MELBOURNE, Australia ― The Philippines has confirmed it is to receive used U.S.-built Cobra helicopter gunships donated by Jordan, marking the first time the country will operate dedicated attack helicopters.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte confirmed the donation of the helicopters in remarks reported by the official Philippine government news wire service. Duterte was speaking at an event marking the 120th anniversary of the Philippine Navy.
The helicopters are Bell AH-1F Cobra gunships currently used by the Royal Jordanian Air Force and were offered to the Philippines sometime in 2017. According to sources in the Philippines, officials from the Department of National Defense inspected the helicopters in Jordan in June last year.
The sources also told Defense News that Jordan had initially offered to donate four helicopters to the southeast Asian country, although this was later reduced to two. Jordan had earlier donated at least three Cobra helicopter gunships to Kenya from its fleet of almost 50 Cobras, which include ex-U.S. Army helicopters acquired in 2001 and 15 more from neighboring Israel in 2015.
The AH-1F Cobras being donated to the Philippines are capable of utilizing guided anti-tank missiles. The country has already taken delivery of the Israeli Rafael Spike Extended Range missile for its Navy’s fast-attack craft and selected the Spike Non Line Of Sight for its Leonardo AW159 Wildcat naval helicopters,
As such, integrating the Spike, which is already being used on Israel’s Cobra helicopters, would appear to be the likely route for the Philippines when funding is available.
The Philippines has been battling insurgencies on several fronts, including a five-month-long battle with Islamic State-linked militants who seized control of the city of Marawi in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao in May 2017.
The military took back the city after a protracted urban battle with the help of manned and unmanned surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft from the U.S. and Australia, although large parts of the city remain in ruin and is uninhabitable.
During the battle, the Philippine Air Force conducted airstrikes using fixed-wing aircraft along with Leonardo A109E utility and Hughes MD-520MG light-attack helicopters, although the use of unguided bombs, rockets and gunfire resulted in several instances of friendly fire casualties when troops were accidentally hit by airstrikes while in close contact with the militants.
Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News.