Philippine Army's Opportunity on Japan's Ditching of its Attack Helicopters

From the first few weeks of the year 2023, we discussed the Philippine Army and its growing interest in getting UH-1J Combat Utility Helicopters from the Japan Ground Self Defense Force or JGSDF, giving a significant boost intended for the Army Aviation "Hiraya" Regiment to have a decent logistics platform for their own troops to use, augmented by the combat utility helicopter workhorses of the Philippine Air Force.

Now, here is the news that may further add to their overall capability, whilst showing the eventuality, or at least the possibility of it, of just letting the Philippine Air Force focus on their fixed-wing assets while letting the Philippine Army handle more rotary air assets.

AH-1S Philippine Army, Japan, Japan Self-Defense Force, AH-1S Cobra, GATE
JGSDF AH-1S Cobra Attack Helicopter.
(c) Minoru Tanaka, Flickr.

The Japanese Ministry of Defense annually updates its policy papers, as they constantly assessing the capabilities of their Self-Defense forces in dealing with modern threats, specifically now that they see the rise of Communist China as a threat, with their continuous aggression in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) are posing the threat to the trade routes and sea lanes of communication that this country heavily relies on for basic commodities and information.

Now, in the recent iteration of their policy paper, the Japanese Ministry of Defense now sees that the likes of the AH-1S Cobra Attack Helicopters (image seen above) and AH-64 Apache Attack Helicopters currently operating by the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) are now obsolete and needs to get replaced by unmanned aerial systems or drones, despite recent trends related to their increase of their overall defense budget as these said attack helicopters are nearing their retirement phase.

This means that a decommissioned JGSDF AH-1S Cobra Attack Helicopter or an AH-64 Apache Attack Helicopter are now up for grabs, for countries that see opportunity for securing these platforms for their respective armed forces to use, with the Philippines actually being one of them based on the recent actions that took place recently especially in their interest in securing UH-1J Huey Iroquois Combat Utility Helicopters for the Philippine Army to use.

The Philippines getting these helicopters, especially the AH-1 Cobra Attack Helicopters, are logical from an operational experience point of view, as the Philippine Air Force actually use their donated AH-1S from Jordan, and these helicopters from the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force counts as a younger production models than what the Philippine Air Force currently have.

These discussions related to the age of the aircraft, the ongoing rationale relating to the ongoing developments that intertwine one over the other, the background of these helicopters in production and during its service within the Japanese Ground Self Defense Force, especially any upgrades that it received throughout that time, are something we may get into throughout the rest of this article.

President Marcos, Philippines, Japan, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Defense Deal, RAA
President Ferdinand R Marcos Jr. went to Japan for a working visit, meeting with key members of the Japanese Government to talk about national defense cooperation, among others.
(c) Presidential Communications, Twitter.

It is very important to take note that the Philippine President's visit to Japan may help influence to the outcome of what's up for grabs, especially now that there are reports that Japan really eyes the Philippines as its first recipient of security grant, whereby the chances for getting the aforementioned attack helicopters is getting more likely, among other materiel that deserves its own separate discussion.

The grants, of course, may get ironed out further upon the Japanese parliament's approval and passage of the budget, the financing required for the Japanese government to carry out this new program just as the trend of their defense budget increases, and the Philippine military, upon that approval, may benefit a lot from the grant that came as either through financing or equipment, taking note that this differs from their Overseas Development Aid or ODA loans.

Speaking of ODA Loans, this financing scheme is the one that made Philippine Coast Guard's white hull acquisition possible, as they bought the 44-meter Parola-class Multirole Response Vessels and the larger 97-meter BRP Teresa Magbanua (MRRV-9701) and BRP Melchora Aquino (MRRV-9702) through this scheme, giving full satisfaction to the maritime law enforcement agency that the Philippine Coast Guard now has the plans to buy more Teresa Magbanua-class Multirole Response Vessels for a far more effective maritime law enforcement.

Aside from grants, another defense-related highlight during the visit of the Philippine President to Japan is the signing of an agreement that may enable Japanese and Philippine troops to deploy to each other's territory for training and other operations, naming as the "Reciprocal Access Agreement" or RAA, an arrangement similar to the Visiting Forces Agreement or VFA between the Philippines and the United States.

It will be interesting to see the results of the forged agreements between Japan and the Philippines, especially on the field of defense down the road, as these things may play the factor on the dynamics not only on how the capabilities of the Armed Forces of the Philippines may look like once the equipment deals may get unfolded, but also the impact it has to the current implementation of the Revised AFP Modernization Program under the Third Horizon.

AH-1S Cobra Philippine Army, Anime, Japan Ground Self Defense Force, GATE,
A JGSDF AH-1S Cobra Attack Helicopter, filled with a special "Kisarazu Special" livery.
Image Source.

The AH-1S Cobra Attack Helicopter of the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force shares many attributes to the UH-1J Huey Iroquois Combat Utility Helicopter that we discussed before on this blog website, which includes the design that both helicopters shared from one another as described on this article about the AH-1S Attack Helicopter donation from Jordan to the Philippine Air Force.

Speaking of shared attributes, both the JGSDF AH-1S Cobra Attack Helicopter and the UH-1J Huey Iroquois Combat Utility Helicopter are both made by Fuji Heavy Industries, or what is now considered as Subaru Corporation, with both helicopters produced in Japan through a license they secured from Bell Helicopters, the one who originally designed and produced these helicopters intended to the United States military and key allies.

Like the license-copied UH-1J Huey Iroquois Combat Utility Helicopter, the Japanese AH-1S Cobra Attack Helicopter comes with a single Kawasaki T53-K-703 engine, and the attack helicopter units have made between 1984 and 2000, making it younger than the Jordanian-donated AH-1S Cobra Attack Helicopters that the Philippine Air Force received, especially that these helicopters also originates itself from the Israeli Defense Force who operate the first of such attack helicopters in 1975.

Also to take note, the age for some of these JGSDF AH-1 Attack Helicopters counts as younger than the Philippine Air Force's MG-520 Light Attack Helicopter fleet, as the last Fuji-manufactured AH-1 produced in 2000, not to mention that it took multiple upgrades throughout its service that makes it at par to the AH-1F variant, whereas the MG-520s of the Philippine Air Force entered service in the early 1990s.

The specification goes as almost similar to the AH-1S Cobra that the Philippine Air Force received, although the ones that the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force have received its own upgrades and weapons configuration, as the JGSDF's variant comes with TOW capability just like the AH-1S Philippine Air Force has, although it remains to be seen if they may get reconfigured to carry SPIKE-ER missiles like as described.

AH-1S Philippine Army, AH-1S Kisarazu Anime, JGSDF, Japan, Japan Self-Defense Force, GATE
Another AH-1S Cobra Attack Helicopter of JGSDF with another Kisarazu Special Livery.
(c) Buffalo, website.

Still basing on this information that has complete records of AH-1 Attack Helicopters serving the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force, Fuji Heavy Industries built at least 92 units of such type as it fully served the organization and has undertaken multiple upgrades, although that has reduced to 76 units in 2013, and further down to 71 units based on the recent 2022 data.

There are reports coming from fellow Philippine defense watchers on Twitter coming from legitimate sources saying that the Philippine Army may get at least one (1) squadron or at least 12 units of the JGSDF AH-1S Cobra Attack Helicopters, although it may not be surprising if the Japanese government or the Philippine military, at their respective discretions, adds more units of the said Attack Helicopters. 

Even with the number of units that the Philippine Army sees as they are interested in, there may still be at least remaining units that other countries in the Indo-Pacific countries may get interested to get, not to mention that the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force also opt to decommission their AH-64 Apache Attack Helicopter, also made through license by Fuji Heavy Industries, from active service.

This comes at the top of the UH-1J Combat Utility Helicopters officially reported and detailed in our previous entries here on this website, as these units may further boost the Philippine Army Aviation "Hiraya" regiment's overall capabilities, augmenting the air assets that the Philippine Air Force comes presently in its fleet like the newly gained T-129 'ATAK' Attack Helicopters from Turkey and S-70i Blackhawks from Poland.

With this information at hand, it is interesting to see the outcome of this opportunity at hand for the Philippine Army in having these attack helicopters from the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force, although ‌in the end it will still up to the discretion of the Japanese government and the Philippine Army regarding the materialization of this grant, as having it possible surely gives them close air support capabilities almost at par with the ones their Air Force counterparts have with their attack helicopters. 

Both the AH-1S Cobra Helicopter and AH-64D Apache Helicopters are getting phased out and are about to get replaced by unmanned aerial systems.
Via Wikimedia Commons.

At the recent times, the Japanese Ministry of Defense, based on their white paper, has officially declared that all of their attack helicopters in their fleet, aside from other air assets like their UH-1J Huey Iroquois Combat Utility Helicopters, considered “obsolete” and are getting replaced by modern unmanned aerial vehicles, replacing the roles once held by these firepower-carrying war machines and now are up for grabs by countries like the Philippines.

The Philippine Army‌ sees the contrary, as they are seeing the importance of getting these close air support attack helicopter platforms from a source like the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force, in the same manner that their counterparts from the Philippine Air Force that determines to secure their own attack helicopters, currently being the Turkish-built T-129 ‘ATAK’ Attack Helicopters now nearing its final batch delivery at months, if not a year down the road.

While there are striking differences in priorities on their defense requirements, both Japan and the Philippines are striving to improve their military capabilities, especially that both countries see Chinese aggression and expansionism as a threat, with different contestation of their claims taking place in Southern Japan’s Senkaku Islands, and Western Philippines’ Kalayaan Island Group and Panatag Shoal, aside from the fact that both countries are geographically sits on what we consider as ‘the first island chain’.

The ongoing bilateral relationship between Japan and the Philippines may get flourish at the succeeding months, as the government of both countries has recently signed 35 investment-related agreements primarily focusing on business ventures and investments, which may ensure growth and development of both countries, while possibly minimizing any potential risk from China's economic leverage.

To sum this up, the Philippine Army has the huge opportunity to secure a portion of the Japan Ground Self Defense Force's fleet of Attack Helicopters, specifically the AH-1S Cobra Attack Helicopters made by Fuji Heavy Industries, as this gesture of bilateral defense cooperation between these nations signaled the start of a flourishing relation that both Japan and the Philippines may surely benefit for the years to come.

(c) 2023 PDA.

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