Philippine Air Force (PAF)
Traditionally, the Air Force's primary mission was national air defense, and for most of the Cold War, U.S. military aid kept the Philippine armed forces well supplied with all types of weapons and equipment, including aircraft. In the mid-1980's, however, the Air Force shifted its principal effort to supporting the ground forces in counterinsurgency operations, which demanded a higher proportion of attack and transport helicopters and slow ground attack aircraft, and fewer air-to-air fighters. Philippine air combat capabilities have now atrophied almost to nothing, and the country only has a few armed jet training aircraft to fill this niche. The Air Force's other roles include search and rescue, transportation, and communications for all services. The Air Force Security Command (formerly the Aviation Security Command) was responsible for security of the nation's airports. The Air Force regularly takes part in disaster relief and emergency operations in cooperation with civilian organizations and has participated in national development programs.
The Air Force was headquartered at Villamor Air Base (formerly called Nichols Air Base) in Manila and was commanded by a two-star general. Other major bases included Basa and Clark air bases in Pampanga Province, Fernando Air Base in Batangas Province, Sangley Point Air Base in Cavite Province, and Mactan Air Base in Cebu Province. Flight training was conducted at the Air Force Flying School located at Fernando Air Base. Clark Air Base in Central Luzon was used primarily by United States forces based or training there. Although normally based at one of these facilities, aircraft, especially helicopters, routinely operated out of forward bases throughout the country in support of area commands' counterinsurgency operations. With approximately 15,500 officers and enlisted personnel, the Air Force was slightly smaller in 1990 than in the early 1980's, when personnel totaled 16,800.
The Air Force inventory in 1990 included fifteen combat aircraft and 71 armed helicopters, all United States-made. In 1987, the Philippines permanently grounded its fleet of F-8 Crusaders, leaving only two squadrons of F-5 Freedom Fighters to provide air defense. These were armed with U.S. AIM-9B Sidewinder missiles. Counterinsurgency operations were supported by a squadron of eight T-28D Trojan propeller-driven trainer/attack airplanes, and a wing equipped with 55 Bell UH-1H/Iroquois transport helicopters and sixteen AUH-76 attack helicopters.
Support units included seven transport squadrons; three training squadrons; a presidential airlift wing; and assorted reconnaissance, search and rescue, and liaison aircraft. Aircraft assigned to these elements were obtained from many countries, including Britain, Australia, Italy, and the Netherlands as well as the United States. In 1990 the Air Force expanded its capabilities by acquiring a variety of new aircraft. The Philippines received four Italian S-211 jet trainers and contracted for delivery of fourteen more. In addition, the Air Force was to receive 29 United States-made MD-520 attack helicopters and hoped to upgrade its fighter fleet with the purchase of two squadrons of modern fighters.
The Philippines' fighter fleet declined until they were all grounded for safety reasons in 2002 and then finally mothballed in 2005. The Philippines therefore has no credible fighter aircraft. Plans to buy low-cost replacement fighters (like more F-5's or A-4's) have repeatedly stalled thanks to inadequate budgets and the economic crises of the late 90's and 00's. The new fighters will not be received until sometime in the 2010's, depending on how smoothly the procurement process proceeds.
Since the 1990's, the PAF has useds its limited funds to maintain a strong UH-1 fleet through upgrades, refurbishments and foreign purchases, and it has also upgraded its OV-10 Broncos. The PAF has also gone to lengths to keep an adequate number of good training aircraft.
The PAF has been and continues to be dependent upon the U.S. or American allies for airplanes, spare parts and advanced training. The U.S. conducts frequent joint training exercises with the Philippine Armed Forces in the Philippines, and Philippine pilots typically receive training in the U.S. on how to fly new types of aircraft.
The Philippine Air Force experienced a number of reorganizations after its formation as an independant force in 1947. Primarily this focused around the dramatic expansion that occured during the declaration of martial law in the 1970s. Smaller formations had begun being grouped into Divisions in the 1960s, but 2 additional Air Divisions were activated in the 1970s. These organizations existed until the 1990s when a Command structure was established and the Air Divisions abolished. Subordinate units to these larger command formations experienced numerous transformations over the years being upgraded and downgraded in size depending on PAF requirements and the general situation in the Philippines.
By the mid-2000s, the Air Defense Command and Tactical Operations Command had been abolished. In 2007 the decision was made to reactivate the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Air Division as the primary administrative units for combat and combat support elements within the Philippine Air Force. The Divisions were given regional responsibilities. 1st Air Division covered the northern island of Luzon, 2nd Air Division covered the central Visayas islands, and the 3rd Air Division covered the southern island of Mindanao and its smaller satellites. Each Division was assigned a variety of units to support operations in its region, with detachments rotated to them from the Philippine Air Force's independant combat elements. Tactical Operations Groups (TOGs) acted as intermediate commands for the Divisions and these elements in specific subregions.
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