By GENALYN KABILING
SEOUL – The Philippine government is looking into the possible purchase of 10 to 12 Surion utility helicopters from South Korea to augment its military air fleet.
National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said the government could buy utility helicopters from South Korea using the funds from the botched acquisition of Bell helicopters from Canada.
“We’re evaluating. The Air Force has a technical working group (to study the helicopter acquisition),” Esperon said in Filipino during a media interview here.
“I’m not looking at the price. We’re considering what we really need. If we bought 16 Bell 412 helicopters, it could be equivalent to 10 to 12 Surion. The Surion helicopter is bigger. It can accommodate 16 passengers while Bell can carry seven,” he added.
Asked if the helicopters could be delivered within the year, Esperon said: “I hope.”
The KUH-1 Surion helicopter, a twin-engine transport utility helicopter, was developed primarily by Korea’s sole aircraft maker, Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI). The helicopters have been used for military and non-military missions since it were brought to market in 2013.
Before flying back to Manila Tuesday, the President inspected some defense equipment in the Korean aircraft manufacturer during a private visit. Duterte earlier said he was considering the helicopter purchase from South Korea after a bungled aircraft deal with Canada.
Esperon said he has proven the quality of Korean defense equipment, citing he once led the purchase of 110 military trucks from the Asian neighbor.
“Today, because of the re-order, because it was performed well, we now have 2,100 trucks. It was a repeat order,” he said.
Early this year, the President ordered the military to cancel the $233-million procurement contract for 16 Bell helicopters from Canada after its government sought a review of the deal on human rights issues.
Duterte complained about the conditions set by Canada with helicopter purchase, particularly not to use the aircraft in combat operations, saying the government would instead shop for aircraft elsewhere.