The Idea of Having KUH-1 Surion Combat Utility Helicopters in the Philippine Air Force

As the modernization program progresses, so does the new offers that need to be considered. In this case, it is an extension of good relations between the supplier and the user wherein the completed delivery of an important project in the Flight Plan, the considerations of having these helicopters to replace the older UH-1 Hueys that the Philippine Air Force obtains are being looked upon.

The Korean Aerospace Industries KUH-1 Surion Transport Helicopter.
The Korean Aerospace Industries (or more known as KAI) recently completes its delivery of 12 units (equivalent to a squadron) of FA-50PHs to the Philippine Air Force as it aims to have itself back to the supersonic jet age all thanks to these procured Lead-in Fighter Trainer jets as it will enhance the skills of the pilots needed for the procurement of Multirole Fighter (MRF) jets along the way in the future.

The said article released by Yonhap News Agency from South Korea emphasizes two things: First, the plans of procuring more FA-50s which is in line with the President's statement which calls for an additional squadron of the said jets making the number of jets in the inventory increased to 24 if all of these things are materialized. The second is the Philippine government expressing interest in the purchase of KAI's KUH-1 Surion Transport Helicopters for its Combat Utility uses. That alone gives the interest the plans of the military that they may have opted to consider such a helicopter in their inventory that may have enhanced its logistic capabilities that are already in its improvement phase.

So to speak, this discussion will not only cover the KUH-1 itself alone. It will also cover the Combat Utility Helicopter options the Philippine Air Force does have as well as the ideas that cover existing ones in the inventory such as the W-3 Sokol Helicopters, Bell 412 choppers, and older UH-1 Hueys wherein any possibilities, plans, and any considerations may take place. This is, so to speak, for the future of the composition of the Philippine Air Force's Combat Utility Helicopter application.

There are many options that PAF may consider, and this chopper is only one of those. Source
It all started in December 2005 where the South Korean government appointed Eurocopter (Now known as Airbus Helicopters) as KAI's main partner to the plans of having an indigenous Korean-made Helicopter which the Surion is the main product. It was developed out of the Korean Helicopter Program which was funded heavily by the South Korean government which was considered the most expensive undertaking by the South Koreans with a non-American defense company.

Apparently, the South Koreans also opted to have these choppers in a naval format where it was brought about to enhance the South Korean Navy amphibious capabilities wherein once completed, it will be put on board the Dokdo-class helicopter carriers where from there it is capable to carry 11 troops on board to get deployed in the coastline alongside landing craft units. Also, there are versions of the said chopper that can be used as medevac units or for the local police to use. So to speak, it means better interoperability between branches as well as better logistical effectiveness due to commonalities on spare parts which can be exchangeable among the branches' respective Surion helicopters.

Like any other aircraft in service, there are at times that these helicopters in the South Korean Military service need to be grounded due to accidents that incur fatalities therein. In this case, the H225 crisis in Norway puts the Surions on a grounded status where the affected helicopters and the one crashed in Norway shares the same type of gearboxes which are said to be defective. Henceforth, Airbus helicopters reimburse the South Korean government as well as the necessity of having the gearboxes within the affected helicopters replaced in due time. The gearboxes are said to be the EC225 LP Main gearboxes which bear similarity to those attached in the KUH-1 Surion Choppers.

Another case on grounding these choppers took place recently last February of this year where the South Korean Defense Acquisition Program Administration or DAPA accidentally discovered a crack seven centimeters long in the connections of its main rotor. Apparently, it is given attribution to the moisture flowing in the said connections that freezes given the cold temperature conditions in South Korea. For that case though, the concerned parties are called upon to resolve the problem at its earliest possible moment therein.

Given below is the video that shows KUH-1 Surion Transport Helicopters getting into action in a ROK Army integrated live-fire exercise.

With the KAI's development as well as this company's push for more foreign sales, it is deemed a good thing that the Philippine Air Force, upon receiving a squadron of FA-50s is interested in the other products KAI obtains such as the KUH-1 Surion transport helicopters especially these days where internal defense operations take place such as the ongoing conflict in Marawi where such helicopters are needed to keep the ground troops reinforced and supplanted. However, it always comes up with the competition.

Philippine Air Force Bell 412 choppers. (From PAF website)
Having the KUH-1 in PAF service may be possible if all things have gone favorable to it as well as the obstacles being surpassed upon. And speaking of obstacles, it really varies from the already-existing helicopters within the Philippine Air Force to the other potential aircraft that have gone along the modernization project that calls to replace old Vietnam-era UH-1 Huey choppers.

Now consider this: The Philippine Air Force as per discussion matters obtains at an estimated 50+ UH-1 Hueys in its inventory. And for them to have an ideal number of utility helicopters fit for transporting troops and amenities, they are opting for a hundred units of combat utility helicopters where they require it and also asking for it through the years. At present, alongside the UH-1s, PAF also obtains *eight W-3A Sokol helicopters from Poland and eleven Bell 412s from Canada with three being in the 250th Presidential Airlift Wing.

*Maybe lower due to the number of accidents the Philippine Air Force has involving Sokol Helicopters.

Combining the number of Bell 412s and Sokols will be equated at around 19 units. The said digits are less than one-fourth (1/4) of the requirements PAF obtains. Speaking of which, if given the presumptions in this matter, a bulk of Surion helicopters may come up a portion of the requirement as well as additional Bell 412s for a good variation of helicopters in the inventory. This is if the Surion fits the requirements that PAF looks in a combat utility helicopter.

An argument in this matter is in between having KUH-1 Surions and the already-existing Bell 412s in the inventory which by nature, both helicopters do share the same role as a combat utility helicopter with the latter being a proven platform within the Philippine Air Force. A question arises from this argument: If we have the Bell 412s, why we still need to go to another platform? And another question follows up: Isn't it a logistical nightmare to have many helicopters of different classes in an air force?

Given the questions, it is at no doubt that the Bell 412s are a proven platform and also worthy to get added as a combat utility helicopters in the air force. Not also to mention that having a lot of aircraft of different classes in an air force is not an ideal thing to obtain whereas that being said, it can cause logistical nightmares where there is not a commonality among the units. But then again, as discussions suggest, there is something that the South Korean KUH-1 Surion may give a hint to a good deal with the Philippine Air Force through the Department of National Defense.

To be specific, a possible KUH-1 deal may allow the decision-makers that a deal between KAI and the Philippine Government may have an advantage in itself wherein the said unit, with the full support of the South Korean Government, guarantees that the Surion will keep on flying for years to come to the fact that KAI keeps on improving the said aircraft for the use within the various military and civilian branches in South Korea where manufacturing it will still taking place even if there are no brokered deals for that matter.

Such an opportunity gives momentum from the ground up considering that the relations among both governments do have with potential benefits may bear fruit where the KUH-1 Surion has and advantages over Bell 412. And all of those benefits can go as follows (as derived from DefensePH forum with points revised)

1. They need more customers like the Philippines. KAI is still getting its helicopter program off the ground. So that means that to secure orders, they will be inclined to offer enticements to attract potential customers. Compare that with a mature player like Bell that would be in a better position to simply go to the next available customer -- of which there are many -- if we don't accept their defaults.

Every company has a finite amount of resources for accommodating end-user requests. Bell's client list includes the US military and a host of established players. So as one will wonder, Where do we think the Philippines will sit in that pecking order? or, Where do we think ourselves would sit in a client list as short as KAI's?

2. Customer service. With a shorter client list and greater attention to end-user concerns, it would be reasonable to conclude that the door-size fiasco (which is the problem among W-3A Sokol Helicopters) won't be overlooked this time around. Given that Eurocopter (now Airbus) is actually working with KAI means that we will not be dealing with total neophytes. --Something that needs to be considered where KAI gets assistance all along, which in itself is a guarantee though.

As early adopters . . . will KAI actually allow the Philippines to perform in-house PDM and similar SRDP-like measures, or somewhat giving PADC such capability with regards to these helicopters they offer? Arguably speaking, that would be on the table if a good negotiation goes at play. Will Bell be interested in doing that given the existing infrastructure?

3. Potential preferential pricing. Bell can command a premium for its products under its brand. The same cannot be said for KAI. Combine that with the fact that the AFP actually has vendor-credibility with KAI (thanks to the successful FA-50 deal), the field is wide open for negotiation as we will essentially be working with KAI to set the actual price for the aircraft -- and the associated packages -- as there is no foreign basis for comparison.
The Sokol Helicopters' purchase is a failure on specs where
the door opening isn't enough to suffice. Read the source here.
For that sense, if someone wondering upon, this is not like the Textron Scorpion deal which has an uncertain future. That alone makes it a reason as to why it hasn't included in the Close Air Support Aircraft Project which also can be attributed to the Philippine Procurement Laws regarding the users needed for an eligible purchase. It's just about expanding existing orders to include foreign markets. KAI will build for the Korean armed forces regardless of whether the Philippine Government orders such aircraft or not. 

The South Korean approach is not as technologically risky as the Indian approach (HAL Tejas program) and is much more fiscally sound than a purely commercial venture. It is a chance to get on the ground up of what is essentially a sure thing.

Something to look upon, here is the comparison between Bell 412s and PZL W-3A Sokols which PAF both obtains...
Obtained from Timawa/ Click the photo to see it clearer.
Irish Air Corps AW139 helicopter. Leonardo company offers such units
for the Philippine Air Force's plan of procuring newer combat utility helicopters.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.
Korean Aerospace Industries isn't alone with regards to offering more units to the Philippine Air Force especially in the case of KUH-1 Surion helicopters where PAF is interested. Speaking of which, the Armed Forces of the Philippines is indeed flooded with offers which it includes offers from Leonardo with their AugustaWestland AW-139 helicopters, Russian alternatives through Mi-17 and Mi-171, and of course, Airbus' own offer of H-160 helicopters considering that this company supported KAI in the due course of developing the Surion helicopters. This will be discussed in a separate article entry later on on this website.

In this case, though, it will be up to the decision-makers as well as the government itself to what the alternative courses of action shall partake as well as the option whether to fast-track the procurement process by immediately approve the funding in the said project. The number of offers alone makes it advantageous to the AFP as to take the best approach into the matter where considerations in technicalities, freebies, warranties, and price tag per bid will dictate which is the best offer each supplier can give in a sense that the Philippine Air Force will benefit both in short and long terms. 

Not also to mention that Bell 412s as it was aforementioned above, is still having a strong interest for the Air Force to procure more considering that it is already in service where it was emphasized in so-called plans to acquire 30 more attack and combat utility helicopters therein.

Also, it will depend on how the Armed Forces played its cards well along with the respective suppliers enticing and sweetening their offers to gain traction as well as to the hopes of bagging up the offer. 

Given KAI's advantages on the offer as well as those of the other suppliers, the competition is stiff where the AFP has a lot of options to choose from. Hence, it is good to assess even the tiny details so as not to repeat the W-3A Sokol debacle.

Here is the dimension of the KUH-1 Surion helicopter as specified by Korean Aerospace Industries.
Click to enlarge the photo and see the details therein.
KUH-1 Surion at KAI headquarters. Source
The Korean Aerospace Industries like any other weapons supplier is keen on offering weapons wherein the Philippine Air Force expresses interest to procure upon. In the case of the FA-50PH which in itself a successful deal, KAI is expressing the hope of improving its relationship with one of the users by buying an additional squadron or rather, pushing the sales pitch for the KUH-1 Surion where like the FA-50PH, is a Korean-made unit with the help of another defense producer and has the backing of the South Korean Government through DAPA.

In the case of the revised Armed Forces of the Philippines Modernization Program where it is still on the roll at present, it is as promising that the said helicopter may have on its way to the Philippine Air Force's inventory. The same can be said on additional Bell 412 helicopters with several of those already in service as well as the offers made by Leonardo, Airbus, and alternatives such as those from Russia. 

Speaking of which, all of these things gives a lot of options for the military to choose the best one that will benefit the AFP in long terms that it gives the overall satisfaction not only in terms of further enhancing its already-existing capabilities but also it makes taxpayers satisfiable in a sense that their money used in this endeavor is benefiting the troops that are sacrificing for the nation's peace and security.

At the end of the day, it is up for the armed forces to take the next move where with assessments and technicalities that fit their specifications, the hopes of having additional combat utility helicopters may one day be fulfilled in the sense that it may also put several of the old UH-1 Hueys to rest. 

Hence, this will put the Armed Forces forward into fulfilling its aim of Minimum Credible Force where suppliers like the Korean Aerospace Industries, play a role by making taxpayers' money satisfiable to the needs of the Philippine military.

1 comment:

Nicky said...

Why not, the Philippines can't afford any Helicopter coming from America, Europe or Italy. They might as well talk to South Korea on the KUH-1, F/A-50 or even see if the South Koreans can give them their old F-4 Phantoms or F-5E's off their hands

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