military modernization

Duterte approves acquisition of 15 Black Hawk helicopters

Pia Ranada
Duterte approves acquisition of 15 Black Hawk helicopters

CABINET MEETING. President Rodrigo Duterte presides over a Cabinet meeting on February 3, 2021.

Malacañang photo

President Rodrigo Duterte wants to replace the Air Force's fleet of Vietnam War-era Huey helicopters involved in recent crashes

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gave the greenlight for the defense department to acquire 15 more Black Hawk helicopters to boost the military’s fleet.

Duterte gave his approval on Wednesday, February 4, during a Cabinet meeting, said Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles during a press briefing on Thursday.

The number of 15 units is only “indicative” and can still change depending on available funds, said Nograles.

The acquisition will be to address the deficiency in heavy-lift helicopters and to allow the Philippine Air Force (PAF) to finally decommission its fleet of Huey helicopters.

It was the deadly January crash of a PAF Huey helicopter in Bukidnon that convinced Duterte to approve new choppers. The crash killed 7 passengers, including PAF, Army, and CAFGU personnel.

“It was the 4th such crash since July of last year and the President wants to end all these tragic deaths. Our servicemen and their families deserve better,” said Nograles.

The Huey choppers, in the UH-1H and UH-1D models, date back to the Vietnam War.

Of the last 4 PAF chopper crashes in the last 6 months, 3 involved Hueys. The Air Force decided to ground its entire Huey fleet due to the crashes.

Actual need to cover all Philippine islands

Though the military already has Duterte’s approval for 15 new choppers, Nograles said the actual need is for a fleet of 55 helicopters to cover the country’s over 7,000 islands.

But he said existing budgets and the constraints posed by the pandemic only allowed for the acquisition of just 15 units. He expressed hope that a supply agreement would be signed before Duterte’s term ends in June 2022.

Last November, the defense department received 6 of 16 Sikorsky S70i Black Hawk helicopters ordered by the government from a Polish subsidiary of American defense and security company Lockheed Martin.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said they will be used to transport military personnel and cargo, and conduct emergency evacuation and disaster relief operations, aerial reconnaissance, and limited close air support. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.