US DEFENSE contractor Lockheed Martin is banking on the versatility of its third generation Black Hawks to convince Philippine President Rodrigo R. Duterte to change his mind, after announcing he rejected an offer from the United States government to procure F-16 fighter jets.
Jacob Siffers, business development regional manager of Lockheed Martin subsidiary Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., said in an interview on Wednesday the company hopes its Black Hawk helicopter units will draw the attention of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) because of its multiple functions.
“I think the Black Hawk platform itself speaks volumes…. I think the capabilities, versatility, all the inherent elements of the Black Hawk that makes it such a suitable platform kind of transcends all the other politics,” he said.
Mr. Siffers said the Black Hawk is able to fit in a number of different mission sets such as attack, assault, combat utility, search and rescue, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
In a speech on Aug. 23, Mr. Duterte said he turned down an offer from the US government to buy F-16s because the Philippines is not at war with anyone.
“For what? Against China? Against whom? Against the ASEAN countries? Against the Indonesia? Malaysia? Wala man tayong away [We’re not at war],” he said.
The President added, “What I need are just propeller-driven planes for anti-insurgency. Wala man tayong ibang kalaban, NPA, the ISIS, Abu Sayyaf [We don’t have other enemies, New People’s Army, the Islamic State, Abu Sayyaf].”
Lockheed Martin is one of the exhibitors in this year’s Asian Defense, Security and Crisis Management Exhibition and Conference (ADAS) at the World Trade Center in Pasay City.
Mr. Siffers said aside from its versatility, the Black Hawk has a basic utility configuration, which means the aircraft can be easily reconfigured for different missions.
“If you had a search and rescue mission, you had an attack mission, for instance a typhoon or some other national disaster hits, just take the wings off, take the weapons off, you put in some auxiliary fuel tank, you have your rescue hoist, you have your cargo hook, all inherent within this aircraft. It can go from mission to mission, not in days of reconfiguring but in hours,” he said.
Mr. Siffers said there are surely pilots from the PAF who are familiar with the Black Hawk, because the Philippines had previously ordered two of the helicopter type and he remembers one is still operational to date.
Asia has the biggest population of Black Hawks in the world aside from the US, as countries like Japan, South Korea and Taiwan maintain a large fleet of the aircraft, Mr. Siffers added.
Despite Mr. Duterte’s pronouncements, Lockheed Martin Business Development Director for F-16 Randall L. Howard reiterated the wide array of functions of the fourth generation aircraft.
“We think it’s an ideal solution to meet Philippines’ requirements. We know here in the Philippines they have a lot of space to cover, a lot of distance to cover. You have a number of islands. And this whole archipelago requires an aircraft with a lot of combat radio so the ability to get out to the outermost parts of the island and have enough gas to stay in the air, to patrol those guys and then come back. In its class, single engine aircraft, it is unmatched in its ability to do that. That’s why we’re here,” he said.
He added, “We’re just here to highlight that fact, make sure that the Philippines understands that the F-16 is available today. That the US government is making the world’s finest fourth generation aircraft and most successful fighter aircraft available to the Philippines.”
Mr. Howard said he understands timing and budgeting are important.
“We want to make that value successful to the Philippines. We think it’s remarkable that the US government is supporting that and is all-in with making the F-16 available to the Philippines,” he said. — Denise A. Valdez