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Heavy Lift Helicopter Acquisition Project of the Philippine Air Force

The Philippine Air Force (PAF) has embarked on the acquisition of Heavy Lift Helicopters as part of its 2nd List of Horizon 2 Phase projects.

This project will provide the PAF with larger helicopters than what it currently has, to fit certain combat and peacetime requirements in tactical airlift and heliborne operations.

The CH-47F Chinook, the latest variant of the Chinook heavy helicopter family. Photo credits to Boeing.


Project Summary:

Heavy Lift Helicopter Acquisition Project:

Note: Edited as of 15 November 2022.

* End User: Philippine Air Force (still being determined if 205th Tactical Helicopter Wing or 220th Airlift Wing)

* Quantity: 16 units (plus potential 1 free unit), for re-evaluation as of June 2022.

* Modernization Phase: Horizon 2 Priority Projects of RAFPMP

* Project ABC: Php12,800,000,000.00

* Acquisition Mode: Originally Government-to-Government (G2G) Procurement with Russian government (Sovtechnoexport), cancelled and for re-evaluation as of June 2022.

* Source of Funding: Multi-Year Contractual Authority for 3 years, using General Appropriations Act (GAA) from FY2020 to FY2022.

* SARO Release: 
    - SARO-BMB-D-20-0018320 worth Php1,919,626,490.00 (15% initial payment) dated 29 October 2020, released 04 November 2020, placed on hold.
    - new SARO with same amount released on 27 May 2021, confirmed to have been paid to Russia's Sovetechnoexport.

* Winning Proponent: Originally awarded to Sovtechnoexport on behalf of Russian Helicopters,cancelled and for re-evaluation as of June 2022. 

* Product for Delivery: 

    - Originally 16 Mil Mi-171, exact variant still being confirmed although most like Mi-171Sh, plus unconfirmed report of 1 Mil Mi-171 in VIP configuration, most likely Mi-171A2. Cancelled and for re-evaluation as of June 2022.

* Contract Price: Php12,797,509,932.00, cancelled.

* Residual Price: Php2,490,068.00, cancelled.

* First post by MaxDefense: 28 June 2019

* MaxDefense Searching Hashtag:

* Status:  SARO for initial 15% funding was released on 04 November 2020, but was put on hold due to unspecified issues believed to be related to CAATSA. New funding for 15% initial payment released on 27 May 2021, with contract signing expected by 3rd quarter 2021. Defense Sec. Lorenzana confirmed on 24 February 2022 that the initial payment has been made to Russia on January 2022, confirming NOA and Contract has been signed and released as of November 2021. Project was cancelled as of June 2022 by former Pres. Duterte according to former SND Delfin Lorenzana due to fear of US sanctions. American alternatives are being re-considered, specifically Boeing CH-47 Chinook, although it is also possible for the DND/PAF to use the funds for additional S-70i Black Hawk helicopters, or the larger S-92 Superhawk.



The Philippine Air Force has been eyeing heavy lift helicopters since the 1970s, with the Boeing CH-47 Chinook already being considered during modernization programs for the last 40 years.

In 1978, the US government actually considered selling the CH-47D Chinook, which was a new variant back then, in lieu of a request for 36 units of DHC-5 Buffalo medium lift aircraft. According to US declassified reports, if contract was signed for the CH-47D Chinook, they were projected to enter service with the PAF by 1981. But this did not push through due to the Philippine economy's poor performance.

The CH-47D Chinook of the Spanish Army. Photo credits to original source.

The 1995 AFP Modernization Program also listed a requirement for Heavy Lift Helicopters, with a total of 4 units requested to enter between 1995 to 2010. The CH-47D Chinook was also eyed by the PAF to meet this requirement. Again, due to the poor performance of the Philippine economy, the entire program did not push through, including the acquisition of  Heavy Lift Helicopters.

A requirement for Heavy Lift Helicopters again surfaced when the AFP Modernization Program was revised and extended to cover years 2013 to 2027. But it was programmed to be included in the Horizon 3 phase of the new project.

Since the AFP and DND have an option to frontload projects depending on requirements, the Heavy Lift Helicopter Acquisition Project was moved to the 2nd List of Horizon 2 phase, which is an offshoot of the Horizon 2 phase depending if the government has extra funds available to frontload Horizon 3 projects.

Again, the CH-47 Chinook family was in eyed by the Philippine Air Force, this time a newer variant called the CH-47F being available fresh from the factory. Other helicopters were also considered including the AgustaWestland AW101, as well as Medium Helicopters like the Airbus H225M Caracal, and the Russian Helicopters Mil Mi-171Sh Hip.

Also considered was the AgustaWestland AW101 Merlin. This example is with the Danish Air Force. Photo taken from Wikipedia.

Originally, the PAF's Technical Working Group decided that the CH-47F Chinook was the only helicopter that met the PAF's requirements for heavy lift helicopters, which made it closer for the PAF to acquire the CH-47F Chinook.

The CH-47F Chinook, these examples with the Indian Air Force. Photo credits to IAF.

But it appears that this was overturned by the Department of National Defense (DND), which asked the PAF to reconsider its specifications due to political reasons. According to MaxDefense Philippines, the president himself could be involved in the decision of the DND to push the PAF to reconsider.

It was reported by MaxDefense Philippines that Pres. Rodrigo Duterte was not in favor of the Philippine Air Force and DND's decision to select the Sikorsky S-70i Black Hawk for its Combat Utility Helicopter requirements, wherein 16 units were ordered for less than Php13 billion. But in the end, the president allowed the deal with Sikorsky to push through under one condition - that the PAF should also order helicopters from Russia, either transport or attack helicopters, or both.

With the PAF in a tight situation, the Heavy Lift Helicopter project was again re-evaluated with changes in the specifications, and it was recommended in the end that the Mil Mi-171 meets the PAF's revised requirements and is the most ideal due to the number of helicopters (quantity) the Russians have agreed to sell based on the Php12.8 billion budget.

While Russia agreed to sell 16 Mil Mi-171 helicopters, with a potential donation of 1 Mi-171 helicopter for VIP requirements, apparently Boeing was only able to offer 4 units under Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program, or 5 units under Direct Commercial Sales (DCS) program.

The Mil Mi-171, this example with the Russian Army. Photo taken from Avia Russia.

Negotiations with Russia's Rosoboronexport commenced in 2018, although issues related to the US' Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) was deemed to be an obstacle to a deal being reached between the DND and Rosoboronexport.

It was noted that as of March 2019, a new Russian state shell company SOVTECHNOEXPORT appears to be the one handling the deal between the Philippines DND and Russia on the potential acquisition of the Mil Mi-171 helicopter.

As of 3rd quarter 2020, a Notice of Award (NOA) was awarded in favor of the Russian government, although it remains to be seen if it was through SOVTECHNOEXPORT or ROSOBORONEXPORT.

But due to recent global events, specifically the Russian Invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022, sanctions against Russia and those who support Russia by buying their arms and equipment has become too strong that it was decided by the Philippine Government under former President Rodrigo Duterte last June 2022 to cancel the contract with Russia.

As of August 2022, it was confirmed that the DND and PAF are re-looking at offers made by the US to supply Boeing CH-47 Chinook, as confirmed by Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez.

U P D A T E S:

20 June 2018:

Russian media outlet Sputnik reported that National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon talked to them on matters, including plans to acquire the Russian Helicopters Mil Mi-171 helicopter, which also goes in line with an earlier interview by Sputnik with Defense Usec. Cardozo Luna.

Previously, MaxDefense reported that the Medium and even the Heavy Helicopter Acquisition plans by the Philippine Air Force were already given an in-principle approval by Pres. Duterte on one condition - that they be bought from the Russians, specifically the Mil Mi-171Sh. This was despite the PAF being more in favor of going for the Sikorsky S-92 Superhawk and the Boeing CH-47E Chinook for the medium and heavy helicopters, respectively.

This was said to have been the pre-condition of Pres. Duterte as well when he agreed to go ahead with purchasing the Sikorsky S-70i Black Hawk for the PAF's Combat Utility Helicopter requirement despite his opposition to going for American products.

So in MaxDefense's opinion, there is indeed a strong chance that the DND would push to acquire the Mil Mi-171Sh, although the Medium and Heavy Helicopter acquisition projects are still among those being pushed as part of the proposed 2nd List of Horizon 2 if the government finds more funds beyond the Php300 billion approved by Pres. Duterte for implementation under the Horizon 2 Priority Projects last June 2018.

Now, the DND has to do something on how to go around CAATSA, since its proven that its real.

From left: Mi-17 and Mi-26 helicopters from Russian Helicopters. Photo taken from Sputnik.


28 June 2019:

On the sidelines of the ongoing Russian ARMY 2019 International Military-Technical Forum in Moscow, Russia, Defense Usec. Raymundo Elefante told Russian media outlet Sputnik that the acquisition of Mi-171 helicopters from Russia is a priority and is being pushed to be finalized this year.

This supports earlier statements made by Defense USec. Cardozo Luna that the Philippines is interested in acquiring 16 to 17 Mil Mi-171 medium helicopters from Russia.

A few days ago MaxDefense mentioned that the procurement of Russian helicopters was a direct order from the president himself, as he made a pre-condition of approving the acquisition of the Sikorsky S-70i Black Hawk to fulfil the Philippine Air Force's requirement for Combat Utility Helicopters only if the DND and PAF would buy the Russian Helicopters Mil Mi-171Sh for the Medium Helicopter and/or Heavy Helicopter requirements of the PAF.

In fact, the acquisition of Medium and Heavy Helicopters for the PAF are not really part of Horizon 2, but were being front-loaded to justify the acquisition. Based on DND documents obtained by MaxDefense, the Medium Lift Helicopter and the Heavy Lift Helicopter project was among those proposed for the 2nd List of Horizon 2.

Its still a question how Duterte will go head on with CAATSA, as its now proven to be real.

The Mil Mi-171Sh medium helicopter, which was displayed in ARMY 2019 Expo in Russia. Photo credits to original source.

24 July 2019:

Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez confirmed in an interview that the Philippines has shown interest in potentially acquiring the Boeing CH-47 Chinook for its heavy lift helicopter requirements.

MaxDefense PH previously mentioned that the Philippine Air Force has shown interest in acquiring the Boeing CH-47 Chinook heavy lift helicopters from the US, as the US offers them not just to the PAF but also to the Philippine Army.

This is in case they find a way to front load the PAF's planned Heavy Lift Helicopter Acquisition Project which is a 2nd List of Horizon 2 project, which is separate also from the proposed Medium Lift Helicopter Acquisition Project under the Horizon 3 phase. 

The problem is that Pres. Duterte is insisting to go Russian with the Mil Mi-171Sh Hip, which is actually a Medium Lift Helicopter. It would be best if the government can find funds for BOTH projects instead of using the funds for the Heavy Lift Helicopters project to fund the Mi-171Sh.

The CH-47 Chinook. Photo taken from Wikipedia.


01 October 2019:

A report was released by the Manila Bulletin confirming that a freebie Mi-17 helicopter that Russia promised should the DND order 16 helicopters would be configured as a VVIP Helicopter  (Presidential Helicopter). If this is the case, it is definitely going to be operated by the PAF's 250th Presidential Airlift Wing, which currently operates 8 Bell 412HP/EP VVIP helicopters.

But the report also confirmed that Manila Bulletin's sources from the AFP are "concerned about the speed with which the close to P13-billion project is being rushed". MaxDefense also received this feedback yesterday, considering the project was just frontloaded and is not really a priority based on the Philippine Air Force's own procurement plan.

Currently, the variant being marketed by Russia for VIP helicopter based on the Mi-17 platform is the Mi-171A2, which was designed for government or offshore oil and gas companies.

The Mil Mi-171A2 VIP helicopter. Photo taken from Russian Helicopters.


24 October 2019:

Russian Ambassador to the Philippines Igor Khovaev confirmed that Russia and the Philippines are still working on reaching a contract to acquire Mil Mi-171 helicopters from Russia, and that final numbers are yet to be finalized.

So far, MaxDefense has also confirmed that no contract has been reached yet, because of issues regarding CAATSA still hindering a potential deal.

The Mil Mi-17, this example with the Indonesian Army. Photo credits to original source.


14 March 2020:

Officials from the DND and Philippine Air Force led by Defense Asec. Jose Gaverza and PAF BGen. Rene Honasan inspected the Ulan Ude Aviation Plant in Russia. This is the same plant that produces the Mil Mi-171 Hip helicopter that the Philippine government plans to acquire from Russia.

Reports are varying on the quantity the government is after, from 12 as mentioned by Pres. Duterte, to as many as 16+1 as reported by BusinessMirror's Rene Acosta.

So far, the Philippine government has been pushing to acquire something major from Russia, with the Mil Mi-171 being the one planned to be absolutely awarded to Russia. According to one our contributors who is a high ranking defense official, this order came from Pres. Duterte's personal wishes himself, who wanted the DND to accept an equivalent order of Russian helicopters for him to allow the acquisition of 16 S-70i Black Hawk combat utility helicopters from Lockheed Martin, considering he made a promise to Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin to acquire a significant amount of helicopters from Russia.

No doubt the Russian Mi-171 is a capable helicopter, while also the cheapest in the market that would allow the measly budget of the PAF to acquire more than what it can get from Western equivalents. But CAATSA remains an stumbling block.

As for CAATSA, MaxDefense learned from trade and defense sources that both Russia and the Philippine governments have come to an understsnding on the availability of a 3rd party financial institution has been made available to transact the deal and fund transfers, without the institution being affected by American trade sanctions.

And if this is proven to be effective, apparently more Russian arms orders will be made. Let's see if this would be effective enough, considering other countries like Indonesia and even India and Thailand seem to have stumbled on CAATSA concerns.

Surprisingly, the Philippine Embassy in Russia made use of the word "Sovtechnoexport" in describing "Rosoboronexport".

All photos from the Philippine Embassy in Russia.


06 November 2020:

MaxDefense has finally confirmed that the DND has released the Notice of Award (NOA) for the Philippine Air Force's Heavy Lift Helicopter Acquisition Project in favor of the Russian government in a deal worth Php12.797 billion, that will involve the supply of the Mil Mi-171 Hip helicopter.

The NOA was released by the DND several weeks ago, and the DBM releasing the SARO for the initial 15% of the contract cost last 04 November 2020. A contract is expected to be signed soon, although it remains to be seen how the DND would skirt the CAATSA issue, which according to a MaxDefense source, could have been done with the help of a French financial institution.

Philippine Defense Resource's Youtube channel has posted a new video regarding this development, which can be seen below.


02 June 2021:

According to MaxDefense PH's sources, the funding for the Heavy Lift Helicopter Acquisition Project that was released by the DBM was November 2020 was placed on hold due to the DND's inability to finalize the deal with the Russian government due to CAATSA-related issues.

Apparently, no financial institution was interested in doing the transaction between the Philippine and Russian governments for fear of being imposed with CAATSA sanctions.

Because of this, a contract was not signed between the DND and Russian government for the project.

But in a surprise move by the DBM, it has again released the 15% initial funding worth Php1,919,626,490.00 under a new SARO dated 27 May 2021.

According to MaxDefense PH's sources, the project is still for the procurement of 16 Russian-made Mil Mi-171 medium lift helicopters, which Russia and the Philippines are still pushing to go ahead.

MaxDefense PH mentioned that the DND targets to sign a contract with the Russian Government in the next few months, to allow the delivery of a first batch of helicopters before Pres. Duterte's term ends in June 2022.

Funding for additional S-70i Black Hawk combat utility helicopters won't be coming from this project.

Mil Mi-171 medium helicopter.


09 December 2021:

On the sidelines of the formal takeover of Maj. Gen. Connor Anthony Canlas as the new Commanding General of the Philippine Air Force, Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana confirmed that the downpayment for the acquisition of Russian Helicopters Mil Mi-17 Hip helicopters from Russia will be released soon by the Department of Budget Management (DBM).

It would be remembered that the DBM already released a SARO supporting the downpayment of the Mi-171 Hip helicopters back in 2020, but was said to have been among those reverted back to the DBM due to the government's decision to spend it for COVID pandemic response.

Another issue was CAATSA, which was also confirmed by Sec. Lorenzana back in 2020. It now remains to be seen how the PH government will go through with the deal with Russian agency Sovtechnoexport, which is believed to be proxying on behalf of Russian arms export agency Rosoboronexport which is currently slapped with a CAATSA blacklist.

The Mi-17 helicopters worth around Php16 billion are being acquired under the PAF's Heavy Lift Helicopter Acquisition Project, part of the RAFPMP's 2nd List of Horizon 2 phase.

More on the PNA's report below.


Down payment for PAF's Russian heavy-lift choppers out soon: DND
By Priam Nepomuceno
December 8, 2021, 3:11 pm

MANILA – Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the down payment for the Philippine Air Force (PAF)'s Russian-sourced heavy-lift helicopter acquisition program will be released soon.

"Also, the down payment for the heavy-lift helicopters, I think will be paid soon so that we will have the heavy-lift helicopter, Mi-17, of Russia. Malaking helicopter po iyon (that is a big helicopter)," Lorenzana said on the sidelines of the assumption ceremony of Maj. Gen. Connor Anthony Canlas as the new PAF chief on Tuesday night.

Canlas replaced Lt. Gen. Allen Paredes, who retired from the service upon reaching the mandatory retirement age of 56.

The PAF earlier announced that it is looking at the possibility of acquiring heavy-lift helicopters as part of efforts to beef up its helicopter fleet.

A heavy-lift helicopter is a type of rotary aircraft capable of lifting large numbers of personnel or cargo. The Mil Mi-17 is a Soviet-designed Russian military helicopter family in production at two factories in Kazan and Ulan-Ude.

It is known as the Mi-8M series in Russian service. The helicopter is mostly used as medium twin-turbine transport helicopter, as well as an armed gunship version.

It has a maximum speed of 280 km/h (170 mph, 150 knots) and a range of 800 km. The Mi-17 has a crew of two pilots and one engineer and is capable of transporting 24 soldiers or 12 stretchers internally. (PNA)


24 February 2022:

Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana confirmed that the acquisition of 16 Mil Mi-17 Hip helicopters from Russia is still a go, despite the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine.

He also confirmed that the Philippine Government already paid the initial payment to start the production of the helicopters for the Philippine Air Force.

The helicopters are said to start arriving in 2024.

This is so far the 1st confirmation from the DND that the project has moved beyond an award and contract signing, since payment is only made after those processes.

Previously the last news regarding this project was when the DND was still waiting for the DBM to release the funds so they could start the Notice of Award release.

The Mil Mi-171Sh helicopter. Photo taken from AIN Online.


12 March 2022:

More information was released by the DND regarding the status of the Heavy Lift Helicopter Acquisition Project, as there are mounting calls of concern on the timing of the deal considering Russia's situation due to its invasion of Ukraine.

According to the latest statement by Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana, the contract for the helicopters was signed between the DND and the Russians on November 2021, and the 15% initial payment was made by the Philippine government on January 2022.

He also confirmed that the first batch of helicopters is scheduled to be delivered to the Philippine Air Force in 24 months, or around January 2024.

With the situation Russia is considering the massive sanctions it received from most major economies of the world, plus its potential requirement to build more helicopters for its own use, it remains to be seen if Russia can meet its commitments to the Philippines DND to deliver the helicopters on time and completely as per contract conditions.

A Mil Mi-8/17 Hip helicopter of the Indian armed forces. Photo credits to HelicopterSpecs.com.


27 July 2022:

Former Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana was quoted by a report saying that the deal between the Philippines and Russia to procure Mi-17 Hip helicopters have been cancelled for fear of US sanctions under CAATSA. 

Our parent page MaxDefense Philippines have been saying that this could potentially happen years ago because it was an obvious situation that the Philippines would be affected by CAATSA. 

As we said before, getting back the money already paid to the Russians would be the difficult part now. It is expected that Russia won't be returning the money anytime soon. 

While we wait for official confirmation from the DND and AFP/PAF, former SND is a credible source so the chances that this is true is indeed high. The PAF should start reconsidering the Boeing CH-47F Chinook at this point in time.


15 August 2022:

Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez confirmed that the Philippine Air Force is now looking at the Boeing CH-47 Chinook for its heavy lift helicopter requirements after a contract to purchase 16 Mil Mi-17 Hip helicopters from Russia was decided to be cancelled by the Department of National Defense, citing recent global events and fears of sanctions from CAATSA.

The Chinook is a larger and far more advanced and expensive helicopter so we do not expect the Philippines to able to procure 16 units based on its current budget for 16 Mi-17 helicopters.

Based on the project's allocated budget, it is believed that the PAF may be able to acquire between 4 to 5 units only, unless the budget for the project is supplemented/increased. 

But Ambassador Romualdez said that the Americans are willing to put in their best offer by offering as much helicopters as possible.

The good thing with buying American is it will definitely have full support, and will be acquired together with spare parts , and direct and indirect support from the US military. Unlike Russian helicopters which are known for poor after sales support despite the Mi-17 being widely used around the world.

The CH-47F Chinook, the latest variant of the Chinook heavy helicopter family.


15 November 2022:

Our parent page MaxDefense Philippines mentioned in its social media post that the Heavy Lift Helicopter Acquisition Project may be among those that will be moving again forward as negotiations with the US have started, with the Boeing CH-47F Chinook, Sikorsky S-70i Black Hawk and the S-92 Superhawk among those being considered.

This is the first time the S-92 Superhawk was mentioned as a potential candidate for the Philippine Air Force, since it is larger than the S-70i Black Hawk and is closer to the lift capabilities of the Mil Mi-171 Hip helicopter, while being cheaper than the CH-47F Chinook.

A CH-148 Superhawk, which is the Canadian military version of the S-92 Superhawk. Photo credits to Wikipedia.

First edit and release: 07 November 2020
Copyright Philippine Defense Resource / MaxDefense Philippines

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