08 Juli 2011

Brunei to Replace Ageing Choppers

08 Juli 2011

Blackhawk helicopters of the RBAF (photo : Azrol Azmi)

BRUNEI will be upgrading its ageing fleet of military helicopters, with four companies invited to compete for the bid to supply the rotorcraft.

The first phase of the project, to be announced on Monday, will see the replacement of "one mission" of the Royal Brunei Air Force's (RBAirF) 10 Bell helicopters, the permanent secretary of defence (administration and finance) told The Brunei Times yesterday.

Hjh Suriyah Hj Umar said the replacement of the country's military choppers will be done systematically until the year 2020.

Hjh Suriyah said the priority will be upgrading the three-decade-old choppers first, while replacing the rest will be part of the next phase of the project.

RBAirF will be "down-selecting" the bidders to two companies on Monday, she said.

"Some of them (the Bell helicopters have) reached 30 years already, so it's about time we replace it," she said. "We are hoping it will be a project that will be signed probably by the end of the year."

The permanent secretary said the 10 choppers were used for "troop lift, search and rescue, (and) special operations".

Huey helicopter of the RBAF (photo : Azrol Azmi)

The RBAirF has about 20 helicopters, according to an unofficial source.

"Most of our helicopters are ageing. The latest helicopter procured was the Black Hawk but even that is more than 12 years (old)," Hjh Suriyah said.

Brunei has the S70a Black Hawks in the air force's squadrons, said Linda Scott, Asia regional sales manager of Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation, the manufacturer of the renowned medium-lift helicopters.

Scott said Sikorsky was "well aware" of Brunei's intention to upgrade its helicopter fleet. It is one of the four competing in the bid.

"We have offered the S70i International Black Hawk, which is a much more modernised version of what you have today," she said in a separate interview at the Sikorsky booth at BRIDEX hall.

The S70i was also the same Black Hawk model that the US military was using, she said."

On a performance standpoint, the Black Hawk in general is clearly one of the most combat-proven helicopters of its class worldwide. The amount of countries that are procuring the aircraft shows you the popularity and what the aircraft actually does for various defence forces throughout the world.

"Although the S70i shared the same airframe as its predecessor, Scott said the newer version had "enhanced power and capability" that was suitable for Brunei's hot and humid climate, "particularly if there is enhanced oversea, maritime operations".

It was in the "all-glass" cockpit that Sikorsky was said to have made its "biggest advancement" with the avionics, or the helicopter's electronics system, which Scott said was custom-programmable.

She added that the upgrade of the helicopter fleet was part of the new Defence White Paper 2011, which was released yesterday during the opening of the BRIDEX 2011.

The Defence White Paper said that a flight of at least four medium-lift helicopters were maintained at "full preparedness".

"Apart from the ground force's fleet of wheeled vehicles, the core mobility assets are the Bell 212 and 214 medium-lift helicopters, which are capable of company group lift and the Navy's landing craft," the 45-page document said.

"Those capabilities are essential to the rapid deployment and support of forces operating in the nation's hinterland. They are now reaching operational life-of-type and early replacement is required to support operational reliability and contain maintenance costs."

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