Manila Inducts Black Hawks, Considers Second Batch

 - December 11, 2020, 12:37 PM
The first six S-70i Black Hawks were officially "blessed" and handed over to the PAF during a ceremony at Clark Air Base on December 10. (Photo: Philippines Department of National Defense)

The Philippines formally commissioned its first six Sikorsky/PZL S-70i Black Hawks into the Philippines Air Force's 205th Tactical Helicopter Wing on December 10. Now the nation is pondering the acquisition of a second batch for the PAF.

The country signed a $241 million contract for the first batch of 16 S-70is in March 2019 after a deal with Canada to procure a similar number of Bell 412s fell through in February 2018. Although Canada had delivered eight Bell 412s in 2015, Ottawa had subsequently questioned the Philippines’ plans to use the helicopters for “internal security operations.”

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana was quoted by the Manila Times as believing that the cancellation was a “blessing in disguise,” saying that the Black Hawk package was a “better deal” and that the helicopter was technically superior to its Bell counterpart. Five S-70is were airlifted to Manila on November 10 in an Antonov An-124, while the sixth arrived by sea. The remaining 10 are due to be delivered in early 2021.

The S-70is for the Philippines are manufactured by Poland’s Polski Zaklady Lotnicze, under license to Sikorsky. They are fitted with Honeywell’s Primus 701A search and rescue weather radar.

Lorenzana added that the chance of procuring a second batch is “very large," noting that the PAF prefers the Black Hawks in terms of maintenance. The Philippines is notorious for its poor aircraft maintenance and serviceability record, and around half of its current Bell 412/UH-1 series helicopters are not airworthy, according to PAF chief Allen Paredes in an address during a cabinet hearing.

Sikorsky has also offered the Armed Black Hawk S-70i package as a contender for the Philippines attack helicopter program, with the Bell AH-1Z and Boeing AH-64E Guardian also in the running.