Procurement: Survival On The Cheap

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December 17, 2019: At the end of 2019 the Philippines received a gift from Jordan; two used, but still operational AH-1F helicopter gunships. These cost the Philippines about a million dollars for setting up maintenance capabilities and stocking spare parts. Pilots and maintenance personnel were sent to Jordan for training.

Active duty U.S. Army units stopped using the AH-1F in 1999, and the last reserve units replaced them with AH-64s by 2005. There are still half a dozen other countries using the AF-1F and the U.S. Marine Corps uses the two engine AH-1W/Z version. For low-intensity warfare against Islamic terrorists, drug gangs, the AH-1 is still popular. It is reliable, easy to maintain because it shares many commonalities with the equally durable and popular UH-1. The Philippines has been operating used UH-1s since 2001 and still has 25 in service.

The AH-1 was developed in 1960 from the UH-1. The AH-1 entered service in 1967 and since then over 1,100 have been built. Despite more modern gunships the AH-1 is still being made and is widely used. Variants include the 6.6 ton AH-1W model. Developed by the U.S. Marine Corps, the W model was configured for naval use and has two engines plus protection against seawater corrosion. Like most other AH-1 models the AH-1W has a crew of two and is armed with a 20mm autocannon and can carry eight TOW missiles or 38 70mm unguided rockets. Typical sorties last about three hours (twice that of the AH-1F). Many users equip their gunships with night vision (thermal imaging) equipment.

The 4.4 ton AH-1Fs are single-engine helicopters based on the original AH-1 that entered service in the late 1960s. AH-1s are armed with a three-barrel 20mm automatic cannon and 750 rounds of ammo. Also carried are four TOW or eight Hellfire missiles. The AH-1F can also carry unguided rockets or Sidewinder air-to-air missiles. Most importantly, the AH-1F is equipped for night operations. It has a crew of two and stays in the air for about 90 minutes per sortie. Max speed is about 270 kilometers an hour, and cruising speed is about two-thirds that. The aircraft also can carry countermeasures for anti-aircraft missiles.

In 2018 the Philippines canceled plans to buy Russian helicopters because of the sanctions on Russia. Earlier that year Canada also ceased to be a supplier of transport helicopters because many Canadians opposed the way the Filipinos were dealing with their rebels and drug gangs. The Russians were going to replace Canada as the main helicopter supplier. Instead, the new transport helicopters (16 UH-60s) are now on order from the United States and eight or ten helicopter gunships (T129s) from Turkey. The Turkey deal ran into problems with the United States because American firms supply the engines for the T129 and the U.S. is hesitant to support T129 exports given the fact that Turkey, a NATO member, is buying air defense systems from Russia and has become less reliable about protesting NATO plans and related technical information. As an alternative to the T-129 the U.S. is proposing second-hand AH-1W/Z gunships, which are more capable than the AH-1F but similar in operation and maintenance.

The Philippines has managed to get a lot done with a miniscule defense budget and the use of second-hand, but still serviceable, aircraft and warships. Because of the problems with China in the South China Sea regional allies like Japan and Australia donated used aircraft and ships. The U.S. had already been doing that and former U.S. Coast Guard cutters, which are the size of frigates, have been upgraded to frigate armament and donated to the Philippines. These are now the largest warships in the Filipino fleet.

 


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