What’s Next for the Philippines’ New Anti-Submarine Helicopters?

A closer look at what lies ahead for a notable boost for Manila’s capabilities.

What’s Next for the Philippines’ New Anti-Submarine Helicopters?
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Earlier this month, the Philippines received the first of its anti-submarine warfare helicopters. The development spotlighted the progress being made on one of the notable aspects of the Philippines’ wider military modernization that continues to be underway under President Rodrigo Duterte.

As I have noted before in these pages, as Philippine military modernization continues under Duterte, with a mix of continuity and change and amid a range of trends and developments, one of the deals that observers have been watching is the deal that the Philippines had inked with Leonardo for two AW-159 anti-submarine helicopters under the Anti-Submarine Helicopter Acquisition Project. The deal was a significant one in that Manila has thus far lacked an airborne anti-submarine warfare capability.

While the delivery of the helicopters was expected to come last year in line with the original contract, Philippine officials had subsequently suggested that it would occur sometime in May 2019. A number of recent developments had indicated that this timeline would be met, with a recent one being the inspection conducted by a Philippine defense delegation led by navy chief Robert Empedrad in the United Kingdom.

Earlier this month, the spotlight was again on this issue as the Philippines received the helicopters. The helicopters arrived in the Philippines on May 7 after being delivered via a chartered transport aircraft that departed from London, and following their arrival in Manila, they were reportedly transported to Danilo Atienza Air Base in Cavite for reassembly, where they will be based as part of the Naval Aviation Squadron MH-40 Naval Air Group. In his comments following the delivery on May 7, Empedrad characterized them as being a “great leap” for Philippine capabilities, with the ability to detect and confront subsurface threats.

While the delivery itself has been completed, the helicopters are expected to be formally inducted into the Philippine military in the coming weeks. The Philippine military had initially intended for the induction to occur alongside the commemoration of the 121st anniversary of the Philippine Navy, which is slated to occur on May 27.

Thereafter, observers will be looking to see how the helicopters will be utilized by the Philippine military. In comments to reporters following the delivery, Empedrad said that the AW-159s, which can be armed with a range of weaponry, will initially be placed on two of the three Del Pilar-class vessels of the PN. But they are also expected to be assigned with the two new frigates expected to be delivered from South Korea in subsequent years.