AFP set to procure 16 Russian choppers

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THE Armed Forces is reportedly set to procure 16 units of Mi-17 medium-lift helicopters with a total worth of P12.5 billion as it beefs up its air capability in the first official acquisition from Russia.

The Russian choppers, worth $14.7 million for every unit, are being acquired under the second phase of the military’s modernization program. Additional assets and equipment will be bought, including helicopters for a wide variety of missions, for this phase.

The procurement is expected to be officially signed during President Duterte’s visit to Russia on Tuesday. He is scheduled to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) announced that a number of agreements will be signed.

While Russia has been considered by the military among its possible sources in its continuing effort to strengthen its capability through an ambitious modernization program, the procurement of Mi-17 helicopters would be the first from Moscow.

During the 72nd anniversary of the Philippine Air Force in July, Duterte vowed to strengthen the unit by equipping it with much-needed air assets. It is the second biggest beneficiary of the modernization program for now, after the Philippine Navy.

“I am hoping and praying that before my remaining three years expire, all of these things, especially the labeled ‘Horizon Projects’ of yours, will be completed during my term,” Duterte said then at the anniversary rites.

The second modernization phase, dubbed the “Horizon,” involves the acquisition of various land, air and sea assets for the military’s major armed services, with the allotment of a total P139 billion, which Duterte has signed.

The Mi-17 is being marketed by Rosoboronexport, the marketing arm of the Russian Defense Industry, which has reportedly offered to give one additional helicopter for free as a “sweetener” for the 16 units of Russian helicopters.

There had never been any public discussion about the planned acquisition of the choppers in the AFP or in the Air Force, unlike the other big-ticket procurement projects of the military.

At the launching of the office of the Russian defense attache in Manila three weeks ago, Russian Ambassador Igor Khovaev told military reporters that he and a Rosonboron official went to Malacañang and offered Russia’s assistance.

The assistance include the selling of state-of-the-art armaments, which Khovaev pointed out as new—compared to the equipment being offered and sold to the country by other sources.

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