THE government is doing away with the accident-prone Huey helicopters as President Rodrigo Duterte approved the purchase of 15 Black Hawk helicopters to boost the military’s fleet.
In a Cabinet meeting Wednesday night, Duterte acknowledged the need to replace the Vietnam War-era Huey helicopters of the Philippine Air Force (PAF).
“The President has approved the acquisition of 15 Black Hawk helicopters as part of our plans to slowly address the growing heavy-lift deficiency of our Armed Forces and to decommission the Huey helicopters,” Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said in a televised briefing.
Nograles said the deadly January crash of a Huey helicopter in Bukidnon convinced the commander in chief to approve the purchase of new choppers.
The crash killed four PAF personnel, as well as a soldier and two militiamen who were assisting the crew, which was supposed to deliver goods for the Philippine Army’s 8th Infantry Battalion in Pantaron mountain range.
The incident was the fourth Air Force helicopter crash in six months, three of which involved UH-1H and UH-1D models that serve as the main workhorses of the country’s uniformed personnel.
“The President wants to end all these tragic deaths. Our servicemen and their families deserve better,” Nograles said.
He noted that the Air Force needs 55 helicopters to cover the country’s over 7,000 islands, but he said budget constraints posed by the pandemic only allowed for the acquisition of just 15 units.
The number of 15 units is only “indicative” and could still change depending on available funds, he added.
However, Nograles admits its funding needs to be “threshed out and discussed” further.
He also expressed hopes that a supply agreement would be signed before Duterte’s term ends on June 2022.
Last year, the defense department received 6 of 16 Sikorsky S70i Black Hawk helicopters from a Polish subsidiary of American defense and security company Lockheed Martin.
The Philippines acquired the helicopters under a government-to-government deal with Poland, signing a contract worth $241 million or around P11.5 billion in 2019.
The helicopters are capable of transporting 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.
The acquisition of said helicopters is part of Horizon 2 of the military’s modernization program, which would run until 2022.
The Philippines shifted into the purchase of the Polish-made helicopters after the contract for the acquisition of 16 combat helicopters from Canada was scrapped when it was about to be implemented in February 2018.