WASHINGTON, Oct 27 (Mabuhay) — The United States has offered to upgrade at least 12 of the military choppers that the Philippines is acquiring after scrapping a deal to buy heavy-lift aircraft from Russia, an ambassador of Manila said. 

(MNS photo)

The upgrade could be done using the $100 million in foreign military financing (FMF) that the US State Department wants to provide the Philippines after it terminated a deal for 16 Mi-17 helicopters from Russia, said Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel Romualdez. 

It is now up to the Department of Defense whether to accept the US proposal or use the FMF funds for other assets to modernize the Philippine military, he said.

“Heavy-lift is a different type of helicopter. I think the upgrade of this Sikorsky [choppers] will greatly enhance our capability to move troops and of course for disaster operations. That’s the reason why this 100-million dollar FMF program of the United States will really help,” Romualdez said. 

The government of former President Rodrigo Duterte signed the deal for the Russian helicopters worth $216 million. But it backed out in the months following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the imposition of wide-ranging Western sanctions on Moscow. 

In a letter to Duterte on June 26, 2022, then Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said he had accepted the US offer for 13 units of modified heavy lift Black Hawk helicopters for the same amount as the Russian Mi-17 helicopters. 

Last week, local media quoted Russian ambassador to the Philippines Marat Pavlov as saying that Mi-17 deal was still valid as Moscow has yet to receive any official communication on the termination from Manila. But President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said it was dead.

 “We have secured an alternative supply (for heavy-lift helicopters) from the United States,” Marcos, who was elected president in May, told a business forum.

“Unfortunately, we made a down payment (to the Russian manufacturer) that we are hoping to negotiate to get at least a percentage of that back,” he added.

“But the deal as it stood maybe at the beginning of or in the middle of last year has already been cancelled.”

The Philippines is a longtime US ally and began a modest military modernization program in 2012.

Until recently, its equipment included Vietnam War-era helicopters and World War II naval vessels used by the United States. (MNS)