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AFP eyes cheaper Turkey choppers

Kristina Maralit

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The Philippine government is looking at Turkey as a possible source of attack helicopters as the country’s budget would not be enough to buy choppers from the United States, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana disclosed on Wednesday.

Lorenzana confirmed that those offered by the US and are on the wish list of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), cost way above the earmarked budget.

The official clarified that no sale has been sealed yet.

“We are looking at the Turkish attack helicopters with our money,” the Defense chief said. “It is under negotiation, and we have not yet signed any contract with them because we’re looking at their equipment further, to ensure that what they have is what we need.”

The US state Department last April greenlighted the potential sale of attack helicopters to the Philippines in April. The government was reportedly eyeing either the AH-1Z Viper or the AH-64E Apache to modernize the Philippine military’s attack helicopter capabilities.

But this kind of upgrade will not come cheap.

The AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters package and related equipment, produced by Bell, has a price tag of $450 million.

It comes with 14 General Electric T700-401C engines, seven Honeywell Embedded Global Positioning Systems/Inertial Navigation with Precise Positioning Service, six AGM-114 Hellfire II missiles, and 26 Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System all-up rounds, among other equipment.

The AH-64E Apache attack helicopters package, meanwhile, is the more expensive option, pegged at $1.5 billion, and would come with 18 General Electric T700-701D engines, 15 Honeywell Embedded Global Positioning Systems/Inertial Navigation with Precise Positioning Service, 200 AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, 300 Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System kits, and 200 FIM-92H Stinger missiles, among other gear, equipment, U.S. government and contractor technical assistance, technical and logistics support services, and other related elements of logistics support.

Lorenzana disclosed that there may not be enough money available to purchase the US helicopters as much of the government’s reserved funds have been repurposed for the country’s coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) response.

The amount allotted for the procurement of the choppers is only P13 billion, the DND Secretary noted.

“The money that was given to us for purchase of attack helicopters is only P13 billion. If we buy the Apache, we can only buy one. If we buy the Viper, we can only buy two,” Lorenzana pointed out.

“It’s very expensive to buy those in terms of maintaining and stocking spare parts. If we can buy six attack helicopters from other sources with the money we have, that would be more attractive than buying the American attack helicopters,” he added.

President Rodrigo Duterte previously vowed to continue the modernization of the AFP for it to be able to “challenge anyone to war” once he leaves Malacañang.

Phase two of the military’s “Project Horizon”, a capacity-building initiative, commenced in 2018 and will run up to 2022, the year Mr. Duterte’s presidency wraps up.

It involves an ambitious transition period wherein the AFP will shift its arms acquisitions away from internal security to territorial defense.

The government has earmarked around $5.6 billion, or P300 billion pesos, for the procurement of air, sea, and land assets for the military as well as the needed tactical technologies.

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