Philippines asseses Chinese helicopters for army

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China is emerging as a potential supplier of arms to the Philippines, with officials from the latter country assessing the Harbin Z-9 utility helicopter for an eight-aircraft requirement. A licensed copy of Eurocopter's AS365N Dauphin, the Z-9 has since 1980 been manufactured by the Chinese company, a subsidiary of Beijing's state-owned AVIC II. Industry sources say China has offered to sell eight aircraft to the Philippines at a discount price, and also promised an additional $2 million in military aid.

There are over 200 Z-9s in service with China's military. The helicopter can transport 10 armed soldiers, with some aircraft also configured for communications and electronic warfare roles.

China is keen to get into the arms sales market in South-East Asia, which is currently dominated by the USA and Russia. The Philippines, which has mainly relied on US equipment in the past, desperately needs attack and utility helicopters to help in its fight against a separatist movement in its southern islands. In July, president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo released 5 billion Philippine pesos ($106 million) to buy new helicopters as part of a modernisation programme.

The nation's air force has also allocated 1.26 billion Philippine pesos to buy six helicopters with a night attack capability, and industry sources say Boeing's MD530-MG is likely to be offered for the requirement. The service currently operates an ageing fleet of MD520s, Bell UH-1H transports and Sikorsky S-76 assault helicopters.