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Sunday, February 14, 2021

How the Philippine Air Force plans to acquire additional Black Hawk helicopters to replace its ageing Huey fleet

The recent announcement made by Malacañang on the approval to acquire 15 new combat utility helicopters based on the Sikorsky Black Hawk helicopter, as well as Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana's announcement that 32 helicopters were actually being pushed for acquisition, have been good news for the AFP Modernization Program.

Both announcements were made in relation to the planned retirement of the Bell UH-1 Huey helicopter family of the Philippine Air Force, which has been in service since 1969 and needs to be replaced soon after being involved in several deadly accidents since July 2020.

But questions arise on where the funds would be coming from considering there has been no allocation for additional combat utility helicopters under the FY2021 defense budget, as well as on what the project is really about.

This blog entry discusses the Philippine Air Force's plans to acquire additional Black Hawk combat utility helicopters, including details about the project.

PAF pilots and crew show their approval on the acquisition of S-70i Black Hawk combat utility helicopters. Photo credits to Frances Mangosing.

Dissecting the Plan to Acquire Additional Black Hawk Helicopters:

Prior to the announcement made by Cabinet Sec. Karlo Nograles on Pres. Duterte's approval to acquire 15 new S-70i Black Hawk combat utility helicopters, the Philippine Air Force (PAF) was already in discussion with US defense giant Lockheed Martin on the supply of additional Sikorsky Black Hawk helicopters.

This move was meant to get replacements for the ageing Bell UH-1D/H Huey which have been in service with the PAF since 1969.

A mix fleet of Bell UH-1H and Bell 412EP combat utility helicopters during relief operations in Cagayan province this year. Photo credits to PAF.

It turns out that the US government has already made a proposal to supply more S-70i Black Hawks as early as 2020 when Lockheed Martin became more active in the Philippines due to its other proposals to the PAF including the F-16 Block 70 Viper fighter aircraft and the C-130J Super Hercules tactical transport aircraft, as well as the Sikorsky S-92 medium helicopter for the PAF and Philippine Navy, and S-70i Black Hawk for the Philippine Army.

Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana mentioned in an interview lately that Pres. Duterte actually approved 32 additional Black Hawks and that they are planning to sign a contract with Sikorsky this year, although he did not give any timeframe on the plan. It is assumed though that it would happen between 2021 and 2022 since that is the only remaining time the Duterte administration is in power.

32 helicopters also match the information received by MaxDefense Philippines from industry and PAF sources, citing documents from the PAF and Lockheed Martin's official offer.

The question now are, why did Sec. Nograles say that only 15 helicopters were approved for acquisition, when Sec. Lorenzana claims it is actually 32 helicopters? Who has the correct information?

It turns out, both cabinet members were correct. It just happen that Sec. Nograles' info was not complete, while Sec. Lorenzana's information was more general.

Remember during the induction of the first 6 new S-70i Black Hawk combat utility helicopters last December 2020, Sec. Lorenzana mentioned that they have ways to fund another 16 helicopters, which he did not explain how or where it would be coming from.

Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana with one of the PAF's new S-70i Black Hawk during their induction last December 2020. Photo credits to Sec. Delfin Lorenzana's Facebook page.

The 15 helicopters Sec. Nograles mentioned in his recent press conference was actually a different batch from what Sec. Lorenzana was saying. Adding them together puts it at around 31-32 new helicopters in total.

Funding Problem - Where is the Money?

We at MaxDefense Philippines have always been watching closely on funding of projects for the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

And based on the approved Fiscal Year 2021 Defense Budget, there is nothing for the acquisition of even a single Combat Utility Helicopter.

So far, no budget for additional Black Hawks or combat utility helicopters for FY 2021 AFP Modernization Program. This version is the publicly-available one, although MaxDefense Philippines has a more detailed copy which we cannot post publicly. 

So where will the money be coming from to acquire the additional Black Hawks?

According to our sources from the DND, the 15 or so helicopters Sec. Nograles mentioned will be funded through the AFP Modernization Program Fund as part of Fiscal Year 2022 GAA allocation. But the DND is looking for ways to make funds available earlier, either through Unprogrammed Fundings or with assistance from Malacañang and DBM.

Meanwhile, the 16 or so helicopters Sec. Lorenzana mentioned back in December 2020 will be coming in from a separate funding source.

The DND was already in advanced stages with its Heavy Lift Helicopter Acquisition Project, which the DND selection already fixed with the Mil Mi-171 Hip, and plans to award the project to the Russian government soon considering the initial funding was already released by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) back in November 2020. 

But according to our sources from the DND and PAF, the Philippine government has not overcome the problem on Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) last year, or even up until this blog entry's writing. And the funds need to be used ASAP or it will be returned to the DBM.

And because of this, the DND is planning to use the funding for the Mil Mi-171 acquisition to fund the acquisition of additional Black Hawk helicopters. It is highly possible that the DND would defer the Heavy Lift Helicopter Acquisition Project until the CAATSA issue especially transferring payment from the Philippines to Russia can be settled by both sides.

The acquisition of Russian-made Mil Mi-171 Hip medium helicopters are said to still have issues regarding CAATSA, especially with regards to funds transfer from the Philippines to Russia. Photo credits to Aviation Times.

In short, the Mil Mi-171 would be probably be sacrificed for now in favour of additional Black Hawks, although Russia might continue deliveries of the helicopters even without the Philippines paying them immediately.

Based on the information we received from several sources, the DND could order less than 10 new Sikorsky S-70i Black Hawk combat utility helicopters through US Foreign Military Sales (US FMS) Program, including all necessary accessories, spares, training and logistics support.

Apparently, Malacañang is keen to find ways to provide funding to increase the total to 16 units by adding more funds taken from other sources.

This is the reason why Defense Sec. Lorenzana was hopeful that a contract may be signed this year.

US Foreign Military Sales:

Contrary to what most defense and mainstream press reported over the last month, the US government was said to have offered US-made Sikorsky S-70i Black Hawk helicopters, not Polish-built S-70i from Sikorsky's subsidiary PZL Mielec.

The American-made S-70i are the basis of the current UH-60M Black Hawk delivered to the US Army, although it does not have the same subsystems installed by the Americans on their UH-60M.

A US Army UH-60M Black Hawk. Photo credits to Defence Blog.

This, as well as being a US FMS program, are the reasons why the current Black Hawk offering to the PAF are more expensive than the 16 S-70i ordered by the DND in 2019, which were made through Direct Commercial Sales (DCS) program.

As discussed previously in MaxDefense articles and social media posts, US FMS are more comprehensive in nature as it is a deal sanctioned and involving the US Department of Defense itself. The US DOD makes sure that the helicopters would be well supported through its life cycle, and would include a compete support package as part of its package.

This increases the unit cost of the helicopters as the Philippines is required to acquire more spare parts than usual, and would also pay for US DOD administrative charges for their involvement in the project.

The current US FMS program offer for the Black Hawk helicopters were confirmed by DND and PAF sources to be a total of 32 helicopters, which is in line with Sec. Lorenzana's statements. We were asked not to mention the total cost of the offer as negotiations are still ongoing.

Why Go for More Expensive US FMS Program?

So if the S-70i Black Hawk helicopters cost more under US FMS Program, why is the DND keen on going to that direction rather than doing another DCS Program with Sikorsky-PZL Mielec?

According to DND and industry sources, Lockheed Martin is open to go through DCS Program with the next batch of Black Hawks, but the DND prefers to go with US FMS Program as the Philippine government's way of political manoeuvring with the new Biden administration.

The US was said to have offered US-made S-70i Black Hawks, similar baseline model to those used by the US Army's latest UH-60M Black Hawks.

It would also be remembered that the US has several FMS Program negotiations with the Philippines involving Lockheed Martin, including the C-130J Super Hercules and F-16 Block 70 Viper aircraft projects.

But in addition, the Polish government has also been lobbying the acquisition of Polish-made S-70i Black Hawks which are said to remain the cheapest option should PAF decide to go with Black Hawks.

Other Helicopters Aside from Sikorsky Black Hawk:

We also received confirmation that aside from Lockheed Martin  - Sikorsky, other companies are still trying to get the Combat Utility Helicopter Acquisition Project.

These include AgustaWestland (Leonardo) and Bell Helicopters.

Just to update, AgustaWestland is now being represented by a different group in the Philippines. Its previous local representative was already replaced by Italy's Leonardo after several failures in its dealings in the Philippines involving the support of the AW109E and AW159 helicopters acquired by the Philippine Air Force and Philippine Navy.

Leonardo promised to provide better sales and aftersales support to the Armed Forces of the Philippines with this move to have Leonardo's Southeast Asian office handle the Philippine market. But it appears that they are not promising to open facilities in the Philippines should the PAF decide to go with the AW139M.

AgustaWestland is said to be offering the AW139M helicopter as an alternative to the S-70i Black Hawk. According to our sources, the AW139M is being offered for less the price of the American-made S-70i Black Hawk, but is a little more expensive than the Polish-made PZL Mielec S-70i.

The AgustaWestland AW139M from Italy's Leonardo. Photo credits to Wikipedia.

The AW139 is also being offered to the PAF to meet its requirement for new "Command and Control" helicopters to replace its fleet of Bell 412HP and 412EP helicopters that are planned for conversion to Combat Utility Helicopters and transferred to the 250th Tactical Helicopter Wing.

Meanwhile, Bell Helicopters is still offering their Bell 412 helicopter, this time using the latest Bell 412EPX variant. 

To avoid the issues surrounding the involvement of the Canadian government like what happened in 2019, Bell Helicopters have offered to either go for US FMS Program as well with the US DOD being the middleman, or involving Subaru of Japan, which is Bell's partner in the development of the Bell 412EPX to meet the Japan Ground Defense Force's requirement under its UH-X program.

The Subaru Bell 412EPX during demonstrations in Singapore. Photo credits to Sebastian Ng through V1 Images.

The Bell 412EPX is said to cost less to procure, and also costs 40% less to operate than the S-70i Black Hawk due to its smaller airframe and smaller engine. The smaller airframe also allows it to be an alternative for missions that do not require larger-sized helicopters like the S-70i. 

Selecting the Bell 412EPX also allows the PAF to have 2 combat utility helicopter models which would allow the PAF to avoid grounding the entire fleet should an accident happen.

The Bell 412EPX which will replace the Bell UH-1J Huey with the JGSDF under the UH-X Program. Photo credits to Andrei Shmatko through

The PAF already uses the Bell 412EP and 412HP, and is planning to consolidate all as Combat Utility Helicopters once the PAF's 250th Presidential Airlift Wing receive new helicopters.

More Helicopters is always Better:

Whatever the decision is, MaxDefense Philippines welcomes plans to replace the UH-1 Huey helicopter as they are really in need of replacement. We hope that the Duterte administration would be serious in hastening the acquisition of new helicopters to allow the PAF to quickly have a replacement for its ageing Hueys.

Personally, MaxDefense Philippines believe that a mix fleet of S-70i Black Hawks and smaller Bell 412EP/EPX would be a better combination as it would allow the PAF to have a mix fleet that could complement its requirements. This is since the PAF already has the Bell 412HP/EP in its fleet, and are not expected to be removed from service anytime soon.

Should a Bell 412 or Sikorsky S-70i get involved in an accident, ground one model would not ground the PAF's entire CUH fleet.

But it would be best if the DND and the Philippine government could have a 1:1 replacement of the UH-1D/H Huey fleet, and even have more helicopters to meet the AFP's total needs for at least 100 available utility & transport helicopters at any given time.

Project Summary:

Combat Utility Helicopter Phase 4 Acquisition Project:

Note: Edited as of 14 February 2021.

* End User: Philippine Air Force (205th Tactical Helicopter Wing)

Quantity: between 15 to 32 units, depending on funding availability

* Modernization Phase:
 2nd List of Horizon 2 Phase of RAFPMP

* Project ABC:
 TBC, at least Php32 billion

Acquisition Mode: TBC, but US Foreign Military Sales (US FMS) Program is said to be preferred if going with Lockheed Martin.

* Source of Funding: Multi-Year Contractual Authority for still unconfirmed number of years

* SARO Release/s: 

* Winning Proponent: TBC

* Product for Delivery: assumed to be Sikorsky S-70i Black Hawk but still depends on final decision

* Contract Price: TBA

* First post by MaxDefense: 10 December 2020

* MaxDefense Searching Hashtag: #PAFCUHPhase4Acquisition 

* Status: 
Project still being negotiated between the DND/PAF and Lockheed Martin and the US government. DND hopeful to sign a contract within 2021.

First release: 14 February 2021
Copyright MaxDefense Philippines


  1. At least NOW my desire to have 2 models of helicopter in the PAF is already justified, we can AVOID now the crappy GROUNDING if one platform have an accident, to those A**H*L* who bashed me regarding my desire to have a mixture of S-70i and Bell 412, EAT my ass...

    1. Good idea. Case and point and be like now. The Bell 412 does sound like a good option.

  2. A suggestion (though I am sounding like a fanboy on this):

    Acquire some Subaru-Bell 412EPX and attach a rocket pod and 12.7mm machine gun "M2 Browning" (GAU-21/A) on each unit so we can have a combat helicopter that can be used for fire support.

    And since we're taking about helicopters, why not transfer the PAF's AW109 to the PN after acquiring more S-70i? This will help PN to have more rotary wing assets while planning to acquire new ones.

    1. That sounds like a reasonable idea, actually.

  3. If Bell 412 is less cost and cheaper to maintain than BH PAF should buy 60 units of Bell 412 instead of 32 units of Blackhawk. 60 Bell 412 + 16 BH In order total 76 CUJ more asset for Paf..

  4. Is that a typo ? Heavy lift aircraft - qty 16 ?


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