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Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Why the Philippine Air Force will be better-off with the Bell AH-1Z Viper for its AH Needs

With the relations between Turkey and the United States, as well as with several NATO countries souring up due to Turkey’s plan to invade Northern Syria and fight the US-backed Kurdish fighters, as well as its acquisition of Russia’s S-400 Triumf advance long rage air defense system and very close relationship with Russia, it now appears that Turkey could be at the receiving end of strong economic sanctions from its allies, in addition to those already imposed to Turkey.

This may include cutting off access on US or even select NATO military technology for both existing assets of the Turkish Armed Forces, but also on the Turkish defense industry which includes large Turkish companies like Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI), ASELSAN, Otokar, FNSS, and many more.

MaxDefense would not discuss more on the issues between Turkey and the US, since it is not really the meat of this entry, nor has so much to do with the Philippines. But it affects any arms acquisition by the Philippines from the Turkish defense industry considering several AFP Modernization Program projects actually considered, shortlisted, or even selected Turkish defense products.

One of them is on the Philippine Air Force’s Attack Helicopter Acquisition Project, which is a Horizon 2 phase Priority Project under the Revised AFP Modernization Program.

Bell AH-1Z Viper of the US Marine Corps. The AH-1Z is being pushed for the PAF's Attack Helicopter requirements. Credits to original source of photo.

Issues on Selecting the TAI T129 ATAK Attack Helicopter:

MaxDefense has discussed numerous times in both our blogs and in our social media posts that the Philippine Air Force’s Technical Working Group (TWG) for the AH project has selected the TAI T129 ATAK attack helicopter after evaluations against other offers including the Bell AH-1Z Viper, the Russian Helicopters Mil Mi-28N Night Hunter and Mil Mi-35 Hind, Boeing AH-64E Apache Guardian, Airbus Tiger, and other models including light helicopters.

The TAI T129 ATAK attack helicopter which was the original selection made by the PAF. Credits to original source of photo.

Turkey offered to supply “around 7-8” units of T129 ATAK under a Government-to-Government (G2G) deal based on the Php12.8 billion budget allocated by the Philippines Department of National Defense (DND) on the project, while also supplying more units to form a complete squadron under a Turkish government-supported soft loan deal.

 MaxDefense previously supported the acquisition of the T129 ATAK since it was the selection and decision made by the PAF’s TWG and Defense Acquisition System Assessment Team (DASAT) itself, supported by the PAF’s then Commanding General Lt. Gen. Galileo Kintanar and approved by Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana. This is despite MaxDefense hearing that one of those involved in the irregularities in the Frigate Acquisition Project in 2016-2017 is backing up the T129 sale for reasons that we only believe is irregular.

The T129 ATAK of the Turkish Land Forces. Credits to original source of the photo.

While the deal looks to be good, suddenly Turkey was involved in political squabble with the US and its other NATO allies over its decision to acquire the Russian S-400 Triumf advance long range air defense system, which led to Turkey being kicked-out of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program and getting sanctions from the US and some NATO allies like the UK. Sanctions that included access to important parts and subsystems for the T129 ATAK attack helicopter like the the Rolls-Royce LHTEC CTS800-4A turboshaft engines, and several other avionics.

Turkey is having difficulty getting LHTEC turboshaft engines for its T129s, due to the recent spat it has with the US and other NATO allies like the UK. 

Even after the S-400 acquisition by Turkey, it already is apparent that US and UK are not willing to supply Turkey with the LHTEC turboshaft engines. This was apparent with the T129 orders from Pakistan, although it was partly because Pakistan is also in the sanctions list of the US government. MaxDefense sources from the defense industry confirmed that while Pakistan was sanctioned, Turkey’s own sanctions also affected the Pakistani T129 deal. This is now even expected to become worse with the planned invasion of Turkey in Northern Syria and the spat with the US on the issue of Kurdish militants.

Obviously the TAI T129 ATAK attack helicopter is a good, reasonably priced attack helicopter, no doubt about it. But the political issues hitting Turkey would definitely affect the T129 deal with the Philippines. So MaxDefense believes that it is best for the Philippines to just move away from the deal and avoid the risk of Turkey not able to deliver the helicopters to the Philippine Air Force because of their own problems with the supply of important helicopter components.

The T129 ATAK performing aerobatics to show its capabilities during an air show. Credits to original source of photo.

The PAF’s 2nd Choice – The Bell AH-1Z Viper

MaxDefense received several confirmations from defense, military and industry sources that ranked below just after the T129 in PAF’s evaluation is the actually the Bell AH-1Z Viper, which is to be honest, MaxDefense’s own choice based on our personal evaluation of the products offered.

The PAF’s TWG and DASAT ranked Bell’s AH-1Z Viper as its 2nd best option, and according to our sources, actually scored higher than the T129 ATAK in terms of performance. The only reason it lost to the T129 was because it costs more to acquire, and is expected to cost more to sustain than the T129 ATAK. So its actually just because of money.

Performance-wise, the PAF scored the Viper higher than ATAK. But it is more expensive than ATAK which made PAF choose the ATAK from Turkey. Photo taken from Wikipedia.

While TAI offered to provide 7-8 T129 ATAK attack helicopters based on PAF’s budget, Bell Helicopters actually offered 5 AH-1Z Vipers for the same price. Let MaxDefense also use this opportunity that this is based on an updated information since MaxDefense previously mentioned that Bell was only able to offer 3 to 4 units. It’s actually 5 units.

In addition, Bell also offered to assist in getting US government support in a possible US Foreign Military Financing (US FMF) program to assist the Philippines’ DND for a soft loan package to acquire additional units to form a complete AH-1Z Viper squadron.

Bell offered to supply up to 5 brand new AH-1Z Vipers for the PAF's budget, while the US government offered to provide financing via US FMF program for more units. Credits to original source of photo.

Performance-wise, the Bell AH-1Z Viper trumps over the TAI T129 ATAK, being faster, more agile, and has a better climb rate. But the main advantage of the AH-1Z Viper is that it is marinized, meaning it was made with consideration of operating in naval or near-seawater environment like the Philippines. Remember that the AH-1Z was made with the US Marine Corps in mind, with the helicopters mostly based at sea on a navy amphibious assault ship, or on US Marine air bases near the coast.

This is very important in the case of the Philippines as corrosion on aircraft is the deadliest enemy of any aircraft operated by the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Even deadlier than the Chinese military, and is a daily threat to any aircraft.

Main advantage of Viper is its designed to operate over sea and naval environment like the Philippines, something that the T129 and other competitors do not feature. Credits to original source of photo.

Another advantage of the AH-1Z due to its being a marinized helicopter is that it can safely and conveniently operate from any navy ship with landing and hangar facilities. Its rotorblades can be folded just like any naval helicopter of the Philippine Navy, so it can be stowed in hangars like those found in the Del Pilar, Jose Rizal, and Tarlac-class ships.

The introduction of the PAF on operating and sustaining the Viper’s older ancestor, the single-engine Bell AH-1S Cobra through the donation  made by the Jordanian government, actually helps the PAF in understanding the entire Bell Cobra/Super Cobra/Viper family. While the Viper does not share major components with the older Cobra, it does share in opening a logistics train with Bell, which is already an advantage in itself since the PAF has been a long-time customer of Bell Helicopters due to it operating the venerable UH-1H Huey, as well as the Bell 205A and Bell 412HP/EP utility helicopters.  This is something absent with TAI since the PAF has no experience operating any aircraft made by TAI.

The Bell AH-1Z Viper. Photo credits to original source.

With the US being a user of the AH-1Z, the PAF also stands to benefit from US assistance in supporting the helicopters in case of emergencies. Examples may include if PAF fails to secure enough spare parts due to reasons beyond its control, or in training or improving PAF personnel and pilot skills in operating the AH-1Z Viper similar to what the US does with other similar assets operated by both the AFP and US Military (the recent AAV exchange between Philippine and US Marine Corps is a prime example).

A Bell AH-1Z Viper on a US Navy amphibious assault ship during Joint Exercises between US and Philippine forces. Photo credited to

The AH-1Z Viper can be armed with the standard 2.75” unguided rockets already in service with the PAF, as well as the BAE Systems APKWS-II guided rockets, which is about to be introduced to the AFP soon. It can also be armed with the AGM-114 Hellfire missile, which was confirmed by a MaxDefense source to be sellable to the PAF and DND.

The AH-1Z Viper was also said to be easily adaptable to use other munitions like the Elbit Systems GATR guided rocket which is also being introduced to the PAF, as well as standard gun and rocket pods already used by the PAF on its AgustaWestland AW109E Power and MD Helicopters MD-520MG Defender light attack helicopter fleets.

If the DND decides to go for the Vipers, it would be under US Foreign Military Sales (US FMS) and Foreign Military Financing (US FMF) program, and Bell could deliver the first batch of Vipers as early as 2021. Apparently the US Marine Corps is ok to divert some of the helicopters in the production line to the PAF.

The Other Main Reason to Select the Bell AH-1Z Viper

Aside from the AH-1Z Viper’s best attributes and the US government’s offer to assist in procuring additional units via financing options, there is actually another reason why its best to go with the Viper.

The AH-1W SuperCobra of the US Marine Corps. Credits to

MaxDefense received confirmation from sources that the US government actually offered to grant the Philippine Air Force with at least twelve (12) used Bell AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters as part of US Military Assistance Program to the Philippines. But that is only possible under two conditions:

1. That the DND and PAF will award the Attack Helicopter Acquisition Project to Bell Helicopters with the AH-1Z Viper, and

2. The Philippines will commit to properly maintain and sustain the Super Cobra helicopters, in accordance to standard US requirements for every defense article they sell or donate to anyone. In short, they just want the PAF to take care of these helicopters.

Reasonable conditions, if you ask me.

PAF personnel preparing for an orientation flight by their USMC counterparts during a joint PH-US exercise. Credits to original source of photo.

The US is willing to transfer the helicopters under a “hot transfer” from by the US Marine Corps. For those who do not know, “hot transfer” means that the US Marine Corps will just simply hand-over the helicopters directly from their control to the Philippine Air Force. One good example is when there are military exercises in the Philippines between US and Philippine militaries, the USMC can simply hand-over the helicopters they brought in after the exercises. This means the PAF will save money on shipping them from US yards or bases to the Philippines (which usually is a problem encountered by the AFP due to lengthy approval of funding requests for even this most basic requirement).

PAF pilots getting instructions from USMC pilots on the Bell AH-1W SuperCobra. Photo from Dvids.

The Super Cobras are mostly around 30 years old now, but are still capable assets compared to even many new armed or attack helicopters in the market. These helicopters can also be upgraded (although probably paid separately by the PAF) later on to AH-1Z Viper standards, as the USMC originally planned to upgrade them until they changed their mind and decided to buy new Vipers instead.

Based on information we received, the US was willing to start hot transfer of some of the AH-1W Super Cobras as early as next year if the DND signs the US FMS contract before yearend.

Hot transfer of USMC AH-1W SuperCobra is said to be possible should the PAF proceed with a deal with the US government. Credits to original source of photo.

With the PAF planning to acquire more single-engined AH-1F Cobras which are even older than the AH-1W Super Cobras, the PAF would be better off getting the AH-1Ws instead. The Jordanian Cobras would be relegated to training role for these incoming assets.

The PAF is expecting to receive ex-Jordanian AH-1S Cobra, which the PAF could use to train future pilots of both the AH-1W SuperCobra and AH-1Z Viper. Credits to original source of photo.

PAF’s Anticipation of T129 Deal Failure:

To further support the plan to acquire either the used Super Cobras or new Vipers, the PAF’s 15th Strike Wing itself was said to have already started pushing for this acquisition as an alternative to the TAI T129 ATAK.

Apparently many in the PAF already anticipates that the DND will reach a stumbling block in the deal with Turkey, and they have prepared an alternative based on acquiring used Bell AH-1W Super Cobras, and if possible, new Bell AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters.

With the MD Helicopters MD-520MG Defender fleet already in need of a replacement soon, the 15th Strike Wing believe that going for used AH-1W Super Cobras is the fastest and best alternative they have.

It would be remembered that several PAF pilots and ground crew have already been receiving some experience with the Bell AH-1W Super Cobra since these helicopters are regular participants in yearly PH-US joint military exercises like Exercise BALIKATAN and KAMANDAG.

A PAF pilot going for orientation flight with a USMC pilot on an AH-1W SuperCobra during a PH-US joint exercises. Photo credits to Dvids Hub.

MaxDefense’s Opinion: 

With the end of 2019 approaching fast, sources from the DND confirmed to MaxDefense that they need to make a decision by November 2019 and to have a contract signed with the winning supplier before Christmas comes. This is because the funds allocated for the project will need to be returned to the national treasury if it is unused or unallocated by 31st December 2019.

MaxDefense believes that selecting the Bell AH-1Z Viper is currently the best choice the PAF and DND has to avoid further delays to the already long delayed Attack Helicopter Acquisition Project.

Steering clear of the Turkey-US spat is necessary at this moment to avoid having issues the Philippines’ own defense procurements. And since it appears that the end-users themselves are also in favour of the combined Viper & Super Cobra offers, it is indeed the best solution the PAF can ever have now.

The only trouble now is getting anti-US Philippine Pres. Rodrigo Duterte to approve the deal. We hope Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana and National Security Adviser Sec. Hermogenes Esperon can do the miracle of making Pres. Duterte calm down and make the right decision.

Project Summary:

Attack Helicopter (Horizon 2) Acquisition Project:

Note: Edited as of 09 October 2019.

* End User: Philippine Air Force (15th Strike Wing)

Quantity: no specific quantity, cost dependent

* Modernization Phase:
 Horizon 2 Phase of RAFPMP

* Project ABC:
 Php13,800,000,000.00, potential addition using soft loan/financing with assistance from helicopter source's government

Acquisition Mode: Government-to-Government (G2G) procurement process

* Source of Funding: GAA Funds through AFP Modernization Program Trust Fund, to be paid via Multi-Year Obligation Authority (MYOA) process.

* SARO Release/s: 

* Winning Proponent: TBA

Product for Delivery: TBA

* Contract Price: TBA

* First post by MaxDefense: TBA

* MaxDefense Searching Hashtag: #PAFAHAcquisition 

* Status: DND in the process of a final decision.


First post, edit and release: 09 October 2019
Copyright MaxDefense Philippines


  1. From seemingly a hopeless case due to the turkey-US spat, the AH acquisition has taken an interesting turn.

    With the most recent offer by the US of 4 new vipers coupled with a squadron of older cobras, this sure is a bargain.

    Hope the PAF gets this deal!!!

  2. will the ah-1w be "zero timed" before the hot transfer??

  3. "Performance-wise, the Bell AH-1Z Viper trumps over the TAI T129 ATAK, being faster, more agile, and has a better climb rate"

    -This is idiotic. of course it will be faster and will have better climb rate due to the virtue of just having a stronger engine by a lot. It is of a higher class of chopper payload/weight-wise(7,000 lbs more MTW), hence why it SHOULD be superior, as it is also more expensive. You are misleading the ignorant reader base as always. You have to compare the ATAK to an absolute equivalent in weight class.

    agile is subjective. the ATAK is smaller and slicker, hence why it should be more agile. but hey, gotta push USA-first agenda right?

    -What makes you really believe that the USA will grant FULL capabilities to the PH even post-delivery? They can just turn into the usual asswipes they are and just hold all ammunition and supplies anyway. i bet they wouldnt even supply the agm-114, yet you fully believe they absolutely will, like you worship them.

    But hey, you gotta push your USA agenda to get your cut, right?
    get you and your cohorts to get your commish and push your agenda?

    you are sad. this article ain't even that articulate anymore.

    1. I never liked the Americans that well, since the Phil-American War, gruesome atrocities committed by its soldiers to phil civilians and in world war II, prioritising europe instead of her long standing Ally in the far east, inspite of this, I would personally make my own sound decision to choose the AH-1Z because of a very good deal simply because we need "quantity" and quality , fast. Even if you say the ATAk is much better, but at how many can we have? seven ATAKs compared to a max of 24 AH-1Z and AH-1W is a very good deal. Lets say we have a war, you have your 8 ATAKS to my 24 Super Cobras and Vipers?

    2. the fact that you're here means this article has at least some value for you.

  4. In my opinion, with the meager budget our Airforce have I doubt that this helis will be maintained properly a condition not met on us to the USA an example is the S211 and Huey 1h becoming hangar queens, the donations of C130 during the late 80s and 90s that if proper maintained we have 6+ Hercs during that time but reduced to only 1 operational in 2010. This I rest my case unless something 'may makasakit mangyari' to our AirForce. God bless my country and those who ARE TRULY CITIZENS TO HER.

  5. IMO, I think the AH-1W's are the Philippines best option for the Philippines and that depends on how Trump feels with the Philippines. But if the AH-1W's are not an Option, they should look to the MI-35 like Brazil

  6. very interesting for me is the offer of 12 used AH-1W Super Cobra if ever PAF selected the Viper...
    as a layman in this topic, i think this package is advantageous to PAF.

  7. sir max, out of topic, i happened to read this article...

    this is about Lockheed Martin’s Sniper targeting pod completes fit check on FA-50

    is it reasonable for PAF to avail this upgrade?

  8. Before only "attackk helicopter" has rotary cannon.....with the arrival of kai LAH with rotary cannon ...this is enough i need for ah-1z or ah-1w....

  9. If our government made a deal with the U.S.
    Believe me all NPA will go down from the mountain. It is the time Duterte can pressure the US to get this copters.
    Even the Muslim rebels will change their mind. No Philipppine President can pressure the US. We always get old toys ang crappy things. US gave and sell a lot of sophisticated arms to its allies except us.


  10. Well its very good to have at least few of these ah1 version. I'm concerned about the maintenance or repair cost. Pls take a good care it.


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