Jordan.

Air attacks provide crucial support to ground troops in jungle warfare, and in the 5-month siege of Marawi City in 2017, air strikes were a key strategy in the military’s fight against the pro-Islamic State/ISIS Maute terror group.

The sale of the 6 American attack helicopters, whether from Bell or from Boeing, must get clearance from the US Congress before negotiations for the final price and package can begin.

The US State Department has notified Congress of its approval of the proposed deals, the DSCA said.

“This proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a friendly country that continues to be an important force for political stability, peace, and economic progress in Southeast Asia,” the DSCA added.

No VFA? No problem

This development comes at an uncertain point in relations between the Philippines and the US. In February, President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the repeal of the Visiting Forces Agreement with Washington that allowed the presence en masse of US troops on Philippine soil and waters.

The 180-day drawdown period ends in August, but the coronavirus pandemic forced both countries to call off what would have been the final iteration of the yearly Balikatan joint military exercises. Involving several thousand troops from both militaries, the Balikatan was the largest of several yearly war games the two forces held in the Philippines over the last two decades.

The VFA’s termination would also mean an exit of a US military contingent from Western Mindanao, where they have provided crucial intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assistance to the Philippine military’s counterterrorism efforts.

The repeal, however, does not directly affect FMS agreements between Manila and Washington, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said in February. Military asset procurement from the US may proceed unhampered, Lorenzana added.

Days after the VFA’s repeal, the Russian embassy in Manila paid a courtesy visit to Philippine military chief General Felimon Santos Jr. Russian Ambassador Igor Khovaev earlier told reporters the Philippines is free to purchase defense equipment from Russia “as much as you want.”

Being the Philippines’ only treaty ally, the US will remain a key source of defense assets and equipment. However, the Philippine military is looking to broaden its menu of such sources, Philippine defense officials said. – Rappler.com

JC Gotinga

JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.