SEOUL — The Philippine Air Force has down-selected the Sikorsky S-70 Black Hawk helicopter to fulfill its need of combat utility helicopters, dashing hopes of other international competitors, including Korea Aerospace Industries with the Surion KUH-1 helicopter, according to Philippine media and South Korean defense industry sources.
Seoul’s arms procurement officials virtually recognized Surion’s defeat in the Philippines utility helicopter program but said they haven’t given up hope. “The Philippine government gave higher grades to the U.S. Black Hawk than the Surion in the evaluations of aircraft performances, but we’re trying hard to sweeten the deal by adding more incentives,” a high-ranking defense official was quoted as saying in the Chosun Ilbo newspaper.
Speaking to Defense News on the phone, a spokesman for the South Korean Defense Acquisition Program Administration said: “We’re still waiting on the final results, as the Philippine government is set to conduct a second round of examinations in the coming weeks.”
The downselect was heralded by Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana during a Dec. 7 media conference on the sidelines of a security forum in Makati City, Philippines.
“I think finally the Air Force technical working group has come up with a recommendation that the Black Hawk is the best option that they will buy," the defense chief was quoted in a Philstar.com report.
The acquisition of utility helicopters for the Philippine Air Force was rebooted in February after the Southeast Asian government canceled a $233 million deal to purchase 16 Bell 412 helicopters from Canada, which expressed concern the aircraft would be used for missions other than search and rescue, and amid allegations of human rights abuses on the island nation.
Since then, the Philippine defense authorities reviewed other candidates, including the KAI-built Surion, the Italian Agusta Westland AW139 and the Russian Mi-171.
“We have limited money for that. We have only $240 million worth and the original priding of this aircraft for the (Bell 412) we can get 16,” Lorenzana said, adding that a final contract would be signed early next year for the 16 Black Hawks.
According to the defense chief, either 10 Surion or Black Hawk helicopters were considered to be acquired within the budget limit, but the U.S. government later offered to finance the balance of the purchase price for the remaining six for a total of 16 through the Foreign Military Sales program.
Lorenzana said Russia offered the second-lowest price, but noted it is “very difficult to pay them because of the U.S. sanctions,” citing a law signed by U.S. President Donald Trump to punish Russia for its 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, Moscow’s support for the Syrian government and the Putin government’s alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections.
Industry sources here believe the fatal crash of a Marineon, a Marine Corps variant of the Surion, in July could gash the bid to sell the Korean utility helicopter overseas for the first time. The Surion is jointly built with Airbus Helicopters.
On July 17, a MUH-1 Marineon crashed during a test flight at an airfield in the southeastern port city of Pohang, killing five of the six marines aboard. Closed-circuit video footage released by the South Korean Marine Corps shows the rotor blades fell apart shortly after takeoff. An investigation team led by the Marine Corps concluded that defects in the main rotor mast had caused the accident.
Jeff Jeong was the South Korea correspondent for Defense News.