The Philippines is expected to give priority to the acquisition of new naval helicopters over competing claims for funding from the air force for replacement search-and-research (SAR) and heavylift machines.

Increased concern over Chinese encroachment of the South China Sea Spratly Islands and the need to enforce the Philippines' offshore economic exclusion zone, has served to highlight the military's weak maritime-defence capability.

The bulk of a recently approved 164.5 billion pesos ($6.25 billion) defence-modernisation budget is going, therefore, to the navy and air force. The Philippine navy is planning for a new fleet of offshore- patrol vessels, corvettes and eventually frigates.

The navy's share of the 15-year supplementary defence budget also contains provision for nine shipboard helicopters for patrol, missile-armed for anti-surface warfare (ASuW). Manufacturers expect an initial request for quotation as early as June.

To qualify, the navy has stipulated that helicopters must be in service with at least two other countries. Candidates include a mari- time version of the Bell 412, the Eurocopter AS365 Dauphin, the lengthened Eurocopter BO105C and the LHTEC T800-powered GKN Westland Super Lynx.

At least one helicopter has already been demonstrated in-country, when a Royal Navy Lynx, on deployment with HMS Exeter, was flown by local pilots in October 1996. The Philippine navy's air wing now operates a fleet of eight early-build BO105s from Sangly naval air station in Cavite. The helicopters are supplemented by six Pilatus Britten-Norman Islander fixed-wing aircraft.

Of the three separate helicopter requirements identified by the Philippine armed force's modernisation plan, a new SAR machine is next in line for funding, say observers. The air force is seeking a total of 12 helicopters to replace its converted Bell UH-1H utility and Sikorsky S-76 gunship machines now used for SAR missions.

Source: Flight International