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Last Batch of S-70i Blackhawk Helicopters Arrived; More to be Considered

The Combat Utility Helicopter Acquisition Project of 16 units is now getting closer to completion, as the last batch have arrived in the country. This begs the question: Now that the Philippine Air Force is this close in fulfilling the project, what will be their next plan to increase up its numbers, while putting older ones out of service for long-term planning sake?

S-70i Blackhawk Helicopters in EASTMINCOM.
(C) Philippine Air Force FB Page

These reports coming from multiple news websites detailed the delivery of the final batch of S-70i Blackhawk Helicopters from PZL Mielec, a Sikorsky Helicopters subsidiary in Poland that produces such helicopters for the Philippine Air Force as part of the Revised AFP Modernization Program - Flight Plan 2028 initiative of the air branch.

The last five units, transported through the Ukrainian-based Antonov Airlines An-124 transporter, was landed in Clark Air Base in Pampanga City for these soon-to-be helicopters of the Philippine Air Force to be disembarked from the aircraft fuselage just like the previous S-70i deliveries that came before it.

As part of standard operating procedure, the Philippine Air Force will undertake multiple test for these helicopters upon assembly of its parts in the country before getting commissioned into active service, as any defects and problems with the asset can be addressed to the manufacturer before any turn-over will take place.

To give you some idea, the helicopters arrived in the country is still counted as property of Sikorsky/PZL Mielec until a formal turn-over was made between them and the Philippine Air Force (end-user) after the number of tests and inspection was made to the helicopter to see that it complies with the specification that the end-user has for the project. Also, this came in accordance to the Procurement Law (Republic Act 9184).

Now that this project is closer to be considered as successful, one cannot prevent to think that there should be an idea that the Philippine Air Force needing to add the number of this type of helicopter in the long run, factoring the actual number of combat utility helicopters in inventory, along with the fact that older UH-1 Hueys might reach its serviceable life.

Two assigned S-70i Blackhawks in Edwin Andrews Airbase
with the Zamboanga International Airport terminal
in the background. (c) Western Mindanao Command FB Page

Just recently, the leadership within the Philippine Air Force decided to assign several of the S-70i Blackhawk Helicopters to multiple airbases in the country such as the Eastern Mindanao Command and Western Mindanao Command (see image above).

Two helicopters were assigned to the Edwin Andrews Airbase in Zamboanga City, the center of operations for the Philippine Air Force that covers most of Zamboanga Peninsula and areas such as Basilan and Sulu, areas that are known for radical Islamist-themed insurgency groups with its inhabitants now vying for peace.

While the additional two Blackhawk helicopters en la Ciudad Hermosa is a welcoming increase of capabilities for the Philippine Air Force covering this jurisdiction, one might say that its numbers are still counted as insufficient, given that deployment of troops especially in skirmishes in the region may not always be covered by the number of troops these helicopters are capable of carrying (13 personnel plus 2 crew), not to mention that ZAMBASULTA area covers a large part of territory.


The government promised that they will add 32 more Blackhawk helicopters for the Philippine Air Force to have, although this wasn't seen materialized currently as the reasons might range from budgeting re-allocated to mitigate the pandemic itself to concerns of the country's economic performance that affect the government's tax collection.

This promise is something that the government needs to materialize, even in multi-year terms that can help bringing down the burden of financing the project itself as a percentage of the annual General Appropriations Act be allotted to the funding of the project. Or its procurement will be divided in different lots or phases as the way project implementation goes with the Revised AFP Modernization Program that it was divided to 3 Horizons, each with its own budget allocation and material needs.

While these words reflect more of the grounded thoughts of a PMAU writer, the leadership within the Philippine Air Force might already take heed on considering additional assets since these plans are already in the pipeline and these considerations are in place, complying procurement, budgeting, and accounting laws that are in place.

One only looks forward for the eventual implementation, aside from the current acquisition program, that more will be added as the whole Armed Forces of the Philippines will continue to modernize its whole structure by introducing new doctrine, recruiting more potential personnel, and adding new assets like the one discussed in this article.

President Duterte's Desire to Bolster Philippine Coast Guard's Air Unit

The Philippine Coast Guard Modernization Program now has the full backing of the current President of the Republic of the Philippines, with the recent calls of acquiring more air assets for the maritime law enforcers to do their job effectively and efficiently, such as attaining search and rescue operations and enforcing Philippine laws at sea.

Philippine Coast Guard's H-145 Utility Helicopter. (c) Florian Werner

President Rodrigo Duterte, as reported by CNN Philippines, has gave a directive to his cabinet, particularly to the Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade during the inauguration of Coast Guard Station Kalayaan Island Group that is situated in the West Philippine Sea, and another project in Puerto Princesa, Palawan (which is still facing the West Philippine Sea.

The primary premise of the president to give support for the Coast Guard's eventual boost for its air fleet is not only for search and rescue operations, but also to its ever-increasing presence in the West Philippine Sea as indicated to the recent projects that the Philippine Coast Guard has found itself currently.

It comes further as the president states that the country is subjected to uphold its territorial integrity and national sovereignty, amidst all of the criticisms that the current administration is taking because of their "friendly" stance before the Chinese whose activity in the region is at all-time high, all thanks to its maritime militia that is working round the clock ensuring that their salami slicing strategy works in a lengthy amount of time.

With this now being in mind, it will be beneficial for fishermen who live in the area, as well as those commercial fishermen from across the country, to do their livelihood stuff in the West Philippine Sea as the Armed Forces of the Philippines also decided to join this fishing initiative in the area, enhancing the country's resolve of standing up to its holdings in the contested area that other countries like Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Brunei want their hands into, aside from the heated incidents between China and the Philippines that were reported before

The catch here is this - the Philippine Coast Guard has all the privilege it comes as a civilian-oriented agency under the Department of Transportation, wherein it is not entitled to the same export restrictions as the Armed Forces of the Philippines in a sense that arms export is needed to be agreed upon between both countries by signing a form of defense trade agreement or something equivalent to that.

Now the hopes are that the projects of the Philippine Coast Guard will be push through, like adding more of its existing offshore patrol vessels and multirole response vessels in the long run, as well as securing deals with countries like India who expresses desire to push soft loan given that the agency expresses interest in patrol aircraft and helicopters made by Hindustan Aerospace Limited.

SAAB's Gripen Fighter Jet deal In Danger, Philippine Air Force Now Down to These Two Options

The main export agencies within the Swedish government sphere attempts to derail the project of the Philippine Air Force's Multirole Fighter Jet Acquisition Program, risking SAAB's JAS-39 Gripen deal in the process.

What will it be for the Philippines to take?

The JAS-39 Gripen, one of the candidates for the Philippine Air Force's MRF Project.

In this report from a Swedish News Outlet Aftonbladet, a controversy was brewing as groups within the Swedish government was apparently 'out of the loop', regarding the update of SAAB's potential sale of its Multirole Fighter Jet to a certain country, named as the Philippines.

This come as Sweden is reinforcing its arms export laws, highlighting human-rights violations taken by a sitting government as a measuring tool for them to consider the exportation of products like the JAS-39 Gripen to a country like the Philippines.

Highlights of the concerns that some Swedish decision-makers have is the current administration's Human Rights violations that have nothing to do with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), but rather the widely-reported "atrocities" that the local police force committed under the campaign called "The War on Drugs".

While these problems have persisted that can jeopardize the deal if left unresolved, the report also highlighted that the progress has made on the Philippine government's side to seal up the deal (apparently in sheer secrecy), at least before year 2021 ends.

If the sale pushes through...

Even with the Gripen ended up as one of the preferred candidates of the MRF deal of the Philippine Air Force, and with SAAB ended up as the winner of the contract, problems might still arise between the Swedish and the Philippine governments in the long run, especially with the human rights violations getting into the mix.

That means that spare parts and other essential components needed for continuous maintenance and operations of prospective PAF JAS-39 Gripen fighters can be held "hostage", in the same manner as what the Belgians of the Wallonia region did in withholding any weaponry made in that jurisdiction's factories, impairing any weaponry that the military has that has components that were made by Walloons.

This scrutiny reminisced the botched deal made by the Philippine Air Force in securing Bell 412 Helicopters from Canada, after the Canadian government decided to "review the deal" which have prompted the Philippine government to "cancel the deal altogether" and go for S-70i Black Hawk Helicopters instead, now forming a significant bulk of the current Air Force inventory.


This bold move that the Swedish government may take against the Philippines on the sale of its renowned JAS-39 Gripen Multirole Fighter Jets left the latter with two options, either
 - Pursue a deal with the United States for the F-16 Viper MRFs, or
 - Pursue a deal with the South Koreans for adding up orders of FA-50PH Light Fighter Trainer aircraft from the Korean Aerospace Industries

The first deal comes with a long shot that involves longer waiting times given that orders of F-16s are piling up with countries still buying them more in bulk (starting with countries like Taiwan, who bought 66 of them) while the United States government's Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) providing a whole package of F-16 hardware that makes it more expensive than just buying the units alone.

That leaves with the second option, which itself is a nice idea given that the Philippine Air Force already possesses a single squadron of FA-50PH, with the budget of MRF getting them at least one or two more squadrons for the 5th Fighter Wing to use for its air interdiction missions under PADIZ or Philippine Air Defense Identification Zone.

What Remains to be Seen...

At the end of the day, it is still at the ball of the Philippine Air Force's higher hierarchy, along with the help of the Department of National Defense to sort this one up. 

As far as things are concerned, it is seen that the deal between the Philippines and Sweden's SAAB may ended up in catastrophic failure if this wasn't sort up.

Let it be given with more time to determine the overall outcome of the deal itself, and the fate of the Multirole Fighter Acquisition Project now lies on what will be unfolded in the next couple of weeks, if not months before the project be risked as a midnight project that it will be given over to the next administration to resolve all of its problems.



This website of the Philippine Military Analysis and Updates has just started rolling out in the open, so please bear with us as we are filling this platform up with defense analysis and updates, dealing more to the point of view that deals with policy-making and giving two cents on the news. This, in any way, comes with the facts laid and the author's thoughts of it, grounded with the factual information provided.




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