MANILA, PHILIPPINES (AP) – The Philippines signed a PHP32 billion (USD624 million) deal yesterday to purchase 32 Black Hawk helicopters in the largest military aircraft acquisition contract under outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte, defence officials said.
Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana signed the deal with Janusz Zakrecki, president of Poland-based aerospace manufacturer PZL Mielec, to acquire the S-70i Black Hawks, which can be used for troop transport, combat operations and disaster response. The deal includes a training package for pilots and maintenance crews and logistical backup, Department of National Defence spokesperson Arsenio Andolong said.
Lorenzana said it took time for the Department of Budget to allocate funds for the deal, which was signed by Duterte, and he was concerned because the president’s six-year term ends on June 30.
“We barely made it,” Lorenzana said. “I think we will not be here anymore to receive these helicopters, but nonetheless, we will be happy to see the improvement of the capability of the Philippine air force.”
Due to financial constraints, the Philippines has struggled for years to modernise its military, one of the most underfunded in Asia, to deal with decades-long extremist and communist insurgencies and to defend its territories in the disputed South China Sea.
The acquisition of the Black Hawks will allow the air force to retire its aging Bell UH-1 helicopters, which were used during the Vietnam War. “The Philippine air force is so good at maintaining these helicopters that long. Long after the United States has already ditched their Hueys, we are still flying them,” Lorenzana said.
The Philippines earlier acquired 16 Black Hawks from PZL Mielec, all of which have been delivered and were used widely to respond to the widespread damage caused by a powerful typhoon in the central Philippines in December, Lorenzana said.
One of the 16 helicopters crashed last year during night flight training in northern Tarlac province, killing six air force personnel, but Lorenzana said it was an “acceptable risk of flying helicopters at night during bad weather”.