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The Philippine Marines orders 81mm Mortars from Spain's Expal Systems

Which model with the PN select?

The Philippine Navy is in the process of acquiring its Shore Based Air Defense Missile System!

Is the SMAW-II the PMC's preferred assault weapon?!

The Philippine Marines may acquire the SMAW-II assault weapon for its Bunker Defeat Weapon requirements!

Exclusive! First photos of Hermes 900 UAVs in PAF livery!

The first batch of Hermes 900 UAVs for the PAF are finally

BrahMos missiles for the Philippine Army?!

We discuss the Philippine Army's plan to acquire the BrahMos supersonic missile

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Why the Philippine Navy may accept the Jose Rizal-class frigates, with or without TDLink 16 compatibility

The Philippine Navy, through its Flag Officer in Command (FOIC) Vice Adm. Giovanni Bacordo, announced on 15 May 2020 that the first of the Jose Rizal-class frigates built by Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) will be leaving the shipyard in Ulsan, South Korea on 18 May 2020, and arriving in Subic Bay in the Philippines by 23 May 2020.

The announcement mentioned that frigate, the future BRP Jose Rizal (FF-150). would sail with 60 Philippine Navy crewmen, and 40 Korean personnel, and the ship would undergo Technical and Acceptance Inspections once it arrives in Subic Bay.

While this appears to be good news for the Philippine Navy as the arrival marks a new milestone to their history as it becomes closer to becoming a modern navy, there are still several issues that are needing for clarity.

The first ship of the Jose Rizal-class, the future BRP Jose Rizal (FF-150). Photo taken from and credited to Hyundai Heavy Industries.

Quick Background:

MaxDefense previously posted in our blogs and Facebook page that Hyundai Heavy Industries appears to have not fully met the project requirements of the Frigate Acquisition Project, which eventually became the Jose Rizal-class frigates.

While there were some minor issues that we believe can be settled later on, one major issue that hounds the project is the requirement for compatibility of the Combat Management System (CMS) with the US-NATO Tactical Data Link 16 (Link 16).

This requirement was among those agreed upon and included in the project's Contract between the Department of National Defense (DND) and Hyundai Heavy Industries that was signed on 24 October 2016 bt Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana, and HHI Executive Vice President Kisun Chung

HHI and its subcontractor Hanwha Systems previously confirmed in Senate hearings conducted in 2017 that the Hanwha Systems Naval Shield Integrated Combat Management System, which is the CMS installed on the new frigates, are not yet compatible to Link 16 as of then, although they are expecting it would be certified as compatible with Link 16 by 2019. 

By 2019, Hanwha Systems was not able to get the Naval Shield ICMS to be compatible with Link 16 due to reasons beyond its control. MaxDefense reiterated that the risk from 2016 was not mitigated, and has now become an actual problem. HHI and Hanwha Systems promised that the ship would be delivered with Link 16 compatibility in 2020.

The future BRP Jose Rizal (FF-150) during its launching in 2019 at HHI's naval shipyard in Ulsan, South Korea. Photo from

By March 2020, the PN FOIC Vice Adm. Bacordo confirmed that they are just awaiting for certification from the US on the compatibility of Naval Shield ICMS with Link 16, since only the US Link 16 Office and US DOD's Joint Interoperability Test Command (JITC) can provide certification. It was later confirmed that Hanwha Systems tested the Naval Shield ICMS using the Ultra Electronics Air Defense System Integrator (ADSI) simulator, although Hanwha Systems and HHI failed to get actual certification from US certifiers.

Hanwha presented their Naval Shield ICMS to Philippine media during the launch of BRP Jose Rizal in 2019. Photo from

MaxDefense received information from officials familiar with the Link 16 issues that a simulation test using the Ultra Electronics ADSI, as what Hanwha Systems did, may not be sufficient reason enough for the US JITC and Link 16 office to provide certification.

If the US Link 16 Office and JITC doesn't provide any certification, the Philippine Navy risks accepting the ship that in the end, the US will not accept for installation of the Tactical Data Link 16.

The two ships of the Jose Rizal-class docked in HHI's yard in Ulsan, South Korea. Photo exclusively shared to MaxDefense Philippines.

Accepting the Frigate or Not:

It remains to be seen now if the Philippine Navy's Technical Inspection and Acceptance Committee (TIAC) will accept the ship or not.

Of course it would be good news for everyone, including MaxDefense, if HHI and Hanwha Systems could REALLY provide the certification from US certifying agencies like JITC, because this means that finally, we can say that the ship is fully compliant to the requirements.

MaxDefense would even be happy for the Philippine Navy to continue with its planned Corvette Acquisition Project with HHI and Hanwha if they can prove that the Naval Shield ICMS is TDL16 compatible.

But as our last check just a few days ago, there is still no sign that a US certification was obtained by HHI and Hanwha Systems to support their claim that the Naval Shield ICMS is TDL16 compatible.

But MaxDefense believes that, despite the issues surrounding the frigates and its Combat Management System, the Philippine Navy will accept the ships.
Why the PN Would Accept the Ships, TDL16 Compatible or Not:

MaxDefense believes that despite the warnings made since 2016, and despite the Philippine Navy knowing the issues very well, the Philippine Navy would still accept the frigates, with or without the Link 16 compatibility with the Naval Shield ICMS.

There are several reasons that we believe are in the heads of the Philippine Navy's leadership, which we believe include the following:

1. RIMPAC 2020:

RIMPAC 2020 is happening in August 2020, and the Philippine Navy is said to be joining once again with the FF-150. Photo of RIMPAC 2020 logo from RIMPAC's official FB page.

One of our community members commented in our last Facebook post that the ship's "going to a party, but isn't well dressed enough". While MaxDefense believes that being "well dressed" is needed, the ship is indeed going to a party.

MaxDefense has received confirmation that the Philippine Navy is joining the Rim of the Pacific Exercises 2020, which is scheduled in August 2020 in Hawaii, USA. And guess which ship is the Philippine Navy sending?

Yes, its no other than the future BRP Jose Rizal (FF-150), which is expected to be commissioned with the Philippine Navy by then. MaxDefense is expected that a shipboard helicopter will accompany the frigate, but it still remains to be seen if the PN will send the new AgustaWestland AW159 Mk220 Wildcat, or the older and less capable AgustaWestland AW109E Power naval helicopter.

The exercises is expected to only have the At Sea Phase due to the COVID-19 pandemic still expected to be ongoing. So the PN is only sending a combat ship, unlike in 2018 when it sent a Marine Battalion Landing Team and a Landing Platform Dock. 

RIMPAC 2020 is happpening. Photo from US Navy.

2. Pressure from Greased Public Officials:

It would be remembered that as early as April 2020, MaxDefense already received word that Hyundai Heavy Industries is already pushing for the delivery of the frigate, and has already sent their people to meet "people with influence" within the Philippine government.

Despite the issues on the frigate being very obvious, the deal still pushed through according to HHI's wishes despite not legally questionable. This means that there are questionable activities happening in the backstage of the show.

If the frigate's acceptance is delayed, it means more expenses for HHI since the Philippine government cannot release the milestone payments for the ship's delivery. Based on the project's payment terms and delivery schedule included in the contract, HHI will be paid 10% of the contract price and reach a total of 80% of the contract price by the time the 1st frigate is accepted and delivered to the Philippine Navy.

It would be favorable for HHI to spend a little more just to get this project moving forward. And that "little more" may include "grease" for our officials.

3. Philippine Navy's Desperation for Additional Hulls:

Just a few weeks ago, the Philippine Navy just had one of its major surface combat asset, the Del Pilar-class frigate BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PS-16) in a minor accident off the coast of India. While the damage appears to be minimal, MaxDefense received information from Navy sources that it might taken several months for a complete repair to be made, that is even with assistance from the US Navy's Naval Sea Systems Command.

If true, this means the BRP Ramon Alcaraz may not be available for service for almost the entire remaining months of 2020.

This is not a good timing for the Philippine Navy, since it is in the process of retiring three (3) more World War 2-era warships within 2020, while its sistership BRP Gregorio del Pilar (PS-15) is still under repair and is not expected to return to service until mid to late 2021 as it will proceed with upgrade works in late 2020 or early 2021 even after repairs on the ship are done.

The BRP Gregorio del Pilar (PS-15) has not yet recovered from the damages it took in 2018. It is expected that repairs would be completed by 2020, although the ship is lined for upgrade works in early 2021. Photo from

This means that only the Del Pilar-class frigate BRP Andres Bonifacio (PS-17) and the Pohang-class corvette BRP Conrado Yap (PS-39) remain as the only available major surface combatants of the Philippine Navy as of this writing. The addition of the future BRP Jose Rizal (FF-150) would boost the Philippine Navy's hull availability

The PN only has the Pohang-class corvette BRP Conrado Yap (PS-39) and the Del Pilar-class frigate BRP Andres Bonifacio (PS-17) as its main surface combatants at the moment. Photo from PN.

4.  Obtaining Assistance from South Korean Government:

The acceptance of the future BRP Jose Rizal may also be tied to other projects that the Philippine Navy is trying to close with the South Korean government. 

One is obtaining soft loans to support the Corvette Acquisition Project which the DND and PN are pushing to be awarded to a Korean shipbuilder (most likely HHI).

The Philippine Navy plans to acquire 2 new corvettes, which is said to be based on an improved version of the Jose Rizal-class frigates, and would be built again by HHI. Photo shared exclusively to MaxDefense.

The other is obtaining excess defense articles from the South Korean Ministry of Defense, which may include a second or even a third decommissioned Pohang-class corvette formerly used by the Republic of Korea Navy.

Allowing the frigate to be accepted without too much question will give the DND and PN more bargaining power with the South Korean government for both proposed projects. 

The Philippine Navy is after the acquisition of additional decommissioned Pohang-class corvettes from the South Korean government.

5. Liquidated Damages:

If the frigates remain undelivered, HHI is expected to get penalized and could be paying for Liquidated Damages (LD) as stipulated in the contract annexes. It would be remembered that HHI promised to deliver the ship in April 2020, although the COVID-19 pandemic may be a valid reason for the delays. But further delays may not be acceptable enough to be considered as an aftereffect of COVID-19 issues.

HHI will try its best to push the DND and PN to accept the ships, so that HHI won't be paying for the LD and lose more money in the process.

For those who are not familiar with commercial contracts, paying Liquidated Damages is a damning thing for a company to do because it is considered a loss for any company to do so.

6. Protecting HHI and the South Korean Defense Industry's Image and Credibility:

For HHI to unable to deliver the frigates on time or for the wrong reasons would hit the company's credibility and image globally. The Philippine Navy's frigate is not a complicated project compared to many of its previous accomplishments, and HHI is expected to complete the deal with ease.

Not only HHI's credibility will be affected, but also by Hanwha Systems and the entire South Korean defense industry too, which is aiming to be one of the largest in the world in terms of export sales.

It is expected that the South Korean government, and by extension HHI and Hanwha Systems, would do everything to keep their save the reputation of their defense industry, considering Koreans are known to be very sensitive in issues that will damage their credibility, image, reputation, and pride in the global market scene.

More Issues than the Link 16 Compatibility?

Prior to finishing this blog entry, MaxDefense received more information from Philippine Navy sources that the Link 16 compatibility issue with the Combat Management System appears to be just a minor issue now. Not much was provided to us, but it only means that there are other pressing issues on the project. But we'll probably leave that for now as we would need more time to gather more information.

An infographic of the subsystems of the  Jose Rizal-class frigate. So what else could be experiencing problems here aside from the CMS? Photo from

MaxDefense and its entire defense community hopes that the Philippine Navy, especially its leadership and the Technical Inspection and Acceptance Committee (TIAC) and Project Management Team (PMT) would do its job well for the sake of the Philippine Navy's and the Philippines' interests.

Project Summary:
Frigate Acquisition Project Lot 1 - Frigate Platform with Launchers

Note: Edited as of 17 May 2020:

* End User: Philippine Navy (Offshore Combat Force)

* Quantity: 2 units

* Modernization Phase: Horizon 1 phase Priority Projects of RAFPMP

* Project ABC: Php16,000,000,000.00

* Acquisition Mode: 2-Stage Public Bidding

* Source of Funding: TBA

* SARO Release: TBA

* Winning Proponent: Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) of South Korea

* Product for Delivery: 
HDF-2600 frigate (Jose Rizal-class)

* Contract Price: Php15,744,571,584.00

* Residual Amount: Php255,428,416.00

* Expected Delivery: PN expects first ship by May 2020, second by September/October 2020.

* First post by MaxDefense: 02 May 2013

* Searching Hashtag: #PNFrigateAcquisition #PNFAP

* Status: First ship, future BRP Jose Rizal (FF-150) scheduled for delivery and arriving in the Philippines by 23 May 2020. Second ship, future BRP Antonio Luna (FF-151) undergoing dockside completion works, in preparation for sea trials.

First edit and release: 17 May 2020
Copyright MaxDefense Philippines

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Philippine Coast Guard receives cache of assorted firearms from Israel

The PCG was interested in acquiring firearms since early 2017, and has been looking at options as it preferred to do the acquisition as a package rather than for individual types.

With the issue of the US government’s rejection of exporting rifles and pistols to the Philippine National Police (PNP) still a hot issue, the PCG as well as the Department of Transportation (DOTr) which is the mother agency of the PCG, decided to avoid the American route to avoid backlash from the president.

Clockwise from top left: IWI  Negev, IWI Galil ACE, IWI Galil Sniper, and IWI Micro Tavor X95. Photo from IWI website, edited by MaxDefense.

Russian Firearms Considered:

Among those considered for the PCG were Russian-made firearms, which were offered to the PCG due to the closer relations between Russia and the Philippines. Some officials of the PCG, as well as certain officials from the Duterte administration and the DOTr, were keen on arming the PCG with Russian firearms and make use of Russia’s enthusiasm to supply the requirements.

MaxDefense reported in June 2018 that Russia made an offer, which we described back then as “7.62x39mm assault rifles, 7.62x54R sniper rifles and machine guns, and 9mm submachine guns”, with an estimated worth of “around US$9-10 million”.

While we did not identify the firearms involved as requested by sources, it would be fine to identify them now. The firearms consisted of:

Assault Rifles:
* 4,000 units of 7.62x39mm Kalashnikov AK103 (Index 6P45) assault rifles with Picatinny rails
* 8,000 units of plastic magazines for AK103
* 5,230 units of Charging Handle RP, Sb
* 4,000 units PKY-2 Red Dot Sights

The Kalashnikov AK103 7.62x39mm assault rifle. Credits to original source of photo.

Sniper Rifles:
* 50 units 7.62x54mmR Dragunov sniper rifle SVD (Index 6B1)
* 50 units 1PN93-4 night optics

The Dragunov SVD 7.62x54mmR semi-automatic sniper rifle. Photo taken from Wikipedia.

Machine Guns:
* 100 units 7.62x54mmR Kalashnikov 6P41H Pecheneg infantry machine gun with night sight leaf
* 30 units 1PN93-3 night optics

The Pecheneg 7.62x54mmR light machine gun. Photo credited to Vitaly V. Kuzmin.

Sub-Machine Guns:
* 1,230 units 9x19mm Vityaz-SN submachine guns
* 1,230 units PKY-2 Red Dot Sights

The Vityaz SN 9mm submachine gun. Photo credited to Vitaly V. Kuzmin.

* 100,000 rounds 7.62mm sniper rifle cartridge (Index 7N1)
* 200,000 rounds 7.62mm cartridge with steel core bullet (Index 57-N-323S)

Interesting though is that, despite Russia capable of manufacturing variants of these firearms using NATO-standard munitions (in 7.62x51mm instead of 7.62x39 or 7.62x54mmR), the Russian-standard calibre variant were offered for sale.

The situation is different between this and when the Russian government decided to donate 7.62x39mm Kalashnikov AKM rifles to the Philippine Army, since those AKMs were taken from Russian Army strategic reserves rather than new-manufactured models.

This could also be one of the reasons why the Russian offer was not approved by the PCG. According to sources, the PCG was not in favour of using Russian calibre size since it would be more difficult for them to acquire ammunition for them. Only the Vityaz-SN SMG used a calibre size that is common in the Philippines.

With this, the PCG decided to go for other offers, specifically with the Israeli government’s submitted proposal.

Israeli Firearms Offer Approved:

The Israeli government made its own offer based on firearms made by Israel Weapons Industries (IWI).

Among the reasons why the PCG was open to this proposal as because the firearms offered are already in service with Philippine security agencies, especially by the Philippine National Police (PNP) which has ordered thousands of firearms from IWI after winning several public biddings.

In the end after several negotiations, an agreement was reached between the Israeli government and the Philippines DOTr and PCG, as a Government-to-Government (G2G) deal was approved and a contract reached in 2019.

While MaxDefense does not have an exact figure of the contract amount, our estimate puts it at around US$15 to 17 million, although it appears that the PCG made adjustments on their requirements and the quantity of firearm types.

Below are the inclusions of the PCG’s Firearms Acquisition Project:

Assault Rifles:
* 4,357 units of IWI Galil ACE 21N 5.56x45mm assault rifles with 8.5” barrels and foldable buttstock
* 2,500 units of Meprolight M21 battery-less Reflex Sights

An infographic on the Galil ACE 21N 5.56x45mm carbine with the Mepro M21 reflex sight. Photo taken from Pinterest.

Sniper Rifles:
* 48 units IWI Galil Tzalafim “Galatz” 7.62x51mm semi-automatic sniper rifle with x10 Day Optics
* 2 units Meprolight NOA NYX Thermal Combat System Sight, with X7 magnification and video capability, includes Spotter Computers

Machine Guns:
* 350 units IWI Negev NG-7 7.62x51mm light machine guns
* 350 units Meprolight X4 Day Scopes
* 350 units Meprolight Sting Laser Pointers (Visible & IR)

The IWI Negev NG7 7.62x51mm light machine gun. Photo taken from Pinterest.

Sub-Machine Guns:
* 1,124 units IWI Micro Tavor X95 9x19mm submachine guns
* 1,124 units Meprolight M21 battery-less Reflex Sights

The IWI Micro Tavor X95 9mm SMG equipped with an optical sighting system. The PCG received the X95 9mm SMG with the Meprolight M21 reflex sights. Photo credited to

* 7,743 units of IWI Masada 9x19mm Parabellum Striker-Fired pistols 
* 6,743 nos. Pistol Holsters
* 1,000 nos. Pistol Leg Rig Holster
* 10 units CornerShot System

The Cornershot system for pistols. Photo taken from Pinterest.

The Galil ACE 21N rifle is the "shorty" version of the Galil ACE family. It has an 8.5" long barrel, which is far shorter than standard M4 rifles used by most Philippine government security agencies. "N" in 21N corresponds to the use of NATO-standard 30-round magazines instead of Galil-standard 35-round magazines. The Galil ACE N-series is already in service with the Philippine National Police (PNP).

Photo from IWI website.

The compact size allows for use in close quarter battle (CQB) including shipboarding, although it could be insufficient as secondary weapons for PCG boats.

The Galil Sniper S.A, also known as the Galil Tzalafim or "Galatz" sniper rifle, is based on the 7.62x51mm variant of the Galil assault rifle, with a 23" barrel length and long range optics. The sniper rifle is in service with the PNP, although older versions have already been in service with AFP units especially the Philippine Army's Scout Range Regiment.

Among the ones delivered, the IWI Micro Tavor X95 9mm submachine gun is the most familiar to the PCG, as it already operates the type since 2018. It is based on the Tavor TAR-21 5.56x45mm bullpop assault rifle, but has been modified to fit a reduced body size, smaller caliber and shorter barrel.

The IWI Negev NG7 light machine gun is the next generation version of the Negev machine gun, using 7.62x51mm ammunition. It is said to be the only machine gun with semi-automatic mode, and is one the lightest in its class. It has a 20" barrel length and a rate of fire of around 600 to 750 rounds per minute.

The PNP also uses the IWI Negev NG7 and its 5.56x45mm variant called the Negev NG5.

Photo taken from IWI website.

The IWI Masada 9x19mm Parabellum striker fired pistol is their version of the polymer-construction 9mm pistol, featuring a 17+1 rounds capacity, and features a fully ambidextrous control and enhanced ergonomics. It is another firearm that is already common with the PNP.

Cresits to original source of photo.

Then there's the CornerShot System. This is one of those items that some AFP units do not want to confirm nor deny having, so it remains a mystery if the AFP has it. But MaxDefense can confirm that the PCG definitely has them now and are with the PCG Special Operations Group.

An Israeli invention by Lt. Col. Amos Golan, and mounts a standard semi automatic pistol linked to a mechanism that allows the weapon to be used from tight corners and with a camera guiding the shooter to its target, much like a periscope.

Some examples on the use of CornerShot system during CQB in tight spaces and high risk. Photos credited to original owners.

The decision to go with conducting the deal with Israel appears to have been due to several factors, although it appears that it was also the best proposal and the most practical for the PCG, compared to the proposals made to buy the firearms from other countries like Russia.

Deliveries Completed as of April 2020:

Most of the firearms will be given to the PCG’s Special Operations Group (PCG SOG), which still use mostly older M16-type firearms, although the delivery of CZ Scorpion Evo 3 9mm submachine guns a few years ago, and IWI Micro Tavor X95 9mm submachine guns in 2018 helped in improving their firepower.

MaxDefense received confirmation from several sources that deliveries has been made last March 2020, and the PCG has started to distribute the firearms to its units.

Some PCG members with the new IWI Galil ACE 21N 5.56x45mm rifle during relief operations related to COVID-19. Photo shared to MaxDefense by a contributor.

MaxDefense was informed that some of the Negev NG7 light machine guns and Galatz sniper rifles are to be assigned to PCG sea ssets are secondary weapons, as additional firepower and for use during shipboardings.

The absence of a medium caliber weapon system onboard several PCG assets like the Boracay-class fast patrol boat (above) has pushed the PCG to temporarily arm them with light machine guns like the Negev NG7, or even the Galil Sniper SA rifle. Photo from PCG.

Overall, this acquisition is expected to give the PCG a needed boost to improve their capabilities in conducting law enforcement, counter terrorism at sea, and even on protecting themselves.

Aside from this Firearms Acquisition Project, the PCG has also had several projects with the Israeli government, some of which will be discussed here @ MaxDefense Philippines soon.

MaxDefense also expects more firearms to be acquired by the PCG as the service increase its size, being now the fastest growing security agency in the country.

We just hope that the PCG would train its personnel well in properly using and caring for these assets including firearms safety considering many of irs new personnel may not have experience in handling firearms before.

First published: 13 May 2020
Copyright MaxDefense Philippines

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

ATAK vs Viper vs Apache: Latest Updates on the PAF's Attack Helicopter Project

With so many discussions made, and new updates coming from open sources, media and MaxDefense sources regarding the Philippine Air Force’s Attack Helicopter (Horizon 2) Acquisition Project, it is time for a new update to consolidate all these loose information into a single post that supports previous blog entries made on the project.

For those new to this topic, MaxDefense suggests reading our earlier blog posts first before proceeding, with the following links provided below to guide you through:

The top selections for the PAF's Attack Helicipter Project (from left to right): the TAI T129 ATAK, Boeing AH-64E Apache Guardian, and Bell AH-1Z Viper. Credits to original sources of photos.

Philippine Air Force Technical Group Picks TAI’s T129 ATAK as its Future Attack Helicopter” – posted first on 28 November 2018

This entry first entry was an exclusive report on the PAF Technical Working Group (TWG) selecting the TAI T129 ATAK as its top choice for the Attack Helicopter acquisition project.

Purchase of T129 ATAK falls through, What’s next for the Attack Helicopter Project of the PAF?” – posted first on 29 June 2019

Due to the tensions between the US and Turkey, the T129 production was affected as the US stopped exporting US-made components for the T129 helicopter including the LHTEC engines and certain important avionics. The DND took notice of this and further negotiations with Turkey halted as it waits on what will happen.

After delays, the DND finally selects the Philippine Air Force’s next Attack Helicopter” – posted first on 31 August 2019

Despite the issues surrounding the T129 ATAK helicopter’s production, the DND decided to continue dealing with Turkey on the Attack Helicopter acquisition project. This entry discussed the decision made by the DND to still stick to the T129 ATAK. This is the basis for the current decision of the DND to continue dealing with TAI and the Turkish government.

Why the Philippine Air Force will be better-off with the Bell AH-1Z Viper for its AH needs” – posted first on 09 October 2019

With the issue on export licenses still unsettled, MaxDefense made an opinion piece on why the PAF should be better off with the Bell AH-1Z Viper rather than continuing the push with the TAI T129 ATAK.

Project Recap:

* On 4th quarter of 2018, the Philippine Air Force’s Technical Working Group (PAF TWG) for the project selected the TAI T129 ATAK attack helicopter as its primary choice.

* The Bell’s AH-1Z Viper was considered as the first alternative to the T129.

The PAF selected the T129 ATAK (above) as its primary choice, and the Bell AH-1Z (top) as its alternative.

* On 2nd quarter of 2019, issues surfaced on the ability of TAI to deliver the T129 ATAK to the PAF, as the Turkish government was caught in a political and trade spat with the US government. The US decided to halt exporting certain components of the T129 ATAK, including the LHTEC T800 turbine engines, and certain avionics systems. 

* The Turkish government objected to this and has asked the US government to reconsider its actions. By June 2019, the US has not lifted the restrictions against Turkey, and the Philippines’ DND has noticed this.

* The PAF started looking again at its options, and has decided to talk with Bell regarding their AH-1Z Viper.  This is while the DND continues its discussions with the Turkish government and TAI on final pricing and inclusions, and updates on the supply issues with the US.

PAF included the T129 as their projected future AH in this PAF Magazine released last July 2019. Photo credited to MaxDefense contributor.

* Bell’s original offer was too expensive, prompting to check with Boeing with the AH-64E Apache Guardian. 

* By August 2019, the DND and PAF still believe that the T129 ATAK remains the best option,  with Turkey promising to settle their issue by early 2020.

* Despite this, Bell and Boeing continued to market their products in anticipation that TAI will not be getting the components it needs from the US, and that the DND and PAF will need to reconsider its options.

A T129 ATAK. Photo credits to original source of photo.

Notice of Award Released in favour of TAI’s T129 ATAK:

The DND released a Notice of Award (NOA) in favour of Turkish Aerospace Industries. But both sides were unable to reach a final contract as Turkey failed to get the US government to retract its restrictions on supply of aircraft components. 

PAF officer conducting flight tests with a T129 ATAK attack helicopter in Turkey. Photo shared to MaxDefense by one of our contributor.

Despite the NOA, talks continued with other companies in case the Turkish deal fails to take-off.

Bell was able to improve its overall package for the AH-1Z Viper, and was able to commit that they could supply between 4 to 5 helicopters based on the PAF’s budget. 

USMC Bell AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters escorting Bell UH-1Y Venom utility helicopters. Credits to original source of photo.

While it has not gained much success in getting support from the PAF, Boeing was able to get the ears of officials from the General Headquarters, Armed Forces of the Philippines (GHQ-AFP), who agree that the Apache Guardian is the best option available.

The AH-64 Apache.

According to MaxDefense sources, the insistence to also get approval for AH-64E sale is in anticipation also of a potential requirement for attack helicopters for the Philippine Army, and as a back-up plan in case both the negotiations by the DND and PAF with TAI and Bell end in failure.

DND Submits Letter of Request to US, TAI Requests for Time Extension:

By early 2020, both Bell and Boeing gained some ground when the DND decided to proceed with submitted a Letter of Request (LOR) with the US State Department for the potential sale of either the Bell AH-1Z Viper and the Boeing AH-64E Apache Guardian.

Meanwhile, TAI has requested the DND and PAF for changes to be made on the Implementing Arrangements of the project, to allow TAI an extra 1 year extension in delivering the Attack Helicopters compared to the original stipulated duration. 

The AH-1Z and AH-64E. Credits to original sources of photos.

MaxDefense believes that the delivery extension request was in anticipation that Turkey would get the US government to reconsider its export restrictions. 

Extending by 1 year is not enough to allow an indigenous helicopter engine development to finish, and for type certification with the T129. These processes take at least 3-5 years, and continued use of the LHTEC T800 engine remains the best option for the T129.

The T129's 20mm guns and sighting system. Photo shared to MaxDefense by a contributor.

US State Department Approves Potential Sale of AH-1Z or AH-64E:

By May 2020, the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) announced that the US State Department has approved the potential sale of both the Bell AH-1Z Viper and Boeing AH-64E Apache Guardian attack helicopters to the Philippines, and that the US Congress has been notified about this and would make its own approval of this plan.

The DSCA notice on the potential sale of AH-64E Apache Guardian attack helicopters to the Philippines. Photo taken from DCSA screengrab.

The notices posted by DSCA shows an idea of the inclusions made by Bell and Boeing in their packages, considering both packages differ significantly in the inclusions, affecting the overall estimated price by more than 300%.

The DSCA notice on the potential sale of AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters to the Philippines. Photo taken from DSCA screengrab.

MaxDefense posted these spreadsheets in our Facebook page to show the difference between the package inclusions, justifying why Boeing’s offer was far more expensive than the offer made by Bell.

Photo shared and credited to one of our contributor who wish to remain anonymous.

Bell AH-1Z versus Boeing AH-64E:

MaxDefense posted another set of spreadsheets comparing the Bell AH-1Z and Boeing AH-64E in terms of certain parameters. 

Data used came from and credited to Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies Australia, and Scott Lovell, used for the evaluation of both models for the Australian Army’s LAND 4503 ARH Replacement Project.

Data credited to RUSI Australia/Scott Lovell, edited and complied by one of our contributor who wish to remain anonymois

Performance-wise, there are only small differences and MaxDefense has decided not to look into this anymore. Instead, we focus on more important details.

Based on the details above, MaxDefense believes that while the AH-64E Apache Guardian is considered the best attack helicopter available anywhere, the AH-1Z Viper is a better option for the PAF due to its speed, range, being navalized and corrosion resistant, lower acquisition and operating cost, and better leverage due to close relationship of the PAF with the AH-1Z’s biggest user the US Marine Corps.

PAF and USMC personnel with a USMC Bell AH-1W Super Cobra. Photo credited to origibal source.

The biggest deciding factor is the AH-1Z being navalized and corrosion resistant, which enables it to survive the high salinity  climate and environment of the Philippines that hounds military and civilian aircraft operating from our country. The AH-1Z was designed to operate from assault ships and conduct operates in coastal areas. 

Another is the price factor. Generally the AH-1Z is somehow cheaper to acquire and sustain than the AH-64E based on an apples-to-apples comparison. Price has always been a major factor in any AFP Modernization Program acquisition, and the small savings actually is a big factor seriously looked at by the PAF.

Bell's outstanding relations with the PAF is another factor, considering Bell has been actively supporting the PAF's fleet, which is mostly equipped with Bell helicopters like the UH-1D/H Huey, Bell 412HP/EP, and AH-1S Cobra.

Majority of PAF's helicopter fleet is composed of Bell helicopters like the Bell 412EP (top) and Bell AH-1S Cobra (above). Credits to original source of top photos.

Final Decision Rests on PAF Technical Team:

According to the latest statements made by Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana, the American helicopters are found to be expensive, and that the PAF decided to go with Turkey’s offer, and that Turkey as able to offer 6 helicopters while US companies can only offer 2 based on the PAF’s budget.

This reply from Sec. Lorenzana is simplistic, inaccurate, and could be based on old information considering Bell has been able to improve its offer. Even based on the US$450 million estimated package cost as per the DSCA notice, it shows that the offer can actually provide almost 4 helicopters, not 2 as Sec. Lorenzana mentioned.

Bell AH-1Z Viper. Credits to original source of photo.

It is good to know though the Sec. Lorenzana confirmed his knowledge on Turkey’s issues with the US-soured components, although he mentioned that “it is Turkey’s problem” is a sign of lack of pro-activeness in the defense department to cut risks in deals that they entered into.

MaxDefense believes that the PAF has the ball on making the final decision if it is going to accept TAI’s request to extend the delivery date by 1 more year, or to move to its next best alternative which is the Bell AH-1Z Viper. If the PAF decides to stick with the T129 ATAK, it is expected that the DND would just do the same. 

Even if there are powerful forces within the DND and the national government that are forcing the PAF to stick with the T129 ATAK, the PAF should show decisiveness in its decision making and must not allow itself to be pushed around.

Bell AH-1Z Viper firing AGM-114 Hellfire missile. Credits to original source of photo.

As of this writing, the PAF has not officially changed its decision, although MaxDefense has received several confirmation from PAF sources that the PAF may not wait for TAI anymore and will instead move to go with Bell's AH-1Z Viper.

PAF sources also confirmed to MaxDefense that if they decide to drop the deal with TAI, it could take another 3 to 6 months to process. Thus, MaxDefense believes that a decision should be made ASAP.

The PAF needs to strongly consider the reality that TAI is not in a good position to solve its problems, and the PAF need not be dragged down too by their problems.

The Philippine Army Watches:

The Philippine Army (PA) is actually monitoring the developments of the project, as it may indirectly affect their own decision making on plans to have Attack Helicopters of their own.

The DND should consider that in their decision making too, that’s why this project is actually more complicated than everyone expect, even those from DND may not have realized the problems that may arise if the PAF and DND makes a bad decision.

The Philippine Army is eyeing the acquisition of possibly 2 classes of attack helicopters and is looking at the PAF project closely. Photos for reference only, credited to original sources.

Deadline Looms:

Another problem is that the initial funds for the Attack Helicopter project was already subjected to a 1 year time extension by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), and project’s funds should be used before 31 December 2020. That is just less than 7 months away.

The Covid-19 pandemic makes things even more difficult due to restrictions.

Also, the delivery of the helicopters are affected by further delays in concluding a contract for the project. If a contract can only be signed by September 2020, there is a possibility that the winning company would not be able to deliver a helicopter before Pres. Duterte leaves office in June 2022.

Take note that Pres. Duterte previously mentioned that he wants to prioritize projects that can be finished within his term. At this rate, the PAF Attack Helicopter Acquisition Project may not be one of them.

The US Government Also Waits:

Another factor that remains more clarity is what the US government's participation in the project, should the PAF and DND select an American attack helicopter model.

Previously MaxDefense mentioned that Bell has an indirect advantage due to the US government's willingness to provide additional attack helicopters in the form of used and refurbished Bell AH-1W Super Cobras currently operated by the US Marine Corps.

The Bell AH-1W Super Cobra

MaxDefense's industry sources confirmed that Boeing has even made its displeasure known to the Pentagon due to Bell's advantage in such an offer, considering the Bell AH-1Z Viper is actually a direct replacement of the AH-1W Super Cobra.

This gives the Viper a better chance of getting selected should the US government provide a separate but related offer to either grant (donate) or affordably sell a squadron of AH-1W Super Cobras.

PAF pilots checking a USMC Bell AH-1W Super Cobra during joint exercises between the US and AFP. Photo taken from DVIDS hub.

Despite its age, the AH-1W Super Cobra remains far better than any attack helicopter in the Philippine Air Force, and even better than attack helicopters of several regional neighbors. These are cheap but still useful assets that the PAF is very willing to accept based on our queries with PAF pilots and officers.

MaxDefense’s Opinion:

MaxDefense does not find any fault on the TAI T129 ATAK attack helicopter’s performance and capabilities. From the start, MaxDefense supported the decision of the PAF to select the T129 ATAK because it is a capable attack helicopter, while being a cheaper alternative to American or European models.

Philippine officials visiting TAI and the T129 ATAK in 2019. Photo credited to Philippine Embassy in Turkey.

But the situation Turkey is facing with regards to obtaining the major components to manufacture the helicopter is something that is beyond the control of Turkish Aerospace Industries, and also beyond the control of the DND and PAF. The Philippine side cannot be faulted for any decision to ditch the deal with TAI because of the issues affecting the PAF's own timeframe.

MaxDefense believes that despite Turkey’s promises, it is risky to continue with the deal with TAI, and the DND should have been pro-active in checking the situation by coordinating with the US government regardimg the export restrictions to Turkey.  Being a US ally, the Philippines should get a straight answer from the US government.

In simple terms, the T129 ATAK is indeed a cheaper helicopter. But how can its cheapness benefit the country if they do not have the engines and avionics to work?

As early as October 2019, MaxDefense made its voice heard when we said the Bell AH-1Z Viper would be the best solution for the PAF and DND rather than sticking with the uncertainty of Turkey’s ability to deliver the T129 ATAK.

The PAF and DND should look at Pakistan’s decision on how to go through with its T129 ATAK orders. Take note that Pakistan signed a contract in 2018 for the supply and delivery of 30 units of T129 ATAK attack helicopters for the Pakistan Army. As of 02 May 2020, the Pakistan government was reported to have given Turkey until July 2020 to confirm its ability to meet contract obligations, or the Pakistan government will cancel the contract and ask for damage reparations for the delays incurred on their own Attack Helicopter project.

Greece's Flight and Space Magazine correspondent Babak Taghvaee reported Pakistan's warning to Turkey regarding failure to start T129 production. Photo screengrabbed from Twitter.

Despite recent political issues between the Philippines and the US including the plan to cancel the PH-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), the fact remains: the US is still the Philippines’ foremost and only ally, and the country’s defense strategy hangs on the US military’s ability to support the Philippines. 

It would be beneficial for the PAF to use attack helicopters used by its allies, as it also stand to benefit on maximizing its Defense Logistics Support agreement. This enables the US to provide spare parts and supplies of similar equipment from its own logistics chain in cases of emergencies, like what happened during the Battle of Marawi when the US provided munitions from its own inventory to the AFP.

Then there is the chance to potentially acquire excess AH-1W Super Cobras.

If the information is indeed true that PAF is dropping the T129 in favor of AH-1Z is true, do it swiftly and decisively.

PAF is said to be preparing to shift its plan to the AH-1Z due to Turkish issues on component supply. Photo credited to original owner.

Project Summary:

Attack Helicopter (Horizon 2)Acquisition Project:

Note: Edited as of 05 May 2020.

* End User: Philippine Air Force (15th Strike Wing)

Quantity: no specific quantity, cost dependent

* Modernization Phase:
 Horizon 2 Phase of RAFPMP

* Project ABC:

Acquisition Mode: Government-to-Government deal, originally with Turkish Ministry of Defense.

* Source of Funding: GAA Funds through AFP Modernization Program Trust Fund, to be paid via Multi-Year Obligation Authority (MYOA) process.

* SARO Release/s: 

* Winning Proponent: TBA

Product for Delivery: TBA

* Contract Price: TBA

* First post by MaxDefense: TBA

* MaxDefense Searching Hashtag: #PAFAHAcquisition

* Status: TWG selected TAI T129 ATAK as basis for the Attack Helicopter project in 2018. Despite re-evaluation made in 2019 after Turkey had problems obtaining US and EU-sourced subsystems, NOA awarded to Turkish Aerospace Industries although PAF is looking at either Bell AH-1Z or Boeing AH-64E as alternatives to the T129. US State Department approval was confirmed for both American helicopters.

First release: 06 May 2020
Copyright MaxDefense Philippines

Philippine Navy Modernization Projects