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Additional S-70i Blackhawk Helicopters for the Philippine Air Force?

The last batch of the S-70i Blackhawk Helicopters has just arrived in the country from Poland's Sikorsky subsidiary plant of PZL Mielec. This completes the physical delivery of the Combat Utility Helicopters and will be part of the Air Force's desire to modernize its fleet of both rotary and fixed-wing aircraft in its inventory. What will it be with the leadership if it adds more of such type of helicopters to its operations?

One of two S-70i Blackhawk Helicopters assigned in Zamboanga City's Edwin Andrews Airbase.

The Philippine Air Force inventory of S-70i Blackhawk helicopters has just boosted to its completion as the last batch of five units of the Combat Utility Helicopter disembarked from the Antonov An-124 Ruslan cargo freighter aircraft which was operated by an Ukranian airline of the same name.

It comprises the 16-unit Combat Utility Helicopter Acquisition Project that the Philippine Air Force bought from Sikorsky Helicopters, made in Poland through a Sikorsky subsidiary known as PZL Mielec. Sikorsky Helicopters itself is a subsidiary of the American defense firm Lockheed Martin, the company that produces C-130 cargo aircraft and F-16 Fighters, both of which are currently being offered to the Philippine Air Force.

In relation to this, there were reports that the Philippine Government gave a go-signal to the procurement of additional S-70i Blackhawk Helicopters for the Philippine Air Force to use, although it was uncertain from that time whether to buy just 15 units of these Combat Utility Helicopters, or to buy 32 more units as what the Secretary of National Defense said on the report that might bring the total number of S-70i Blackhawk helicopters to 48 units.

As the geographical nature of the Philippines and its land area have shown, one can really say and with mere common sense that 16 Blackhawk Helicopters aren't enough to cover all the combat utility operations of the Philippine Air Force, at least if we limit it to this type of helicopters and not to account the other Combat Utility Helicopters that the air branch of the Armed Forces of the Philippines possesses, such as the UH-1 Huey and Bell 412 Helicopters.

That being said, this topic will discuss the in-depth perspective of the viability of having additional S-70i Blackhawk Helicopters of the Philippine Air Force by gathering as much data as possible from multiple fully credible sources and to connect the dots from that point down to the tiny, significant detail which will give a glimpse on how will this idea go to the air branch, as far as its importance is concern.

The Philippine Air Force, aside from the S-70i Blackhawk Helicopters, also have both Bell 412s and Bell UH-1 Combat Utility Helicopters, each coming with its own capabilities and concerns. Image Source.

Before the S-70i Blackhawk Combat Utility Helicopters entered service within the Philippine Air Force, most of the asset that comprised this category are usually the Bell UH-1 Iroquois (Huey) Helicopters that were traced back from 1960s/1970s during the height of the Vietnam War, or the succeeding ones that derived from the original UH-1 Iroquois design, such as the Bell 412EP Helicopters (or the Canadian C-146 Griffon, as seen in the image above).

Just recently, last October 15, 2021, the Philippine Air Force decommissioned its 10 UH-1D Iroquois (Huey) Helicopters, effectively dropping them from active service. The primary attributes that have led to the decisions are the following - first, the Philippine Air Force saw another accident involving a helicopter of this type, and second is more of the S-70i Blackhawk Helicopters are entering the service, effectively replacing these UH-1Ds that the Philippine Air Force categorize as an "interim" service platform.

Currently, based on the information provided from Flightglobal website on world air force composition for the year 2021, the Philippine Air Force currently has at least eight (8) Bell 412EPs, twenty-three (23) UH-1H/D Huey Helicopters, and eight (8) Bell 205  (still basically counted as Bell UH-1H) Combat Utility Helicopters. This comes alongside the prospective number of S-70i Blackhawks of sixteen (16) units, totalling overall to 55 Combat Utility Helicopters, and this does not account for the 10 decommissioned UH-1Ds, along with the UH-1H crash that took place January 2021 (since the Flightglobal data was last updated from the year 2020), lowering it down to at least 44 units left.

The plan of buying 32 additional units of S-70i Blackhawk Helicopters, if pushed through, will give an overall number of Combat Utility Helicopter units in the Philippine Air Force up to the total of at least 76 unit helicopter fleet, a significant boost for the air branch of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and its desire in boosting up the numbers of combat utility helicopters that are helpful in both combat and peacetime operations, especially in humanitarian help and disaster response.

As operating an older fleet of aircraft comes with increasing expenses on maintenance, repair, and operations itself, it is just logical to go after newer assets, provided that there are budgetary resources that will allow a procurement of that large scale to happen. With this, it is interesting to see the recent actions from the people in the Department of National Defense, as well as within the Armed Forces of the Philippines, in the development that represents an idea of adding more S-70i Blackhawks in the Air Force.

A batch of five (5) S-70i Blackhawk Helicopters of the Philippine Air Force delivered in the country.
Image Source.

In this latest video, as the Department of National Defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana reported before President Duterte dated November 15, 2021, he detailed his visit to Poland and his itinerary being related to the S-70i Blackhawk Helicopters, which he provided information that the Philippine Air Force, through the Department of National Defense, has set a new order for 32 additional said Polish-made, American-designed Combat Utility Helicopters, alongside the 16 units that were recently delivered.

This has seen as a good news, following-up the report from February that the Philippine Government has given a go-signal on the purchase of these additional Blackhawk Helicopters, allowing the boost of the number of Combat Utility Helicopters in the Philippine Air Force inventory, effectively making the S-70i Blackhawks as the mainstay Combat Utility Helicopter platform of the air branch with an overall number of 48 units.

The numbers provided may simply replace the UH-1H/D Iroquois (Huey) Helicopters as the most commonly used Combat Utility Helicopter platform in the Philippine Air Force once pushed through, and as this trend continues, it may help the air branch to replace the older Helicopter platforms eventually, while boosting its capabilities up that effectively helps deploy troops, supplies, and services in times of conflict and natural calamities.

While the announcement made by the Secretary of National Defense counts as good news, it remains to be seen on how far will this push through, as the process of documentation, budgeting, U.S. Government approval, and other factors can still determine the outcome and there may be changes along the way without notice such as any sudden cancellation of the project, or reduction of the number of units bought.

It is interesting to see how far the project will go, especially with the Secretary of National Defense reported that a new order for additional S-70i Blackhawk Helicopters has set up, although additional details related to financing and other important indicators for this development may go provided in a future update of added information.

Two (2) assigned S-70i Blackhawk Helicopters flying over Zamboanga International Airport Terminal.
(c) Western Mindanao Command, FB Page

Just recently, the Philippine Air Force assigned these newly purchased Combat Utility Helicopters in some of its air bases scattered across the country, four of which are currently deployed under the area of responsibility (AOR) of the Eastern Mindanao Command (EASTMINCOM). 

These are in both the Tactical Operations Wing-Eastern Mindanao Davao Air Station in Barangay Sasa, Davao City and the Tactical Operations Group regional headquarters at Lumbia Airport in Cagayan de Oro. Both of the Philippine Air Force installations get two S-70i Blackhawk Helicopters each, forming the four-unit composition under the Eastern Mindanao Command's AOR.

Another pair of S-70i Blackhawk Helicopters is also being deployed in Western Mindanao Command's area of responsibility, particularly in Zamboanga City's Edwin Andrews Airbase (EAAB, see image above). This means that there are at least six (6) out of sixteen (16) units of the newly purchased Blackhawk Helicopters that are put into different units of the Philippine Air Force assigned to the country's southernmost island group of Mindanao.

Just as with any other air assets deployed in these airbases that the Philippine Air Force has scattered in the country, the S-70i Blackhawk Helicopters will become a common sight for people, in the same manner that the UH-1 Huey Helicopters being a common sight as it operates routinely. This, although, comes with a hope that more may get added in these respective airbases for the years to come, especially with plans now on the pipeline.

This comes with a realization and a fact that having 16 units of Blackhawk Helicopters is still insufficient, with the plans of having 32 more Blackhawk Helicopters being a much-needed commitment for the current administration to carry, especially that having these newer platforms may allow the retirement of the older UH-1 Huey Combat Utility Helicopters that are still in service today.

Some of the S-70i Blackhawk Helicopters sitting in an airbase. Image Source.

It is an achievement for both the Philippine Air Force and the Department of National Defense that all S-70i Blackhawk Helicopters purchased under the Combat Utility Helicopter Acquisition Project have gotten delivered successfully, despite that there was one unit that involved in a nighttime testing mission crashed near Capas, Tarlac, leaving no survivors at all and it resulted to the temporary grounding of the rest of the Blackhawks.

Aside from the 32-unit acquisition that the Philippine Air Force and the Department of National Defense recently discussed with the representatives of the Sikorsky subsidiary in Poland (PZL Mielec), there is an alternative plan, wherein the national security advisor of the current administration way back February 2021 discussed an acquisition of at least 15 units of S-70i Blackhawk Helicopters, almost half of the recent numbers provided.

Either the 32-unit acquisition or the 15-unit alternative that the national security advisor provided will improve the number of Combat Utility Helicopters that the Philippine Air Force is having, especially that it needs a lot of this rotary air platforms not only in deploying troops in areas of combat in the name of national defense, but also on humanitarian help and disaster response into areas affected by natural calamities in which such helicopters are very useful.

With this, it is interesting to see the outcome of the proposal, especially with the 32-unit proposal now setting into motion, as documentation and paperwork is still to be written for this plan to be materialized, and the eventual agreements of both sides for the project is still to be seen as there are still changes that might happen along the way as a way for both the seller and the buyer to benefit from the deal.

In the end, it will still be at the table of both the Philippine Air Force and the Department of National Defense regarding how far this project will go as far as planning and materialization is concern, although the numerical data provided still presents the fact that air assets like the Combat Utility Helicopters needs to be added more, as the air force's logistical requirements for both HADR and troops/supplies deployment increases.

(c) 2021 PDA.

The Dornier Do-228 Procuring Interest of the Philippine Coast Guard

The Philippine Coast Guard has the desire to improve its capabilities further, getting to where they see an interest in procuring more assets that fit its mission requirements, which now involve the use of soft loans from several countries the agency deals with.

They may add India alongside Japan and France to the list of suppliers that provided the tools to the country's primary maritime enforcement agency if they pursue the deal they have an interest in, especially in purchasing air assets for its air fleet.

The Dornier 228 aircraft of the Indian Coast Guard.
(c) Jetphotos.net website.

In the last article, we discussed the Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopters that the Philippine Coast Guard is interested in purchasing from Hindustan Aeronautics Limited using India's credit line. We also provided an overview that involves the procurement of Dornier 228 aircraft, which will be the principal topic to be discussed thoroughly in this article.

This came in line with the same information provided through a known Indian defense outlet, The Defenstar, citing a certain Saurav Jha as they pointed the interest of the Philippines' maritime law enforcement agency in the purchase of at least eight (8) units of license-copied variants of the Dornier Do-228 produced by the said Indian Aerospace Enterprise.

The information provided by the source gave an insight into the Philippine Coast Guard's desire to modernize its air unit, in the same manner, that it did for white-hulled vessels recently bought, such as the Gabriela Silang-class Offshore Patrol Vessel from France and the BRP Teresa Magbanua Multirole Response Vessel from Japan. We consider both vessels as the agency's most capable vessels to date.

Currently, the Philippine Coast Guard's air unit primarily comprises Airbus H145 utility helicopters, the 3.7-ton Maximum Takeoff Weight (MTOW) rotary aircraft that provides that capability for the agency to conduct its search and rescue operations, as well as the agency's coastal patrol mandates. We will discuss full details for it in a separate article in the future as we tackle modernization-related matters within the agency along the way.

With the interest clearly shown that the Philippine Coast Guard is opting to buy Dornier Do-228 aircraft for its air unit, we will cover much about the origins of the aircraft and its designer. Also, details on how Hindustan Aeronautics Limited secured a licensing agreement that allows it to produce the aircraft, the specifications of the aircraft itself, and the capabilities it brings will also cover in this article.

A Do-228NG Dornier Aircraft in RIAT 2012, along with the Dornier Aircraft Logo.
(c) user Airwolfhound, via Wikimedia Commons.
The logo got from Wikimedia Commons.

Dornier Flugzeugwerke was a known German aircraft manufacturer, founded in Friedrichshafen, in Southern Germany, near the borders of both Switzerland and Austria, by a man named Claude Dornier who was a known German airplane builder, with its technology founded its way into medical products produced by a once-medical subsidiary, now named as the Dornier Medtech

They found the company in 1914, with the specialty focused on making aircraft designs and producing them in numbers, helping Germany for its aviation needs in both the First and Second World Wars. It produced both civilian and military-based aircraft, intended to cater to both markets that sought a demand for having such aircraft produced by Dornier in their inventory.

There are many things that have happened to the company since then, especially with the sellouts that took place with Fairchild Aircraft buying Dornier from Daimler-Chrysler Aerospace (DASA), forming the Dornier Fairchild company that lasted only a couple of years until it went bankrupt in 2002. One of the reputable successors for Dornier itself is Deutsche Aircraft, a subsidiary of Sierra Nevada Corporation that produces Dornier 328 jets. The other successor is Dornier Seawings, a spinoff company made by the Dornier family itself. Airbus itself has a stake over Dornier Consulting International, the one that has the Dornier trademark in it that was sold recently to "Palero".

Given the number of exchanging hands of different companies that either has the original Dornier design or were once part of the original Dornier company, it is of no surprise that many of its designs are still in production today, such as the Dornier Do-228 that is now being done by India's Hindustan Aerospace Limited.

And with the existence of these designs comes as an opportunity for the Philippine Coast Guard to have them in case they pushed this deal through. Also, the proven Dornier design will help both India and the Philippines in securing this deal, as the latter will use this for their search and rescue, as well as conducting patrols in areas like the West Philippine Sea.

Detailed technical specifications of the aircraft. Access to the PDF File Here.

As described by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited in a PDF snippet provided above, the Dornier-designed aircraft, being a high-wing monoplane with a cantilevered wing and two turboprop engines, have characteristics that see the benefit for an agency like the Philippine Coast Guard to use, such as its low fuel consumption, short take-off, and landing capabilities, among others described above.

Adding more information related to the technical specifications of the Do-228 aircraft, it comes with a passenger capacity of 19 people, while its 2 Garrett TPE 331-5 engines run at a power of 525kW or 704shp each (or 840 thermodynamic shaft horsepower as per its manufacturer), rotating each of the four-bladed reversible pitch Hartzell propellers that both engines have installed on. The Do-228 aircraft has the capable range of 600km or 324 nautical miles from point to point. 

As for the engines, it is currently being manufactured by Honeywell Aerospace, a company that specializes in the production of the TPE-331 engines that currently has 10 variants of the engine with different power outputs and overhaul hours, of which include the TPE-331-5 turboprop engines that powers the Dornier Do-228 that the Philippine Coast Guard aspires to get from India's Hindustan Aeronautics Limited.

Just like the engines, the Dornier Do-228 comes with six variant models, which are the Do-228-100, Do-228-101, Do-228-200, Do-228-201, Do-228-202 and Do-228-212. The aircraft system variant that the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited produces for its coast guard, for instance, is the Dornier Do-228-202 aircraft, while RUAG Aerospace (General Atomics since 2020), another manufacturer of the Dornier Do-228 aircraft, produces the more-advanced Do-228-212 (NG) aircraft.

The number of variants and manufacturers that still making this aircraft until today still shows that the viability and development of the Dornier Do-228 is still ongoing, with an agency like the Philippine Coast Guard showing interest in these air assets takes the advantage in its maintenance and operations, such as in the number of countries currently using this type of aircraft in service.

RUAG Aerospace, another manufacturer of the Dornier Do-228, has delivered an aircraft of the type to a Japanese operator, New Central Airservice. Image Source.

Currently, there are many military and civilian operators of Dornier Do-228 that both RUAG Aerospace (General Atomics since the RUAG turnover in October 2020) and India's Hindustan Aeronautics Limited have produced for years. One of those operators is the Japanese New Central Airservice (as seen in the image above), wherein the former has delivered a fourth (4th) Do-228 aircraft to the Japanese air service operator in 2019.

Some of the most notable users of Dornier Do-228 in law enforcement field is the Netherlands Coast Guard, which uses two Do-228-212 aircraft in its air unit, the Royal Oman Police Air Wing, which uses two earlier variants of Do-228-100 aircraft for their operations, and of course, the Indian Coast Guard that gets a significant number of Dornier Do-228s from a manufacturer indigenous to their country like Hindustan Aeronautics Limited.

In the military use, meanwhile, some of the known users of the Dornier Do-228 is the Bangladesh Navy which, like the Netherlands Coast Guard, gets two Do-228-212 variants in its air unit. The German Navy also has a few Dornier Do-228s in its inventory, and the Royal Thai Navy and their use of the aircraft as an ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance) platform that patrols their Exclusive Economic Zone, much like in-line with the current objectives of the Philippine Coast Guard and their consideration in obtaining these air assets.

Aside from the military and law enforcement agencies that used the aircraft, several civilian operators have also used the aircraft, just like the Japanese operator NCA in the image above. They have different usage of the aircraft, but most of the civilian operators use the aircraft for air transport of cargo and passengers between smaller airports (as it was for the function of regional flights), or purposed charter flights in remote places like far-flung islands in the middle of the sea.

With the number of users coming from these three categories mentioned, the Dornier Do-228 sees its logistical viability that has advantages in the resource of spare parts and sees its reliability as a platform for surveillance and reconnaissance operations that a maritime law enforcement agency like the Philippine Coast Guard wants to improve as the organization grows and improves its overall capability through buying new assets and adding workforce through its pool of interested applicants.

Another angle of the Dornier Do-228 of the Indian Coast Guard. (c) Vincent Albert, via Flickr.

In the current inventory setup of the Philippine Coast Guard in terms of its fixed-wing composition, it primarily comprise the following aircraft - the older Britten Norman BN-2A Islander aircraft that came with two units, and the recently-procured Cessna Grand Caravan EX Multirole Aircraft, with only a unit purchased (both of which deserves to have its own discussion, later on).

Adding Dornier Do-228 in the Philippine Coast Guard's fixed-wing inventory will help improve the agency's capability especially in maritime surveillance, as it will help augment the two aforementioned assets of the maritime law enforcement agency in increasing its presence and maritime security in areas like in the West Philippine Sea.

Like the Airbus H145 that the Philippine Coast Guard also has purchased recently, the Cessna Grand Caravan EX Multirole Aircraft sees as a perception of complicating logistics for Dornier Do-228, in the same manner that it does with the HAL Dhruv Mk-3 Helicopter. The Philippine Coast Guard's interest in the Dornier Do-228 is related to the desired growth of the agency's air unit, with the help of India's line of credit.

The advantages in obtaining the asset, in the logistical point of view, is that there are many users of both government (military and law enforcement) and civilian operators that uses the Dornier Do-228 for their respective purposes, as either passenger and cargo hauling in remote areas, or surveillance and reconnaissance operations that the Philippine Coast Guard can have with these assets if considered.

It is still in the hands of high-ranking decision-makers of the Philippine Coast Guard in whether to pursue and materialize a project that will procure or purchase these utility fixed-wing aircraft. One is hopeful in seeing an improvement of the maritime law enforcement agency's air unit, especially in obtaining such an aircraft or its equivalent in its fleet.

(c) 2021 PDA.


Philippine Coast Guard's Interest in Procuring HAL Dhruv Mk-3 Helicopter

Most of the discussions that we made about the Philippine Coast Guard usually talk about the ships the agency purchased and added to its fleet of white-hulled maritime enforcement vessels. Not to mention that we also discussed some other stuff that deals with the agency's desire to modernize further in terms of building additional facilities and improving its overall maritime domain awareness capabilities.

This one will deal with India's offer that aims to strengthen relations of both countries in a way that they provide it for the Philippine Coast Guard to consider as it improves their air unit to implement maritime surveillance, search and rescue, and maritime enforcement.

India Coast Guard's Dhruv Mk. 3 Helicopter, produced
locally by HAL.
(c) Arjun Sarup, Planespotters

The first glimpse of this information came from an Indian defense outlet known as The Defenstar, citing their source to a certain Saurav Jha, wherein they detailed the Philippine Coast Guard's desire in buying at least seven (7) units of Dhruv Mk 3 helicopter and eight (8) locally produced Dornier Do-228s, both of which were built by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited or known by its abbreviation HAL.

This deal is said to be funded through a line of credit that India has provided to the Philippines, which is basically a form of soft loan that the Philippines can avail of with India shouldering the cost of procuring these said assets, with the payables will be done according to the terms that both sides agreed in settling the loan used in procuring these assets.

The variant that the Indians have offered here for the Dhruv Helicopter will be the one specified for the coast guard use such as the one seen in the image above, wherein such variant is also active in use within the Indian Coast Guard air unit, with the aircraft fitted with sensors onboard that will be discussed further along the length of this article dealing the topic.

There are other variants of the Dhruv Helicopter that is served in other services within and outside India, with the Indian Armed Forces being the primary user of such aircraft as all of the branches obtain these helicopters for their respective use, coming with different requirements that satisfy the needs that the Indian Army, Air Force, and Navy to operate.

In this topic, we will be dealing more with the Helicopter offer that the Indians have offered to the Philippine Coast Guard, with the topic about the Do-228s will have their own discussion and details as these different assets came with different purposes and operational requirements shall the maritime law enforcement agency consider these assets for their own use.

A HAL Dhruv Helicopter of the Indian Coast Guard situated
onboard its Offshore Patrol Vessel.
Image Source.

The HAL Dhruv Helicopter family is considered the first indigenously built helicopter made by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, an achievement made by a company that produces multiple indigenously produced aeronautical products, alongside the license-built capabilities that the company obtains, all of which primarily serves the purpose to provide the Indian Armed Forces it's needs.

Hindustan Aeronautics Limited developed the platform as an "Advanced Light Helicopter" with a 5.5-ton weight class, which is basically like other light helicopters such as the Airbus H145 Helicopters that the Philippine Coast Guard obtains, albeit that the HAL Dhruv is capable of carrying more as opposed to the H145's 3.7 tons maximum takeoff weight or MTOW.

Its development program, known as the Advanced Light Helicopter Development Project, started in 1984 with the slow pace in its overall progress that the first prototype under the program successfully made its maiden flight in the year 1992, eight years since the development began.

It took another eight years for the HAL Dhruv's mass production to begin, as the implementation took throughout the period is plagued with multiple delays, with factors pointed on the design's construction to issues involving concerns on the lack of budget, as well as political-related ones, although the manufacturer managed to get through the situation and successfully filled orders of the Indian Armed Forces for the helicopter project.

Since then, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited started to export its helicopter to countries like Ecuador, which it was considered the first customer and also the one that experienced the shortcomings of the HAL Dhruv (as we will discuss in this article), along with other countries such as the Maldives and Nepal, as well as a deal struck with the Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) in exporting the helicopters worldwide.

With the success of the HAL Dhruv as India's first indigenously-built helicopter, they managed to build an attack helicopter derivative that has based on this platform, naming as the HAL Rudra Attack Helicopter, wherein it came with armaments such as a 20mm turret gun, 70mm Rocket System, and air-to-air missiles, with preferences based from the requirements of the Indian Armed Forces.

The years of development and production has proven that Hindustan Aeronautics Limited is somewhat capable of producing India's primary indigenous-built helicopters, let alone producing its indigenous aircraft like the HAL Tejas Light Combat Supersonic Fighter, as the premier aerospace company of the country aspires to improve and incorporate its design, along with its usual production of licensed copies of foreign-designed aircraft that the Indian Armed Forces needs.

Hindustan Aeronautics Limited is also producing license-built
aircraft for the Indian Air Force, such as the Sukhoi Su-30MKI,
as seen in the image.

Hindustan Aeronautics Limited in itself is India's primary aerospace industry, specialized in building military and civilian aircraft for the Indian Armed Forces such as its Air Force, as well as the country's maritime law enforcement agencies like the Indian Coast Guard, now with an aspiration of expanding beyond India and get a significant portion of the world's aerospace market.

The company started on December 23, 1940, as the Hindustan Aircraft Limited in Bangalore, India (which was still considered as the British Raj at that time),  when it was incorporated by Shri Walchand Hirachand, along with the then Government of Mysore, as they aspire in building a whole new industry of manufacturing aircraft in the country, bearing its fruit even to the present day.

The Government of India eventually became its primary shareholder in 1942, and eventually under the administrative control of the Indian Government's Ministry of Defence, basically making it a government-owned entity specialized in aerospace production, a setup normally seen in other countries like South Korea's Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI) and Turkey's Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI).

The other company named Aeronautics India Limited became a company fully incorporated as an entity 100% owned by the Indian Government in 1963 and became a licensed manufacturer of the iconic, Soviet-designed Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-21 fighter aircraft, as it became the primary mainstay fighter of the country throughout the Cold War and became the foundation for the company of getting licensed copies for local production up to present like in the case of the Sukhoi Su-30MKI it produces for the Indian Air Force (see image above).

A current iteration of the company didn't exist until 1964, the year when both the Hindustan India Limited and Aeronautics India Limited were merged as one entity by the Indian Government, which since then expanded its program in producing licensed build aircraft while developing new designs at the same time, even to the extent that it participated in the space programs that the Indian Government initiated through the Indian Space Research Organization or ISRO.

As of the year 2020, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited is producing the SU-30 MKI, LCA & DO-228 aircraft and ALH-Dhruv, Chetak, Cheetal & LCH Helicopters, two of which are offered to the Philippine Coast Guard as India's way of improving its ties with the Philippines, whilst giving an aspiration of improving the air unit of the country's maritime law enforcement agency.

More detailed and in-depth information about the history and activities of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited can be found on their website at this link highlighted here, with an archived version of the webpage be seen at https://archive.is/wCmKE, or through Wayback Machine at https://web.archive.org/web/20210909070507/https://hal-india.co.in/Our%20History/M__111.

Details of the HAL Dhruv's composition and specification. Image Source (mirror).

To fill up the gaps unspecified in the table above, as well as to give details on the armaments mentioned, let it be noted once again that the Maximum Take-Off Weight or MTOW of the HAL Dhruv Mk.3 is at 5.5 tons, or around 3 tons more than the helicopter's empty weight of 2.55 tons while the Mk.4 variant has the Maximum Take-Off Weight of 5.8 tons, a small increase in capacity than its predecessor.

As to the armaments, on the other hand, it is a feature that can be seen with the Indian Armed Forces' HAL Rudra Attack Helicopter, which is basically an armed variant of the HAL Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter, although it can still be counted as part of the specifications provided for the HAL Dhruv Helicopter since both share similar design features and structure.

Translated as "Pole Star" in India, the HAL Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter came with capabilities such as having a range of 700 kilometers or 377.97 Nautical Miles upon conversion (or 630 kilometers/340.17 Nautical Miles for the Mk3 variant), which it can travel further as opposed to the AH-6 light helicopter that only has 430 kilometers range or 232.18 Nautical Miles, or the TAI T-129 Attack Helicopter with its 537 kilometers or 290 nautical miles range, given the Dhruv's role as a utility helicopter that the Philippine Coast Guard is offered by the Indians.

Also worth mentioning is the maximum and cruising speeds of the HAL Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter, wherein it came with 292km/hour and 265km/hour, respectively. Its maximum speed is at par with the AW-159 Wildcat Helicopters of the Philippine Navy with a rate of 291km/hour, while it surpassed the AH-6  light helicopter with maximum and cruising speeds of 282km/h and 250km/h, respectively. It also surpassed the heavier Mil Mi-171 helicopter that the Philippine Air Force considers, with maximum and cruising speeds of 250km/h and 240km/h, respectively. The latter's comparison is a no-brainer, given the proportion of the helicopter's weight with the engine capacity that can influence its overall speed (power to weight ratio).

Talking about the engines, the earlier variants were fitted with 2x Turbomeca TM 333-2B2 turboshaft engines, a French-made Turboshaft engine made by the company of the same name (Turbomeca), now known as Safran Helicopter Engines, a subsidiary under Safran Group. The same type of engine was also used for both helicopters made by Eurocopter (now a subsidiary under Airbus Helicopter) -  the Eurocopter Dauphin and Eurocopter Panther.

In the case of the HAL Dhruv Mk.3 and Mk.4, their engines that form their powerplant is the Shakti Engine, itself derived from Safran's Ardiden 1H1 turboshaft engines made by the same manufacturer as the Turbomeca TM 333-2B2 turboshaft engines, produced in license by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited for the HAL Dhruv Helicopter variants specified herein. 

The Shakti Engine runs at 12% more power than its predecessor at around 1,400shp to 2,000shp (shaft horsepower), comparing to the TM-333-2B2 turboshaft engines that run only at around 999shp. 

To surmise this up, HAL Dhruv's design is capable of taking the following mission roles and requirements ranging from passenger transport to search and rescue operations, along with casualty evacuation and logistic air support that are all in line with the operations and mandate of the Philippine Coast Guard as a maritime law enforcement organization.

The HAL Dhruv Mk3 is seen as an improvement over its
two predecessors.
Indian Coast Guard, via Wikimedia Commons.

As with other aircraft designs, the HAL Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter comes with multiple variants and iterations, wherein improvements and upgrades were introduced with each variant get enhanced and integrated into the production line, with a newer helicopter variant introduced gets better capabilities than the previous one as it came with features that its predecessors didn't have.

There are two main groups of variants or versions that Hindustan Aeronautics Limited has in their manufacturing of the Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter, which is the military and civilian variants, of which each group has its own sets of variants with improvements introduced as newer ones were developed and integrated into the production line.

On the military group, there are at least four variants of Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter that were produced by the mentioned Indian airspace and defense company, which are the known Mk.1, Mk.2, Mk.3, and Mk.4, whilst the civilian group has Dhruv (C), Dhruv (CFW), Dhruv (CS), and the Garuda Vasudha geophysical-oriented Advanced Light Helicopter.

Just as reported by Defenstar, the Philippine Coast Guard is opting to have the HAL Dhruv Mk.3 Advanced Light Helicopter as this is also the one in-service in the Indian Coast Guard air unit. Take note that this Dhruv Mk.3 Helicopter is specialized in Coast Guard operations like this one undertaking trials in the Indian Coast Guard, wherein it was tested with its performance before being accepted into the Indian maritime law enforcement organization.

The first of the Mk.3 HAL Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopters were handed over to the Indian Army in 2011, with the Indian Air Force followed suit in 2012 as they received the first batch of Dhruv ALH Mk.3, consisting of 10 units. The recent Indian Coast Guard composition of Mk.3 Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopters, referencing this linked reference at the time of this article's posting, consists of eight active units with plans to purchase 14 more units.

Speaking of Coast Guard choices, the Mk.3 variant of the Dhruv Helicopter that the Indian Coast Guard currently obtains, and the one that the Philippine Coast Guard considers, is the one specialized for maritime operations that both maritime law agencies share. 

We are referring to the Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) Dhruv Mk.3 MR variant that comes with an electro-optical sensor onboard the unit, along with a surveillance radar installed onboard that is capable of detecting and identifying marine vessels at its maximum coverage of 120 nautical miles, wherein it increases the capability of a coast guard in terms of detecting any maritime-related threats that endanger the country's maritime security.

Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter of the Ecuadorian Air Force,
first export made by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited.
(c) Wikimedia Commons.

Aside from India, several Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopters were exported to several countries by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. One of those countries is Ecuador, which the Indian aerospace company considered its first export customer of the helicopter. They have several issues with the Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopters obtained in the inventory that prompted them to decommission it from service recently.

Talking back about Ecuador, the country's air force encountered problems with the Dhruv Helicopters that potential users like the Philippine Coast Guard needs to be aware of. Since Hindustan Aeronautics Limited's first delivery of Dhruv Helicopters to the Ecuadorian Air Force, four crashes took place during the period that it took the lives of three military personnel and injured several more.

It has been said that two out of four said crashes are due to mechanical defects seen in the helicopter, which compelled the Ecuadorian Government to ground the remaining Dhruvs in its fleet and end the contract it has with the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. Aside from the mechanical defects, securing spare components for the Indian-made helicopters from the manufacturer was also proven to be problematic.

The problems that Ecuador faced are something that an agency like the Philippine Coast Guard needs to consider. Add to that the fact that the agency already operates a handful of Airbus H145 Helicopters in its air fleet. Nevertheless, the Philippine Coast Guard's interest in obtaining an air asset like the Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter from Hindustan Aeronautics Limited may still add the capabilities that its air unit needs.

Aside from India and Ecuador, other countries are also using the Indian-made helicopter in their respective agencies. One of those is the country of Mauritius, where both of its military and civilian law enforcement units (police) obtain the HAL Dhruv Helicopter in their respective fleets. Including in the user's list are the Peruvian and Turkish Health Services.

Maldives' National Defense Force, Nepalese Army Air Service, and the Israel Defense Ministry (one under lease) are also using the Dhruv Helicopter for their respective purposes. This equates to eight countries having these helicopters, involving 18 agencies of different military and civilian organizations that utilize these helicopters.

To summarize this up, the number of users that obtain HAL Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopters in their fleet and the mishaps that the Ecuadorian Air Force took before removing them all from service are just some of the considerations that the Philippine Coast Guard may take.

Philippine Coast Guard's Airbus H145 Helicopter. 
From Scramble Magazine.

Currently, the Philippine Coast Guard gets a handful of Airbus H145 Helicopters in its air unit. These helicopters augment the operation of its Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) and Multirole Response Vessels (MRRVs) in upholding the mandate of the Philippine Coast Guard as a maritime law enforcement agency. Getting them is essential for the agency's search and rescue operations on the high seas.

One might think that adding a different type of helicopter makes logistics complicated. This isn't the case for the HAL Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter, as this came with a higher tonnage maximum takeoff weight than the Airbus H145 Helicopters. The said higher MTOW was the basis in choosing HAL Dhruv ALH as the alternative helicopter for the project.

While this helicopter is being considered, the accidents that occurred in the Ecuadorian Air Force involving this type of helicopter needs to be considered by decision-makers. This can be justified especially given that the Ecuadorian Air Force obtained an earlier variant of the HAL Dhruv ALH while the Philippine Coast Guard might be getting an improved variant of the said helicopter.

With this progress report on the pace that the Philippine Coast Guard takes on its modernization efforts, we may say that it is laudable that they are getting newer assets left and right. Multirole Response Vessels and several Coastal Radar Station outposts from Japan, an Offshore Patrol Vessel from France, and Airbus H145 helicopters are some fruits made from this endeavor they pursue.

It remains to be seen whether the outcome is favorable to this plan and proposal or not since the final decision lies within the leadership of the Philippine Coast Guard. Nevertheless, the consideration of adding at least seven (7) HAL Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopters in its air unit is a significant gain for the organization's maritime law enforcement capabilities.

(c) 2021 PDA.




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