The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) is to purchase up to ten more Boeing CH-47D Chinook heavylift helicopters, while neighbouring Malaysia and Thailand are wrestling to reconcile their future helicopter requirements with contracting defence budgets.

Singapore is understood have signed an initial agreement to order six additional CH-47Ds and to take options on a further four. The new helicopters are expected to be delivered around 2000-1, but details of the deal have not yet been released.

The follow-order will supplement six CH-47s ordered in 1994 and now based at Grand Prairie, Texas. The helicopters have been retained in the USA for pilot training and the new order will allow some of the Chinooks to be transferred back to Singapore for operational use, as well as deployment to Australia on exercises.

Singapore is believed to have an ultimate requirement for a fleet in excess of 20 CH-47Ds. The new helicopters will include an improved "glass cockpit", a feature which the RSAF also plans to extend to its fleet of 30 Eurocopter AS332 Super Pumas, as part of an intended avionics upgrade.

The RSAF, meanwhile, seems to be set to proceed with a planned attack-helicopter programme, irrespective of Malaysia's recent decision to shelve a planned purchase of the Denel CSH-2 Rooivalk. Malaysia was negotiating for an initial eight machines, but this has now been placed on hold following economic difficulties and a cutback in expenditure.

Singapore's anticipated purchase of up to 30 yet-to-be-selected attack helicopters was seen as being closely linked to Malaysia's planned helicopter and main battle-tank procurements. Its decision to postpone the Rooivalk purchase represents a major setback to South African efforts to enlist international support for the helicopter.

Cutbacks in Thai defence expenditure is also likely to hit the army's requirement for 36 new utility helicopters. The Thai army wants to equip four recently established air-mobility units, each with nine helicopters, and is expected to decide in 1998 between the Bell 412, Eurocopter AS565N4 Dauphin, Kazan Mi-17IV and Sikorsky S-70 Black Hawk.

The S-70 and 412 are also contenders to replace the Royal Thai Air Force's Sikorsky S-58 search-and-rescue machines. The AS332 had been favourite, but the recent fatal crash of one of the Thai royal flight's VIP machines has lengthened its odds.

Source: Flight International