MANILA, Philippines – The signing of the contract for 12 fighter jets for the Philippine Air Force (PAF) on Friday, March 28, was historic for the poorly equipped Philippine military, one of the weakest in Asia.
“Our Air Force can forget the lingering naughty joke that it’s ‘all air without force,'” teased defense secretary Voltaire Gazmin in his speech after the signing.
The air force returns to the supersonic age with the FA-50 fighter jets from South Korea’s Korean Aerospace Industry (KAI). It has been almost a decade since it retired the last of its US-designed F-5 fighters in 2005.
It’s a government-to-government contract worth P18.9 billion. It is one of two big-ticket projects, along with the P18-billion frigates project, that will be funded from the P85-billion initial fund provided by the administration of President Benigno Aquino III under the Revised Modernization Program of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Gazmin signed the sales agreement, while Armed Forces chief General Emmanuel Bautista signed the acquisition project. Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to the Philippines Lee Hyuk was present during the signing.
As territorial disputes intensify in the region, the FA-50s, along with other projects in the modernization program, are seen as necessary to achieve the government’s goal of giving the military enough capability for minimum credible defense.
Strictly speaking, the FA-50 is a lead-in fighter trainer aircraft but there are those who consider it a fighter jet because of its minimum fighter capabilities. The FA-50 design is derived largely from the US’ F-16, meaning it won’t be a problem if the Philippines in the future gets the money to upgrade to the more expensive designs.
The KAI website describes the FA-50 as a “light combat derivative of the T-50 supersonic advanced jet trainer.”
It can carry 4.5 tons of weapons, including air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles, machine guns, and precision guided bombers among others. It is also equipped with Night Vision Imaging System (NVIS), Radar Warning Receiver (RWR), and the Counter Measure Dispenser System (CMDS).
KAI CEO Ha Sung Yong said: It will not only be served as the most powerful Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT) and Lead In Fighter Trainer (LIF) but also FA-50, the Fighting Eagle, will serve the Philippine Air Force as multipurpose fighter which is already proven the best performance among the equivalent with affordability at the same time.”
Sigh of relief
Negotiations between the Philippines and KAI almost fell through because of disagreements on the contract details including payment terms. At one point, The defense department threatened KAI that it will recommend to Malacañang junking the project.
“We have finally reached this point. It provides a happy sigh of relief to the Armed Forces of the Philippines especially the Philippine Air Force,” said Gazmin.
Defense Undersecretary for Finance Fernando Manalo said two fighter jets will be delivered 18 months after the opening of the letter of credit. Another two will be delivered after 12 months. Based on the timeline, delivery of the 12 jets will be completed by 2017.
In the same event, the Philippines also signed the contract for the acquisition of 8 Bell 412 combat utility helicopters from Canadian Commercial Corporation for P4.8 billion. It’s also a government-to-government contract. Canadian Ambassador to the Philippines Neil Reeder was present during the signing.