THE Department of National Defense is acquiring more combat utility helicopters for the use of the Philippine Air Force to replace its ageing Huey helicopters, one of which crashed recently in Bukidnon, claiming the lives of two pilots and five other military personnel.
DND spokesman Arsenio Andolong said the defense department is due to start discussions for the procurement this week.
During a visit of Camp Teodulfo Bautista in Sulu last Friday, President Duterte said his administration intends to buy more helicopters and replace the Vietnam war-era Hueys. He said he will try his best to look for funds to buy these helicopters.
Duterte said he was “hurt” when he heard about the January 16 crash of the Huey helicopter which was on a resupply mission. Investigators are looking into materiel, environment and human factors as possible cause of the crash.
The mishap resulted in the death of Lt. Col. Arnie Arroyo, pilot; 2Lt. Mark Anthony Caabay, co-pilot; gunners Sgt. Mervin Bersabe and Airman 1st Class Stephen Agarrado; and passengers Army Sgt. Julius Salvador and militiamen Jerry Ayucdo and Jhamel Sugalang
Andolong said Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana first raised the idea of acquiring more choppers sometime last year due to the importance of such aircraft in responding to the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Polish firm Polskie Zakłady Lotnicze Sp. z o.o is in the process of completing its delivery of 16 S-70i Sikorsky Black Hawk combat utility helicopters ordered by the defense department under the AFP modernization program for $241.46 million (about P11.65 billion).
Six of the Black Hawk helicopters were accepted by the defense and military establishments in December last year. The rest are due to be delivered this year, defense officials said.
Andolong said it is too early to say what brand of choppers will be acquired although he acknowledged Lorenzana was impressed by the Black Hawks when six of them were received by the DND and AFP last December.