Andrzej Jeziorski/SINGAPORE

The Philippines air force is pushing ahead with a modernisation plan that could lead to aircraft orders being formalised during President Joseph Estrada's forthcoming visit to the USA.

Programmes under discussion include the purchase of up to 36 US-surplus Bell UH-1H helicopters. The air force is also reported to be seeking two squadrons of Lockheed Martin F-16s, two years after Estrada quashed a 24-unit purchase, along with ex-Kuwaiti McDonnell Douglas A-4 Skyhawks.

The air force has sought to replace its Northrop F-5A/Bs with newer equipment, but was frustrated by thrift measures imposed since the 1997 financial crisis.

The Manila government's executive secretary, Ronaldo Zamora, told local press that the helicopter buy would be formalised during Estrada's US visit. Zamora is quoted as saying the government hopes to strengthen its military, "particularly the air force", during the visit.

A secondhand UH-1H acquisition is an alternative to the Huey 2 upgrade programme proposed to Manila by Bell Helicopter Textron. Sources close to the programme say one upgrade kit was sold to the air force and delivered last year with the idea that there would be a follow-on programme for the fleet.

The upgrades boost the Huey 2 engine and dynamic system.

The air force also has a requirement for 12 light attack aircraft and six long-range maritime patrol aircraft to replace its Fokker F27s.

Source: Flight International