Philippine Air Force (PAF) Modernization - Fighter Aircraft
The Philippine fighter fleet by the 1990's consisted of only a small number of aging F-5A and F-5B Freedom Fighters, which had been first acquired in 1965. These aircraft were slated for either upgrade or replacement under the AFP Modernization Program. Contenders such as the General Dynamics F-16 and Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29 were reportedly considered, but in the end, the PAF opted retain their F-5 fleet for finacial reasons, buying an additional 15 airframes for spare parts and outright replacement of existing aircraft from Jordan and South Korea during the mid-1990s.
The delivery of the South Korean fighter planes was part of a program strengthening the logistics support capabilities of both the Korean and the Philippine Armed Forces as contained in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Logistics and Defense Industry Cooperation entered into by both governments on 24 May 1994. The MOU covered expanded and enhanced logistical cooperation such as procurement, supply, maintenance, and transportation.
In the FY02 regular budget appropriations an Air Defense Package was included in the release of the AFP Modernization Act Trust Fund. This package included the acquisition of Multi-Role Fighters (MRF), Air Defense Surveillance Radar (ADSR), Long-Range Patrol Aircraft (LRPA) and Seach-Air-Rescue (SAR) Helicopters, among others. In addition, it also prioritized the formulation of Master Development Plans (MDPs) of priority bases and stations. Thanks to this, the PAF was able to purchase new SF-260 trainer planes and night attack helicopters. It was also set to acquire 8 primary trainer aircraft, 10 additional Huey UH-1H utility helicopters, 8 brand new combat utility helicopters, 8 new attack helicopters, 2 light lift aircraft, and 12 trainer helicopters. There were also plans to upgrade the PAF's existing 20 MD-520MG's.
On 2 May 2002, a PAF F-5A fighter jet participating in the Balikatan military exercises crashed into the back of an elementary school building in Mabalacat, Pampanga, killing the pilot and one person on the ground as well as injuring 18 civilians. The entire fleet was grounded due to safety issues. Financial difficulties and discussions of simply retiring the F-5 fleet meant that a 2003 agreement with South Korea to donate more F-5's to the Philippines was abandoned, as were plans to upgrade all F-5's with radars and advanced avionics.
On 2 October 2005 the PAF permanently retired its fleet of F-5's in a ceremony at the 431st Maintenance Hangar, Air Defense Wing, Basa Air Base. The event was highlighted by the final taxiing and engine shutdown of F-5 Aircraft #191 by Brigadier General Manuel F. Natividad, Wing Commander of the Air Defense Wing. The F-5 airframes were mothballed and remained in the Philippines.
Armed SIAI-Marchetti AS-211 jet trainers, delivered between the late 1980s and early 1990s, filled the role of Philippine air defense after the retirement of the F-5 fleet. Air Force officials stated that the arrangement was merely a stopgap measure, and that a new fighter model would be selected for purchase by 2011 to reestablish credible air deterrence and projection capabilities.
The F-5's, which had been mothballed after their retirement in 2005, became the subject of a deal with Thailand in 2008. Under the agreement the Philippines would sell Thailand F-5 spare parts in exchange for Thai OV-10C Bronco spare parts, reflecting the different needs of the 2 countries. However, the Philippines also retained various F-5 components for other uses, most notably the 20mm M39A3 cannons, some of which were used in locally fabricated gun pods and others which were transfered to the Philippine Army for ground use in exchange for Dillon Aero M134D rotary barrel machine guns acquired under the Philippine Army Capability Upgrade Program in 2007.
On 5 March 2009 the PAF boosted its pilot training capability with the transfer of 15 T-41B trainer planes from the Republic of Korea in a formal turn over ceremony at Clark Air Base. Some reports erroneously referred to these aircraft as "jet trainers." The 15 Cessna 172 (T-41B) Trainer Aircraft, which were reassembled from kits and tested until they were declared fully mission capable by PAF aircraft mechanics at Clark Air Base in Pampanga, were flown by PAF pilots to Fernando Air Base in Lipa City.
The disassembled planes had left the port of Pusan, South Korea on 4 December 2008 and arrived 4 days later at Manila's South Harbor. These were then hauled by the PAF to the 410th Maintenance Wing's facility in Clark for assembly. Initially targeted for completion on 16 February 2009, the PAF mechanics finished reassembling the 15 planes 4 days ahead of schedule on 12 February 2009.
The arrival of the trainer planes, also a product of the 1994 MOU between the 2 countries, greatly enhanced the operational readiness of the entire Philippine Air Force, especially in training its pilots for the planned transition to territorial defense mode in 2012 from the existing internal security operations of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
In August 2010 Retired Admiral James Lyons, former commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, signed an oped in the Washington Times which proposed that "The United States should consider leasing big-ticket military hardware to the Philippines to give it the capability to defend its sovereign territory against Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea.... the US should consider leasing a squadron of F-16 along with T-38 supersonic trainers, an aircraft for maritime patrol, and two FFG-7 guided-missile frigates to provide a recognized capability to enforce the Philippines’ offshore territorial claims."
The Office of the President, Department of Foreign Affairs, and the Philippine Air Force have all publicly declared the Aquino administration’s intention to acquire 12 surplus F-16C/D aircraft from the United States. In a speech during the Philippine Air Force (PAF) invitational shoot fest and firing range blessing on 10 Decmber 2011 at the PAF headquarters in Villamor Airbase, Pasay City, President Benigno S. Aquino III said his administration is working continuously to arm and provide the members of the Armed forces and the police the equipment they need. The president said he would request for fighter planes from the US after his visit to Indonesia, saying the Obama administration has provided the Indonesian air force F-16 jets, an older generation of American jet fighters. In February 2012 Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert F. del Rosario said that the Philippines will request a squadron of 12 fighter jets.
In April 2012 RIA Novosti reported that Russia had decided to join a tender on the delivery of six light fighter jets to the Philippines with its new Yakovlev Yak-130 Mitten combat trainer. “We are taking part in the Philippine tender with the Yak-130 aircraft,” deputy general director of Rosoboronexport, Viktor Komardin, said at the Defense Services Asia-2012 arms show in Malaysia. The tender for six aircraft to replace the retired U.S.-built Northrop F-5A Tiger fighters was announced in 2011. The results will be made public in two to three months, the Russian official said. Two rival designs, the Italian Alenia Aermacchi M-346 and South Korea's KAI TA-50, were also competing in the tender. The Yak-130 was chosen as a basic aircraft for Russian Air Force pilot training. First deliveries started in 2009.
In July 2012 Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin was reported to have said the government was planning to acquire at least 18 South Korean T/A 50, as well as a number of Embraer EMB 314 Super Tucano turboprop light attack-cum-trainer aircraft. Government defense acquisition rules require purchase via bidding, as a measure against corruption. Gazmin however, has said that due to the immediate need for an aircraft, the government might forego a long bidding process and instead seal a government-to-government deal. Reports said the deal could be worth $360 million, and that further purchases of similar aircraft will be carried out. The deadline for the approval of the contracts is 31 July 2012.
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