|The MD Helicopters MD-520MG, currently the foremost attack helicopter of the PAF. The new attack helicopters will be complementing the MD-520MG fleet while it undergoes modernization and upgrades.|
Photo taken from PAF 15th Strike Wing website.
Due to lack of information regarding the specifications of the helicopters, initially MaxDefense used the project cost to determine the possible type of helicopter to be purchased. Based on the amount and number of units to be procured, the average amount allocated for each helicopter is around $10 million, although we have to consider that the entire amount includes an Integrated Logistics Support (ILS) package, training for air and ground crew, complete weapons systems, and other ancillaries. This amount is not enough for a full-fledged attack helicopter similar to the likes and class of the Boeing AH-64 Apache which costs way up north of $20 million a piece. But to make sure, let us analyze the information released by the DND for public consumption.
|Many are expecting the PAF to purchase attack helicopters in the same category as the Agusta A129 Mangusta, as shown above. Sorry folks but I think the PAF is far from something like this yet.|
Based on the Supplemental Bid Bulletin Nr. AFPMP-PAF-AHAP-13-01, which was released by the DND on July 16, 2013, the following are the basic requirements specified for the project:
- Day & Night targeting and designating weapons delivery for minimum of 1 gun pod and 1 rocket launcher (2.75' NATO Mk.66 or equivalent) system; or 2 rocket/gun combined pods; minimum 2 hard points on each side plus side firing at least a 7.62mm machine gun on both sides;
- Equipped with a Night Fighting System, including an Electro-Optical and Infra Red system and Night Vision Goggle capable;
- Airborne Fire Control System (FCS) compatible to NVG and Laser Designator;
- Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) and Day/Night Visual Flight Rules (VFR) rating capable, and equipped with a Weather Radar and capable of operating even at Inadvertent Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IIMC);
- Multi-engine powered turbine system using Jet A-1 fuel;
- Uses a wheel-type landing gear for easy towing and parking;
- Cruising speed of at least 120 knots indicated airspeed (KIAS) with 2,000 lbs. payload;
- Minimum endurance of 2.5 hours at minimum of 120 KIAS;
- Minimum payload of 2,000 lbs;
Other requirements include a minimum engine overhaul interval of 2,000 flight hours, and has dual flight control system for cyclic, collective and pedal controls, as well as instrumentation.
|Eurocopter's EC635 might be a potential candidate for the PAF's attack helicopter program, and may be an alternative to the Fennec and Fennec 2.|
Photo taken from Wikimedia.
Most modern attack helicopters may meet or even exceed the requirements set by the project specifications, except for one thing: the side firing machine guns, which are only available on helicopters with side doors. Combine that with a budget of only around $10 million a piece, then we got an armed scout helicopter, not a real attack helicopter as many believes.
Interesting enough is a similar program for the US Army called the Armed Aerial Scout Program (AASP), aimed at replacing the ageing OH-58 Kiowa scout helicopter. Contenders for the US Army program are the OH-58 Block II Kiowa Warrior, Boeing AH-6S Phoenix, AgustaWestland AW169AAS, EADS (Eurocopter) AAS-72X Lakota Concept, MD Helicopters MD-540F, and Sikorsky S-97 Raider. So far all are still being evaluated and there are even reports that the program may be scrapped due to lack of funds.
|The US Army intends to replace their ageing OH-58 Kiowa under the Aerial Armed Scout Program. The requirement is almost similar to the PAF's attack helicopter requirements.|
Photo taken from Wikimedia.
Due to this, it was expected that some of the contenders in the US Army project might be the same contenders for the PAF project. But so far only Eurocopter, AgustaWestland, Boeing and MD Helicopters has bought the bid documents, although during the pre-bid conference, representatives from Elbit Systems, Bell Helicopters and Intrade were present. MaxDefense believes that Intrade and Elbit Systems is interested in supplying ancillaries like weapons systems for the helicopter producer rather than supplying the helicopters.
|Boeing's AH-6 Little Bird. This is a possible contender should Boeing join the PAF's AHAP bid.|
Photo taken from Wikimedia.
For the PAF's AHAP, MaxDefense believes that AgustaWestland will field their AW109 LUH, which was an previous favorite as it was chosen before in an earlier attempt to obtain attack helicopters. Eurocopter may have planned to field either the AS550 or AS555 Fennec, or the larger EC635. Boeing is expected to offer their AH-6S Little Bird, and MD Helicopters with either the MD-530F or MD-540F. But it appears that the Eurocopter, Boeing and MD Helicopters offers might have difficulty in following the specified requirements as all these offers are not wheel-type landing gear equipped. The only wheel-type landing gear Eurocopter has is the larger and more expensive AS565 Panther, which may exceeding the budget.
|The Eurocopter AS550 Fennec armed variant. Eurocopter offered this before to the DND. It is expected that Eurocopter may offer this or the AS555 Fennec 2 multi-engine version.|
With the opening of bids scheduled today, it is still early and difficult to say what model will the DND/PAF choose this time. In previous attempts during the Aquino administration, the AW109 LUH was chosen for a government-to-government deal, but due to delivery and availability problems the DND decided to instead switch to an offer made by Eurocopter for 10 AS550 Fennec that were originally slated for the Pakistani Army. But this did not come to fruition as Eurocopter renegotiated with Pakistan for the said units. The Aquino administration also cancelled awarding to AgustaWestland-PZL for an armed version of the W-3A Sokol in 2010 due to anomalies in the bid .
|The AgustaWestland-PZL W-3WA Sokol, an armed variant of the W-3A already in service with the PAF. This offer reportedly won the bid previously but was not awarded a contract due to anomalies. |
Photo taken from Airliners.net, copyright Radim Salek.
A similar awarding cancellation also happened in 2008 when the Philippine government cancelled awarding a contract for 6 MD-530F combat helicopters as it did not meet payload requirements.
|An MD Helicopters MD-530F of the Mexican Armed Forces.|
Photo taken from Airliners.net, copyright to Ricardo Padilla.
MaxDefense's opinion is that AgustaWestland has a higher chance of successfully bagging the award for the new bid as the specifications MAY comply to the AW109 LUH. But it would be best to await the outcome of this new bidding (opening of bids is scheduled today July 24, 2013) as anything may still happen, including another possible failure. Also, the PAF should give its current MD-520MG fleet with a relevant refurbishing and upgraded to be night capable, capable of carrying guided munition, modernization of its avionics, and engine improvements. This is to keep up with the times and be in the same category as the new incoming helicopters that will complement them.
|The AgustaWestland AW109 LUH, the possible contender by the said company for the PAF's AHAP.|
Photo taken from deagel.com.
August 3, 2013:
It was reported that only AgustaWestland submitted a qualified bid for the attack helicopter project of the PAF. The bid amount was Php3,441,415,000, a little lower than the budget allocated by the DND. Post bid qualification is expected to start soon, and if AW passed the contract may be awarded to them.
More of the news here.
October 28, 2013:
Reports surfaced that the DND has already awarded the contract for the PAF Attack Helicopter acquisition project to AgustaWestland after fulfilling the requirements set by the DND's Technical Specifications and Documentation Requirements as part of the post-bid requirements. AgustaWestland reportedly offered the AW109E Power variant, and will be armed with unspecified gun pods and rocket launchers. A total of 8 helicopters will be procured.
The report also says that AgustaWestland is committed to deliver the 1st batch of helicopters as early as end of December, 2014 if the letter of credit is opened immediately. This would be possible if the Philippines' Department of Budget and Management (DBM) immediately release the cash allocation for the project to support the letter of credit.
MaxDefense will provide more updates as the project progresses. More of the news report here.
November 8, 2013:
AgustaWestland confirms that the Philippine Air Force has signed a contract with them, ordering 8 AW109 Power helicopters for the attack helicopter role.
MaxDefense's new blog discuss this development.
More of the news report here and here, while the new blog is here.