MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines is talking to Japan about acquiring spare parts for its UH-1H “Huey” helicopters, the air force commander said on Monday, after a deal for new Canadian choppers collapsed this year.
The $96 million parts package would keep about 80 U.S.-made Bell utility helicopters flying until 2020 when the Philippines expects to take delivery of new aircraft, Lieutenant-General Galileo Kintanar, the air force chief, told Reuters.
Japan eased a decades-old arms export ban in 2014, allowing for weapons exports and participation in joint arms programs when they serve international peace and Japan’s security.
Two years later, the Philippines agreed to lease from Japan five TC-90 aircraft to help patrol the disputed South China Sea, where China is expanding its military presence.
Kintanar said an agreement for the helicopter parts would be finalised in the third quarter of this year.
President Rodrigo Duterte canceled a deal in February to buy 16 new Bell 412 EPI helicopters worth $233 million from Canada, whose government expressed concern they could be used to fight rebels.
The new aircraft would have begun to replace the second-hand Vietnam War-era Huey helicopters that are the workhorse of the Philippine air force.
Since then, the Philippines military has said China, Russia, South Korea and Turkey have shown interest in selling new helicopters to Manila.
“We will definitely sign a contract for the brand-new combat utility helicopters this year,” Kintanar said, without giving more details.
The new helicopters are expected to be delivered by 2020.
($1 = 51.8910 Philippine pesos)
Reporting by Manuel Mogato Editing by Martin Petty and Darren Schuettler