By Rene Acosta and Samuel P. Medenilla
THE Philippine Air Force (PAF) is looking to acquire Turkish-made attack helicopters, rather than the US-made Apache, or Viper, with acquisition cost as primary consideration, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on Wednesday.
Lorenzana issued the statement after he disclosed during a news briefing in Malacanang that the military could not afford the price tag of $2 billion for six Apaches, or Vipers, that American manufacturers have offered.
The Apache, manufactured by the military arm of the world’s largest aircraft manufacturer Boeing, is reputed to be the best attack helicopters in the world, with Vipers, manufactured by Bell, its closest competitor.
Earlier, the US State Department approved the sale of six Boeing Apache AH-64E and six Bell Viper Attack helicopters worth close to US$2 billion or P100 billion to the Philippine government.
Lorenzana stressed that Manila’s move to reconsider buying the US choppers is not related on the alleged “soured” relationship of the country with the US government, but was purely motivated by their limited budget.
“Our budget to buy the attack helicopter is only P13 billion. If we will buy attack helicopter [from the US], we might only be able to afford one to two attack helicopters. In other countries we might be able to buy more [for the same budget],” Lorenzana said in an online press briefing on Wednesday.
Lorenzana explained the government indeed made an inquiry from the US government on the price range of the said helicopters in 2016 or 2017, but it is only now that the US State Department issued its approval for the possible transaction.
Lorenzana said that with the steep acquisition price,the country could only procure two Apache, or two Viper units, whereas it could buy at least six Turkish ATAK helicopters for the same amount.
The Turkish-manufactured ATAK had been ranked as one of the world’s best attack helicopters.
The issue on the US offer cropped up more than a week ago after an agency under the US Department of Defense forwarded to the US Congress its move to approve the possible sale of Apaches or Vipers to the Philippine military.
“What will we do with two attack helicopters? It is uneconomical [to] invest [in] a support system (maintenance, repair and spares) for just two,” Lorenzana told military reporters.
“We are looking at other platforms, which can give us at least six for our P13 billion,” he added.
When asked about alternative sources for attack helicopters, the defense chief said the PAF “is seriously considering the Turkish ATAK helicopter.”
“We will get six for the allocated amount. Negotiations were [held] before the Covid crisis,” Lorenzana said.
The procurement for the Turkish product had been moved by the military as early as 2018, with no less than Lorenzana even announcing in December that same year that PAF will be acquiring eight of the Turkish attack helicopters.
“Yes, the Air Force also choose the ATAK helicopter of Turkey. Its name is ATAK, so it’s an attack helicopter and it’s called ATAK,” the defense chief said at that time.
When asked if 30 units would be acquired, he said “no, I think we can only get less than 10, maybe eight.”
As to the criticisms from leftist group on why the government is spending so much to buy attack choppers, Lorenzana admitted there will no need for such purchase if there will no more internal insurgency in the country.
“I agree that buying these helicopters is I think … we would rather give it to our people. So I said, they should stop their armed struggle and we will stop making such purchases,” said Lorenzana addressing the country’s communist rebels.