MANILA, Feb. 4 (Xinhua) -- Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has approved the acquisition of an additional 15 brand new Black Hawk helicopters to beef up the military's air assets, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said on Thursday.
At a virtual press conference, Nograles said the new set of 15 Black Hawk helicopters the Philippines plans to buy is on top of the 16 brand new Sikorsky S-70i Black Hawk helicopters the Philippines bought last year.
Nograles said the 15 Black Hawk units in the shopping list are only "an indicative number" and can still change depending on the availability of funds.
Nograles said Duterte gave his approval during a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday.
Seven soldiers died in a Huey helicopter crash in Bukidnon province in the southern Philippines last month.
"The crash was the fourth since July last year, and the president wants to end all these tragic deaths," Nograles said. Three involved Huey helicopters.
The Philippine Air Force (PAF) grounded all of its Huey helicopters following the Bukidnon crash.
Nograles stressed the need to upgrade the heavy-lift helicopter capability, adding the Philippines needs at least 76 helicopters.
"And while the president initially agreed to acquire 55 new helicopters, that number was reduced to 15 owing to the challenges that we currently face," he said, referring to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines commissioned the first six of 16 Polish-made Sikorsky S-70i Black Hawk helicopters ordered in 2019. The remaining 10 units will be delivered within the first quarter of 2021, defense officials said.