US chopper maker offers Vipers to PH Air Force
MANILA, Philippines—American aircraft manufacturer Bell is vying for a contract to supply attack helicopters to the Philippine Air Force (PAF).
Bell Helicopter, a subsidiary of the conglomerate Textron, is offering six brand new units of AH-1Z Viper in response to the PAF’s attack helicopter acquisition program.
The PAF is no stranger to Bell helicopters. Just a few months ago, it received 2 units of Bell AH-1F Cobra helicopters from the Jordanian government. It has also been operating various Bell units as presidential and combat utility helicopters for decades.
“With the Philippines Air Force’s experience operating Bell aircraft and getting the AH-1S from Jordan, it would be fairly straightforward for Philippine Air Force pilots to transition to the AH-1Z,” said Victor Chin, senior manager of Bell’s Global Military Sales and Strategy, in an e-mail to INQUIRER.net.
Bell boasts of the Viper’s platform design adopted for marine use and also its aptness for maritime security and border security missions which make the helicopter ideal for an archipelagic nation like the Philippines.
“The aircraft is completely marinized to strict navy specifications, resisting corrosion and maximizing operational availability,” Chin said.
He added that the Viper’s corrosion-resistant design meets one of the biggest challenges in naval aviation—rust.
“Corrosion reduces the size and strength of the structure and increases aircraft maintenance costs,” said Chin.
“The AH-1Z is designed to be maintained anywhere and everywhere, with the United States Marines Corps (USMC) operating the Vipers off US Navy ships,” Chin said.
“We think that given the Philippines’ environment, this is the right aircraft for the Air Force,” he said.
The potential sales package would include combat systems and materiel like 7 Honeywell Embedded Global Positioning Systems/Inertial Navigation with Precise Positioning Service, 6 AGM-114 Hellfire II missiles and 26 Advanced Precision Kill Weapons System all-up rounds.
Interoperability would be another advantage of the Viper, according to Bell.
“The AH-1Z is the latest attack helicopter for the USMC and the USMC regularly trains and conducts joint exercises with the Philippine armed forces,” Chin said.
He also assured that Bell will work with the US government to offer a “comprehensive total package” that would allow the PAF to maintain the Viper “with little or no supervision once all training is complete.”
“An additional point on sustainment that I wanted to draw out is that the Philippines Air Force needs the helicopter to operate throughout the country in what is very challenging weather,” he said.
“So being able to sustain the aircraft without much infrastructure is critical and we think the AH-1Z Viper is best suited for this mission,” he said.
US OKs sales
Last week, the US State Department has approved the possible sale of six units of Bell AH-1Z Viper and six units of Boeing AH-64E Apache helicopters to the Philippines.
The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) said the potential sale of Viper and related equipment carries a price tag of $450 million (around P22 billion), while the Apache AH-64E sales package costs around $1.5 billion (around P76 billion). These packages are not final, and may be adjusted upon the request of the Philippine government.
Boeing, in a roundtable discussion with Philippine media in late 2019, boasts of the Apache as “the most advanced multi-mission attack helicopters of the US military and at least 15 other armed forces in the world.”
The proposed Boeing Apache deal included weapons, communications and maintenance package.
“This proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a friendly country that continues to be an important force for political stability, peace and economic progress in Southeast Asia,” the DSCA said of the two offers.
Either of the two packages offered to the Philippine government would be routed through the US Foreign Military Sales program.
The US offers came as the PAF’s selected attack helicopter, the T129 ATAK helicopters of the Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI), continues to struggle in obtaining export license from the US for its subsystems.
The TAI is supposed to provide six units of T129 ATAK helicopters to the PAF for around P13 billion.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told INQUIRER.net that the contract with TAI is still under negotiation.
He acknowledged, however, that TAI is facing challenges in obtaining an export license from US. “Problema ng Turkey. Sabi inaayos. (That’s Turkey’s problem. It’s being fixed, they said.),” Lorenzana said.
He said budget constraints forced the PAF not to choose US suppliers because with the amount of money allocated for the helicopter upgrades: “The PAF did not choose the US because they can buy only two… While in Turkey—six,” said Lorenzana.
A notice of award had been released by the Department of National Defense in favor of TAI on Dec. 18, 2019, according to two government officials familiar with the project. Lorenzana confirmed that a NOA had been issued, but said, “until a contract is signed it is not final.”