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Monday, October 4, 2010

Ill-equipped Philippine military to acquire 26 planes, helicopters from Italy, Poland

The Philippine air force will acquire 26 trainer and combat utility aircraft from Italy and Poland to bolster its capability to carry out anti-insurgency attacks and respond to disasters, an official said Sunday.

The underfunded Philippine military, among Asia's weakest, has been struggling for years to modernize its navy, air and ground forces, which have been battling decades-long communist and Muslim insurgencies.

Italy's Agusta will deliver four of 18 SF-260F two-seater training planes this month. The rest will be turned over in batches in the next several months, air force spokesman Lt. Col. Miguel Ernesto Okol said.

Acquired for 632 million pesos ($14.4 million) more than a year ago, the 18 SF-260Fs will ease a backlog in trainer planes, which are used to teach air force recruits basic navigational skills, formation and night flying, Okol said.

The government is finalizing a deal with Poland's Swidnik for the purchase of eight combat utility helicopters, which could be delivered as early as next year, Okol said.

Details of the deal were not immediately available.

Called Sokol or Falcon, the Swidnik helicopters will complement the air force's fleet of Vietnam War-era Huey helicopters, currently its main troop and cargo carriers, he said.

The Philippines also has begun a bid to acquire eight new attack helicopters and a C-130 cargo plane, Okol said, adding it remains unclear when a deal can be reached.

Only one C-130 plane is currently in use by the air force. Two others have been grounded for regular maintenance, he said.

An air force C-130 aircraft crashed at sea after taking off in stormy weather in southern Davao city in 2008, killing all 11 people on board.

Philippine military chief Lt. Gen. Ricardo David recently lamented the country's weak military, which he said could not even adequately patrol the Spratly Islands that it claims in the South China Sea.

With antiquated planes and ships, the Philippine military's capability in the disputed areas is "almost negligible," he said in a news conference in August.

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