Explosive Ordnance Disposal Task Force Seven Zero fast ropes from an MH-60S, attached to the “Golden Falcons” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 12 aboard the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Shiloh (CG 67) during a refueling at sea. Shiloh is attached to Commander, Task Force 70/Carrier Strike Group 5 conducting underway operations in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific. (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Rawad Madanat)

While they are being touted by the Philippines military, as being essential for humanitarian assistance and disaster response operations in the Covid era, we all know what Blackhawk helicopters can do, especially if they are fitted with weapons.

And it’s no secret, that the country is fighting an Islamic insurgency on Mindanao, where fighting continues to this day.

Meanwhile, five more Polish-made Blackhawk utility helicopters have arrived in the Philippines as part of the military’s modernization program, the Manila Times reported.

Lt. Col. Maynard Mariano, Philippine Air Force spokesman, announced on Tuesday that the S-60i Blackhawk helicopters arrived on Monday, June 7, at Clark Air Base, Pampanga aboard a Russian Antonov transport plane.

“With the latest delivery, the PAF now has 11 Blackhawk utility helicopters,” Mariano said in a statement to reporters.

The third batch composed of five more Blackhawk helicopters are slated for delivery before the end of this year, he added. The first batch, with six helicopters, was delivered late last year, the report said.

Mariano described the Blackhawks as the “best in its class of multi-mission utility helicopters and can be applied, with suitable equipment, to meet a variety of missions.”

“The recent arrival of the five Blackhawks will further boost the heli-lift capability of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and will help the government deliver more services in more areas in less time,” Mariano said.

The Blackhawks were part of the 16-unit aircraft acquired by the PAF from Polish company Polskie Zaklady Lotnicze which were manufactured by Sikorsky USA.

In addition to approving the acquisition of 15 Black Hawk helicopters, President Rodrigo Duterte, also ordered all Huey helicopters’ decommissioning following fatal crashes, including the crash in Bukidnon last month, which killed seven.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana earlier ordered the grounding of all UH-1H “Huey” helicopters of the PAF.

In December 2020 the PAF inducted into service the first six of 16 S-70i Black Hawk helicopters in a ceremony that was also attended by Secretary of National Defense Delfin Lorenzana (seen here). Credit: Courtesy PAF.

The acquisition project, which was part of the second “Horizon” modernization program, has a total contract price of U$241,461 and was sealed through a government to government (G2G) transaction in 2019, the report said.

The first six units of the Blackhawks were delivered in November 2020 and were used to transport vaccines and personal protective equipment (PPEs) to the remotest areas of Batanes, Bicol, and other parts of the country.

These can also be used in combat mission, humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HADR) operations, Mariano noted.

“The recent arrival of the five Blackhawks will further boost the heli-lift capability of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and will help the government deliver more services in more areas in less time,” he said.

The arrival of the second batch of Blackhawks from Poland would also make the air force “a better partner in the fight against the pandemic and a reliable ally in nation building,” he said.

“Since their acquisition, our Blackhawk S-70is have greatly boosted the operational readiness of the PAF in both combat and non-combat missions,” National Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said last month.

“Their larger capacity and impressive horsepower allows for a faster and long-range transport,” he said.

Newly arrived Blackhawk helicopters from Sikorsky USA in Poland sit in a hangar, awaiting unpacking and service with the Philippine Air Force at Clark Air Base. Credit: Handout.

The CUH program (Combat Utility Helicopter), was rebooted by the Philippine Air Force (PAF), in 2018 following the Department of National Defense’s (DND’s) decision to terminate a contract to procure 16 Bell 412EPI medium-lift helicopters from Canada through a deal valued at US$232 million.

The administration of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ordered a review after expressing concern that the Bell helicopters would be used in offensive campaigns against insurgents such as the New People’s Army (NPA) Islamist terrorists (ISS), both listed as international terrorists.

In hindsight, it seems rather naive of the Liberal government, not to have realized the helicopters could be used for combat.

Then again, the young prime minister has lurched from one political disaster, to the next.

According to the National Post, the Philippine government never hid its intention to use the Canadian-built helicopters in military operations, even going as far as displaying the first batch of those choppers armed with machine guns during an official ceremony in 2015 attended by Canada’s ambassador.

As a result, the delay angered President Duterte and puzzled Filipino officials, according to local media, as both the NPA and ISIS groups have been very active in the country, destroying the entire city of Marawi in the process.

An attempt by the Philippine military to capture the former Abu Sayyaf leader, Isnilon Hapilon, the head of a southern militia who has pledged loyalty to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, led to a bloody five-month struggle.

In stepped Sikorsky with an offer the Philippines could not refuse, leaving the Canadians red-faced and Bell helicopter Canada in the lurch.

Meanwhile, the Trudeau government would go on to blame the previous Conservative government for initiating the deal.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters on Mindanao have proven difficult to defeat; nearly one thousand people reportedly have died in battle, and the government has claimed several times that the militants were almost eliminated only to find this was untrue.

The casualties stem in part from the Philippine military’s lack of training and the difficultly of fighting on the complex terrain in the south, both in urban and rural areas.

(Editor’s update on June 28/21: A recently delivered Philippine Black Hawk assault helicopter crashed during a night training exercise north of Manila, killing all six air force personnel on board, officials said.)

Sources: The Manila Times, Manila Bulletin, Asian Defence, Council on Foreign Relations, Depensa.org, Inquirer.net, Jane’s Defense News, The Conversation, National Post