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Saturday, November 7, 2020

Discussing the Philippine Air Force's Heavy Lift Helicopter Project as Russia wins with the Mil Mi-171 Hip

The Philippine Air Force (PAF) has embarked on the acquisition of Heavy Lift Helicopters as part of its 2nd List of Horizon 2 Phase projects. This project aims to provide the PAF with larger helicopters than what it currently has, to fit certain combat and peacetime requirements in tactical airlift and heliborne operations.

As reported earlier by our extension Philippine Defense Resource, the Notice of Award (NOA) was awarded, although it remains to be seen if it was through SOVTECHNOEXPORT or ROSOBORONEXPORT. In any case, the Russians offered to sell the Russian Helicopters Mil Mi-171 Hip medium military helicopter.

The Mil Mi-171Sh helicopter. Photo taken from AIN Online.


40 Years of Longing for a Heavy Lift Helicopter:

The Philippine Air Force has been eyeing heavy lift helicopters since the 1970s, with the Boeing CH-47 Chinook already being considered during modernization programs for the last 40 years.

In 1978, the US government actually considered selling the CH-47D Chinook, which was a new variant back then, in lieu of a request for 36 units of DHC-5 Buffalo medium lift aircraft. According to US declassified reports, if contract was signed for the CH-47D Chinook, they were projected to enter service with the PAF by 1981. But this did not push through due to the Philippine economy's poor performance.

The CH-47D Chinook of the Spanish Army. Photo credits to original source.

The 1995 AFP Modernization Program also listed a requirement for Heavy Lift Helicopters, with a total of 4 units requested to enter between 1995 to 2010. The CH-47D Chinook was also eyed by the PAF to meet this requirement. Again, due to the poor performance of the Philippine economy, the entire program did not push through, including the acquisition of  Heavy Lift Helicopters.

A requirement for Heavy Lift Helicopters again surfaced when the AFP Modernization Program was revised and extended to cover years 2013 to 2027. But it was programmed to be included in the Horizon 3 phase of the new project.

Since the AFP and DND have an option to frontload projects depending on requirements, the Heavy Lift Helicopter Acquisition Project was moved to the 2nd List of Horizon 2 phase, which is an offshoot of the Horizon 2 phase depending if the government has extra funds available to frontload Horizon 3 projects.

Again, the CH-47 Chinook family was in eyed by the Philippine Air Force, this time a newer variant called the CH-47F being available fresh from the factory. Other helicopters were also considered including the AgustaWestland AW101, as well as Medium Helicopters like the Airbus H225M Caracal, and the Russian Helicopters Mil Mi-171Sh Hip.

Also considered was the AgustaWestland AW101 Merlin. This example is with the Danish Air Force. Photo taken from Wikipedia.

Originally, the PAF's Technical Working Group decided that the CH-47F Chinook was the only helicopter that met the PAF's requirements for heavy lift helicopters, which made it closer for the PAF to acquire the CH-47F Chinook.

The CH-47F Chinook, these examples with the Indian Air Force. Photo credits to IAF.

But it appears that this was overturned by the Department of National Defense (DND), which asked the PAF to reconsider its specifications due to political reasons. As we have posted last year in our Facebook community page, the president himself was involved in the decision of the DND to push the PAF to reconsider.

The Russian Connection:

We reported that, according to our sources within the DND and PAF, Pres. Rodrigo Duterte was not in favor of the Philippine Air Force and DND's decision to select the Sikorsky S-70i Black Hawk for its Combat Utility Helicopter requirements, wherein 16 units were ordered for less than Php13 billion. But in the end, the president allowed the deal with Sikorsky to push through under one condition - that the PAF should also order helicopters from Russia, either transport or attack helicopters, or both.

With the PAF in a tight situation, the Heavy Lift Helicopter project was again re-evaluated with changes in the specifications, and it was recommended in the end that the Mil Mi-171 meets the PAF's revised requirements and is the most ideal due to the number of helicopters (quantity) the Russians have agreed to sell based on the Php12.8 billion budget.

While Russia agreed to sell 16 Mil Mi-171 helicopters, with a potential donation of 1 Mi-171 helicopter for VIP requirements, apparently Boeing was only able to offer 4 units under Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program, or 5 units under Direct Commercial Sales (DCS) program.

The Mil Mi-171, this example with the Russian Army. Photo taken from Avia Russia.

Negotiations with Russia's Rosoboronexport commenced in 2018, although issues related to the US' Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) was deemed to be an obstacle to a deal being reached between the DND and Rosoboronexport.

It was noted that as of March 2019, a new Russian state shell company SOVTECHNOEXPORT appears to be the one handling the deal between the Philippines DND and Russia on the potential acquisition of the Mil Mi-171 helicopter.

As of 3rd quarter 2020, preparation was being made by the DND to release the Notice of Award (NOA) in favor of the Russian government, although it remains to be seen if it would be through SOVTECHNOEXPORT or ROSOBORONEXPORT.

What's Next?

Since the Mil Mi-171 is actually a Medium Helicopter rather than a Heavy Lift Helicopter, it remains a question as to why the Philippine Air Force decided to use the Heavy Lift Helicopter Acquisition Project as it means to acquire the Mil Mi-171, rather than frontload the Medium Lift Helicopter Acquisition Project, which is also slated under Horizon 3 phase, as it is more appropriate for the helicopter being sought after?

Also, since the PAF actually has requirements for helicopters that are larger than the Mil Mi-171, will they be raising a new Heavy Lift Helicopter Acquisition Project under the Horizon 3 phase, with specifications closer to than of the CH-47F Chinook rather than medium helicopters like the Mil Mi-171?

Other Possibilities:

Another possibility now is related to the Philippine Army, which was said to also have been offered both the Mil Mi-171 and the Boeing CH-47F Chinook for their own helicopter requirements.

Based on information MaxDefense got from sources from the Philippine Army, the Philippine Army leadership as well as the Army Aviation Regiment was said to be more in favor of the CH-47F Chinook, although it is currently not their priority as they wanted to build up their planned fleet of combat utility, scout, and attack helicopters, before they consider getting larger helicopters.

So it could be similar to the PAF's plan of potentially asking another batch of heavy helicopters under the Horizon 3 phase of the RAFPMP.


Project Summary:

Heavy Lift Helicopter Acquisition Project:

Note: Edited as of 07 November 2020.

* End User: Philippine Air Force (still being determined if 205th Tactical Helicopter Wing or 220th Airlift Wing)

* Quantity: 16 military helicopters + potentially 1 VIP helicopter

* Modernization Phase: Horizon 2 Priority Projects of RAFPMP

* Project ABC: Php12,800,000,000.00

* Acquisition Mode: Government-to-Government (G2G) Procurement with Russian government (Sovtechnoexport and/or Rosoboronexport)

* Source of Funding: Multi-Year Contractual Authority for 3 years, using General Appropriations Act (GAA) from FY2020 to FY2022.

* SARO Release: SARO-BMB-D-20-0018320 worth Php1,919,626,490.00 (15% initial payment) dated 29 October 2020, released 04 November 2020.

* Winning Proponent: TBC

* Product for Delivery: 

    - 16 Mil Mi-171, exact variant still being confirmed although most like Mi-171Sh
    - unconfirmed report of 1 Mil Mi-171 in VIP configuration, most likely Mi-171A2

* Contract Price: Php12,797,509,932.00

* Residual Price: Php2,490,068.00

* First post by MaxDefense: 28 June 2019

* MaxDefense Searching Hashtag:

* Status: DND has decided to award the project to the Russian government, with the Notice of Award (NOA) being prepared to be released in either to Sovetechnoexport or Rosoboronexport. SARO for initial 15% funding was released on 04 November 2020, awaiting for NOA release which is expected before end of 2020.

First edit and release: 07 November 2020
Copyright MaxDefense Philippines


  1. Why is there a mention of Sovtechnoexport? Does it stil exist?

  2. the Mi 17 is a good choice. its competitive in quality with its western counterparts and most importantly is cheaper than the west. I say go for it. and I want to know the status of this order because I know the US control the Philippines and CAATSA may apply however, even if US control PHL, since it has a strategic importance to the US, PHL can still push this order and the US may balk and let it go. it all depends on the political will of the administration.


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