Your 1st for Philippine Defense

Austal leads Philippine Navy's OPV Acquisition Project!

SecDef Lorenzana confirms Austal is still the preferred OPV supplier for the PN

The Philippine Navy commissions its 2nd Jose Rizal-class frigate!

The Philippine Navy welcomes BRP Antonio Luna (FF-151), its newest frigate!

The Philippine Navy selects Shaldag Mk. V for Fast Attack Interdiction Craft!

The DND has awarded the FAIC-M Acquisition Project to Israel Shipyards

The Philippine Air Force wants more Black Hawk helicopters!

The Philippine Air Force asks for more Black Hawks to allow the retirement of their Bell UH-1 Huey fleet

The Philippine Army orders the Sabrah Light Tank System from Israel!

Israel's Elbit Systems was declared the winner to supply light tanks to the PA

The Philippine Air Force receives full order of Hermes 900 and Hermes 450 UAVs!

All 9 Hermes 900 and 4 Hermes 450 MALE UAVs have been received by the PAF!

Thursday, October 31, 2019

The BrahMos Supersonic Missile System and the Philippine Army's Land Based Missile System Project

The last time MaxDefense discussed about the Philippine Army's Land Based Missile System (LBMS) Acquisition Project was in July 2016. Back then, our article already confirmed the existence of the LBMS Acquisition Project as a replacement to the then defunct-ed Shore Based Missile System (SBMS) project. Back in 2016, it was still in the planning stage and was still considering the offer from Israel Military Industries (now part of Elbit Systems) using the IMI Lynx multiple-launch rocket system using IMI's EXTRA precision guided rocket to hit naval and land targets.

MaxDefense readers are adviced to read the old blog entry, to have a foothold on our discussions and updates on the LBMS project. The old blog can be accessed on the link below:

"Re-Offering the SBMS for Use Against Internal Security Threats as a Precision Land Attack Weapon" - first posted on 26 July 2016.

Now we update our discussions based on the current offering made for the project using India's BrahMos supersonic tactical surface-to-surface missile.

The BrahMos mobile missile launcher, each carrying three Brahmos missiles. Photo taken from Brahmos Aerospace website.

The Land Based Missile System Acquisition Project - A Background:
From SBMS to LBMS:
When the Philippine Army brought up the acquisition of Shore Based Missile System (SBMS) project in 2013, the plan was to go with IMI's Coastal and Island Defense System which consists of fixed and mobile firing stations and support systems like the Lynx MLRS system, firing IMI's family of guided rockets led by the EXTRA guided rocket with a maximum effective range of 150 kilometers. The project was meant for the Philippine Army to hit naval and land targets from the shore.

Being able to hit land targets, it was then obvious that it can also be used beyond naval applications, like a precision artillery system for long range engagements. The compatibility to use other guided rocket munitions from IMI like the Accular rocket, as well as the Delilah short range cruise missile made it an obvious choice for any land attack application.

The first SBMS project was supposed to be based on IMI's Coastal and Island Defense System using fixed and mobile launchers like the IMI Lynx MLRS system above. Credits to original source of photo.
The Coastal and Island Defense System as marketed by IMI was the basis of the PA's original SBMS project. Photo taken from IMI's website.

But the Philippine Army through its then Commanding General Lt. Gen. Hernando Irriberi, cancelled the SBMS project in 2015 in favor of using the funds to acquire other assets that will be useful for internal security operations.

Thus, with the SBMS gone, the Philippine Army tried to return it in the procurement list as the Land Based Missile System (LBMS) Acquisition Project in 2016 under the administration of Pres. Rodrigo Roa Duterte. During the start of his term, Pres. Duterte's emphasis was more on the fight against terrorist groups like the New People's Army (NPA), thus focus of the AFP shifted back to internal security rather than external defense.

The LBMS was among those originally included in then Php650+ billion Horizon 2 Phase Proposal to Pres. Duterte. Back then, the new Technical Working Group was re-looking at the SBMS project and saw the possibility of reusing IMI's offer for a system that can be used for both land and naval targets. IMI quickly revised their offering, now using the Lynx MLRS, EXTRA and Accular guided rockets but now more intended against land targets, with secondary use against sea targets.

MaxDefense was able to get hold of some of  the documents for the Philippine Army LBMS, which showed its purpose was focused on precision strikes in highly populated areas like specific buildings within an urban setting, or against hideout camps in the jungle.

Aside from the IMI proposal, the Philippine Army was also looking at other proposals made to them which includes the BrahMos supersonic missile system, which was offered to the AFP as early as 2016, as well as other land based missile and rocket artillery systems.

Sadly, when Pres. Duterte made the in-principle approval of the Horizon 2 phase, the LBMS was not among those in the list due to cuts in the original proposal resulted to LBMS being among those removed. But like all other projects removed from the list, the LBMS was placed in the so-called potential 2nd List of Horizon 2 shopping list.

With Horizon 2 already on its way, the Department of National Defense (DND) has asked the Armed Forces of the Philippines to look at formulating a shopping list under the 2nd List of Horizon 2, which they will try to process if additional or extra funds are available on top of the Php300 billion Horizon 2 phase Priority Projects approved by Pres. Duterte in June 2018.

During the visit of Pres. Duterte to India in 2018, the AFP has already been looking at the BrahMos as a possible acquisition for land-based anti-ship missile batteries as it started formulating its Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) strategy. Pres. Duterte also stressed to the DND that he wanted to have an acquisition from the Indians as a gesture of friendship under his so-called Independent Foreign Policy drive.

Among those selected as a project most suitable to award under a Government-to-Government (G2G) deal with India is the BrahMos supersonic anti-ship missile as a land-based system.

Surprisingly, both the Philippine Army and Philippine Navy saw purpose of having the Brahmos missile into their requirements. Thus two projects were born to fulfil an overlapping requirement. The Philippine Army re-used the Land-Based Missile System (LBMS) project, while the Philippine Navy called theirs the Shore-Based Anti-Ship Missile System (SBASMS) project.

The BrahMos supersonic cruise missile as displayed by India. Credits to original source of photo.

Why Need for an LBMS?
When the Philippine Army cancelled the SBMS acquisition project in 2015, the most affected by the decision was not the Philippine Army, but actually the Philippine Navy. They believe that such system would help defend the country against ships and naval targets, and can also be used against an amphibious assault force against Philippine islands or territories.

With the SBMS gone, the Philippine Navy believed that their marine forces in the Kalayaan Island Group becomes vulnerable, and the PN's ability to fight foreign warships becomes even more difficult. Should the PN be defeated in the high seas, no other defense capability is available until the enemy forces land in Philippine shores and be met by the Philippine Army.

The Philippine Navy decided that any anti-ship A2/AD capability should actually be under their control. This will allow them to coordinate its use with the naval and marine forces in defense against enemy ships or amphibious forces.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Army still believed that an anti-ship missile system is relevant to their requirements since these are based on land, which means falling into the control of land forces like the Philippine Army. Also, the PA believe that it can also be used against land targets including enemy forces within Philippine soil, and also against enemy targets outside its own boundaries, creating an offensive deterrence capability. MaxDefense believes that the focus is more on hitting Chinese or foreign facilities and targets in the Spratly Islands, while also being able to be used to fire against naval warships under the A2/AD requirement.

Surprisingly, Pres. Duterte gave an in-principle approval for the acquisition of both the Philippine Army's LBMS and the Philippine Navy's SBASMS during the joint command conference held on May 2019, with a combined budget for both exceeding Php30 billion. Both projects will be acquired under the G2G process with the Indian government.

A typical BrahMos coastal defense layout. Credits to original source of photo.

Signs of the times:
The plan to acquire the Brahmos supersonic missile was further known when the Philippine Army announced its plans to the mainstream media some weeks ago, wherein they mentioned the need for strike capability against enemy naval ships.

This was further empasized with the Philippine Army's social media page posting photos of Philippine Army officials visiting the Indian Navy frigate INS Sahyadri on 24 October 2019 while it was docked in Manila to receive briefing from Indian Navy officers on the Brahmos missile system.

Philippine Army officials being briefed by the officers of the Indian Navy frigate INS Sahyadri on naval systems supporting the BrahMos anti-ship missile system. Photo taken from the PA's social media page.
So far, the Philippine Army was more vocal about the plan to acquire the LBMS compared to their naval counterparts. But what is certain though as confirmed by sources who are involved in the project, it is only a matter of time before the DND pushes through with the actual procurement phase for the Philippine Army's LBMS project.

The Philippine Army Technical Requirements:

So how did the Philippine Army come up with going for India's BrahMos missile system, when there are several other countries and companies offering similar systems?

Apparently the main requirement of the Philippine Army was for the missile to be supersonic in flight.

Western examples like the RBS-15, Naval Strike, and others are subsonic missiles, meaning they only fly below the speed of sound towards their target. Meanwhile the BrahMos is supersonic, which means it flies over or twice the speed of sound.

While Russia also have supersonic land-based missile systems, it appears that Malacanang itself was more interested in giving the land based missile projects to India, while Russia will be able to get a contract with the DND for something else like helicopters.

Also, the DND and the Philippine Army are also weary of possible effects of buying kinetic Russian weapons, like CAATSA sanctions, and they believe going to India for a similar product (BrahMos was developed using Russian technology, afterall), it would be safer to go with India's product.

While Russian missile systems like the Club-M land-based missile system can be an option, more reasonable heads in the DND and Philippine Army were able to steer clear. 

The Brahmos Land-Based Surface-to-Surface Supersonic Cruise Missile System:

According to Brahmos Aerospace, the Brahmos supersonic cruise missile "features Indian propulsion system, airframe, power supply and other major indigenous components successfully test fired from ITR, Chandipur in Odisha, India."

It was developed as a join venture between the Indian Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) and Russia's Federal State Unitary Enterprise NPO Mashinostroyenia (NPOM) under the BrahMos Aerospace via an inter-government agreement.

The missiles are made by the Indian Ordnance Factories.

The surface-launched variant of the missile has the following attributes:
 * Mass: 3,000 kilograms (6,600 pounds)
 * Length: 8.4 meters (28 feet)
 * Diameter: 0.6 meters (2 feet)
 * Warhead: 200 to 300 kilograms (440 to 660 pounds) using conventional, and semi-armor piercing. A nuclear-tipped option is available but will only be for Indian use.

Guidance System:
 * Mid-course guidance by INS
 * Terminal Guidance by active radar homing
 * GPS / GLONASS / GAGAN satellite guidance

This enables the missile to achieve an accuracy of 1 meter circular error probable.

Photo shared to MaxDefense, originally posted by DD News India.

The missile has two engines:
 * First Stage using solid fuel rocket booster,
 * Second Stage using liquid-fueled ramjet allowing supersonic flight

Range: 500 kilometers (310 miles or 270 nautical miles), although it would probably reduced on the Philippine or export variant to just 290 kilometers

Flight Ceiling: 15 kilometers (49,000 feet) maximum (during cruise phase)
Flight Altitude: Sea skimming as low as 3 meters, which happens during the final approach to the target (terminal phase).

The missile goes to a cruise phase at a height of 14,000 meters from sea level, then drops to 15 meters in the terminal phase of the flight. It goes even lower to as low as 3 meters above sea level during the final attack phase to make it difficult to intercept.

Maximum Speed: Mach 3 (3,700 kilometers per hour, or 1 kilometer per second).

Compared to most anti-ship missiles especially from Western countries, the BrahMos flies at least 3 times faster, which enables it to pack a huge amount of kinetic energy that makes impact more devastating even without a warhead. Ship armor or concrete structures would have difficulty reducing the damage due to that massive force of impact alone.

Among the advantages of the Bramos missile are the following

* High lethality with greater effectiveness,
* Land Attack and Anti-Ship capabilities,
* Fire and Forget Principle of operations,
* Multiple trajectories,
* Large engagement envelope,
* Way Point capability,
* Transport also as Launching cannister,
* Minimum deployment time,
* High rate salvo,
* Network-centric architecture,
* Maximum shelf life,
* Comprehensive Lifetime Maintenance Support,
* Low life-cycle cost
* Brahmos Aerospace being a 1-point Total Solutions provider

Compared to most Western-made surface-to-surface missiles, BrahMos Aerospace believes that their BrahMos supersonic cruise missile is:
* 3 times high velocity,
* 2.5 to 3 times longer flight range,
* 3 to 4 times longer seeker range,
* and 9 times greater kill energy due to its speed and size

Western equivalents like the Swedish RBS-15 above travels at subsonic speed, which results to lesser kinetic kil energy, travels slower to the target, and is easier targetted by hard kill CIWS.

The high kill energy is ideal against large warships like aircraft carriers, amphibious assault ships, and auxiliary support ships.

The Philippine Army Requirement:

Based on MaxDefense's gathered information from sources and documents obtained, the Philippine Army is looking to have at least 2 batteries of BrahMos missile systems.

a. The main part of the system are the Mobile Autonomous Launchers (MAL) which carries and launches the Brahmos surface-to-surface missiles. Each MAL carries three ready-to-fire missiles housed in containers, and can be reloaded with additional rounds.

A Brahmos Mobile Autonomous Launcher. 

Each Philippine-spec Land Based Missile System Battery will have at least three MALs.

The MALs also have modern communications to receive data, information and instructions from command posts, Radar Receivers for target information, and advanced Fire Control Systems (FCS) for coordinating the missile firing.

Each Mobile Autonomous Launcher has its own  communications and data processing equipment that is connected to a Mobile Command Post.

Normally Indian-spec MALs are built on an all-terrain high mobility truck from Czech Republic’s TATRA trucks. MaxDefense still need confirmation if Philippine-spec launchers will use the same trucks, or will be using different truck models since TATRA is not really available in the Philippines.

Missiles can be fired in single round, or salvo in every two to three seconds interval, within four minutes from receiving command. Salvo firing can also be made towards up to three different targets, or against 1 or two targets depending on command’s distribution of fire.

Each missile container has thermal condition to ensure their interface with the launch beam. The MAL alsohas a 40kVA diesel generator to maintain power supply, while also carrying back-up with a single-phase UPS with battery backup good for 15 minutes fitted to the truck.

An example of a Mobile Autonomous Launcher deployed and ready to fire missiles.

b. The missile firing units will be supported by a Mobile Command Post (MCP) per battery, which will control the Mobile Autonomous Launchers and will provide telemetry and target data. The MCP has the ability to distribute engagement of specific targets, or if to focus only on one target.

A Brahmos Battery Mobile Command Post vehicle.

It is also the MCP that assists in integrating the MALs into the network-centric C4ISTAR system of the Philippine Army and of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in general, as it is equipped with modern communications systems, computers and data sharing equipment.

The MCP will be composed of the Commander providing the instructions, the control consoles, and will be equipped with VSAT and INMARSAT satellite communications, High Frequency (HF), Very High Frequency (VHF), Ultra High Frequency (UHF) Communications systems, GPS and other navigation equipment.

Other support equipment includes Missile Replenishment Vehicles which carries spare rounds of helps in reloading the Mobile Autonomous Launchers, as well as Workshop Vehicles which has supporting engineering and maintenance equipment for the battery.

An example of a Missile Replenishment Vehicle.

Area Access / Area Denial Capability:

With the Philippine Army fielding land-based anti-ship missile systems, it will have capability to create Area Access / Area Denial (A2/AD) zones where enemy or aggressor naval assets and even civilian shipping would have to be careful in using for access.

This many include areas along the Northern Corridor between Formosa (Taiwan) and Luzon Islands, areas around Scarborough / Panatag Shoal, and areas along the Kalayaan Island Group / Spratly Islands, as well as the southern corridors with the boundaries with Sabah and Indonesia.

While having 2 mobile batteries seems not enough, take note that this is just the start for the Philippine Army. In conjunction to the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ plan to have a network-centric system connecting all major surveillance and fighting assets of the country to have a greater common picture, the PA’s BrahMos-based LBMS would be working together with other kinetic assets like missile-armed warships and combat aircraft, and other land-based systems from other branch services.

Apparently the Indians (not just necessarily BrahMos Aerospace) promised to work on making the BrahMos LBMS work with NATO-standard C4ISTAR systems like the one being set-up by the AFP.

Horizon 3:

We must consider that the Philippine Army may acquire additional batteries, or even added capabilities and upgrades to the BrahMos land-based surface-to-surface missile system as part of the Horizon 3 phase of the Revised AFP Modernization Program.

Among possibilities may include increasing the number of Mobile Autonomous Launchers per battery (from 3 to 4), adding more batteries, or even including its own detection system in addition to the planned network where the system will be connected in.

Then BrahMos Aerospace is also developing more advanced versions of the missile, which may include longer range capability, better countermeasures, or even higher speed (ex. Hypersonic).

India has started looking at improving the BrahMos with hypersonic designs that would make it more difficult to kill. Photos from Defense Update India.

That will all be dependent on the next set of military and political leaders of the country, and its ability to provide funds and political will to such program.

Everything is still fluid at this stage, so MaxDefense cannot really say what to expect between 2023-2028.

Project Summary:

Land Based Missile System (LBMS) Acquisition Project

Note: Edited as of 30 October 2019.

* End User: Philippine Army (Army Artillery Regiment)

* Quantity: 2 batteries

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

* Project ABC:

Acquisition Mode: Government-to-Government deal, eyed with Indian government

* Source of Funding: TBA, possibly soft loan

* SARO Release: TBA

* Winning Proponent: TBA

Product for Delivery: TBA

* Contract Price: 

* First post by MaxDefense:
30 September 2016

* MaxDefense Searching Hashtag: #PALBMSAcquisition

* Status: negotiations ongoing with BrahMos Aerospace and Indian government, considered under pre-procurement phase.

First post and edit: 30 October 2019
Copyright MaxDefense Philippines

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
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