|UH-1 Hueys at Rice Aviation's facility in the US. 2 units on the left side already have PAF nose markings.|
Photo taken from Rice Aviation website.
So why is the project taking too long to complete? We are not yet talking about delivery here. The program is still in the stage of choosing who will supply the aircraft. Getting the supplier alone already took two years.
A separate project from the Combat Utility Helicopter (CUH) wherein the AgustaWestland-PZL W-3A Sokol won, the PAF has requested for 21 units of Bell UH-1 Huey helicopters specifically 13 UH-1 standard models, and 8 UH-1 upgraded models including an Integrated Logistics Support (ILS) package. The DND initiated a public bidding in late 2012 with a budget of Php 1,264,977,615.52. A delivery of 45 days after opening the letter of credit.
|PAF's W-3A Sokol. A separate project but was intended to fulfill the same requirement.|
There has been a continuous requirement for more UH-1 for several years now, but this specific requirement was raised by the PAF on 2011. The PAF tried to acquire the used helicopters from US and foreign stocks, with DND and PAF officials inspected several UH-1H air frames and spare parts for possible use as flying or non-flying air assets and parts hulk. Such inspection was raised in a Philippine defense forum in 2012, showing DND personnel inspecting UH-1H air frames and parts from a Bell-approved facility in Washington, USA. So far no further news came out until the decision of DND to initiate a public bidding for the requirement.
|UH-1H airframes taken during an inspection sortie by DND and PAF officials on a Bell-approved facility in the US on January 2012.|
Photo taken from Timawa.net c/o Adroth.
So, is it indeed a glimpse of how slow the AFP modernization is and will become? Actually yes.
To be fair to the DND, MaxDefense believe that they are trying their best to thread the rightful path of stamping out corruption in their procurement system, which in my point of view and even from MaxDefense sources, has indeed improved compared to the previous administrations. The DND decided to go for public bidding instead of a government-to-government (G2G) transaction as a step to comply with the government's drive against graft and corruption.
But how about the pressing needs of the armed forces for their needed materiel?
According to MaxDefense sources, financing is not a problem for this specific project. But the process of procurement itself is too slow because of too much politicizing in the formulation of plans and choosing of suppliers, indecisiveness in the decision making within the DND and even the AFP, red tape, and reportedly "fear of failing to comply on graft-free procurement processes". But with the PAF needing the helicopters too badly, the DND must make extra efforts to speed-up the process of choosing a supplier and finalizing the contract. The ball is currently with the DND on this project.
|PAF Hueys preparing for a send-off at Villamor Air Base.|
A "small" project like this taking too much delay is a proof that modernizing the AFP is really difficult and will take too much time. Although not all projects are the same, it would not stop the public from doubting the DND and the Aquino administration as a whole especially in this period when threats from China and other neighboring countries is becoming more pressing.
Since the DND has already opted to go for a negotiated deal, MaxDefense' opinion is to continue with the plan,but the DND and the AFP must make quick but firm decisions to avoid hold-ups. The DND and AFP already knows that indecisive action only delays their programs, and affects the Aquino administration's plans and promises to provide the necessary arms to the AFP immediately. Thus, DND should adjust and improve on these deficiencies. If the Aquino administration is serious in its thrust to immediately modernize its armed forces, President Aquino himself must look into the political interference in the whole purchasing and bidding process.
In addition, since the DND and PAF already know that they require more assets, they should already be preparing another program to fulfill the transport capability of the PAF. MaxDefense believes that the DND should secure more cheap and available UH-1H from the US and its other security allies, both flying and non flying air frames as well as spare parts. It is still the fastest and cheapest alternative to have more flying assets. Simultaneously, the DND and PAF should already formulate and start a program to purchase new assets to replace the UH-1H and other ageing air assets for a medium to longer goal. The CUH program should be re-started and extended, and the program re-started as early as possible.
Are the news true that the PAF only have 16 mission-capable Hueys? Actually no. There are more, very far from 16 birds, but that will be discussed later on.