Procurement: The Philippines Gets Some New New Helicopters

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November 18, 2013: The Philippines recently ordered eight AW109 attack helicopters for its air force. These will be equipped with rocket launchers and two 12.7mm (.50 caliber) machine-guns. The AW109 can also be armed with up to eight missiles (TOW or Hellfire types). The air force AW109s will cost about $10 million each. Last year the Philippines bought three AW109 maritime helicopters (at $11 million each) for its navy. All eleven of the Filipino AW109s should be delivered by 2015.

Britain's last helicopter manufacturer (Agusta Westland, a division of Italian firm Finmeccanica) builds the AW109, which is a three ton aircraft with a max speed of 285 kilometers an hour and endurance of about three hours. The commercial version can carry up to seven passengers (and one pilot).

Military AW109s are used mostly for reconnaissance, as well as search and rescue. Nearly 600 AW109s are used by 50 countries. The Philippines is buying new equipment in small batches because it is basically broke. But growing Chinese intrusions into Filipino offshore areas has generated sufficient fear to force the Philippines to scrounge up cash for this emergency. 

Most of the existing Filipino helicopters are refurbished American UH-1s. The Philippines has received over 150 UH-1s since 1969 and is seeking at least twenty more. Many have been lost to accidents and hostile fire or have just worn out. About 45 are in service. Some half of these are operational. The Filipinos have been pleased with the performance of these aircraft.

The UH-1s are expensive to operate, costing over a thousand dollars per hour in the air. While the Philippines pays its crews and maintenance people less, fuel and spare parts cost the same as they do in the United States. There, the U.S. Army has retired all its UH-1s during the last five years and has phased out this Vietnam era design completely. Many police, fire, and other governmental organizations are glad to get their hands on these retired helicopters. Even with the refurb cost, of about $1-2 million each, the UH-1s are still effective and a bargain at the price (free from the government, plus refurb expense). A refurbished Uh-1 is good for about ten years of service.

The Philippines has used its UH-1s to fight Communist and Islamic rebels, as well as for disaster relief. The Philippines would like to shift to a fleet of new helicopters and that may happen. But new helicopters cost about 10 times as much as refurbs. Over a thousand of UH-1s remain in service worldwide. The latest refurb version is the UH-1H and is also called the "Huey II" by the manufacturer. It’s a 4.7 ton aircraft, with a max range of 469 kilometers, max endurance of 2.8 hours, and the ability to carry over two tons of cargo. The UH-1 design is half a century old and is considered the first "modern" (gas-turbine engine) helicopter design. 

 


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