Sunday, October 4, 2009

Philippine AF Seeking New Utility Helos

Defense News


Philippine AF Seeking New Utility Helos

By Wendell Minnick

TAIPEI - The Philippine Air Force (PAF) is still determined to procure new combat utility helicopters (CUH) despite serious tender issues, though other options are being explored.

Due to the ongoing insurgency in the south, President Gloria Arroyo in December 2006 required the military "to achieve a strategic defeat of the communist terrorist movement by 2010, to destroy all Abu Sayaff and other terrorist groups, and to contain the secessionist groups in order to establish a physically and psychologically secure environment conducive to national development."

The PAF needs to increase its helicopter fleet to meet this mandate. The Joint U.S. Military Assistance Group at the U.S. Embassy in Manila is providing 20 refurbished UH-1Hs to augment the PAF's 45 operational Huey helicopters as part of the increase. Ten were delivered in June 2007 and an additional 10 will be delivered by the end of this year.

The 20 helicopters were refurbished through the U.S. Foreign Military Financing program at a cost of $22 million. The United States has given about $30 million in Foreign Military Financing to the Philippines over the past two years.

The PAF conducted the first round of bidding for its eight new CUH requirement Sept. 5. AgustaWestland, the only company that submitted a tender, was disqualified since its bid did not meet the specifications of the bid document.

A pre-bid conference was held Sept. 19 for the rebidding for the CUH. Representatives of AgustaWestland, Bell Helicopter, McDonnell Douglas and PZL Swidnik attended the conference, and the rebid was rescheduled for Oct. 9.

A U.S. source said that the first CUH bidding failed primarily due to the inability of helicopter manufacturers to meet the PAF's 3,000-pound payload requirement with the given $68 million total program budget, which includes the actual fly-away unit cost of the CUH, spare parts, training, shipping costs, taxes and currency fluctuation.

However, specified requirements limit the type of aircraft being offered.

"The normal helicopters that offer approximately 3,000-pound payloads are the Bell 412EP, Eurocopter EC155, Sikorsky S-76 and AgustaWestland AW139," a U.S. source said. "I do not think any of these helicopters have 3,000 pounds payload with full fuel, as required, but all offer 3,000 pounds payload at the specified range and endurance missions (less than full fuel)."

Because the specifications and budget remain the same, the source said, the upcoming rebidding for the CUH requirement is also expected to fail.

"They added that none of those who participated in the pre-bid conference could meet both the payload requirement and program budget," the source said. "The PAF would have to increase their budget by about 50 percent to enable manufacturers to tender bids that will meet payload requirements."

A PAF white paper on the CUH is calling for "prudence and cost-efficiency in the purchase of helicopters."

The white paper considers two viable options if the Oct. 9 bidding process fails again:

■ First, amend the specifications allowing more bidders to participate in the tender. Specifications will have to reduce the external payload or increase the unit price.

"This, however, poses more problems than finding a solution," according to the paper. "Decreasing the payload affects the overall effectiveness and capabilities by increasing logistical requirements to achieve mission goals. On the other hand, increasing the price per unit decreases the number of helicopters purchased."

■ Second, shift funds to upgrade at least 20 existing UH-1H Hueys to the Huey II.

"While not brand new, this option will essentially give the PAF operational capability in terms of payload and power to fulfill its missions," the white paper states.

The Philippines' long history with the UH-1 - maintenance and training facilities are already in place - make the second option attractive.

Maintenance of the Huey II could be undertaken by the 410th Maintenance Wing, which conducted the upgrade of the Huey IIs of the 505th Search and Rescue Wing. The two operational lines could upgrade and maintain the Huey IIs.