Philippines gets 4 new Polish helicopters
AP March 10, 2012, 12:02 am TWN
MANILA, Philippines -- The Philippine military received on Friday four of eight Polish multi-role helicopters worth about US$66 million as part of a modernization program for one of Asia's most poorly-equipped armed forces.
The new W-3 Sokol helicopters will be used for combat support as well as disaster relief missions, Philippine Air Force commander Maj. Gen. Lauro Catalino dela Cruz said in turnover ceremonies at the former U.S. Clark Air Base north of Manila.
The four other twin-engine Sokols will be delivered by November, he said.
Dela Cruz said the helicopters will be based on the main island of Luzon while Filipino pilots and mechanics are trained by the supplier, Poland's PZL-Swidnik SA.
He said there were no immediate plans to deploy the helicopters to the South China Sea region southwest of Manila where the Philippines, China and four other Asian nations have conflicting territorial claims over oil- and gas-rich areas.
"The lack of equipment has always been our handicap, but despite that we never put our guards down and instead focused on our strength — the talent of our people," dela Cruz said. "Sometimes the joke hurts that we only have air but no force, but eventually this will be a thing of the past."
The helicopters will "surely boost" the Air Force's "capabilities, mobility, firepower and accuracy, communications, survivability and the ability to detect threat elements," Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said.
He said that while the military awaits additional aircraft, "we should be contended and happy with what we can afford within the humble means of our nation's limited resources."
The Air Force currently has 40 Vietnam War-era UH1H helicopters, 18 MG-520 helicopter gunships, two Italian S211 jets with three undergoing repairs, plus about a dozen turboprop OV-10 attack and observation planes, said spokesman Lt. Col. Miguel Ernesto Okol. One C-130 transport aircraft is in service and two are undergoing repairs expected to be completed this year, he added.
The Philippines has been fighting a decades-long communist insurgency and al-Qaida-linked militants with military assistance largely from the United States, its longtime ally, and rarely acquires arms and equipment from other countries.
Manila last year said it will seek 12 F-16 fighter jets from Washington amid its simmering territorial dispute with Beijing.
Washington has provided a Coast Guard cutter to the Philippines and agreed to send another one this year. Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said in December the Philippines is looking to acquire a third cutter.
Del Rosario then said the Philippines wants to build "a minimum credible defense posture and the U.S. has expressed their willingness to help us."
In lieu of radars to monitor the South China Sea, a long-range patrol plane is "already in the pipeline," dela Cruz said. He did not give details of the aircraft.
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