Philippines to buy three naval helicopters

The Philippines said Thursday it would buy three naval helicopters from an Anglo-Italian manufacturer as part of its military modernisation programme amid a territorial dispute with China.

The three AW 109 "Power" helicopters from AgustaWestland will be acquired for 1.337 billion pesos ($32.5 million) under an emergency procurement programme, the defence department said in a statement.

"The acquisition of these naval helicopters is one concrete step towards the fulfilment of our goal to modernise the Philippine Navy and our armed forces in general," Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin was quoted as saying.

He said that through this acquisition and other planned equipment purchases, the armed forces was demonstrating its intent to "secure the sovereignty of the state and the integrity of the national territory".

In recent months, the poorly-equipped Philippine military has been trying to boost its capabilities amid a standoff with China over disputed territory in the South China Sea.

It has been ordering or eyeing new patrol boats, fighter jets, transport planes and attack helicopters while seeking to improve defence ties with western nations like the United States.

These efforts have accelerated since the Philippines and China began a standoff in April over over the Scarborough Shoal, a group of islets in the South China Sea.

The Philippines says the shoal is well within its 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.

China claims the shoal as well as nearly all of the South China Sea, even waters close to the coasts of neighbouring countries.

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