Philippines eye surplus South Korean helicopter purchase

The Philippines’ Department of National Defense (DND) announced on October 2 that it intends to acquire surplus Bell UH-1H Iroquois and MD Helicopters (MDHI) MD500 helicopters from South Korea.

The nation’s Secretary of National Defense, Delfin N Lorenzana, expressed the intention in a congratulatory letter to the newly-appointed South Korean Defense Minister, Suh Wook. In which, Lorenzana stated that the DND plans to conduct a joint visual inspection (JVI) of the aircraft in the fourth quarter of 2020.

In a press release, the DND said: “The JVI will be conducted following strict biosafety protocols amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, by a team composed of representatives from the DND and the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

“The acquisition project for the South Korean UH-1H and MD500 helicopters is still in the exploratory stage, with the details yet to be finalised including the timeline and quantity of the assets to be acquired,” it concluded.

Philippines UH-1H [USAF/Capt Mark Lazane] #1
A Philippine Air Force-operated Bell UH-1H Iroquois prepares to depart from a simulated incident site in the Philippines on September 29, 2016. The acquisition of South Korea's now-retired UH-1Hs will supplement the PAF's fleet, which remains in operational service. USAF/Capt Mark Lazane

South Korea operated more than 200 examples of the UH-1H Iroquois over the utility helicopter’s 53-year career with the Republic of Korea Army (ROKA). The platform entered service with the ROKA in 1967 and was withdrawn in July 2020 and replaced by the indigenously designed Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) KUH-1 Surion multi-role helicopter.

The ROKA continues to operate two variants of the MD500 – the MD500E and MD500MD Scout – in a light attack/close air support (CAS) role. AirForces Intelligence data states that 28 MD500Es and 280 MD500MDs have been delivered to the service over the years.

Both fleets are slated to be retired in the next few years and replaced by the Boeing AH-64E Apache Guardian attack helicopter. Plans to convert South Korea’s fleet of MD500s in to unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) have also been studied in recent years.

The Philippine Air Force (PAF) currently operates both the UH-1H and MDHI’s MD-520G Defender – a variant of the MD500 family. AirForces Intelligence data states that more than 190 examples of the UH-1H have served through the air arm’s ranks since it began operations in 1969. The PAF also operates four UH-1H-II Huey IIs, which entered service in June 2014 and were upgraded from existing UH-1H airframes.

The air arm has also operated 32 examples of MDHI’s MD-520MG Defender in a light attack/CAS role since 1990. AirForces Intelligence data states that, as of October 7, 2020, just ten MD-520Gs remained in operational service.