The Philippine Air Force Combat Utility Helicopter Project

The Philippine Air Force obtains these multiyear, platform-building procurement projects which are seeking to improve its overall capabilities such as for Close Air Support, Airlift and Supply Chain, and for enhancing the Philippine Air Defense Identification Zone or PADIZ. This development includes one of the procurement projects that are essential for the missions, duties, and responsibilities of the 205th Tactical Airlift Wing. This is about the Combat Utility Helicopter Project which is meant to complement existing platforms such as the UH-1 Huey and Bell 412. 

A conceptual outcome of an S-70i Blackhawk Helicopter for the
Philippine Air Force.
Courtesy to the Facebook Page
"MRF for Philippine Air Force"
The Philippine Air Force for Horizon 2 includes the procurement of these Combat Utility Helicopters which will further improve airlifting capabilities of the organization with regards to mission objectives such as troop deployments, airlifting of the wounded troops and munitions in battle, and in case of Humanitarian necessities, supplanting relief goods on areas that badly need immediate concern on basic goods.

The necessity of procuring these airlifting rotary aircraft is primarily due to the incurring service life of the UH-1 Huey helicopters that comprises a significant portion of the Philippine Air Force helicopter fleet. At present, its operations are being compensated by maintenance and supplanting of spare parts such as the ones offered by Japan for the UH-1H variant. 

These said helicopters were supplanted by first, the PZL Sokol Helicopters and eventually, the first sets of Bell 412EPI wherein the former serves under the 505th Search and Rescue Group (with 3 written-off after the series of crashes) and the latter still in service with the 205th Airlift Wing, contemplating to other assets in line to the group's airlifting requirements. 

Hence, this article discussion will deal with the primary workhorse of the Philippine Air Force wherein having the knowledge and understanding with regards to the variants of combat utility helicopters they have is correlated to the capability that they obtain ranging from rapid troop deployment to having an effective supplies and logistics chain, especially on basic supplies that the ground troops need in turning the tide of the war.


The Philippine Air Force currently obtains a sizeable fleet of Combat Utility Helicopters in which these assets have seen combat through the years of their service wherein they were seen action recently in the Battle of Marawi or the Zamboanga Siege years ago where ammunition and supplies are provided to the ground troops. Not to mention that they were also sought action in HADR or Humanitarian Assistance / Disaster Response where relief goods for the affected ones were provided as they badly need basic necessities like food and clothing. Notable examples were the disaster-ravaged areas in the Visayas affected by Typhoon Haiyan or locally known as Yolanda.

The Combat Utility Helicopter fleet currently consists of different variants of Bell UH-1 Huey Helicopters with several traces itself back to the Vietnam War era and the newer Bell 412 Helicopters previously purchased before the cancellation of additional orders from Canada given that the President decided to stop it upon the Canadian review of the deal which cited as a potential usage of it on Human Rights Violations which by nature looks absurd from that point of view. Additional read regarding that matter can be seen in an article we wrote entitled "Military Hardware Sales vs. Imposed and Planned Arms Restrictions" dated April 05, 2018. Such an asset is seen to be effective and cost-efficient in a way that it shares attributes with the UH-1s given that they obtained several similarities in design and was produced by the same manufacturer which is Bell Textron. This goes with the idea back then to how ideal will it be for the Philippine Air Force to reconsider the Bell 412 deal which in itself an idealistic streamlining of logistics as well as obtaining and retaining that interoperability across platforms which streamline personnel training in terms of operating the combat utility helicopter platform together which the same applies with maintenance.

Given the age that the portion of the Philippine Air Force CUH is at present, there are calls that it may get replaced eventually with newer assets if the numbers get sufficient in the long run. Nevertheless, the roles that these old Vietnam War haulers have continues to play on as it is still operational and is being maintained all thanks to new spare parts coming from Japan. Not to mention that newer-purchased ones will more likely to complement the existing assets rather than replace them, with the numbers helping the service branch ease the logistics chain it provides to the rest of the Armed Forces.

The South Koreans at one point offer their locally-produced KUH-1 Surion
Combat Utility Helicopter to the Philippine Air Force.
Image Source.
The Philippine Air Force is currently on the process of procuring additional units of Combat Utility Helicopters which will help improve the existing logistics fleet that the organization obtains in a way that this enhances the capability of the organization to deploy its troops in additional numbers as well as providing additional supplies especially in case of humanitarian assistance where basic necessities will be carried by these rotary assets where it will be addressed to the affected ones.

The partial offer for helicopters is at ten units slated in a project, only to be increased up to sixteen (16) units upon a sweetening offer from a participating supplier. This pertains to Sikorsky's S-70i Black Hawk Helicopter which is currently the preferred candidate for the procurement process in which these units will be produced in their subsidiary in Eastern Europe which is Poland's PZL Mielec. Take note that the Philippine Air Force already obtain several units of Black Hawk Helicopters which were once assigned to the 250th Presidential Airlift Wing and eventually transferred to the 505th Search and Rescue Group.

See related: Knowing the Details About the S70i Black Hawk Combat Utility Helicopter - PDA,  dated December 15, 2018.

In this project, Sikorsky isn't alone about the desire of having that contract where other competitors also seek out in getting this project while showcasing their products and getting the profit in the process.

Other competitors include South Korea's KAI or the Korean Aerospace Industries who is also the one who delivers a squadron of FA-50PH Lead-in Fighter Trainer/Light Combat Aircraft to the Philippine Air Force. Their product is the KUH-1 Surion Combat Utility Helicopter which, in partnership with Eurocopter, is currently in service with the Korean Armed Forces in which this company desires to have the Philippines its first exporter of the helicopters they produced. However, this helicopter is plagued with issues such as the one regarding its rotor blades which caused the fatal crash of a South Korean Marine Corps Helicopter which is the MUH-1 "Marineon", a modified variant of the KUH-1 Surion.

There are also other competitors about this project which are the Leonardo/AgustaWestland AW-139 and the Russian Mi-171 Hip helicopter in which the Philippine Air Force also considers.


We have already provided sufficient information regarding the S-70i Blackhawk Helicopters and KUH-1 Surion in this website through the separate articles we published before this one where their respective development and other technicalities are being discussed therein.

This one will discuss the other two candidates aforementioned where the participating bidders have offered to the Philippine Air Force where there is worth the consideration with regards to this discussion. Like the Blackhawks and the Surions, we will tackle the details that are worth discussing regarding these remaining candidates.

Leonardo/AgustaWestland AW-139 Helicopter

This helicopter is produced by the manufacturer who provided AgustaWestland AW-109 Light Attack Helicopters to the Philippine Air Force where its action was proven in the Marawi Siege which helps to turn the tide of the conflict. The service branch though does not limit themselves in light helicopters alone as they are also seeking more sophisticated and more dedicated attack helicopters to do the job.

Read more: Understanding In Detail the TAI T-129 'ATAK' Combat Attack Helicopter for PAF - Dated December 27, 2019.

Just last year in ADAS 2018, Leonardo is positioned to get an additional percentage to the local Philippine market especially on military projects where they also offer the AW-139 Combat Utility Helicopter to the Philippines alongside AW-109s and AW-159s which the country purchased for its needs. 

Take note that the Philippine Navy will soon obtain the AW-159 Anti-submarine helicopters in its inventory, making it the most sophisticated asset that the service branch will handle as it may get assigned later on to the Jose Rizal-class Frigates currently in construction in a South Korean shipyard with the leading ship of the class scheduled for launching within this month. 

It shows the hope for the people working in Leonardo that like the AW-109s and AW-159s that the country purchased, the same may go to the AW-139s they offered where it doesn't go good for them, unlike the first two helicopter products that were purchased.

The development of Leonardo/AgustaWestland AW-139 started with a joint venture of then-Italian company Agusta and the US-based company Bell way back 1998. Take note that Bell (Now Bell-Textron) is the one who provided UH-1s and Bell 412s that form a bulk of the current Philippine Air Force inventory of Combat Utility Helicopters. 

The AW-139 Combat Utility Helicopter is one of the reasons behind the joint venture alongside the Bell 609 civil tilt-rotor where its development was materialized, with the designation of the helicopter assigned as AB-139. Years later, a military variant of the AW-159 was debuted in February of 2011 for the U.S. Air Force’s Common Vertical Lift Support Program.

Currently, the AW-139 is operated by numerous military and civilian aviation companies and government agencies wherein it provided its performance to the needs these organizations need in achieving their primary objectives or mandates as either a combat utility helicopter or for law enforcement/rescue operations.

Russian Mi-171 Hip helicopter

Aside from the western-oriented military hardware that was mentioned in this article, it is also worth the discussion that a Russian-oriented helicopter such as the Mi-171 is also being provided on the table, while not getting as much exposure as the S-70i Blackhawk Helicopter from Poland through a Sikorsky subsidiary or the KUH-1 Surion Helicopter from South Korea.

It is worth considering that aside from the aforementioned candidates of this deal, this Russian-made helicopter is mentioned in several articles about the Combat Utility Helicopter Project of the Philippine Air Force such as this one here that highlights the sweetening of deals that the Korean Aerospace Industries provide on their Surion Helicopter Products.

This product is an improvement of the Mil Mi-8 helicopter where it was developed during the Soviet era which its age goes almost at par with the UH-1 Huey Helicopters produced by Bell for the United States in which both produced somewhere in the late 50s and the early 60s. 

Take note that the Mil Mi-8s along with the Mi-171 which is considered a variant of this line of helicopters are some of the most-produced units where these are currently in production and servicing multiple armed forces across the world, with Russia obtaining a bulk in its inventory. Most of the countries obtaining them are lenient on the Russian military ecosystem of assets with several civilian companies operating these helicopters.

For specifications, kindly check this information link here.

While this is being offered to the Philippine Government especially in the improvement of the relations of both Russia and the Philippines in diplomatic areas, it will be less likely for them to end up getting the local Philippine military market, at least in terms on purchasing Combat Utility Helicopters such as the Mil Mi-171. 

It is worth the note that the United States is at a full-throttle implementing CAATSA law that poses sanctions against Russian arms companies especially on huge purchases where it affects other projects that a buying country obtains with the United States. Take Turkey as an example where T-129 "ATAK" helicopters are in danger (at least on this deal with Pakistan), wherein the Philippine Air Force also considers it for its Attack Helicopter Project. (This will be provided in a separate article to be written later on).

Nevertheless, it might be nice for the Russians to just keep on improving relations between two countries in a way that it helps things much vibrant in terms of diplomacy, trade, and development. However, with CAATSA on hand, things will definitely go slim for the Philippines to get its hands on Russian tech such as the Mi-171 combat utility helicopters. 

The Russian Mil Mi-171 is being offered to the Philippines, but it is
less likely to be chosen due to CAATSA, and of course to the sweet
offers that LM-Sikorsky offered on their S-70i Black Hawks.
Image Source
The Philippine Air Force is set to increase its capacity in numbers especially in terms of obtaining Combat Utility Helicopters that is set to augment the Bell 412s and the different variants of Bell UH-1 Hueys that the service branch currently obtains.

Among the candidates presented for this project intended for aerial rotary logistics works, the Lockheed Martin/Sikorsky S-70i Combat Utility Helicopter which will be produced by a Polish Subsidiary is currently leading in a way that the Department of National Defense shows the desire of obtaining these US-developed assets for the Philippine Air Force inventory to have later on. 

With 16 units planned for this project, it is ascertained that the service branch may enjoy the increase in capacity in terms of carrying troops and material needed either in a battlefield or in an area concerned in terms of natural calamities. 

Hence, this will mean a lot for the operations of PAF especially in the immediate deployment of necessities that determine the best outcome of a situation whether it is the tides of conflict or immediately addressing the needs of the affected civilians in terms of basic necessities such as clothing, shelter, and food in a Humanitarian crisis.

So, this project goes with the hopes and dreams that will surely help improve the capabilities of the Philippine Air Force wherein this goes the assurance that their deployment will get the government forces in the upper hand in addressing humanitarian and security issues in such a way that this sets a precedent on the eventual victory in terms of deployment of troops and supplies as well as providing an immediate recovery to the affected ones with relief goods being provided as resources are gathered to restart a new way of living once again in the light of a humanitarian disaster, both natural and man-made. 

These assets once materialized and in service, comes the best aspiration for the organization to have in improving its duties and responsibilities as mandated by law which is for the best interest of the country, its sovereignty, and its citizenry. 

No comments:

Post a Comment




Total Pageviews To-Date

Webpage Visitors

Free counters!