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The Philippine Army received their first batch of upgraded M113A2 APCs. So which is which?

They KAAV7A1s are finally here!

The Philippine Navy (Marines) will soon be having their own AAVs. No more hitchhiking on USMC AAVs!

Wildcats arriving soon!

The Philippine Navy's will soon be getting their AgustaWestland AW159 Mk.220 Wildcat naval combat helicopters!

Coming soon!

MaxDefense continues to monitor the impending launch of the PN's new frigate BRP Jose Rizal (FF-150)

The waiting game is on

With the PAF confirming its order for S-70i Black Hawks, all we can do now is wait for the 1st batch this year.

Looks like a certain group is asking for new aircraft!

MaxDefense will discuss more about this in its next blog entry coming soon!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Is the Philippine Air Force Getting Bell AH-1 Cobra Attack Helicopters from Jordan?

MaxDefense noted that one of our regular community members has posted in another known Philippine defense page about the impending arrival of Cobra helicopters from the Kingdom of Jordan. MaxDefense has been asked several times through our community page and through private messages if this information is true, and so far we haven't come back with a definite answer to the general group members.

Also, a lot of our readers were asking MaxDefense when we posted a phrase on our previous blog entry regarding the acquisition of Elbit Systems Hermes 900 medium altitude long endurance UAVs from Israel, wherein we mentioned "another (attack) helicopter model that will arrive early next year". Did this point to the Cobras?


So the question is, is the Philippines getting Cobras?

One of Jordan's AH-1F Cobra attack helicopters.
Photo from TheAviationist.com.




Road to Cobras:

It should be noted that this is not the first time the Philippine military made interest on acquiring Cobra single-engine attack helicopters.

Among the earliest attempts was in the late 1980s when the Philippine Air Force made a requirement for attack helicopters as part of its fleet re-capitalization plans during the term of former Pres. Corazon Aquino, wherein the Bell AH-1F was eyed for acquisition. This did not materialize and instead the Philippine Air Force acquired the McDonnell Douglas (now Hughes) MD-520MG armed helicopters that the PAF continues to use to this day.

The last one was in 2009 during the time of former Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, wherein the requirement for the Philippine Air Force's attack helicopter project included the acquisition of ex-Israel Defense Forces AF-1S Tzefa attack helicopters under the PAF's then Night Capable Attack Helicopter project, which are to be refurbished before delivery. The project proceeded with a requirement for brand new helicopters wherein Asian Helicopters won with their MD-530F

Being second hand, it drew flak from several groups due to allegations of being a "midnight deal" that is being pushed in the final days of the Arroyo administration. It did not get traction during the term of Pres. Benigno Aquino III, until the PAF decided to go on a brand new route, which led to the project's awarding to AgustaWestland (now Leonardo) for their AW-109E Power armed helicopters.

There were also interests made on the twin-engine Super Cobra, the last one was back in 2006 when the defense department tried to negotiate with the US government for four to six ex-US Marine Corps AW-1W Super Cobra helicopters, which was competing with another option of larger number of second-hand MD-520. The project was also scrapped later on.

Its best to take note that the PAF's Attack Helicopter project were the Leonardo AW-109E was acquired was not a Horizon 1 phase project under the 2013-2028 Revised AFP Modernization Program, but was actually part of the older 1995-2010 AFP Modernization Program. This is because it was actually an evolution of the Night Capable Attack Helicopter and the earlier Attack Helicopter Acquisition Projects.


Filipino and American airmen around an AH-1W Super Cobra during Balikatan 2014. The PAF actually showed interest on twin-engined AH-1W Super Cobras in the past.
Photo taken from Aiirsource Military's Youtube page.



The Jordanian Donation Offer: AF-1F Cobra:

MaxDefense was initially informed by one of our community members about the possible arrival of Cobra helicopters last July 2017. The initial info is that the Kingdom of Jordan offered to donate 2 used Bell AH-1F Cobra attack helicopters to the Philippines, and Philippine Air Force officers/technical team and defense officials were able to check out the Cobras in Jordan last June 2017. MaxDefense has a photo to support the PAF inspection but has not yet receive approval to post the photo through any of our public pages.

Succeeding information that MaxDefense received from its sources confirmed that the Jordanian offer was originally for four units, but was reduced to two. The Philippine Air Force is still finalizing the acceptance of the helicopters, while defense officials are said to be negotiating with Jordanian defense officials toincrease it back to four helicopters. It still remains to be seen if this request could be approved.

It is still for clarification if the Jordanian AH-1F Cobras being offered are among those new builds they obtained in the late 1980s from the US, or ex-US Army units transferred in 2001. While Jordan received former Israeli AH-1F Tzefas a few years ago, it is highly unlikely that the units offered to the Philippines are from this batch of helicopters from Israel.

The Philippines is also not the first country to receive AH-1F Cobras as donation from Jordan. Earlier this year Kenya was reported to have received at least one and probably more AH-1F Cobras from Jordan.


A Jordanian AH-1F firing 2.75" rockets. The AH-1's advantage over existing armed helicopters in the PAF include larger munition capacity.
Photo taken from Defense Update page.



The Possible Israeli Route - AH-1F Tzefa

Aside from this, it was also mentioned to MaxDefense that the DND might also be planning, or might already be in discussion with their Israeli counterparts to provide some of its stored upgraded AH-1E/F Tzefa attack helicopters to the Philippine Air Force, probably as donation as well, considering Israel already made the same arrangement with Jordan a few years ago to help secure against ISIS-related attacks.

It is also difficult for the DND to justify a second hand purchase, considering Pres. Duterte's latest statements of acquiring only brand new units. A donation, being free, might not be affected by this instruction.

It remains to be seen though if this would materialize.


Israel's AH-1F Tzefa attack helicopter, which were retired in favour of unmanned aircraft. Israel may provide a few examples to the Philippines if an agreement is reached.
Credits to owner of photo.



Back to the Question:

So is the PAF getting AH-1 Cobras? Although the answer is still not definite 100%, as also agreed upon by our sources, the answer is closer on the "yes" rather than "no". As of our last check, the AH-1F donation from Jordan is still for approval by the PAF and AFP's senior leaders, before it is recommended for approval by higher authorities. But being a donation, MaxDefense expects the senior leaders to approve and accept the offer and fund for its transfer.

So far there's no budget allocation yet for the preparation for the helicopters, which includes training of PAF personnel with the Royal Jordanian Air Force, and transportation and delivery of the helicopters to the Philippines, among others. So until these are confirmed, its best to say that it the chances are high that the PAF is getting Jordanian Cobras but its not 100% confirmed.

Another reason why its closer to being a "yes", is that the PAF has already started requesting for queries on how to improve the helicopters for donation.

How about MaxDefense's mention of the "another (attack) helicopter model arriving next year", was it the Cobra? While the direct answer is yes, MaxDefense is also talking about the possibility of having another attack helicopter model since the PAF is acquiring more attack helicopters under the Horizon 2 phase of the Revised AFP Modernization Program. And it may not necessarily be more AW-109E Power.

The only reason MaxDefense did not post about this information before was because of the lack of photographic evidence to back-up our post. But since its already out anyway, we'll just post any photograph to corroborate the information once it's allowed for public consumption.



Upgrades:

According to our sources, the PAF has also shown interest to upgrade these Cobra helicopters if they are acquired. Among those they are looking at are upgrades on the avionics systems, and possibly the weapons system as well.

Considering that these Jordanian Cobras are not upgraded since they were received, it is highly likely to still be using avionics that are older than what the newer AW-109E Power is currently using, despite not being a purpose-built attack helicopter.

Also, the weapons systems might be a concern. The Cobra's advantages over current PAF armed helicopters is the presence of a heavy internal oscillating gatling cannon (20mm M197 3-barrel cannon) and the use of an anti-tank missile system. But the anti-tank is currently limited to the American TOW missile, which is not exactly the most modern missile in the market now, and would not be as easy to acquire than the Spike missile.

With the AFP, specifically the Philippine Navy, introducing the Rafael Spike missile including a helicopter-launched variant, it is highly likely that the Philippine Army may also want the missile for its anti-tank requirements, including a helicopter-launched one. And this means upgrade for the AH-1Fs are imminent. Take note that Israel's AH-1Fs are upgraded to fire the Spike missile as well.


An Israe AH-1S Tzefa carrying a Spike missile launcher. The PAF may also do a similar upgrade considering the PN is acquiring the same system for its upcoming AW-159 helicopters.
Photo taken from Defense Update page.




Peritent Schedules:

If the donation of Jordanian AH-1F, and hopefully any other Cobra offer from Israel are approved, it is expected that the PAF will be sending their pilots and ground crew for training in Jordan by November this year, and the helicopters delivered to the Philippines by early next year.




MaxDefense won't be discussing about the AH-1F Cobra's capabilities and other performance issues, and suggest its readers to read publicly available sources by Googling them.

MaxDefense believes that there will be more information coming out in the next few months, or even weeks, as the PAF closes its own schedules on how they will proceed with the Jordanian AH-1Fs. Until then, MaxDefense will be posting new updates once information becomes available and good for release to the public.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Upcoming Tranche of Security Aid from China to the Philippines Revealed

Last June we posted a blog entry discussing the initial delivery of Chinese security assistance grant provided to the Philippine government, which was agreed upon during one of the meetings between the Chinese and Philippine leaders.

Based on previous press releases by the Philippine government, the Chinese security grant is worth around US$14.4 million and is said to be composed of sniper rifles, fast boats and rocket propelled grenades, although there were also previous statements including drones, force protection equipment, and other items into the expected aid.


While we do not have any photo of the actual patrol craft model for delivery from China, MaxDefense expects it to be somehow similar in size to the one on top, which is a different high speed boat made in China for law enforcement agencies. This particular boat model was actually among those offered to the Bureau of Customs for their own patrol craft requirement.
Photo taken from Datang Holdings product brochure.



Recap - First Tranche Aid Delivery:

This has been discussed in our earlier MaxDefense blog, which can be accessed here:
"Armed Forces of the Philippines Receives First Shipment of Defense Aid from China" - dated June 30, 2017.

Based on official statements from the government, China delivered the first tranche of the security aid last June, composed of 3,000 Norinco CQ-A5 5.56 x 45mm semi-automatic carbines, and 90 sniper rifles shared between the Norinco Type 85 "Dragunov" 7.62 x 54R marksman rifles, and the Norinco CS/LR4A 7.62 x 51mm sniper rifles, plus assorted ammunition composed of 5,000,000 rounds of 5.56 x 45mm rifle rounds, 800,000 7.62mm sniper rifle rounds. These were brought in to Clark Air Base last June 28, 2017 through four Ilyushin Il-76 strategic airlift aircraft of the People's Liberation Army Air Force.

MaxDefense's own analysis put the sniper rifles at 60 Type 85s and 30 CS/LR4As, based on photos available on the turn-over ceremony. The CS/LR4A came in hard plastic containers and includes Type CS/ON3A low light sighting scopes.

According to sources, the total worth of this tranche is around US$7 million, which means the Philippines is expecting another US$7 million worth of deliveries. Most of the CQ-A5 carbines and Type 85 Dragunov marksman rifles were turned over by the DND to the Philippine National Police, while some will be used for testing and study, probably by the Government Arsenal. Only the CS/LR4A sniper rifles appear to remain with the AFP, with some photos already coming out of the rifle being used by the Philippine Army in Marawi City.

This is not the first time China provided aid to Philippine security forces, with China actually donating several construction equipment to the AFP during Pres. Arroyo's term, which were used mostly by the Philippine Army's Engineering Brigades.


Pres. Duterte himself was present during the formal hand-over of the 1st tranche of Chinese defense assistance to the Philippines last June 28, 2017 at Clark Air Base.
Credits to owner of photo.



Second Tranche - What's Expected:

New statements from the government mentioned that the second tranche of deliveries will be coming in soon, estimated to be sometime between August and November 2017.  But it is unclear which items are included, or if there will be a third tranche of deliveries.

Based on AFP Modernization Program update documents that MaxDefense was able to obtain, the 3,000 Norinco CQ-A5 carbines are actually part of an Urgent Military Assistance Gratis, and the inclusion of the ammunition and sniper rifles were just made later on instead of delivering them separately.

Also, it confirmed MaxDefense's earlier analysis on the quantity of sniper rifles. The delivery was indeed for 60 Norinco Type 85 "Dragunov" marksman rifles and 30 CS/LR4A sniper rifles.

The distribution of ammunition was also confirmed. The AFP did receive 20,000 rounds of Type CS BFL3A 7.62 x 51 ammunition for the CS/LR4A sniper rifles, and 800,000 rounds of 7.62 x 54R munitions for the Dragunovs. Take note that these Dragunov marksman rifles uses a different ammunition round compared to what the AFP and PNP are using.


Also on the same document, the Philippines is also scheduled to receive the following items on the next tranche of deliveries:

* 4 units of Type 966Y Patrol Craft with 7.62mm Multi-purpose Machine Guns
* 200 units of Norinco Type 69 Rocket Propelled Grenade Launchers
* 2,000 rounds of 40mm High Explosive Anti-Tank for the Type 69 RPGs
* 3,000 rounds of 40mm High Explosive Incendiary for the Type 69 RPGs
* 60 units of CS/ON6 Low-Light Sights for the Type 85 Dragunov marksman rifles
* 30 units of CS/ON8A Low-Light Sights for the CS/LR4A sniper rifles

Surprisingly, the CS/LR4A sniper rifles delivered last June 2017 included what appears to be a 4x sniper scope, while the Dragunovs appear to not have their scopes. So the deliver of additional sights for the CS/LR4A rifles is unusual, although the sights for the Dragunovs is highly expected.


Among the rifles delivered by China in its first tranche of security aid to the Philippines. Shown are the CS/LR4A sniper rifle, the CQ-A5 carbine, and two Type 85 marksman rifles.
Credits to owner of photo.



Type 966Y Patrol Craft:

So far MaxDefense has been unsuccessful in getting information on this type of patrol boat, but it is expected that the would probably be an inshore patrol craft, probably less than 15 meters long, with high speed exceeding 40 knots, and is armed with a single 7.62mm machine gun. It is highly possible that the design of the boat is similar to those used by the China Coast Guard or the People's Armed Police units.

MaxDefense anticipates that the boat will be turned over to the Philippine Navy, but might be transferred later on either to the Philippine National Police - Special Boat Unit (Maritime Police), or to the Philippine Coast Guard, which are in need of additional assets.

It also remains to be seen what type of 7.62mm machine gun will be included in the delivery, considering that most Chinese machine guns of this caliber uses the same ammo as the Dragunovs, which is the 7.62 x 54R rimmed cartridge.

Based on our sourced documents, the patrol crafts are expected to be delivered by March 2018 although these Chinese could deliver them earlier if they deemed possible.




Type 69 RPG:

This is China's copy of the RPG-7 of the Soviet Union, and is also made by Norinco. It was first introduced in the 1970s, it is surprisingly still in production, probably for the export market, as China has moved on to newer models to replace the Type 69.

The Philippine Army won't have much problem in receiving these RPGs since it is close to the Bulgarian-made ATGLs that they are using, although it still remains to be seen if parts of the Type 69 and ATGLs are the same which will ease logistics and maintenance issues.

The ammunition for delivery are almost the same as to those already in use with the Philippine Army's ATGLs. MaxDefense sources confirmed that the Army has already expended thousands of RPG rounds in Marawi City alone, and the arrival of additional ammunition is a welcome addition as the emergency procurement of several thousands of RPG rounds remain hanging until now.

Based on our sourced documents, the Type 69 RPG as well as the ammunition are expected to be delivered on or before December 2017. Considering that there were already announcements of an impending delivery this August, it is expected that these will be among them, together with the low light sniper rifle sights which are intended for delivery by August 2017.


The Norinco Type 69 Rocket Propelled Grenade, which is a Chinese copy of the Soviet RPG-7.
Photo taken from SinoDefence.com



Where are the Others?

With the list above, some may ask, where are the force protection equipment, sniper rifles, and drones that were among those proposed earlier.

It appears that the focus was made on the delivery of 3,000 CQ-A5 carbines, which MaxDefense believes was not actually part of the original proposal. But this was inserted to fulfill requirements for the Philippine National Police, considering that none of the AFP's service branches requested for rifles, and it is not logical to have another rifle type considering the widespread use of the Remington R4A3.

Also, the 5,000,000 rounds of 5.56 x 45mm munitions for the CQ-A5 carbines were originally not part of the request either. MaxDefense believes that the ammunition alone may have used up to Php160 million of the fund, while the CQ-A5 carbines were reported to be worth Php210 million.

So MaxDefense believes that the funds intended for more sniper rifles, force protection equipment, and small drones may have been taken for the delivery of the carbines and its ammunition instead.




It remains to be seen if the Philippine government will further request assistance from China. Honestly speaking, MaxDefense believes it would be better if the Philippines will request aid int eh form of construction equipment from China for use by the military instead of weapons. 

MaxDefense also believes that its best for the Philippines NOT to pursue the use of the US$500 million loan offer from China, considering that many in the AFP still prefer to source their weapons from other countries instead of China. Also, Chinese loans are very notorious for having very high interests as seen in the loans provided by China to several other countries.

MaxDefense will be monitoring the delivery of these Chinese aid, considering that the earliest arrival might be within this month.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Philippine Air Force to Procure Elbit's Hermes 900 Medium Altitude Long Endurance UAV Under Horizon 2 Phase

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has been for some time always at the mercy of other allies to provide military assistance in times of crisis. With the Marawi City crisis already more than 2 months, the AFP has called on the United States and Australia to provide surveillance and intelligence gathering assistance for the AFP, which translated to the deployment of US Navy P-3C and Royal Australian Air Force AP-3C Orions, as well as several RQ-20 Puma small UAVs from the US Special Operations Forces in the Philippines. 

It was made known by a solicitation posted by the US Navy in one of its websites that the Philippines is not new to drone operations, being an operator of the Boeing Insitu ScanEagle small UAV system for quite some time now. It was also noted in many occassions that the AFP is in possession of other UAV systems like the locally made Raptor and Knight Faclon which were used during the Zamboanga Crisis as well as newly delivered RQ-11B Raven small UAVs to the Philippine Marine Corps.

There are also unconfirmed but possibly true reports that the Philippines, with the tutelage of the US Armed Forces, acquired two General Atomics RQ-1 Predator UAVs more than a decade ago, although one was said to have been lost in a crash years ago.

These show that the AFP has seen the use of drones as an effective way of gathering information, and providing support to military forces. But never did we expect something big coming until lately.

The Hermes 900 from Elbit Systems.
Credits to owner of photo.



A photo of an unnamed large Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) flying "somewhere in Luzon" was first posted by Pinoy Aviators' Facebook page mid July 2017, which was shared by our community members to MaxDefense for further dissemination to more people. This was met with positive acceptance from the general Filipino public, with many calling for its acquisition.

This was further boosted by news from Flight Global, confirming that Elbit Systems has indeed brought in a Hermes 900 medium altitude, long endurance (MALE) UAV to the Philippines for demonstration. MaxDefense received documents confirming that a Hermes 900 demonstrator was sent in by Elbit Systems, conducted Demonstration Flights at the vicinity of Fernando Air Base in Lipa, Batangas between July 17 to 26, 2017. This was corraborated further by our last post of a Hermes 900 inside a hangar at Fernando Air Base with a high ranking AFP officer with it. said to be taken a day before we posted in @ MaxDefense Philippine group page.

The Hermes 900 as seen here in Fernando Air Base in Batangas (erroneously reported in our Facebook page as Clark Air Base), during its demonstrations for the Armed Forces of the Philippines last July 2017.
Credits to owner of the photo which will need to remain anonymous.


Under Horizon 1 Phase of the AFP Modernization Program, there were no mention of any unmanned aerial vehicle acquisition project in several AFPMP updates and documents received by MaxDefense in the last 1 year except for the Marine Forces Imagery and Targeting Support System (MITSS) awarded to Triton Communications and scheduled for delivery this year. That is why MaxDefense was surprised when a new update was made mentioning the acquisition of what is coined as the "PAF Unmanned Aerial Vehicle" project coinciding with the appearance of the Hermes 900 in the Philippines.

MaxDefense is grateful to its sources for being able to get enough information to confirm that the Philippine Air Force is in the process of acquiring long endurance drones, specifically the Elbit Systems Hermes 900 UAV under the above mentioned project, with a budget amounting to Php 8,470,000,000.00 (US$167.722 million at today's rate).

The Hermes 900 was seen here flying "somewhere in Luzon" last July 2017. MaxDefense believes this is somewhere in Batangas-Laguna area near Fernando Air Base where the demonstrations were made by Elbit Systems to the AFP and other armed services of the government like the Philippine National Police.
Photo taken and credited to Pinoy Aviators' Facebook page.



The Hermes 900 UAV:

Elbit Systems' Hermes 900 is their most advanced UAV on offer, and among Israel's most advanced UAV system. It is described as a medium altitude, long endurance UAV platform that is capable of, and quoting Elbit's own description, "over-the-horizon, persistent multi-mission, multi-payload capabilities" and also "performing missions for area dominance and persistent ISTAR (intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance)".

The Hermes 900 can also be used for surveillance and maritime patrol missions, which was actually the configuration initially offered by Elbit Systems to the Philippine Air Force during ADAS 2014.

Due to its large size and its capacity to carry up to 350 kilograms of payload, the UAV can be equipped with EO/IR/Laser Tracking and Targeting System, Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), Ground Moving Target Indicator (GMTI), Communication Intelligence (COMINT), Communication Jamming (COMJAM), Electronic Intelligence (ELINT), Electronic Warfare (EW), and other payloads.

The Hermes 900 has an endurance of up to 36 hours, and service ceiling of 30,000 feet. Considering that these are the posted figures by Elbit Systems, expect the actual endurance and service ceiling to be greater than that.

Among the countries that use the Hermes 900 are Israel, Chile, Mexico, and recently Switzerland acquired 6 units to replace older and less capable UAVs in their fleet. Should the PAF acquire this, they will be in possession of the most capable UAV system in the region.


The Hermes 900 as seen here (illustration, not actual photo) conducting maritime patrol missions. This same photo was posted by MaxDefense in 2015 to describe the PAF's Flight Plan 2028.
Photo taken from Elbit System's website.







Working System:

Being from the same family of UAVs employing the same characteristics and systems, both the Hermes 900 and the smaller Hermes 450 can work together simultaneously, and can be operated almost seamlessly. They are operated on a Universal Ground Control Station, and includes other systems like a Ground Data Terminal and Ground Support Equipment as part of the package.

Both UAVs are designed to be operated by a relatively small crew and a small logistics footprint feature. It is advanced enough to also have greater autonomy with need for minimal supervision from controllers, and its flight path can be set with multiple options available.

It also has autonomous take-off and landing capabilities which will make it easier for controllers to safely operate.

As mentioned by our sources, despite being large enough to carry small precision guided munitions, the Hermes 900 is not configured for attack missions. Thus any strike mision would be handled by the PAF's Close Air Support aircraft (OV-10 and hopefully EMB-314 Super Tucano), Attack Helicopters (AW-109E, MD-520MG and another helicopter model that will arrive early next year and MaxDefense will decline to name for now as requested by PAF sources), Surface Attack Aircraft (FA-50PH), and the future Multi-Role Fighter will be conducting.

A typical ground control station used by the Hermes 450 UAV. It is possible that the Hermes 900 may use a similar system due to its development based on the Hermes 450.
Photo taken from Israe Weapons website.



UAV Acquisitions for the Philippine Air Force:

The Philippine Air Force has a requirement for what it calls the Land-Based Unmanned Aerial System which is a joint project with the General Headquarters, Armed Forces of the Philippines (GHQ-AFP). Based on the latest version of the Horizon 2 phase list submitted to Malacanang, the requirement is for at least 8 systems, although it was not specified what type.

The intention of the UAV acquisition is to provide maritime and ground surveillance requirements and would be working together with the Long Range Patrol Aircraft (LRPA), which the first two units are still pending acquisition after a second bidding failure recently. It is expected to be operated by the 300th Air Intelligence and Security Group.

It would also be part of the AFP's C4ISTAR system, thus the joint acquisition with GHQ-AFP.

Originally it was not the intention to front-load the Land-Based UAS acquisition due to other compelling needs in the AFP. But the thread of terrorism including the Marawi City crisis and ISIS-related threats, narcotics trade and proliferation and cross-border crime and terrorism has given the Philippine government a reason to push through with the acquisition to provide the AFP with sufficient surveillance capabilities. The delays on the LRPA project did not help the situation either.

The current project, now simply called PAF Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, is among the first Horizon 2 projects to be implemented for acquisition and has an allocated budget of Php 8.47 billion.

MaxDefense sources made it known that the project, in close coordination with Israel's Ministry of Defense, considered only Israeli-made UAVs which included Elbit's Hermes 450 and Hermes 900, and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) Heron 1. In the end, the PAF chose the Hermes 900, the newest and most capable of the choices. The demonstration of the Hermes 900 UAVs last July 2017 in Fernando Air Base, Batangas, culminated the decision to choose the Hermes 900 and to approve its acquisition.

Four UAVs are to be acquired under Horizon 2 phase, and it appears that based on the quantity and ABC, each complete set of Hermes 900 including the undetermined sensors package, integrated logistics support (ILS), training, support equipment and other ancillaries will cost around Php 2.12 billion (US$41.93 million) each. This means that the Hermes 900 will cost more than the PAF's FA-50PH Fighting Eagle!

In comparison, MaxDefense sources confirmed that three (3) Hermes 450 can be acquired for Php 1 billion as of 2012, but considering inflation and cost escalations, we believe that the price may be somewhere near Php 400 million each for the Hermes 450 by now.

Elbit Systems first offered the Hermes 900 during ADAS 2014 as a maritime patrol solution for the country, although they have been offering the smaller Hermes 450 to the PAF since 2012.

The acquisition will be a Government-to-Government (G-to-G) with the State of Israel, which means that no more bidding will be made for this acquisition. Based on latest information, the approval from the Secretary of National Defense was only made on the 3rd week of July 2017, and was submitted for approval by President Duterte on the same week. It is expected that the President will approve it since he mentioned about the acquisition a few days later, which was picked up by some media outlets.




Absorption and Integration into the PAF and AFP:

MaxDefense believes this is the main concern on bringing in the Hermes family of UAVs, especially the Hermes 900.

Except for the reported Boeing Insitu ScanEagles in PAF service, which MaxDefense sources from even those involved in the Philippine Air Force's surveillance systems itself cannot confirm to be available, the PAF never had a UAV of the same size and capability as the Hermes 900, or even the smaller Hermes 450. If the ScanEagles aren't even really available, then the concept of UAV operations might be something the PAF is not really experienced and familiar with yet.

Despite some MaxDefense sources corraborating the reported ScanEagle UAVs in PAF service since some years ago, its still a shady and difficult to really confirm. So its also difficult to say if the PAF really has experience in operating drones, however simpler they are compared to the Hermes 900.
Credits to owner of photo.



So the ability of the PAF to absorb the new assets will be something worth looking at. How much support will Israel or Elbit Systems provide to the PAF to allow the smooth transition of PAF UAV operators to the platform? And how much time does it need for the PAF to be fully operational with these UAVs?

A good example can be seen on a neighbouring country, the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF), who has the most experience in ASEAN in operating drones as well as manned patrol aircraft. But based on open sources, it took them almost 5 years to be fully operational with their Heron 1 UAVs, despite operating smaller UAVs like the IAI Searcher since 1994. The IAI Heron 1, also from Israel, are slotted somewhere between the Hermes 450 and Hermes 90 in terms of size, endurance, payload and overall capability.

Meanwhile, the PAF has no operating manned surveillance aircraft with sensors except for the FLIRs mounted on the newly acquired AW-109E Power armed helicopters that the PAF has only been operating for 2 years. Also, RSAF has a more stringent training system and more experience than the PAF and yet it took them that long to attain that status.

It would be very disappoiting if the PAF won't be able to maximize the capability of its drones, or worse, damage or destroy them in an accident due to lack of experience.



Decision to go for a Single Platform:

No doubt the Hermes 900 is expensive, and only four units can be acquired with the budget allocated by the PAF. So is it really reasonable to just go for the Hermes 900?

MaxDefense's suggestion is to divide the acquisition to both the Hermes 450 and Hermes 900, as both systems are made to conduct different types of missions. Instead of 4 Hermes 900, MaxDefense recommends to acquire only 3 Hermes 900s, while converting the budget to buy the 4th unit to pay for the acquisition of the smalller, cheaper Hermes 450. Based on the above quotes we posted, at least 5 units of Hermes 450 can be bought for the same price as a single Hermes 900.

The Hermes 900, having more endurance, can be used to patrol the West and East Philippine Seas, as well as other areas in the country's EEZ. Meanwhile, the smaller Hermes 450 can be used for surveillance missions closer to ground, like in conflict areas like Marawi City, and in hunting terrorists in Mindanao and even other parts of the country.

Being from the same manufacturer and developed based on a single system, operating both the Hermes 450 and Hermes 900 would not be difficult as it would be almost seamless to cross over to the each other.

Compared to the newer Hermes 900, the Hermes 450 has been in service for more than a decade now and has been used in combat missions in the Middle East. Its been used by Israel, Azerbaijan, Colombia, Mexico, the UK (under the Watchkeeper Program), US Homeland Security, and closer to home, Singapore.

The Elbit Hermes 450, which is among those offered by Elbit Systems to the Philippine Air Force.
Credits to owner of photo.




Other Concerns:

MaxDefense recently reported that the re-tender for the Long Range Patrol Aircraft (LRPA) project has failed, with sources from the PAF and industry confirming that many of the interested proponents found the Approved Budget for Contract to be very low, and is simply not enough to acquire an aircraft with all the bells and whistles the PAF is requesting.

As of last week, MaxDefense was told that the PAF has yet to find a source for the additional budget for them to confidently start direct negotiations with interested proponents.

Instead of pouring too much on UAVs, is it not more practical to reduce the UAV budget and provide a little more for the LRPA project for it to start? Or is it more practical to use the budget to buy more LRPA instead?

The PAF wanted an ASW-capable Long Range Patrol Aircraft and has actually shown obvious preference to Airbus' C-295ASW, but budget is not enough. So why not more LRPAs by using some of the UAV budget?
Photo from Airbus' website.




Another issue is the wisdom of acquiring itself, isnthe Hermes 900 really the best choice for the Philippine Air Force?

Other UAV options are also available which, aside from surveillance capability, also can carry and fire small precision guided munitions for the same price as the Hermes 900. This includes the IAI Eitan (aka Heron TP), which can carry around 1,000 kilograms of precision guided munitions at almost the same price as the Hermes 900. Did the PAF consider them since they are also interested in acquiring Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV) in the near future?

IAI's Eitan (aka Heron TP) is said to be priced similarly as the Hermes 900 and has almost the same capability except for also being capable of strike missions with its ability to carry and fire PGMs.
Credits to owner of photo.



There are other possible concerns that MaxDefense originally wanted to touch but decided not to (for now) until more information becomes available to us. It would be best to let the project take its course trusting the decision making of the Philippine Air Force and the AFP as a whole, considering this project was approved by Senior Leaders of the AFP and DND.


Nonetheless, any acquisition by the PAF of additional assets including medium altitude long endurance UAV platforms like the Hermes 900 is a welcome news, and would provide a leapfrog in capability and experience for the Philippine Air Force.

In the near future, MaxDefense will also be discussing the upcoming Philippine Army Unmanned Aerial Vehicle acquisition project, which is running almost simultaneously with the PAF's project.