MELBOURNE, Australia — The Philippine government has cleared the way for its Air Force to acquire more Polish-built Black Hawk helicopters amid efforts to replace the aging fleet of Vietnam War-era Huey helicopters.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte approved the acquisition of the helicopters in early February, according to an announcement by Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles on Thursday, with the government saying the purchase would “slowly address the growing heli-lift deficiency.”

Nograles also said the approval was for 15 helicopters, although he added that the figure was indicative and dependent on available funding.

However, the news portal Inquirer.net quoted Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana as saying on Monday that the approval was for 32 more Black Hawks, potentially bringing the Air Force’s fleet of helicopters to 48 Black Hawks.

The Southeast Asian country already has 16 S-70i Black Hawks on order, with the first five delivered in November 2020 and the last helicopter to be delivered this year. These were ordered under a $241 million contract between the two governments signed in 2019.

The helicopters are manufactured by Poland’s PZL Mielec, a subsidiary of American firm Lockheed Martin, which also owns Sikorsky, the original manufacturer of the Black Hawk.

Acquiring more Black Hawks will allow the Philippines to retire its fleet of Bell UH-1 Huey helicopters, a design that dates back to the 1960s and has suffered from a spate of crashes and accidents over the past year, resulting in the deaths of 12 crew members and soldiers.

The most recent crash in January saw seven killed when a Huey crashed during a resupply mission, leading to the grounding of the entire fleet.

The transport helicopters perform vital day-to-day missions in the Philippines, which is an archipelago made up of more than 7,400 islands, most of which have poor transport infrastructure and are prone to natural disasters such as earthquakes and typhoons.

The country also has to contend with a number of insurgencies, mainly against communist and separatist forces, in various parts of the country.

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