(File photo)

MANILA – The Philippine Navy (PN)'s first two anti-submarine helicopters, the Augusta Westland (now Leonardo) AW-159 "Wildcat" is now operational but is awaiting for the easing of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic for the conduct of more intensive training for its aircrew.

In a message to the Philippine News Agency (PNA) Monday, PN chief Vice Admiral Giovanni Carlo Bacordo said the anti-submarine helicopters were declared operational after its commissioning in June 2019 to ensure the mission-essential and operational conversion training of the crew and prepare them for anti-submarine warfare (ASW) operations in the Philippine setting.

This is also to maintain the currency and type-qualification for the crew, which they have initially acquired in the United Kingdom training facility.

Currency refers to being up-to-date in the handling of the aircraft while type-qualification is a certification allowing pilots or aircrew to fly a specific airplane.

Training has been temporarily stopped with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic which necessitated a travel ban on all foreign nationals, including the British instructors of the PN's AW-159s.

"At present, the remaining factory training mentioned above (mission-essential and operational) have temporarily been suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the travel ban imposed on foreign nationals due to the pandemic," Bacordo said.

However, he said all AW-159 aircrews have been maintaining their currency through weekly general handling flight sorties utilizing the two helicopters in preparation for the resumption of the in-country training after the lifting of travel restrictions by the UK government.

"The two AW 159s are up and running with regular maintenance activities being conducted as per OEM (original equipment manufacturer) maintenance manual. Discrepancy/deficiency of aircraft systems that come along the way are being addressed by Leonardo Helicopters UK, the helos' OEM under the warranty agreement of both said company and the AFP. There are just occasional challenges/delays in the delivery of warranty items, again because of the Covid-19 pandemic which hampers transport of goods and custom processes," Bacordo said.

The AW-159 helicopters, which were delivered on May 7, 2019 and commissioned on June 17 of the same year, were acquired for PHP5.4 billion including its munition, mission essential equipment, and integrated logistic support.

They can also be armed with rockets, machine guns, missiles, torpedoes, and depth charges and fitted with modern sonar systems for tracking down submarines. The AW-159s were acquired to complement the Jose Rizal-class frigates' ASW capabilities. (PNA)