Philippines gets US military helicopters after Russia deal dumped

Manila will seek to have at least some of the reported $32m Russian helicopter deal down payment ‘refunded’ by Moscow.

A Boeing CH-47 Chinook helicopter is seen at the ILA Air Show in Berlin, Germany in 2018 [Axel Schmidt/Reuters]
The Boeing CH-47 Chinook helicopter - shown at an air show in Berlin in 2018 - has been mooted as the possible replacement aircraft after the scrapping of the deal with Russia for Mi-17 helicopters [File: Axel Schmidt/Reuters]

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr has said his country will source military helicopters from the United States after scrapping a $215m deal to buy 16 similar heavy-lift helicopters from Russia over fears of sanctions following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

Manila will also seek to have Moscow return at least part of a multimillion-dollar deposit for the now-cancelled batch of Russian Mi-17 helicopters, Marcos Jr said on Thursday, in his first public comments on the touchy issue involving Russia.

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

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

On Wednesday, the Russian ambassador to the Philippines, Marat Pavlov, told local media that his government had not been officially informed of the contract cancellation and considered the helicopter deal valid.

Production continued on fulfilling the order to deliver the Mi-17s, the ambassador said, adding that one had been ready for delivery since June.

A Russian-made Mi-17 heavy-lift helicopter operated by the Pakistan army lands in Islamabad, Pakistan in 2004 [File: AP]

The government of Marcos Jr’s predecessor Rodrigo Duterte signed the deal with Moscow in November 2021, but Duterte backed out of the agreement in the months following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February and the imposition of wide-ranging sanctions on Russia.

Marcos did not specify which US helicopters were chosen as the alternative to the Mi-17s, only that they will be manufactured in Poland.

The Philippine ambassador in Washington, Jose Romualdez, told reporters in August that Manila was looking at Chinooks to replace the Mi-17s.

The Boeing CH-47 Chinook could be the possible replacement for the Mi-17s, which the Philippines requires for combat missions, search and rescue, and medical evacuation, the ambassador said at the time.

The US deal – which matched the price agreed with Russia – would also include maintenance services and parts, terms that were not included in the deal with Russia, defence officials told local media organisation GMA News.

Romualdez had separately told reporters that the decision to cancel the Mi-17 deal was triggered by the Ukraine war as Manila did not want to violate a 2017 US law that sanctions anyone doing business with Russia’s intelligence or defence sectors.

The Philippine News Agency reported on Friday that the down payment paid to Russia was 1.9bn Philippine pesos (some $32m), and a “contract termination review committee” had been established to try and secure a refund from Moscow.

The Philippines is a longtime US ally and began a modest military modernisation programme in 2012.

Under the scrapped Russian helicopter deal, which was signed in November 2021, the first batch of the multi-purpose Mi-17 helicopters was scheduled for delivery by Russia’s Sovtechnoexport in about two years.

Aside from the 16 helicopters, one would have been given free to the Philippines, defence officials said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies