Manila eyes secondhand AH-1 Cobras to head internal counter-insurgency efforts

Refurbished attack and transport helicopters are among the Philippines' top procurement priorities for the period to 2010, as part of a 20 billion peso ($400 million) military budget set aside to overcome insurgency in the country's troubled southern islands.

Approved by president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo earlier this month, the budget could help pay for up to 12 attack helicopters - possibly ex-US Marine Corps Bell AH-1 Cobras - and an unspecified number of transport helicopters, say government sources.

The country's armed forces also hope to acquire new communications, intelligence and infantry equipment using the funds.

The proposed rotorcraft package forms part of an 18-year modernisation programme worth 210 billion pesos, which was launched last year.

The first 10 years of the programme will "focus on basic individual and unit equipment needed in our internal security operations to enhance mobility, firepower, communications, force protection and combat life-support", says the defence ministry.

The Philippines currently uses its air force Rockwell OV-10 Bronco ground-attack aircraft and MD Helicopters MD520 and Sikorsky S-76 helicopters to support its counter-insurgency efforts. Secessionist groups including Abu Sayyaf and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front are cited as among the country's top internal security threats.

Manila's procurement focus will switch to external defence only after these internal threats have been dealt with, the defence ministry says.

Replacements for the air force's Northrop F-5 fighters, which were decommissioned late last year due to their age and high maintenance costs, are unlikely to be sourced until after 2012.

Source: Flight International