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PAF Expands Helicopter Squadrons with New Acquisitions

The Philippine Air Force (PAF) has been acquiring new aircraft in the past few years, signaling its intention to increase the number of helicopters in its squadrons.

PAF normally goes for the minimum number of aircraft per squadron due to budgetary issues, but it has been noted that the Combat Utility Helicopters (CUHs) are being formed based on 16 helicopters per squadron.

This is evident by the recent acquisitions made by the PAF, which include:

  • 16 Sikorsky S-70i Black Hawk CUHs, delivered in 2022 and 2023, to fill one squadron.
  • 32 more Black Hawks, ordered in 2023, to fill two more squadrons of 16 helicopters each.
  • 8 Bell 412EPs, acquired during Horizon 1 phase, of which 5 have been converted to CUHs. Another 8 Bell 412EPXs, ordered in 2023, will combine with the 5 Bell 412EPs to form one squadron of 13 helicopters. The PAF plans to re-convert the 3 Bell 412EPs from VVIP to CUH helicopters to allow for a full squadron of 16 Bell 412EP/EPXs.
  • 16 Mil Mi-171 Hip helicopters, which were supposed to be acquired before the project was cancelled in 2021.

Based on these examples, it is probably safe to say that a typical light/medium transport helicopter squadron of the PAF will have 16 helicopters as standard.

This is fairly larger compared to a typical combat squadron in the PAF, which now has somewhere around 12 aircraft, or is ready to be raised to 12 aircraft once additional aircraft are ordered (as in the case of A-29s and T129s).

PAF’s expansion of its helicopter squadrons reflects its growing need for mobility, versatility, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) capabilities.

The new helicopters will also enhance the PAF’s interoperability with its allies and partners, especially the United States, which operates similar models of Black Hawks and Bell 412s.

PAF is expected to receive more aircraft in the coming years, as part of its modernization program under the Horizon 2 and 3 phases.

These include 6 A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft, 6 T129 ATAK combat helicopters, 12 FA-50PH light fighter jets, and 15 S-70i Black Hawk combat search and rescue (CSAR) helicopters.

PAF is also eyeing the acquisition of multi-role fighter jets, medium lift transport aircraft, and long-range patrol aircraft in the future.