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Monday, March 25, 2019

A Quick Look at the Philippine Army's planned Procurement of Manned Air Assets

With the Philippine Air Force (PAF) now closer on getting their new fleet of S-70i Black Hawk Combat Utility Helicopters from Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. & PZL Mielec, its only a matter of time before the first batch of deliveries as promised by Sikorsky-PZL Mielec to the PAF and Department of National Defense (DND) as part of the delivery agreement.

But there is an interesting development in the AFP Modernization that involves the Black Hawk helicopter, which was never discussed in MaxDefense before.

The Sikorsky HH-60M MEDEVAC Black Hawk.
Photo taken from Flickr.

On 21 March 2019, the Philippine Army (PA) celebrated its 122nd Founding Anniversary in its headquarters at Fort Bonifacio in Metro Manila. As part of the celebrations, several Army and AFP units, as well as defense companies and suppliers also set-up their booths in the plenary hall lobby. 

Among them was the Philippine Army's Army Aviation "Bagwis" Battalion (AABn). This is the sole aviation unit of the Philippine Army.

The photo below is very important as it gives a summary of what the AABn is looking at having under its planned modernizaton, which calls for new assets to be acquired to expand its limited capabilities.

This was displayed in the PA's Army Aviation "Bagwis" Battalion booth during the 122nd Founding Anniversary celebration of the Philippine Army.
Thanks to a MaxDefense contributor for providing us the photo.

The display below declared their plans to acquire the following:

* For Medical Evacuation: Sikorsky HH-60M Black Hawk - for rapid in-flight medical evacuation, disaster relief, search and rescue, and humanitarian assistance;

* For Special Missions Airplane: Cessna Grand Caravan - for airborne command and control, aerial reconnaissance, target acquisition, and airborne air traffic control;

* For Trainer Helicopter: Robinson R-44 - for initial helicopter pilot training, equipment transition training, and flight proficiency training.

The display did not mention anything on quantities to be acquired, budget, program schedule, or any other important details aside from the desired equipment.

Sikorsky HH-60M MEDEVAC Black Hawk:

The PA AABn mentioned specifically the Sikorsky HH-60M Black Hawk, which is the MEDEVAC version of the Black Hawk helicopter currently in use by the US Army.

While it uses the "HH" prefix like another Black Hawk variant known commonly as the Pave Hawk, the HH-60M is not a Pave Hawk. Instead, it is a version of the latest UH-60M US-spec Black Hawk helicopter, with additional modifications to allow Medical Evacuation (MEDEVAC) of injured troops. In short, it is a Battlefield Air Ambulance. 

This variant uses an integrated electronically-controlled litter system that could carry six (6) patients, as well as an onboard oxygen-generating system for onboard patient care. It is also modified to have plastic bubble windows, an integrated ECG and other medical equipment, as well as a built-in external rescue hoist.

After everything else, it is essentially similar to any UH-60M Black Hawk utility helicopter. And it can still be used for other missions aside from MEDEVAC.

The US Army is scheduled to receive more UH-60M beyond this decade, as it standardize it for their MEDEVAC requirements.

The Sikorsky HH-60M MEDEVAC Black Hawk as used by the United States Army. Credits to the original owner of the photo.

Cessna Grand Caravan:

Although the PA AABn was not very specific on the Grand Caravan model or variant, MaxDefense believes that this is definitely the Cessna 208B Grand Caravan ISR, similar to what the Philippine Air Force's 300th Air Intelligence and Security Wing (PAF 300th AISW) is using.

Based on the PAF's Grand Caravan ISRs, the aircraft are equipped with air surveillance systems like an Electro-Optical/Infra Red (EO/IR) camera, battlefield communications systems, and other equipment.

It can be used as a battlefield "eye in the sky" where it has a bird's eye view of what's happening on the ground, allowing it to provide tactical information to the units on the ground and in the command post, while also providing coordination with other units. 

Aside from that, it can conduct its usual roles which include surveillance and intel gathering,

Based on the contract involving the PAF's Grand Caravan ISRs, the US government paid almost US$9 million to upgrade each of the new aircraft to ISR-capable platforms with the L3 Wescam MX-15 EO//IR camera, Harris RF-7800M-MP and RF-7800H-MP networking and high frequency military radios, and other related systems. This is on top of the aircraft platform's cost.

The Philippine Air Force has been operating their Cessna 208B Grand Caravan ISR aircraft since 2017, and its possible that the Philippine Army is also planning to having similar aircraft of their own. The PA AABn could easily cross-train and qualify using the PAF's aircraft and assets should they become serious in acquiring similar platforms.
Photo taken from and credited to Agence France Presse (AFP).

Robinson R44:

The introduction of a training helicopter is actually the basic requirements for any budding air arm that will focus on operating a fleet of helicopters. In this case, the AABn may have chosen the Robinson R44 made by the Robinson Helicopter Company of Torrance, California.

The R44 is commonly used as a trainer helicopter by several military air arms, and is also in use by the Philippine National Police and several private companies and aircraft owners in the country.

It is cheap, easy to fly, reasonably easy to maintain and sustain, and support for the helicopter is locally available. Selecting it as the future training helicopter of the Philippine Army makes sense based on the attributes above, although MaxDefense believes that cost may have also driven the selection. 

MaxDefense believes its more practical to get a slightly larger and more expensive helicopter which it could use not just for training but also for other non-combat use.

The Robinson R44 Raven II is commonly used as a trainer helicopter by flying schools and military air arms. 

MaxDefense's Opinions:

How Accurate Can Wish Lists be?

While this is obviously a "Wish List" rather than an actual acquisition program, it is normal for a service branch to post such when it is at least 50% confident that it may happen.

Before the Philippine Army Army Aviation Battalion posted the photos of their desired assets to be acquired, MaxDefense believes that they may have already made their homework, and was already able to conduct a market study, and even received information from manufacturers and suppliers of similar type of aircraft. 

It is highly possible that these selected aircraft were based on the studies and deliberation made within the unit's Technical Working Group (TWG) and even the Philippine Army's senior leadership as well.

Its just a matter of submitting the recommendation of the Philippine Army leadership to the DND for such plan to move further from just planning.

A. On the acquisition of training helicopters:

The requirement for training helicopters, specifically the Robinson R44 only shows that the PA AABn is committed now to create its own helicopter fleet that will require constant training of personnel for helicopter flying. 

If the PA AABn was only interested in flying a few helicopters, they could have just cross-trained larger military aviation units like the Philippine Air Force, or even the Philippine Navy's Naval Air Group (PN NAG), both of which have training programs for helicopter training.

Thus, MaxDefense believes that the PA AABn may not stop with the helicopter requests they have shown on the poster, and may even ask for more helicopters for other purposes in the future.

Previous RAFPMP Horizon 1 to 3 plans submitted by the Philippine Army in the past actually plans for the AABn to be expanded into a regiment separate from the Mechanized Infantry Division, and with its own Multi-Purpose Medium Lift Helicopters, Armed Reconnaissance Helicopters, and Light Attack Helicopters to provide support to other PA ground units. 

These remains to be seen though if such plans can be made possible even during the Horizon 3 phase of the Revised AFP Modernization Program. These plans are ambitious although attainable if only the Philippine government provides the support the PA and AFP needs for their modernization plan.

The Philippine Army's Army Aviation Battalion may also look at the Enstrom 480 as an alternative to the Robinson R44. The Enstrom 480 is used as a training helicopter by the Japan Ground Self Defense Force (JGSDF) and the Royal Thai Army (RTA).
Photo taken from Wikipedia.

On the acquisition of HH-60M MEDEVAC Black Hawk:

Speaking of helicopters, selecting the Sikorsky HH-60M MEDEVAC Black Hawk as its future Combat Air Ambulance makes sense, considering the Philippine Air Force is on its way to standardize the Black Hawk as its new combat utility helicopter. Although they may be made by different factories (PAF's S-70i Black Hawk is made by PZL Mielec in Poland, while the HH-60M is made by Sikorsky's US plant), it shares similar parts and has similar attributes. 

MaxDefense's only concern is the cost, since the US-made Black Hawk, especially the latest one may cost significantly higher than its Polish-built sibling, unless if the Philippine Army, and by extension the DND are planning to request these helicopters from the US as part of their annual US Military Assistance program.

It is only logical as well that should the PA AABn look for a combat utility helicopter or special operations helicopter, it may just look again at the Black Hawk family.

It won't be surprising if the PA AABn also request for Black Hawks for a possible future requirement for Combat Utility Helicopters. Credits to owner of photo.

On the acquisition of Cessna 208B Grand Caravan ISR:
As for the Cessna 208B Grand Caravan ISR, MaxDefense also believes that the PA AABn is also bound to receive some from US Military Assistance program, especially that there are indeed talks within the DND that a request for more of these aircraft was made with its counterparts in Pentagon.

If the Philippines gets an allocation of even just 3 aircraft, the PA AABn may be able to get at least 2 aircraft out of the total. This would at least allow 1 aircraft to be available at any time, and 1 aircraft to be in maintenance at any given time. Of course if the PA AABn can get more, the better.

The PA AABn may also opt to purchase more Cessna 208B Grand Caravans in standard fit on its own without relying from US Military Assistance, to replace its old fleet of Cessna 421 and Beechcraft Queen Air, all of which are probably non-operational at the moment. These are used for air transport requirements of the Philippine Army without relying on air transport services from the Philippine Air Force.

It would be worth remembering that in 2015, Cessna brought their 208B Grand Caravan aircraft to Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, the PA AABn's home, to demonstrate the aircraft to the unit's leaders and pilots. MaxDefense posted this in its Facebook page back then, which can be accessed HERE.

Philippine Army AABn officers getting briefed on the Cessna 208B Grand Caravan utility aircraft during a demonstration in Fort Magsaysay in September 2015. Even before then, the PA AABn has already set its sights on the Grand Caravan as its potential future utility aircraft.
Photo taken from PA AABn's Facebook account.

Since there is not much available information on these plans except for the information gathered during the 122nd Founding Anniversary of the Philippine Army, as well as limited information from previous Horizon 1-3 modernization plans, it may take some time before MaxDefense would be able to provide more details for these projects.

Also, there is no budget allocated within the Horizon 2 phase of the RAFPMP for these proposals, so there are three possible scenarios that could make these requests delivered:

a. They could include these as part of the Horizon 3 phase of the RAFPMP, 

b. They could push hard and make it happen as part of the proposed 2nd List of Horizon 2, which is already being prepared by the AFP in case there are more funds available from the government within the 2019-2023 timeframe.

c. Majority of the acquisitions will be made by the US government on behalf of the Philippine Army as part of US Military Assistance program.

MaxDefense believes that, in the case of the HH-60M Black Hawk and Cessna 208B Grand Caravan ISR, there is a strong chance that the US government may indeed assist the Philippine Army in one way or another. 

As mentioned earlier, these projects won't happen soon so we'll have to wait longer.


  1. Sir, do you have any update on used kooryong mlrs from South Korea for the Philippines? Thanks.

  2. EVERYTHING HERE ARE WASTE OF MONEY AND TIME. always use the money and resources to defend our territory,and not for evacuation, cargo or nonsense cessna.

    1. So you mean we just let our soldiers go in and attack, attack, attack without a thought on logistics support, evacuation for the injured, intelligence?

  3. law enforcement, military and civilian agencies worldwide must secure high-tech armor protection form increasingly sophisticated weapons threatening land, air and sea vehicles.

  4. Philippine navy and airforce should invest more in amphibious aircraft as multipurpose aircraft for land and can be armed also as additional force multiplier.

  5. how about investing more on drones like the kamikaze drones of Turkey and Israel. these drones are not only force multiplier but are cheaper and even have civilian uses too. Plus we have the know how to copy and make our own. drones can also be deployed by land air and sea. its a win win. imagine if we have hundreds to thousand of these all over the country. Azerbajian won the war against Armenia using kamikaze drones in their offensives. we also need anti drone rockets and radars if we invest in drones.

  6. how about investing more on drones like the kamikaze drones of Turkey and Israel. these drones are not only force multiplier but are cheaper and even have civilian uses too. Plus we have the know how to copy and make our own. drones can also be deployed by land air and sea. its a win win. imagine if we have hundreds to thousand of these all over the country. Azerbajian won the war against Armenia using kamikaze drones in their offensives. we also need anti drone rockets and radars if we invest in drones.

    1. Countering drones are easy you can literally buy anti drone guns on the internet.
      Against another military its useless as 1 electronic warfare van was stopping azerbijan from using there drones.


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