|Commissioning of AW109 Power naval helicopters with the Philippine Navy on December 18, 2013.|
Photo taken from Manila Times Facebook page.
The Naval Helicopter Acquisition Program:
On March 2010, the Philippines' Department of National Defense (DND) released an invitation to bid for the procurement of 2 multipurpose helicopters including Intergrated Logistics Support (ILS) and air and ground crew training with an Approved Budget for the Contract (ABC) amounting to Php 850.91 million. Award should have been to PZL Swidnik of Poland for a navalized W-3 Sokol variant, but this was deferred after reports of collusion between PZL Swidnik and a joint group from the Philippine Air Force and Navy was made public.
|Taken by CatsMeow@TMW of Timawa defense forum just after it arrived at Camp Aguinaldo for the commissioning ceremonies.|
Another attempt was made in 2012 now under the Naval Helicopter Acquisition Program, and the PN planned to embark these helicopters on the Gregorio del Pilar-class frigates. The DND decided to negotiate with AgustaWestland for navalized AW109 Power helicopters, and was found to be the single calculated and responsive proponent. With the help of the Italian Ministry of Defense upon their review, the notice of award was provided to AgustaWestland S.p.A. and a contract was signed on December 20, 2012 for 3 helicopters worth Php 1,337,176,584.00 (US$32.544 million), to be financed by the AFP Modernization Program with assistance from the Department of Energy. An option for 2 more is also included in the contract, which was realized later on for a total budget for the 5 helicopters plus ILS for probably less than Php 2.2 billion. Expected delivery is around early 2014.
|AW109 Power naval helicopter with the folding rotor kit installed.|
|An excellent photo of PN AW109 Power with tail no. 432 during one of its tests in Italy.|
Photo taken from Airliners.net by Fabrizio Capenti and Malpensa Spotters Group.
The first batch of avionics and maintenance crew were sent to Sesto Calende, Italy for training on May 2013, while the 1st batch of pilots for training were sent to Italy on June 2013 while the last batch were sent on November 2013. The training for different crews vary between 2 to 4 months which will enable them to maintain and operate the helicopters with minimal or no help from AgustaWestland specialists.
The first 3 helicopters arrived in the Philippines on December 7, 2013, way ahead of schedule, and were assembled at AgustaWestland's facility in Manila. Initial tests were made before the installation of the FLIR and accessories and commissioning rights.
|The 3 AW109 Power naval helicopters on display during the AFP's 78th anniversary.|
Photo taken from Manila Times Facebook page.
After the commissioning rights, the helicopters will then be used by PN NAG pilots in embarking and disembarking with the Gregorio del Pilar-class frigates, which would probably take several months or even years to reach proficiency among its rank. The helicopters will also be used to provide the PN with the background and experience to enable it to move up the ladder as it plans to acquire larger ASW-capable helicopters in the next few years.
Naval AW109 Power Features:
The helicopters were classified as "Multipurpose Naval Helicopters" and will be tasked as the embedded air asset of the Gregorio del Pilar-class frigates. The choice of the AW109 was in part because of the said frigate's lack of sufficient space to take in larger naval helicopters in its small telescopic hangar. The helicopter could be used for surveillance, search and rescue, over the horizon targeting, insertion of SEAL Team, interdiction, vertical replenishment and utilitarian missions.
|The AW109 will be the mainstay aviation asset of the PN's Gregorio del Pilar-class frigates.|
The PN's AW109 feature a new exterior naval grey paint scheme different from the standard PN Naval Air Group royal blue. Exterior features that can be easily seen are the rescue winch on the starboard side, emergency flotation devices on the helicopter's sides, and the forward looking infra-red (FLIR) ball turret.
|A PN AW109 Power naval helicopter being tested in Italy.|
Inside, the helicopter features a glass cockpit, a cabin for 2 pilots and 4 passengers (or space for stretchers if needed), and the FLIR control panel on the passenger cabin to be operated by a specialized crew member. The FLIR sensors, made by American firm FLIR Systems, will enable the helicopter crew to see in poor visibility or weather conditions due to the system's use of thermal radiation to create a picture. It can be used for surveillance of humans for target tracking or rescue at sea, target acquisition and tracking, and piloting of helicopter in poor weather condition. At the same time, the helicopter is equipped with a video transmitter that can send live feed video to land or ship bases.
|The FLIR ball turret and one of the emergency flotation devices.|
Photo taken from Sandy @ Timawa defense forum.
|One of the PN's AW109 Power naval helicopter after testings, installed with the rescue winch, emergency flotation devices and FLIR ball turret.|
Photo taken from Pinoy Aviator's Facebook page.
If the reports are correct, it was reported that the 2 more AW109's arriving early next year will be armed and will have a significant electronic warfare (EW) capabilities, probably an electronic support measures (ESM) system installed. Except for these, it is difficult to know the difference of these 2 helicopters with the earlier 3 units, but MaxDefense believes that the 2 incoming EW capable armed naval helicopters will be the actual units to be assigned with the BRP Gregorio del Pilar (PF-15) and BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF-16).
|A lightweight ESM receiver similar to the Northrop Grumman LR-100 RWR/ESM/ELINT system shown above may be carried by the AW109.|
Photo taken from Northrop Grumman website.
Unfortunately the helicopter is too small to be an effective anti-submarine warfare (ASW) helicopter, being unable to carry a dipping sonar, and may even have difficulty in carrying a torpedo. If the helicopter is equipped with a OTHT targeting radar, it may also have difficulty in carrying a long range anti-ship missile. So MaxDefense is skeptical on what kind of armaments that the incoming AW109 naval helicopters can carry.
Nonetheless, the helicopters are a welcome addition to the Philippine Navy's growing capability. Its a good Christmas indeed this year for the men and women of the Philippine Navy, especially those from the Naval Aviation Group. More photos of the helicopter can be seen on MaxDefense @ Facebook's photo albums HERE.
By the way....
Merry Christmas to all MaxDefense readers and supporters!!