FOR P2.8 billion, the Defense department could have bought attack helicopters that have night-flying capability and advanced weaponry but what was delivered were eight choppers that could hardly fit a machine gun on each side.
Because of this, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said they would call for an investigation on the purchase of eight Sokol combat utility helicopters that were criticized by President Benigno Aquino 3rd during his State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday.
Gazmin said that while the Chief Executive did order an investigation on the controversial choppers, the Defense department would still have to study the matter.
“We will study it,” Gazmin told reporters but begged off to answer other questions surrounding the acquisition.
In an invitation to bid for the aircraft, the DND specified that the attack helicopters should have full night operation capability and complete weapons system and integrated logistics support package.
“These helicopters shall be capable of performing Close Air Support during day and night, and navigate safely during Inadvertent Instrument Meteorological Condition,” it said.
“Furthermore, they shall be equipped with armaments and avionics system highly suitable for said flying operation conditions,” it added.
The Defense chief admitted that the helicopters’ classification is “combat utility helicopter” but they cannot be used in combat because the machine gun need to be removed first before one soldier could board it.
This was the same point raised by President Aquino in his SONA.
Part of the probe would be to determine the price discrepancies between an attack helicopter and one that is used for “utility”
Gazmin said that since the acquired choppers have no combat capability, they would instead be used for search and rescue operations, especially since each aircraft has a dual powerful engine and an auto pilot system.
Records showed that there are eight W-1 Sokol helicopters in the Air Force’s arsenal. They were supplied by Augusta PZL-Swidnik Co. of Poland.
A check on the Internet showed that Sokol’s are not really designed for combat. In many countries, Sokols are used to transport VIPs, cargo, medevac, firefighting and search and rescue.
The Philippines was listed among few countries that retrofitted Sokols for combat operations.
The contract for the aircraft’s acquisition was sealed in 2009 during the time of former Defense secretary Norberto Gonzales.
The delivery of the helicopters, however, was consummated during the time of Gazmin. The first six were delivered last year while the two others arrived in February.
The money used to buy the Sokols was sourced from the national budget and the AFP Modernization Act Trust Fund.