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Philippine Air Force (PAF) Modernization

By the year 2010 the Philippines were in the ridiculous position of contesting Chinese claims in the South China Sea, without a single fighter aircraft to defend Philippine claims in what it terms the West Philippine Sea. Bu that time, the Philippines military was undertaking a transition from a focus on internal security to a focus on territorial defense, and the situation was on the verge of rectification.

As of mid-2012 the Philippine government was preparing to tender a total of 138 contracts for new naval and air assets, including fighter jets, attack helicopters, long-range patrol and transport aircraft, warships, air defense radar and other state-of-the-art arms to boost the country's badly frayed territorial and maritime defenses. Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said 23 June 2012 that the Department of National Defense (DND) was working out the acquisition of surface attack aircraft lead-in fighter trainer, attack helicopters, light transport aircraft, medium transport aircraft, and four multi-purpose combat utility helicopters. “All of [these] are expected to be delivered within two years,” Gazmin said. Among the defense instruments delivered are 18 Basic Trainer Aircraft. The Philippines is set to acquire new warplanes in two years to upgrade its poorly-equipped air force, its defense minister said 06 July 2012. Attack aircraft, lead-in fighter-trainers, attack helicopters and light and medium transport aircraft were all expected to be delivered within two years.

When the regime of Ferdinand Marcos fell the Philippines had one of the best equipped air forces in Southeast Asia. In the following years due to regular attrition and simple age of its equipment, various attempts were made to modernize the fleet. This was often part of a push to modernize the Armed Forces of the Philippines as a whole.

In addition, during the 1980's the Philippine Air Force (PAF) attempted to reduce its dependence upon American second-hand aircraft by starting its own indigenous aircraft programs. The first program was a single-engine trainer plane, called the "Defiant," that could also be armed and used in the counter-insurgency role. The second was a Philippine-made light utility helicopter named the "Hummingbird." The two aircraft programs were supported by members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, but were not allowed to proceed by the government until July 1997, when President Ramos authorized spending for the project. The Philippine Aerospace Defense Company (PADC) undertook the development effort.

Ramos was succeeded shortly thereafter by President Estrada, whose government immediately conducted a review of the Defiant and Hummingbird programs. The review concluded that the two projects, which were only a year old at that point, were likely to be unjustifiably lengthy and expensive. As a result both were immediately terminated. Another factor was that the Hummingbird was in fact essentially an unlicensed copy of the MBB/Eurocopter Bo-105C and Eurocopter had threatened to sue the Philippine government. PADC had been involed with the assembly and maintenance on the helicopters, first acquired during the 1970s. To avoid the impending legal battle the PAF destroyed the prototypes [as of 2012, no attempt had been made to revive the Defiant or develop another helicopter program].

In February 1995, the Philippine Congress passed Act No. 7898, which called for a massive, multi-year overhaul and upgrading of the nation's armed forces. The bill thus initiated the Armed Forces of the Philippines Modernization Program. Plans for the modernization of the Air Force had been in existence since 1996. The law obliged the government to fund and allocate a separate budget for a 15-year modernisation program. The PAF was to acquire two squadrons of multi-role fighter aircraft and surface-to-air missile and gun system. By 2003, P2.865 Billion had been programmed for the Air Force modernization program. This included allocation for the acquisition of various types of aircraft, for the upgrading of some others, and for training and administrative matters. As of 2003, however, only P127.391 Million has been released. The rest awaited completion of various requirements of the AFP procurement system.

The PAF should have capability both for external defense and for operations against internal threats. With its transport aircraft inventory severely depleted, and the number of its combat jets down to virtually nil, by 2003 the PAF was limited to a role of close air support for ground forces. Even in that regard, however, it was hampered by, among other problems, poor pilot to aircraft ratio. Some two hundred forty (240) combat pilots competed for around sixty (60) operational aircraft. Moreover, at any given time, there were forty to fifty (40-50) trainee pilots forced to queue for the use of three (3) trainer planes. With many cadets recruited among civilians, PMA graduates must wait in line although in their case Government has already spent much money to put them through cadet training.

As of 2003 ircraft inventory counted a total of two hundred twenty-five (225). Of these, one hundred nine (109) were in storage or are grounded, and one hundred sixteen (116) were “ supportable,” i.e., budget is available for spare parts, etc. But of the supportable aircraft, only sixty-two (62) were operational while forty-nine (49) were ”down and parked” for inspection or maintenance.

The real workhorse of the PAF's fixed wing fleet was the OV-10 Bronco, a number of which had been acquired from the United States in 1991. Additional aircraft were later procured from Thailand. With the retirement of the F-5 fleet, maintaining the OV-10 fleet became even more of a priority. The planes were locally upgraded with cockpit GPS devices and night vision-compatible internal displays and power sources. Then, in 2006, the PAF contracted Marsh Aviation to do a Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) for all of its OV-10 Broncos. For the SLEP the aircraft were overhauled to maximize remaining flying hours and also upgraded with newer equipment. The airframes were inspected and zero-timed, and problematic parts like the propellors and gear boxes were replaced with more advanced and durable units requiring less maintenance. New 4 bladed Hartzell propellers replaced the original 3 bladed versions. The electrical systems and generators were also upgraded, improving reliability and engine start times. Reportedly, the PAF was also considering upgrading the planes with Eductor Exhaust Systems to reduce their IR signatures and to improve engine reliability and maintainability.

A total of 19 C-130s had entered PAF service since 1973. As of early 2009, the AFP possessed only one operational C-130 aircraft, which was in full-time use supporting ongoing military operations and disaster relief activities. A second aircraft was subjected to Programmed Depot Maintenance (PDM) at Clark Field by Lockheed Martin / Asian Aerospace, with the maintenance cycle completed in June 2009. A third remained in PDM, while the remainder were "simply rotting away — exposed to the elements — at the C-130 graveyard in Mactan, Cebu." The limited Philippine defense budget prevented the purchase of big ticket items necessary for the AFP to prosecute the war on terrorists and at the same time provide vital year-round support to disaster relief and humanitarian operations throughout the country.

In addition to its responsibilities for internal security, the AFP is the primary support agency for disaster relief operations. With more than two dozen typhoons a year and numerous other natural catastrophes in the form of earthquakes, floods, volcanic activity, and landslides, the AFP's limited logistical capacity is frequently tapped by the national government to provide humanitarian assistance. Despite a lack of adequate equipment and trained personnel, the Philippines has made a firm commitment to regional disaster assistance operations and global security initiatives. When Cyclone Nargis hit Burma in May 2008, the Philippines was one of the first countries to transport relief supplies and medical teams to the ravaged country, using its single C-130.

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Page last modified: 12-05-2020 14:24:16 ZULU