The Philippine Attack Helicopter Program

Enhancing capabilities means improving by having skills and materiel improved in the sense that the effectiveness in combat will be attained. In the era of combating insurgency threats especially for a country that is looming with such like the Philippines, its Air Force is keen to obtain the air support capability further than what it is presently obtained in their inventory. Close air support influences the tide of the war in favor of the ones that have control of the sky. In this case, the Horizon 2 provides the Philippine Air Force not only the procurement of Multirole Fighters and Radar Stations but also, the procurement of Attack Helicopters.

Amid the Modernization Process, Jordan pledged to donate
its AH-1 Attack Helicopter, a variant close to this one from USMC.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.
The Philippine Air Force is on the roll with its primary objective to be a capable military organization within the Armed Forces whereas discussed in this site, usually aims to protect the Philippine Air Defense Identification Zone (PADIZ) from foreign aircraft that may pose threat to national security.

While that goes with the main purpose of the Air Force, the organization is also in the area of providing Close Air Support to the ground troops so as to have the battlefield advantage where they have the skies that provide the vantage point which pounding enemy positions is the main thing with minimal casualties to the ground troop comes at mind. In this area of the capabilities obtained by the Philippine Air Force, it is usually done by close air support fix-wing aircraft and attack helicopters. At present, the organization obtains OV-10 planes and soon, the A-29 Super Tucano which will form its fixed-wing close air support aircraft fleet while the attack helicopter fleet presently consists of AW-109 Light Attack Helicopters and their MD-520 equivalents.

With the recent conflict experience against insurgency especially in the case of multiple strifes taking place in the island of Mindanao such as the Zamboanga Siege and Marawi Conflict, this capability calls for materiel or platform that is really dedicated to blasting key enemy targets out of oblivion, minimizing the chance of likeliness for civilians to get harmed by these atrocious bandits blinded by ideology.

Jordan's AH-1 Attack Helicopters. Several of these assets turned over
to the Philippine Air Force.

The first indicative sign for the Philippines to have a dedicated helicopter in its inventory is through the donations made by another nation where these platforms, once in place will provide a boost for Close Air Support.

The Kingdom of Jordan from the Middle East donated AH-1 Cobras for the Philippines to obtain. Developed and manufactured by Bell Helicopters alongside UH-1 Hueys that the Philippine Air Force presently has in its inventory in numbers, these gunships are packed with firepower far greater than the capabilities obtained by MD-520s and AW-109s given its design in which the helicopters were produced and configured to specially perform that specific job which is to carry packs of firepower on its airframe and to have highly-dedicated rocket pods and gun mounts that is capable to deliver that destructive power against an intended target in the ground with the assurance that it will be eliminated along the process. 

Apparently, for Jordan, their AH-1 Cobras were in fact also originated from neighboring Israel wherein it goes to no surprise if such platforms can get sufficient weapons fit for the Philippines to have especially in terms of having it equipped and armed with Israeli-made munitions such as the RAFAEL SPIKE missiles wherein the Philippine Navy obtains both the ER and the NLOS variants. By having such capability, it will help the Philippine Air Force improve its firepower in terms of providing close air support wherein these AH-1 Cobras, armed with such weaponry will mean guaranteed obliteration of the enemy on the ground since its guided munition ensures that the warhead reaches its intended target with spectacular results. With the country currently infested with several pockets of communist bandits and radical terrorists in the South, such a capability is a necessity where there achieve the necessary effectiveness and efficiency to eliminate the threat in the process where the ground forces have that satisfaction on the air support provided in achieving military objectives and mission success.

The variant that the Jordanian Air Force obtain for their AH-1 Cobras is the F variant which is the modernized version of the AH-1G - with modifications made by the Israelis when these assets were in service within the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) which serves its name as the "Tzefa" (צפע‎) which is the Hebrew word for "Viper". The helicopters were manufactured by Bell, the same company which is behind the production of both the Bell UH-1 Huey and the Bell 412, both of which are Combat Utility Helicopters that are both in service within the Philippine Air Force.

Once commissioned, this will serve as the Philippine Air Force's first dedicated Attack Helicopter platform which helps augment its light attack helicopter variants such as the AW-109 helicopters from Leonardo and the older MG-520 light attack/reconnaissance helicopters. It is worth taking note that in-depth details about the AH-1 Cobras will be discussed on this website, in a separate article entry.

And the cancellation to purchase this asset due to CAATSA measures.
An artist's concept of the should-be attack helicopter from Turkey
if things went through smoothly.
Courtesy and Credits to its owner.
See related article: Understanding In Detail the TAI T-129 'ATAK' Combat Attack Helicopter for PAF - December 27, 2018.

Last year, the Philippine Air Force is set to have the deal with the Turkey Aerospace Industries which was the main producer of the TAI T-129 ATAK Combat Attack Helicopter which is a derivative of the Leonardo / Agusta A-129 Attack Helicopter that Italy currently uses.

The T-129 is in service with the Turkish Armed Forces as it stands more as a primary attack helicopter platform for this Middle Eastern nation's military to have. From the time that one of our articles written at that period, it seems to be almost certain that the Philippine Air Force is set to have a new highly-dedicated platform for its fleet to have. However, recent details about it go from highly desirable to a bit disappointing sight to see.

Recently, Turkey received its delivery of S-400 from Russia, a significant shift that may have put the country into some problems with the United States wherein they initiated sanctions against Russia and its companies and what is currently known as the CAATSA or abbreviated from the recently-passed law which is the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act. While such sanctions are primarily aimed against the key adversaries that the United States sees as a threat to its national security such as the Russian Federation, countries like Turkey is seen as getting caught in the crossfire wherein as the result of receiving such components from the Russians, the country would no longer be provided or delivered with other sophisticated equipment for its military which is the F-35 Lightning II jet as well as in terms of participating for its development. Aside from the F-35s, the delivery of Russian missile systems also resulted in what is seen as possible sanctions on providing military components and spares into the country, resulting in a shortage of components where it jeopardizes the local defense industry as a whole. No doubt, the United States is notable on implementing sanctions in a way that if not on providing the units in its entirety like the F-35s, but also in terms of components that are as essential to keep such assets operational. This is like the U.S. blocked the sale of T-129 Attack Helicopters against Pakistan, especially on the U.S.-made engines, although the nature of such decision is different from the current situation that Turkey is facing.

These series of developments unfolding in Turkey makes things a bit risky for a buyer such as the Philippine Air Force so as the guarantees for after support or even just the delivery of these platforms with complete components gets slimmer and slimmer where the service branch decided to consider on alternatives, with other products previously offered re-evaluated with regards to the purchase of the capable and dedicated attack helicopters. 

Hence, the T-129 option is now becoming more of a lost opportunity wherein the Philippines may still stand a chance of having a nice deal with Turkey should there be no CAATSA implications that are in place which is currently wreaking havoc not only to the maintenance lines of the Turkish Armed Forces but also for its local defense-industrial complex. Perhaps there is more to come in terms of the Philippine Air Force's desire of having a dedicated attack helicopter platform in its inventory.

One idea to consider is to obtain "battle taxis" which are both for carrying troops
and fires munitions against targets such as this S-70i Blackhawk fitted with
missiles and other weapons pod.
Image Courtesy.
With CAATSA ravaging the Turkish Defense Industry which affects the sale of its T-129 product to countries like the Philippines, this made the buyer with little choice but to seek more into alternatives that may go helpful for its Attack Helicopter Program to continue upon.

The Philippine Air Force currently obtains light attack helicopters such as the AW-109s from Leonardo and the MG-520s from McDonnell Douglas wherein both are already proven in combat such as the ones that took place in Mindanao. Despite their performance, the idea of having a dedicated attack helicopter within the fleet is something that may improve performance in close air support operations given that this country is still being infested by rebels, bandits, and terrorists seeking to wreak havoc on this nation's development.

Despite all this, the Philippine Air Force still prefers purpose-built helicopters over "battle taxis" which are combat utility helicopters that are only fitted with gun and missile pods in a similar way to the S-70i Black Hawk image above. The rationale there is for the organization to have its assets distributed from a dedicated attack helicopter platform to a dedicated combat utility helicopter platform, all under the service branch's Flight Plan with both platforms to be provided with funding and for the PAF to obtain them later on. No doubt, this is the reason why the organization is keen to have both the S-70i and the T-129 helicopter platforms in the first place with the former pushed its production and delivery process through and the latter, as said, is experiencing problems as detailed through this article.

Having this, chances are that the Philippine Air Force may find its dedicated attack helicopter platform in the form of the Jordanian Air Force-donated AH-1 attack helicopters which are about to enter in service within the organization somewhere before this year ends. 

Nevertheless, such a donation may pave the way for the service branch to focus instead on the purchase of additional assets for such a platform, and make it as the preferred purpose-built attack helicopter asset.

Light attack helicopters are the primary rotary attack platforms
of the Philippine Air Force such as this AW-109 helicopter performing
its intended duty during the Marawi conflict.
The Philippine Air Force slated its attack helicopter program as part of its Flight Plan which it goes along with other projects that the service branch pushes under the Revised AFP Modernization Program such as the Lead-in Fighter Trainers like the FA-50PH, Multirole Fighter Jets which are nearing decision as of this posting, and the Combat Utility Helicopters which are now currently in production on a Sikorsky Subsidiary in Poland's PZL Mielec.

The organization is almost closer to a deal under this project where Turkey at that time is an enticing deal to have given that their very own Turkish Aerospace Industries or TAI produces a variant of a helicopter which was derived from Leonardo's A-129 Mangusta helicopter currently in service with the Italian Air Force. However, it is worth taken note that the threats of CAATSA are for real that components can be put to a halt, risking transactions altogether as well as a sales nightmare for a supplier like TAI. Despite all of this, the Philippine Air Force still ends up having a dedicated attack helicopter platform by obtaining the AH-1H Tzefas through the Jordanian Air Force, which is, in fact, a third-hand asset given that it was Israel who was the helicopter's first owner before this was turned over to the neighboring Jordan. No doubt that these helicopters are capable to carry Israeli-made munitions that the Philippines currently obtain such as the SPIKE missiles which are utilized currently by the Philippine Navy's MPAC Mk.3s and 4s (ER variant) and soon the AW-149 Wildcat Antisubmarine Helicopters (NLOS variant). Hence, obtaining these assets are a force to be reckoned with, a welcoming addition for the Air Force's inventory of rotary aircraft that helps to pursue its duties and responsibilities as mandated within the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

All that it takes now is on how the organization takes its program push through given its lenience to a purpose-built platform now that Turkey suffers from sanctions made by CAATSA. The idea of the AH-1 helicopters is something for the planners to consider, given that once they obtain such a platform, maybe worth to simply add more units given that not only it simplifies the logistics chain for maintenance and spare parts, but the platforms in their design are purpose-built helicopters that PAF is seeking at. It remains to be seen now so as what will it take for the organization to have to whether such a platform is to be considered or the idea of looking for other alternatives such as another purpose-built attack helicopter on the market that satisfies the requirement and price or, to have the battle-taxi option. At the end of the day, they are looking for a dedicated asset that is designed for better performance in terms of close air support operations, something that guarantees the immediate resolution of any conflict that will take place within the country.

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As of August 31, 2019

In an unexpected turn of events, our fellow defense outlet MaxDefense Philippines wrote their latest updates which regard to the latest developments of the Attack Helicopter Program. 

Apparently, for the Department of National Defense, it definitely seems that there is something that prompts them to reconsider the Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) T-129 Attack Helicopter even in the light of potential CAATSA implications that may pose a threat to the country. As far as situations are concerned, there is still no enforcement of such sanctions in effect against Turkey on matters other than the sale and participation of developing the F-35 Fighter Aircraft which should-be their next fighter asset.

While such a decision has already made, there is still a possibility for such a deal like this between the Philippine Air Force and Turkish Aerospace Industries to back down given the uncertainties provided by the United States and their allowance of allowing their engines such as the LHTEC T800 series turboshaft engines. Nevertheless, such development in place may determine the outcome of the attack helicopter program which goes in parallel with the discussions provided in this article.


Nicky said...

I think the Philippines should ask South Korea and Israel if they can take the AH-1F/S off their hands.

Anonymous said...

That is one nice idea, Nick. It will help the Philippine Air Force improve its number of AH-1 units in its inventory once considered.

Nicky said...

Look at it this way, Israel is retiring the AH-1 and I believe South Korea and Japan as well

Thanos said...

The israeli option will be ideal given that both Jordanian and Israeli AH1 platforms were derived from the same variant which is the Israeli Tzefa or Viper.

It remains to be seen now given that getting more from Jordan is itself a nice idea since they still have a handful of those units in their inventory.

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