Sokol helicopter deal signed before Gazmin’s term
MANILA, Philippines – The supposed combat utility helicopters that President Benigno Aquino III’s criticized during his fourth State of the Nation Address had been “misclassified” and were shifted to conduct search and rescue operations.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, in an interview with reporters at Camp Aguinaldo, said that the eight Sokol helicopters, which Aquino was referring to in his speech, was “misclassified” but clarified that the money spent for the P2.8 billion deal was not a total waste.
“The President is saying that there is something wrong with the design because its classification is a combat utility helicopter yet it cannot be used for combat…so what are we going to do? We will make use of it as a search and rescue aircraft. Anyway it is a very powerful engine, and a dual engine at that. It has a longtime endurance and at the same time it has auto pilot. It was not a total waste but there was a misclassification of the aircraft,” he said.
The Sokol helicopters arrived in three batches since last year, but Gazmin said the deal was signed before he assumed as Defense Secretary.
“I am a combat officer. The first thing I noticed was why do you have to remove the machine gun in order to get through the door,” Gazmin said.
In his speech, Aquino lambasted the purchase of Sokols and questioned why the deals were signed.
“Here is another example of the kind of thinking we’ve had to eradicate from government. Eight combat utility helicopters were bought for what they claimed to be ‘the more efficient deployment of our soldiers.’ The problem: The guns the helicopters were equipped with were mounted at the door; requiring their removal in order to enable people to pass. If you are a soldier entering the fray at the height of battle, what use is a machine gun that is set aside and unable to fire? Did no one think about this before the contracts were signed? Why was this even approved in the first place?” Aquino said in his speech.
Gazmin said they are still proceeding with the acquisition of attack helicopters, but said they are looking at other brands aside from Sokol.
At the same time, he assured that future purchases of military equipment will make the President satisfied.
“Our process of defense system of management involves senior officials of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Department of National Defense. We look at what we need to acquire, our priorities. And in the process we make discussions, we invite all sectors in the military from junior to senior officers to enlisted personnel as observers to witness how the decisions we come up with is a collective decision among us and not just myself or the AFP Chief,” he said.
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