President Duterte wants to decommission all Huey helicopters in the Philippine Air Force (PAF) inventory because of their frequent involvement in fatal crashes, the latest of which was in Bukidnon last Jan. 16.
In his visit to Sulu, the President revealed his plan to replace all Huey helicopters.
“Marami pa ba ‘yang Huey na ‘yan? Naiwan? Hindi, palitan ko na sana (Do we still have some Huey helicopters left? I’d like to replace them all),” he said. “Wala ng…Maano na talaga ‘yan, luma na. Maski na sabihin mong – maintenance (There’s nothing we can do with them anymore. It’s really old. Even if you say we can maintain them),” he added.
The President said it is saddening that many lives have been lost due to fatal crashes involving Huey helicopters. Seven soldiers were killed in the Huey that chopper crashed in Bukidnon.
“Bibili ako ng mga helicopters – para sa mga… Sayang ang buhay (I will buy helicopters for you. We don’t want lives to go to waste),” Duterte said.
“Masaktan ka talaga. Kung wala kang koneksyon sa gobyerno, okay lang. But sa kagaya ko, ako ‘yung parang administrador ng bayan tapos ganoon ang nangyari, masakit para sa akin (It will really cause you pain. If you’re not with the government then it’s probably nothing. But for me, I’m the president then this happens. It pains me),” he added.
“You just don’t know the pain that I suffer every time.”
Duterte told soldiers that he wants to procure at least six or seven new helicopters for the Air Force. “I am not making any hard promises. But you can rest assured, I will try my best to look for money para palitan ko ‘yung mga luma na (so we can replace old ones),” he added.
The PAF grounded all of its Huey helicopters following the mishap in Bukidnon. The UH-1H and UH-1D models, or Hueys, are Vietnam War-era helicopters that have been refurbished to serve as the PAF’s main workhorses.
It was reported that the Bukidnon crash was the fourth Air Force rotorcraft to go down in six months, three involving Huey helicopters.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) already has an existing procurement program to modernize the PAF fleet of helicopters.
Ten more Blackhawk helicopters are expected to be delivered to the Philippines early this year, the first of 16 Polish-made Sikorsky S-70i Black Hawk helicopters ordered in 2019.
The brand-new Black Hawk helicopters, manufactured by PZL Mielec, a Lockheed Martin/ Sikorsky company in Poland, will provide the PAF with sustained day-and-night tactical lift, transport, and search-and-rescue capabilities.
The helicopters are being procured by the Philippine government under a $241.5-million government-to-government contract to meet the Horizon 2 phase of the Revised Armed Forces of the Philippines Modernization Program.
“The Department of National Defense expresses its sincerest appreciation for President Duterte’s intention to purchase more helicopters for the Philippine Air Force (PAF),” said DND spokesman Arsenio Andolong.
“The ultimate aim of the ongoing PAF CUH (Combat Utility Helicopters) Acquisition Program is to procure assets that will replace the current fleet
of UH-1s of our Air Force. This program has enabled us to recently add the Sikorsky S70i Blackhawk to the PAF’s inventory,” he added.
Six Blackhawk helicopters were delivered in November last year. All of them were declared as mission-ready as of last month.
Andolong said the 10 additional Blackhawks are expected to be delivered early this year and will be deployed for missions as soon as they pass mandatory technical inspection and acceptance procedures.
All Huey helicopters in the PAF have been grounded as part of the protocol after the chopper crash in Bukidnon last Jan. 16.
“In the interim, we have rotary aircraft such as the Bell 412s and Blackhawks that will take up some of the slack left by the withdrawal of the UH-1s from the field,” said Andolong.
The official, however, acknowledged that the entire procurement process takes time, starting off from the bidding process up to the post-delivery inspections. The acquisition of the Blackhawk for instance was completed in 2019 but the first batch of the choppers was delivered late last year.