19 September 2010

PAF Helicopter Purchases, Complete With Arms Package

19 September 2010

W-3WA Sokol helicopter (photo : Airliners)

Air Force acquires 8 Polish-made attack helicopters

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – The capability of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) will be enhanced with the purchase of eight Polish-made attack helicopters.

PAF chief Lt. Gen. Oscar Rabena announced yesterday that the Air Force has already acquired eight brand new Sokol W-3WA Falcon helicopters from the PZL Swidnik Co. of Poland.

Rabena said the helicopters, purchased at a cost of P2.8 billion, are all heavily equipped.

Rabena said the twin-engine combat helicopters would be delivered early next year.

PAF spokesman Lt. Col. Miguel Ernesto Okol said the delivery of the helicopters would also include the training of the pilots and proper use of the weaponry for crewmen.

Okol said Sokol Falcon helicopter has weapons that include a GSz-23L gun, Strzala-2 AAMs missiles and Gad fire-control system.

The helicopter is also equipped with night vision capability, compatible instrumentation and armored seats that protect crewmembers from small arms fire.

He said the other helicopter units would be equipped with starboard-mounted 23mm GSz-23 twin-barrel gun; Mars-2 launchers for sixteen 57mm S-5 or 80mm S-8 unguided rockets, ZR-8 bomblet dispensers, Platan mine laying packs, and six cabin window mounted AK 47, 5.45mm Tantal or PKM machine guns.

Okol said the helicopters could be used for rescue missions.

A lawmaker, on the other hand, raised alarm yesterday over the possibility that the purchase of the helicopters was rigged.

Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Teodoro Casiño claimed there are “tell-tale signs” of anomalies in the transaction.

Casiño raised the issue yesterday during the budget deliberations for the AFP at the House committee on appropriations.

During the hearing, military officials revealed that only one bidder, PZL Swidnik Co., participated in the bidding and eventually bagged the contract to supply the helicopters at P3,180,169,000.

Military officials said the bidding was held last Sept. 9 at AFP headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo.

The helicopter purchase is a project under the AFP Capability Upgrade Program funded by the annual P5-billion AFP Modernization Fund.

Upon questioning by Casiño, AFP officials admitted the P3.2-billion budget was originally intended to purchase 14 attack helicopters.

In December 2009, then defense secretary Norberto Gonzales announced the acquisition was down to eight W-3 Sokol combat utility helicopters worth P2.8 billion.

But in last week’s bidding, the number of units had gone down to seven while the cost increased to P3.2 billion.

Casiño said it was suspicious that five of the six interested bidders backed out of the bidding process.

These included such big names in the industry like Boeing, Asia Aerospace/MD Helicopter Inc., Eurocopter, Elbit System/Joavi Phils. and the Russian Federation.

“When only one bidder qualifies in any bid process, that is usually a tell-tale sign that the bidding is tailored-fit for one supplier,” he said.

“You don’t usually back out of a P3-billion contract unless you know it’s a futile exercise, meaning the bidding is rigged in some way,” Casiño said.

He said it defies logic that only one bidder can satisfy the requirements set by the Department of National Defense and the PAF.

“It would be interesting to know why these reputable companies did not participate,” he said.

Under further questioning from the lawmakers, Defense department Bids and Awards Committee chairman Ernesto Boac admitted the bid documents were not projected via overhead projector for all participants to see during the Sept. 9 public bidding procedure, unlike in previous bid openings.

When Casiño asked if PZL Swidnik had won contracts in the past under similar circumstances, Boac replied the company was also the sole bidder in another contract for helicopters sometime last year but could not recall the details.

“The AFP officials could not satisfactorily answer questions pertaining to the bidding process of these attack helicopters. We have therefore requested them to furnish Congress pertinent documents,” Casiño said.

Casiño also warned of another bid opening set on Sept. 23, 2010 for the purchase of multi-purpose helicopters and C-130 aircraft worth P2.5 billion.

He said these purchases might be put in peril given the questionable circumstances of the Sept. 9 bidding.

“The information reaching my office is that no one wants to participate in the bidding anymore due to the fear that there is already a favored company who will be qualified,” Casiño said.

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