The Philippines is planning to buy 32 Black Hawk helicopters from a Polish manufacturer for more than U.S. $620 million, in its latest move in efforts to modernize its military arsenal, the Filipino defense secretary has announced.
The planned acquisition brings to about $1.5 billion the amount of cash the Philippines is committing to spend through three separate purchase deals announced in less than a month.
Last week, Manila announced an agreement to purchase a package of BrahMos supersonic anti-ship missiles from India to step up Philippine defenses in the disputed South China Sea. And on Dec. 28, the government signed a contract with South Korea’s Hyundai Heavy Industries for two new warships.
“Upon the instruction of the president, we are procuring additional 32 brand new S-70i Black Hawk helicopters,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana wrote in a Facebook post on Jan. 15.
Lorenzana said the defense department had issued a notice of award to Poland-based manufacturer PZL Mielec on Dec. 28, 2021. The first batch of five helicopters is expected to be delivered in 2023, and the whole contract is to be completed by 2026.
The S-70i is the latest variant of the Black Hawk multi-mission aircraft developed by the Polish company, a subsidiary of Sikorsky Aircraft, which is owned by U.S. aerospace and defense giant Lockheed Martin.
“The contract agreement is now being drafted, after which I will issue a notice to proceed to officially commence the project,” Lorenzana said.
The deal includes an initial logistics support package as well as training for pilots and maintenance crew.
The purchase is aimed at replacing the fleet of Vietnam War-era Huey helicopters which, in Lorenzana’s words, “have become uneconomical to maintain.”
The Armed Forces of the Philippines is undertaking a 15-year, $40 billion modernization program that started in 2012 and will continue through 2027, according to the U.S. International Trade Administration (ITA).
“Under the late President Benigno Aquino III, the focus was to strengthen the AFP’s capability to address external threats, particularly to protect its territorial waters, and advance its maritime domain awareness,” ITA said.
The Philippine Air Force already has 12 new Black Hawks, which were deployed in disaster-relief operations after Typhoon Rai, known locally as Odette. Lorenzana said those deployments showed “the lack of transport planes and helicopters has never been more acute.”
Jay Batongbacal, an associate professor at the University of the Philippines College of Law, said President Rodrigo Duterte, who took office in June 2016 and whose six-year term ends following the May 9 election, shifted the nation’s focus to counterterrorism and internal threats. He said these recent buys may prove to be too little, too late.
“The BrahMos missile system purchase, while newsworthy, in the final analysis is not really a game changer for the strategic situation in the South China Sea,” he told BenarNews.
“At this point, three batteries and a limited number of shots seem more symbolic rather than practical, especially in light of the military balance in the region and the existing threat environment.
“It is possible that the fact that the Duterte administration has only a few more months to go is a factor, meaning that there is a stronger push and better incentive to actually finalize the deals,” he said.