President Rodrigo Duterte revealed that he is bent on procuring at least seven new helicopters for the Philippine Air Force (PAF).
Duterte’s plan came after a UH-1H “Huey” combat utility aircraft helicopter crashed in Impasug-ong, Bukidnon on January 16, killing five military personnel and two militiamen.
In a speech delivered Friday in Jolo, Sulu, he expressed his intent to decommission all the PAF’s Huey helicopters to protect soldiers against possible plane crashes.
“How many Huey helicopters do we still have? I want those replaced. They are already outdated,” Duterte said.
He said he had already entered into a deal for the procurement of new helicopters. He, however, did not elaborate on the agreement.
“I will buy six or seven helicopters to replace the Huey cargo helicopters. I already had a deal,” Duterte said.
The PAF has already grounded all of its Huey helicopters following the crash 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.
The Huey helicopter that crashed in Bukidnon went on a supply mission to a patrol base in the province but encountered engine trouble after taking off from Malaybalay City.
The latest plane crash was the fourth incident reported in six months, three involving Huey helicopters.
Killed in the crash were Lt. Col. Arnie Arroyo, pilot; 2nd Lt. Mark Anthony Caabay, co-pilot; Sgt. Mervin Bersabe; Airman 1st Class Stephen Agarrado; Sgt. Julius Salvado; Jerry Ayocdo; and Jhamel Sugalang.
Duterte said he wants to procure new helicopters for soldiers because it is “painful” to see them die in the line of duty.
“These are all things screwing my mind kasi ‘yung recent crash because the recent crash is too painful for me,” he said.
The President promised to find funds for the purchase of new aircraft.
“I am not making any hard promises. But you can rest assured, I will try my best to look for money so I can replace the old helicopters,” he said.
The PAF has earlier commissioned the first six of 16 Polish-made Sikorsky S-70i Black Hawk helicopters it ordered in 2019 as part of its program to modernize its fleet of helicopters.
The remaining 10 units are expected to arrive in the country within the first quarter of 2021.
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 Philippine government purchased the helicopters under the $241.5-million government-to-government contract with Poland to meet the Horizon 2 phase of the Revised Armed Forces of the Philippines Modernization Program.