MANILA (AFP) – The Philippines will buy 32 new Black Hawk helicopters for more than USD620 million, the defence secretary said yesterday, in the nation’s latest big-ticket purchase to upgrade its ageing military capability.
For the past decade, Manila has been trying to modernise its run-down military equipment featuring Vietnam War-era helicopters and World War II naval vessels used by the United States (US).
The first of the 32 S-70i Black Hawks from a Polish firm owned by US defence manufacturer Lockheed Martin will begin to arrive next year, Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on Facebook.
The aircraft were needed for humanitarian assistance and disaster response, he said.
“The lack of transport planes and helicopters have never been more acute during the pandemic and in the aftermath of Typhoon Odette,” Lorenzana said, using the local name of Typhoon Rai, which left more than 400 people dead and caused widespread devastation when it hit the country in December.
“This was exacerbated by our ageing Hueys that have become uneconomical to maintain.”
The government last year completed an order of 16 S-70i Black Hawks to replace the air force’s fleet of Bell UH-1H helicopters, commonly known as the Huey, after fatal accidents. Many of them were acquired as surplus from the US, Manila’s longtime military ally.
The entire Black Hawk fleet was grounded in June after an S-70i helicopter crashed during a night-time training flight, killing all six on board.
An investigation found it “inadvertently entered a thunderstorm” and the pilot suffered “spatial disorientation or vertigo”.
As well as long-running insurgencies by communist and extremist fighters, the Philippines faces growing Chinese aggression in the South China Sea.
Lorenzana announced on Friday the Philippines would buy an anti-ship missile system from India for nearly USD375 million that would boost its defence capability.
That came weeks after the country ordered two new warships from South Korea’s Hyundai Heavy Industries in a USD556 million deal.