MANILA, Philippines - The first four of the eight brand new combat utility helicopters purchased by the Philippine Air Force (PAF) from Poland are expected to be delivered this month. Gen. Eduardo Oban Jr., Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff, confirmed to the delivery of the Polish-made Swienik helicopters but did not say the exact date.
The PAF ordered the helicopters from Poland’s PZL Swidnik after the Polish company won the public bidding in 2008. PZL Swidnik is Poland’s biggest manufacturer of helicopters. The P3-billion order is part of the modernization program of the AFP that involves the acquisition of eight combat utility helicopters and their integrated logistics support package.
The Swidnik utility helicopters can operate in any combat environment and provide organic general support for internal security operations, counter-terrorism, and territorial defense. The acquisition of the helicopters will boost the firepower of the Air Force in its counter-insurgency operations and in the all-out war on terror, particularly the Abu Sayyaf Group and some elements of the Jemaah Islamiyah which have links to the al-Qaeda terror group.
The acquisition of these helicopters is timely because the Air Force badly needs them to support government ground forces during combat operations. The PAF’s main utility helicopters are the ageing UH1-H “Huey” which were acquired from the United States four decades ago. The Air Force has also the MG-520 helicopter gunships acquired more than 20 years ago.
The PAF’s helicopter fleet has been depleted over the years due to crashes and lack of spare parts. Aside from the choppers, the PAF also needs new fighter jets after its F-5 jetfighters were retired in 2004 because of old age. The Swidnik helicopter can carry 14 persons, including the pilot and co-pilot, and has a maximum speed of 260 kilometers per hour and a range of 745 kilometers non-stop.
The Polish-made helicopter is armed with a variety of weapons, air-to-air missiles, air-to-ground rockets, and .50 caliber machine guns. It is also equipped with radar and night vision devices. It can climb to an altitude of 19,680 feet, more than twice that of the “Huey.”
The delivery of the remaining four Swidnik choppers will be made next year.