|The AgustaWestland AW109 Power, ordered by the PAF for its light attack helicopter requirement.|
Photo taken from AgustaWestland website.
The DND also explained in an interview to DND USec. Fernando Manalo on October 28, 2013 that the purchase of similar helicopters for the navy and air force will help in the ease of maintenance, training, and acquisition of spare parts. From how Mr. Manalo explained his point, it appears that there are intentions for the PN and PAF to have a common logistics support system and training simulator facility for the AW109E.
There are no released information yet on specific line items to be included in the deal, like the engine model to be used (the AW109 Power is powered by either 2 x Turbomeca Arrius 2K1 from France, or 2 x Pratt & Whitney PW206C engines from the USA), but it would be best to consider that they will have similar baseline specifications as the Philippine Navy's AW109E Power, which were ordered earlier as multi-role shipboard helicopters.
|The Turbomeca Arrius engine, a similar model is used for the AW109 Power although we're not sure yet if the same engine will be used for the PAF's AW109 Power.|
Photo from Safran-Turbomeca website.
Purpose & Effectiveness:
The PAF has requested for new helicopter gunships that will complement and eventually replace the MD Helicopters MD-520MG, which has been in service since the early 1990s. At more than 20 years old, these MD-520MG's helicopters are scheduled to undergo a Mid-Life Update (MLU) program which will see them operate for 10 or so years more. The program includes capability upgrades like night flying capability, airframe re-timing and repair, engine overhaul or replacement, and mechanical/electrical system works. Some helicopters are reportedly already undergoing portions of the said MLU program, while other aircraft units are awaiting for the AW109Es to be delivered before undergoing the program. If the PAF find the AW109E capable enough and meet their requirements, we can expect additional orders to be made in the near future as possible replacement for the MD-520MG.
Like the MD-520MG, the AW109 Power's primary duty will be to provide air support to ground forces, with secondary duties to include air surveillance and search operations. But unlike the MD-520MG, the AW109E's larger size makes it capable to also do search and rescue, light transport for troops and supplies, and medical evacuation (MEDEVAC).
In terms of payload and weapons carrying capability, the AW109 Power are required to have at least 2 hardpoints per side for rockets and gun pods, plus 7.62mm door guns. This is more than what the MD-520MGs can carry which only has 1 hardpoint per side. The AW109 Power will be initially armed with PAF-standard rocket launchers and gun pods, but these helicopters can be upgraded and wired when required to carry anti-tank missiles and guided rockets like the Advanced Precision Kill Weapons System (APKWS) which are compatible with the Hydra 70 rockets widely used by the PAF. This will be up to the PAF's decision in the future.
|The guidance system for the APKWS guided rocket system. The PAF is expected to be a future user of this system, being a longtime user of Hydra 70 unguided rockets.|
The AW109 Power also has better performance envelop in terms of speed, range, service ceiling, endurance and payload compared to the smaller MD-520MG. As specified, the AW109 Power shall be equipped with a night fighting system with electro-optical and infra-red system, and airborne fire control system compatible to laser designator and night fighting system which the MD-520MG does not have.
In general terms of capability, the incoming AW109 Power would become the most modern helicopter gunships the PAF ever had, an improvement from the Sikorsky AUH-76 and MD Helicopters MD-520MG gunships that it currently has. But of course it has its deficiencies.
Being a helicopter based on a multi-purpose civilian design before being a adapted as a military platform, the AW109 does not have core competencies that other purpose-built attack helicopters have. With the specifications released, MaxDefense previously categorized the helicopter as a light armed scout platform and not a real attack helicopter gunship in the likes of the Boeing AH-64D Longbow Apache. It is lightly armed, unarmored, and are not designed to engage in high intensity conflicts like their pure breed gunship stablemates.
|Unlike real gunships like the very much loved AH-64 Apache, the AW109 Power was not designed to take high damage from enemy fire, and are best used in "shoot & scoot" manner and effectively use its speed and size.|
Photo courtesy of AgustaWestland.
In the PAF setting, the PAF's future AW109 Power is sufficient enough to tackle insurgency issues and air support to internal security operations. But that won't be the case if it confronts well armed foreign ground forces with armored assets and sufficient air defense capability. The PAF will need to upgrade them further to be able to accept anti-tank guided missile systems that will enable them to attack lightly defended armored formations in a shoot and scoot way.
For its intended purpose, the AW109 Power is good enough for the PAF. But MaxDefense believes that the PAF should have upped the ante by going for the slightly heavier and more expensive AW109 LUH, which was based on the Power. The LUH is configured especially for military requirements, partially armored cockpit, has more power and slightly higher performance than the basic Power model. But we can't do anything about it anymore as the deal went ahead as planned.
A good thing is that the short delivery time promised by AgustaWestland will help the PAF immediately fill up its needs, and immediately start the MLU and upgrade of its existing MD-520MG assets, some which are non-operational and stored due to airframe and mechanical component issues.
|We might expect the PAF AW109 Power to look similar to the Malaysian Army's AW109 LUH (shown above).|
Photo taken from malaysianflyingherald.wordpress.com.
Congratulations to the PAF, AFP and DND for finally finishing the bid for new attack helicopters. Let's all wait if AgustaWestland can really keep its promise of sending the 1st batches of the helicopters before the end of 2014.