PAF Bell UH-1 Huey (all photos : Tim Q Maceren)
Defense Undersecretary for Finance, Munitions, and Materiel Fernando Manalo maintains that there is nothing irregular with the procurement of 21 refurbished UH-1 helicopters for P1.26 billion from Rice Aircraft Services, Inc.
Manalo issued the statement in wake of claims that the helicopters were defective and not fit for flying missions.
“The procurement of 21 helicopters is in the implementation stage as of now,” he said, adding that all 21 helicopters have been delivered.
Seven of the 21 helicopters, he added are now operational and mission-ready, with another one undergoing testing for acceptance. The remaining 13 are reportedly in various stages of testing and assembly.
This despite a stipulation in the contract that “delivery of all 21 second hand UH-1 helicopters should be made within 180 days upon opening the letter of credit.”
The choppers were not also refurbished at the facility of Eagle Copters in Canada but were shipped from the RASI facility in California, USA to the port of Manila then hauled to Clark, according to a Manila Bulletin source.
The supplier has yet to complete delivery of the 21 refurbished UH-1 choppers.
“We will never accept a delivery that is disadvantageous to the government and not compliant with the terms of reference enumerated,” he stressed, noting that the seven delivered units is fully compliant with the terms of reference in the checklist.
“The helicopters were delivered and since it’s knock down which is part of the contract, we allowed the supplier to assemble the helicopters (in Clark),” Manalo added.
But a senior Air Force official privy to the deal said some of the UH-1D helicopters delivered to the Philippine Air Force (PAF) have limited use due to some defects, thereby defeating the purpose of its acquisition which is to support military operations.
“Based on what I heard from the ground . . . it has limited use due to the aircraft’s sensitivity to foreign object,” the PAF official said.
“So. . . you can’t use them for field operations. It can’t support the troops. It defeats the purpose why the government bought these aircrafts.”
Another source privy to the helicopter deal said the reason for the limited use of the helicopters is because “the UH-1D units that were delivered are non-compliant with the project contract’s terms of reference (TOR). These are non-NVG (night vision goggles) compatible, with non-crashworthy fuel cell and not self-sealing fuel cell.”
“All 21 units, if delivered, shall require another procurement on the part of the government to make those units fully operational and mission capable,” said the source.
“Another unnecessary spending of taxpayers money. All units should have been fully operational and mission capable upon delivery,” he added.
The UH-1D is older than the UH-1H which the PAF is using. And allegedly, while the UH-1D is cheaper, the maintenance and safety costs would be greater than that of the UH-1H model.
Also, UH-1D models “are copies made by Dornier of Germany” which no longer manufacture parts making it difficult for the Air Force to looks for parts in case of a breakdown.
“UH-1D is inferior to the UH-1H,” the source added. “UH-1Ds have inferior particle separator. If the particle separator is inferior, the engine may be exposed when you are operating in a dirty environment. It may damage the turbine blade.”
“They are giving additional burden to the PAF instead of support to enhance the Air Force’s capability. All units that had been turned over to the PAF raised discrepancies immediately after a few hours flying time,” the official said.
“Meantime, four of the eight UH-1 units that are now with PAF can only be used for training purposes while the other eight units shall serve as display units,” claimed the source.
“This model is using Bell spare parts specifically designed for UH-1H, thus there is always an issue of safety,” he stated.
Meanwhile, the Bulletin source said that while the project is already long overdue for termination since November 2014, “no termination has been made by the defense department and that the DND is in fact still allowing the supplier to deliver the helicopters despite of the violations, which are disadvantageous to the government.”
April 15 Deadline
But Manalo said the choppers have “complied with the requirement for test drive, it was submitted for technical submission and acceptance and the end user is doing the procedure to determine if the helicopter being delivered is compliant with terms of reference.”
When asked if there was a violation of the contract, Manalo said: “We never violated any regulation in the procurement law in the purchase of the helicopter.”
Asked why the helicopters that were delivered were UH-1D model, Manalo said, “there was no promise that it was UH-1H. The contract is for UH-1. It might have been stated as UH-1H but it was a common misconception. there are several UH 1 it could be M it could be Y.”
Manalo said that the UH-1 Bell helicopter who manufactured the aircraft no longer manufactures but there are companies that can provide for its sustainability. “We still receive spares from suppliers that are source certified by the United States,” he said.
Manalo said they are giving the supplier until April 15 to complete the turnover of all 21 helicopters.
“If there is an agency that will run after us then I will accept my fate,” Manalo added.