Category Archives: Philippine Air Force

What is the FA-50PH really for?

The Korean Aerospace Industries FA-50PH is the single most sophisticated aircraft in the Philippine Air Force inventory. The arrival of the first two aircraft on November 28, 2015 heralded the formal start of the service’s efforts to rebuild it’s air defense operations capability. These two “Fighting Eagles”, as South Korea calls them, were the first of what will ultimately be 12 aircraft. According to multiple PAF sources, two more aircraft are due in the final quarter of 2016, while the remainder will be delivered in 2017 at a rate of one a month.

The aircraft in question appears below. Photographs c/o Lester Tongco, reposted with permission.

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The FA-50 represents many firsts for the PAF, to include the following:

  • First brand-new fixed-wing combat aircraft acquired since the F-5A Freedom Fighters that were acquired in the early 60s.
  • First aircraft with fly-by-wire technology
  • First combat aircraft capable of integrating with network-centric warfare environments
  • First supersonic aircraft since the retirement of the last F-5A in 2005.

On February 19, 2016, these two aircraft conducted an air interception exercise involving a Philippine Air Lines Airbus carrying President Aquino who was returning from a US-ASEAN summit in the United States. This was reportedly the first intercept exercise of its type attempted by the Philippine Air Force since 1998 using its now retired F-5As. This exercise not only benefited the pilots of the aircraft, but also practiced coordination between air traffic controllers of the Civil Aviation Administration of the Philippines (CAAP) and the PAF’s Air Defense Wing. CAAP and PAF controllers were responsible for tracking the President’s aircraft and guiding the FA-50s to a point where they could use their own radars to find the airliner.

During the PAF’s heyday, in the US-bases funded 60s, such intercepts were part of normal operations for enforcing the Philippine Air Defense Identification Zone (PADIZ). During this period PAF fighters would intercept all manner of aircraft, from Soviet bombers transiting the South China Sea enroute to Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam, to Air Force One on a visit to the Philippines as shown below.

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Photograph c/o Francis Neri Albums

These aircraft, however, appear to have a questionable future under the administration of President Rudrigo Duterte, who raised a firestorm in defense social media circles when he called the FA-50 “useless” at an economic consultation forum in Davao City on the 21st of June

The President had the following to say about the crown jewel of the PAF’s jet-aircraft fleet. Relevant excerpt begins at  Time index 36:07:

Video Excerpt:
DUTERTE: “You only have . . . what . . . two F-50s? Bakit mo binili yan?

Kayong mga taga Air Force, do not misconstrue my . . . I am a Filipino, I’m a citizen of this country and I have every right to say what I want to say. Sayang ang pera doon. You cannot use it for anti-insurgency which is really the problem of the moment. You can only use it for ceremonial fly-bys. What do I care about <fade out>. Kung binili mo ng choppers na may night vision, you when the kidnapping . . . you could have a catch up those guys

There’s only one purpose for buying it. To match the airpower . . . at least 1-on-1 sa China. Pero, beyond that Scarborough Shoal, anak ng hueteng there are 300 Migs there. They can reach Manila in 6 minutes”

Duterte’s objections to the aircraft are predicated upon three assumptions:

  • The FA-50s were acquired to counter Chinese air power in the West Philippine Sea
  • FA-50s cannot be used for the anti-insurgency campaign
  • The AFP prioritized the FA-50s in lieu of helicopters with night-fighting capability

This article seeks to fact-check these assumptions.

Assumption 1: The FA-50s were acquired to counter Chinese air power

The short response to this would be: “No it is not”.

A detailed answer will require an understanding of what the FA-50 can and cannot do, and a high-level review of the AFP modernization program as a whole. To draw attention to the misconceptions surrounding this aircraft, both among its critics and even some of its well-meaning supporters, this article will begin with what the aircraft can’t do.

Had the Philippine Air Force sought an effective counter to Chinese fighters, the FA-50 would have been a poor choice. In South Korean Air Force service, the Fighting Eagle is a replacement for aging F-5E and F-4 fighters. Both are second-string combat aircraft relegated to supporting roles for Korea’s principal fighters, namely the F-15K air superiority fighter and the relatively smaller — but still formidable — F-16K multi-role fighter.

The FA-50s range is limited. Airforce-technology.com cites a range of 1,851 km for the pure trainer version of this aircraft: the T-50 . While the Fighting Eagle’s actual range is classified, the fact that it’s external dimensions are virtually identical to the T-50, it stands to reason that it’s range would be no better, and could only be worse given the range-sapping external weapons pylons and the weight of additional equipment of the FA-50. In contrast, the smaller of the multi-role fighters cited above — the F-16 — has range of 3,221 km.

To put these figures into a counter-China context, Pag-asa island is approximately 852.77 kilometers from Metro Manila — a one-way flight that’s already almost half the aircraft’s range . This leaves the FA-50 little time to remain on station over Pag-asa before it needs to return to an airfield to refuel. It also has no in-flight refueling capability, therefore to reach, and loiter, over Philippine garrisons in the West Philippine Sea, it would need to sacrifice its precious few under-wing pylons to carrying fuel tanks, much as it did during its ferry flight from South Korea to the Philippines. Fuel tanks in lieu of weapons.

 Landing in Taiwan enroute to the Philippines. Note fuel tanks on the various hardpoints

The FA-50 is also hampered by lack of manufacturer-certified Beyond Visual Range (BVR) air-to-air weaponry. Official KAI documentation only cites AIM-9 short-range air-to-air missiles as its principal counter-aircraft armament, along with its 20mm gatling gun. While support for longer ranged missiles is not impossible, it will require a compatibility testing process that has not yet taken place.

All these facts inevitably lead to the question: If the aircraft is at such a significant disadvantage when facing Chinese fighters, why did the PAF bother to buy the FA-50 in the first place? Or in Duterte’s words “Bakit mo binili yan?”

The PAF’s long-term modernization program actually calls for the acquisition of Multi-Role Fighters (MRF) that can establish air superiority within the Philippine Air Defense Identification Zone (PADIZ), as well as provide air support for AFP forces on the ground or on water. These would be the “true fighters” that would challenge Chinese Sukhois (not Migs) in the event of escalation of hostilities and not the FA-50.

As per a Department of National Defense White Paper on the Philippine Defense Transformation — the successor to the AFP Modernization Program and the Capability Upgrade Program — the PDT’s goals with respect to air power are as follows:

Strategic Air Strike Force through a combination of manned and unmanned assets in order to gain and maintain air superiority over friendly and contested territories.  The force should be capable of neutralizing a threat’s military potential that may be used against our forces; and, of supporting our surface forces through air-delivered weapons.  The force should have multi-role fighter aircrafts and unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAV)23 capable of air interdiction, air combat maneuvering, air-to-ground and air-to-ship missions.  Inherent to the assigned missions is the training and proficiency of the fighter pilots and operators. Continuous training and participation in joint and/or combined air, land, and sea exercises shall be undertaken towards developing a proficient Strategic Air Strike Force.

While a number of candidates for MRFs have been discussed in Philippine media at various points over the past 6 years — from the Saab Gripen to the Lockheed-Martin F-16 — selection of the actual aircraft has not yet been made. Nevertheless, the nature of the mission assures the following facts about these prospective MRFs will apply:

  • There will be a significant performance gap between existing PAF trainers and MRFs. Although the F-5As were retired in 2005, PAF pilots have not been flying supersonic since long before then because concerns about the material condition of the F-5s restricted them to subs0nic flight. This has implications at multiple levels, to include the physical training regimen for pilots that would acclimate to high-g maneuvers.
  • MRFs will employ technologies that are generations ahead of whatever currently exists within the PAF. Fly-by-wire, for example, is the gold standard for modern fighter aircraft. This a system of multiple flight-computers that translate what a pilot wants to do, into actual control surface configurations. A pilot’s flight controls are no longer directly connected to the tail, ailerons, and elevators of the aircraft, they simply send requests to the fly-by-wire computers. While relatively common in the civilian airline industry, the PAF has virtual no experience operating — and more importantly maintaining — this technology. Other avionics components present in modern MRFs, from multi-mode radars to advanced low-bypass turbofans, present similar learning curves for airplane handlers — both on the ground and in the air.
  • MRFs will require a level of logistical support to which the service is unaccustomed. The quantum leap in capability of MRFs comes at a price, not only in pesos, but also in logistical complexity. The piecemeal acquisition of replacement components and cannibalization of existing aircraft for parts — that have become the norm for the PAF — will have a much more detrimental effect on these sophisticated aircraft than on its existing fleet of Vietnam-era aircraft. This will will require paradigm shifts within the organization, no only for aircraft maintainers, but even the budgetary planners responsible for forecasting logistical requirements.

To ensure a safe, sustainable, transition to this class of advanced aircraft, the Philippine Air Force deemed it necessary to acquire a bridging platform that would help the entire organization prepare for the herculean task of assimilating future MRFs into the fleet. The consequences of transitioning neophyte pilots to advanced MRFs too quickly are illustrated by the accident rate of the Indian Air Force, which is partly attributed to the lack of intermediate-performance aircraft, that the aerospace industry currently refers to as Lead In Fighter Trainers (LIFT).

This search for a bridging platform gave rise to the acquisition project formally called the “Surface Attack Aircraft / Lead-In Fighter Trainer” project. This is an amalgamation of two previously separate projects: an effort to acquire ground attack aircraft which dates back to the original 1995 modernization program, and the relatively new LIFT project. To put the role of the FA-50 into perspective, LIFT will be discussed first.

In the PAF, LIFT fits into the following training syllabus (photos c/o of the Francis Neri Albums reposted with permission):

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Basic Trainer Advanced Trainer Basic Jet Trainer Lead In Fighter Trainer Multi-Role Fighter

Prospective PAF student pilots begin flight instruction with the Cessna T-41s of the PAF Flying School. Pilots that pass the initial screening phase and are destined for fixed wing aircraft proceed to the SIAI-Marchetti SF-260 for more advanced flight instruction. The subset of candidates that are qualified for fighter pilot duty with the Air Defense Wing learn the air defense trade on the SIAI-Marchetti S211 Basic Jet Trainer.

In addition helping new pilots transition to high-performance fighters, LIFT also reduces operational costs associated with multi-role fighters by offloading part of proficiency training to the comparatively cheaper LIFT.

A notable difference with the PAF’s LIFT, compared to similar aircraft in other nations, is that it is combat-capable. South Korea, for example, uses the unarmed T-50 for its LIFT purposes, while using their FA-50s for the above-mentioned low-end attack role. To understand why the PAF went this route, one must understand the service’s experience with its trainers.

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Training aircraft in the PAF have, historically, found themselves pressed into combat service either to make up for force-deficiencies, or as a stop-gap for a complete lack of suitable combat aircraft. When the T-28 Trojan close air support aircraft were withdrawn from service in the wake of the 1989 coup, select SF-260 trainers were converted into combat configuration. The retirement of the F-5A fighters in 2005 gave rise to Project Falcon, which produced the air superiority-grey colored AS211 which served as the PAF principal “fighter substitute” for almost a decade.

In a move that seemingly accepted the inevitability of history repeating itself, the PAF Project Management Team merged its LIFT requirement with its long-standing Surface Attack Aircraft project. So instead of acquiring a pure LIFT aircraft which would have been limited to flight instruction, the project acquired the FA-50PH: an aircraft suitably equipped to prepare the organization for the arrival of more capable multi-role fighters, with a secondary function of providing ground attack functionality. Like the S211 that came before it, it will also serve as an interim fighter — simply because the PAF doesn’t have anything else that even remotely approximates its capabilities.

Assumption 2: FA-50 cannot be used for anti-insurgency

Unlike it’s air-to-air weaponry, the FA-50 is already cleared to use a variety of ground attack weapons. All of which could be brought to bear in internal counter-insurgency campaigns, particularly against groups with a predilection for constructing defensive fortifications. The most recent instance of military action requiring fixed-wing strike was in Lanao in August 2008 where AS-211s were used.

The FA-50 can carry more ordnance than either the AS211s or the Vietnam-era OV-10 Broncos of the 15th Strike Wing. For comparison, the following table indicates the number of Mk.32 500lb bombs that each plane carries. Data reported from multiple sources within the PAF.

Aircraft Number of Mk.82 500 lb
OV-10 4
AS-211 2
FA-50 6

A brochure from Korean Aerospace Industries gives the following insight into the capacities of the various hardpoints, as well as support for bomb racks on the inner pylons, which makes the six-bomb report possible.

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While superior bomb-carrying capacity is, by itself, a significant improvement. What sets the FA-50 apart is the increased bombing accuracy because of its avionics. Existing AS211 and OV-10 are largely dependent on the pilot’s aim, and restricted to specific bombing profiles that require flying over the target, at relatively low heights, for manual weapons release. The FA-50s, on the other hand, is not limited to such profiles.

While PAF sources are reticent to discuss these facets of the aircraft openly, the FA-50’s ground attack mission in the South Korean air force, combined with its lineage with the F-16 strongly, as well as open source data about the aircraft’s avionics (e.g., embedded GPS, Inertial Navigation System, Heads Up Display etc.) strongly suggests the presence of computer-assisted bombing capability that greatly improves the effectiveness of conventional bombs. In South Korean service, the FA-50 is equipped with an Israeli-made Elta EL/M 2032 Multi-Mode Fire Control radar system which aviation Website Daegel.com describes as:

The radar enhances a fighter jet’s air-to-air, air-to-ground, and air-to-sea capabilities, enabling long-range target detection and high-resolution mapping, among other features.

This translates to highly accurate “dumb bomb” delivery either via Constantly Computed Impact Point (CCIP) or Continuously Computed Release Point (CCRP) bombing modes. While these two bombing techniques have been in existence for decades, it wasn’t until the FA-50 that the PAF could begin training in them. CCRP would allow the FA-50 to drop its dumb bombs from very high altitude — above cloud cover — and still have reasonable accuracy. The exact Circular Error of Probability (CEP) for bombs dropped in this manner is secret, but will undeniably be less than that of Precision Guided Munitions (PGM) which public sources have cited at 20ft. However, CCIP and CCRP are still used in conjunction with PGMs for situations where guidance for the PGM becomes unavailable after weapons release (e.g., weather interfering with guidance laser, etc.). PGMs are, in fact, best used in conjunction with either CCIP or CCRP.

Purely for perspective, the following are two bombing maneuvers made possible by CCRP. These images were taken from an October 1957 article in Popular Mechanics about computer-assisted bombing in the USAF, purely based on Inertial Navigation Systems, and without the benefit of embedded GPS systems. Note that these samples are purely to enhance appreciation for the flexibility of the technology. It is not a declaration that these are, or will be, part of the PAF’s own Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTP).

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 Bomb toss  Vertical release

Furthermore, as per PAF sources, the availability of embedded training systems on the aircraft — which were integral to its training function — permit the simulation of weapons delivery without actually expending ammunition.

Even without either CCIP or CCRP, the FA-50’s superior ordnance carrying capacity translates to more Paveway II Laser Guided Bombs (LGB) that can be brought to be bear on a target for precision targeting of multiple High Value Targets (HVT) with minimal collateral damage. This relatively new addition to the PAF arsenal provides a valuable capability in counter-insurgency, and one that was actually demonstrated in March 2012 reportedly c/o of an OV-10 carrying at least one such weapon. Although photographs of the event have never been release, a PAF modernization document with a photograph of a PAF OV-10 in the process of dropping a Paveway II was circulated in defense social media.

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 PAF OV-10 dropping Paveway II, photo c/o of a PAF pubication  Photo c/o Rappler.com

Assumption 3: The AFP prioritized the FA-50 in lieu of helicopters with night fighting capability

The AFP has already had five years of the COIN-centric first phase of the Capability Upgrade Program which initially replaced the 1995 AFP Modernization Program. It’s insurgency-focused capabilities are at an all-time high, as are it’s night fighting capabilities. Given that the speech was delivered before the President formally assumed office, and before his formal briefing about the AFP’s capabilities, it is not inconceivable that he was not aware that the Philippine Air Force actually already has eight (8) all-weather AgustaWestland AW-109 attack helicopters with the ability to detect ground targets day or night. These are addition to the two attack helicopters of the Philippine Navy.

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 AW-109 in hangar during Balikataan 2015. FLIR turret clearly visible under nose. Close-up of FLIR turret with view of rocket pod. Screen capture taken from a PAF video  Screen capture of a night-time firing of air-to-ground rockets. Screen capture taken from a PTV4 video

High speed photo reconnaissance

The rebuttals to the assumptions listed above have already addressed the question of “What is the FA-50 for?” in broad strokes. This section will explore other uses for which this aircraft is highly suited.

One function that the FA-50 is uniquely suited is high-speed reconnaissance. Not to be confused with maritime patrol, which is slated to be fulfilled by another PAF project, which will be discussed in another article.

No other Philippine asset, military or civilian, can put human eye-balls above a crisis point faster than the FA-50. Be it an emerging crisis anywhere within the Philippine EEZ, or photo reconnaissance of remote disaster stricken areas as part of the preliminary assessment of a disaster response plan.

Although not currently part of the SAA/LIFT munitions project, reconnaissance pods that can provide real-time images to a ground station do exist and could broaden the FA-50’s usefulness. The following pod is an example. Only proper evaluation and testing will determine its suitability for the our aircraft.

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 Reecelite Tactical Reconnaissance Pod. Photo c/o Rafale

Why a brand new plane for LIFT?

Older, 2nd-hand, aircraft to perform the SAA/LIFT function could have potentially been acquired in lieu of brand new aircraft. However the availability of low-use airframes, with sufficient airframe life to satisfy the requirements of Administrative Order 169, Series of 2007 , while not impossible, is questionable.

3.2.3. Used equipment or weapons system may be acquired, provided that:

a. The used equipment: or weapon system meets the desired operational requirements of the AFP;

b. It still has at least fifteen (15) years service life, or at least fifty percent (50%) of its service life remaining, or if subjected to a life extension program, is upgradeable to attain its original characteristics or capabilities;

c. Its acquisition cost is reasonable compared to the cost of new equipment; and

d. The supplier should ensure the availability of after-sales maintenance support and services,

At any rate, right or wrong, the previous administration’s experience with sticker shock at a lackadasical attempt to acquire refurbished F-16s in 2012, soured the DND against refurbished fighters. This ill-fated F-16 project is a story in itself, and is reserved for a future article.

Selecting brand new aircraft, on the other hand, that are still in production not only assures the PAF of thousands of flights hours of useful airframe life — which translates to decades of service — but also of continued availability of parts. A factory-fresh F-16, for example, has a designed airframe life of 4,500 flight hours which, depending on the sortie rate and demands of the mission profiles, will actually last decades.

Delving into the PAF’s history yet again, it was the lack of spares for an aircraft that had long since been retired from service with the country of origin that eventually grounded the most capable fighter the PAF has operated to date: the F-8H Crusader.

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 F-8H in flight. Photo c/o Vought Corp. F-8s scrapped in Clark AFB

Summary

Modernization of an air force cannot happen overnight. Dr Sanu Kainikaa, an air power strategist with the Royal Australian Air Force and a retired fighter pilot and Wing Commander of the Indian Air Force, summarizes this task on page 48 of his book “The Art of Air Power”, published by the Air Power Development Center of the Royal Australian Air Force:

Of all military capabilities, air power is the most cost intensive to develop, acquire and operate. This places an added responsibility on air force leaders to select and maintain the appropriate air power capabilities that will provide the necessary level of security to the nation. The situation is further complicated by the long lead time required to establish air power capabilities of the right calibre. In combination, the onus of responsibility on the air force leadership is ominous. On the other side of the coin, it has also to be emphasised that air power is critical to success in all contemporary conflicts and is, therefore, a crucial element in the overall warfighting capability of a military force.

Another aspect of the cost of developing air power capabilities is the quantum of resources that need to be expended to create a cadre of professionals who clearly understand all aspects of the professional application of air power. This is once again a drawnout process and cannot be put in place at short notice or in an ad hoc manner. Time and experience are of the essence here, perhaps even more than the need for financial resources. The resource intensiveness of the physical assets and the need to invest wisely in long-term developmental requirements—both in hardware and human capabilities—makes air power a unique capability. This also makes it a complex capability to sustain at the necessary level of competence.

Even if it were not the Duterte administration’s intention to pursue the PAF’s modernization during its tenure, it would be behoove his administration to preserve whatever gains had already been made to give future administrations the latitude to fulfill such plans. The momentum that the PAF is gaining with its FA-50s –if not in terms of raw military power, then in the airpower-related skills for the entire organization — must not be dismissed casually.

Had Duterte’s assumptions about the FA-50PH been correct, then he would have been justified in the stance he took at the SMX forum. With an acquisition cost of US$426.6 million (P19.9 billion), these 12 aircraft alone cost more than the budgets of the Department of Science & Technology and Department of Trade & Industry combined. These are funds that could have been put to use to shore up other aspects of the AFP’s capabilities, or kept in the AFP Modernization Trust Fund for use in the purchase of the true MRFs that the PAF intends to buy.

However, re-examination of the rationale behind why the FA-50 was purchased in the first place, its capabilities, and a simple review of the Philippine Defense Transformation program, yields flaws in these assumptions that arguably can be attributed to lack of information. This article was written in the spirit of aiding efforts that the DND, AFP, and PAF are undoubtedly taking to educate the President about the goals of the PAF component of the modernization plan. The sustainable transition to an external facing air defense posture and the future of the Air Defense Command hinge upon the success of this education campaign. It is of such importance that it deserves the support of any and all knowledgeable patriot.

Ensconced within that transition plan is the FA-50PH, and the training benefits it provides both pilots and plane handlers. It would do the AFP well to highlight the safety benefits that a bridging platform offers to pilots to the President.  After all, Duterte is a pilot himself.

Inventory: Lockheed-Martin C-130 / L-100-20 (Updated)

The following is a record of Lockheed C-130 Hercules and L-100-20 (civilian version of the C-130) aircraft that are currently in the Philippine Air Force. Most are inactive at the C-130 graveyard in Mactan, Cebu. A small — but growing — fraction are operational. As per Manokski’s C-130 page, a total of 19 C-130s had entered PAF service since 1973. This inventory, however, only represents the aircraft that were in the PAF’s possession (active or otherwise) at the turn of the century.

The basic structure of the data below is derived from an exhaustive list of C-130s from around the world prepared by Bob Daley in 01 May 2006 (see here). This format has been expanded to suit this site’s purposes. This article has been updated to reflect the arrival of an additional C-130T in 2016.

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 Photo c/o Francis Neri albums

Photographs in the photo album were complied for the following Facebook page: Philippine Defense Today. These now link to albums on this page as the original Timawa FB extension for C-130s is now unmanaged.

# Original registration Original model Final model Current # Photo album Note
3520 58-0725 C-130B 0725 See here Previously assigned to the USAF 53rd WRS. Sold to the PAF in 1995, retired in 1997. Scrapped. Ref
3535 58-0738 C-130B 0738 See here Previously assigned to USAF Reserve 731st Tactical Airlift Squadron. Ref
3545 58-0747 C-130B 3545 See here Previously assigned to the USAF 54th WRS in Guam. Ref
Transferred to AMARC in 29APR 1992. (AACF0107) Transferred to the PAF in 09 Oct 1997. Inactive and previously left to exposed to the elements at the C-130 graveyard in Mactan AFB. Sighted in 2016 sporting a new paint scheme but still non-operational. Ref
3547 58-0749 C-130B 0749 See here Previously assigned to the Ohio National Guard and USAF Reserve
3552 58-0753 C-130B 3552 See here Transferred to AMARC in 19 Aug 1992 (AACF0112). Transferred to PAF in 29 Sep 1997 Ref
3593 60-0294 C-130B 0294 See here Previously assigned to the USAF Reserve
3633 61-0954 C-130B 3633 See here Active. Underwent its Programmed Depot Maintenance at the 410th Maintenance Wing in Clark AFB. It re-entered service on December 28, 2012
3646 61-0961 C-130B 0961 See here
3946 N1130E L100 L100-20 3946 See here Civilian version of the military C-130. This was the original Lockheed demonstrator for the L100
4512 N7967S L100-20 4512 See here Civilian version of the military C-130
4593 RP-C101 L100-20 4593 See here Acquired in 1983, and started Programmed Depot Maintenance (PDM) at the Clark Economic Zone done by Asian Aerospace Corporation in February 2004. Crashed into Davao Gulf 25 August 2008
4704 C-130H 4704 See here Active. Returned from a Programmed Depot Maintenance cycle in the United States on October 2012
4726 C-130H 4726 See here Active. Subjected to PDM at Clark Field by Lockheed Martin / Asian Aerospace. Maintenance cycle completed in June 2009. Ref
5011 C-130T 5011 See here Active. The sale of two Ex-USMC C-130T aircraft was approved on July 24, 2014. The first unit was delivered on April 12, 2016. Ref

A role for seaplanes in the Armed Forces of the Philippines

Seaplanes and flying boats are aircraft with the unique ability to travel to any marine destination, at fixed-wing-aircraft speed, and then land and take-off from water. It is a category of aircraft that is — theoretically — well suited to an archipelagic country like the Philippines.

The Philippine Navy’s 15-year development plan calls for the acquisition of eight (8) Amphibious Maritime Patrol Aircraft. More recently, the Philippine Air Forces issued a P2.6B invitation to bid for three Search and Rescue seaplanes in November 2013. Both acquisitions, however, are currently on-hold. This suggests that while the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) recognizes the value of this category of aircraft, they are not particularly high in the priority list. Which is unfortunate given the unique missions that only they can perform.

In this article, let us explore this category of aircraft, the different sub-categories within, their operational challenges, and the roles they play.

Seaplanes, flying boats, atbp.

The term “seaplane” is often used to describe all planes that take off and land on water. But this really only correctly describes one type of machine.

Seaplanes have floats beneath their aircraft upon which they land on water. The floats serve as their landing gear, and are typically permanently suspended beneath the plane. This aerodynamic penalty is the price paid for marine operation.

Flying boats, on the other-hand, have specially designed fuselages designed to operate in water. This makes for an aerodynamically clean fuselage. Some designs have additional floats on the wings to keep the plane upright in the water, while others have specially designed extensions that serve this purpose.

“Amphibians” are a sub-category of flying boat that land on water exclusively, and only use their landing gear to taxi from water on to land. On paper, this is the type of aircraft that the Philippine Navy is eyeing. Lack of clarity about the Authorized Budget for Contract that will be allocated to the project makes it difficult to predict the outcome of the project.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines has operated both seaplanes and flying boats over the years, but have since retired them.

airjuan-grand-caravan-seaplane  hu16d_01
Cessna Grand Caravan seaplane.
Photo c/0 Air Juan Website
PAF HU-16 Albatross Flying boat

In the early 20th century, when limitations on aircraft endurance necessitated more refueling stops than there were aerodromes, flying boats like the PanAm Clippers were the only way to fly, for example, from San Francisco to Manila. This could be done by way of water landings at Honolulu, Midway, Wake, and Guam. The path they took appears in the map below, taken from the Website clipperflyingboats.com.

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 Photo c/o clipperflyingboats.com

Advances in aviation design have since made it possible to fly previously unimaginable distances without refueling. Today Philippine Airlines regularly flies the San Francisco  to Manila route via direct 13-hour flights.

Since World War II, seaplanes and flying boats have been relegated to specialized roles, and only by a drastically reduced number of countries. Early champions of the aircraft type, the United States and the United Kingdom, have all retired their floatplanes without replacements. Japan, Russia, and Canada are the only remaining players in the military / government flying boat market. Other manufacturers, like Cessna and Dornier, are mainly aimed at the civilian market which focus on light aircraft for niche applications.

The reasons for this decline are multi-faceted and are beyond the scope of this article. But among them are the challenges inherent to this aircraft type.

Operating seaplanes

The book Corsairville: The lost domain of the flying boat by Graham Coster is a travel book that sought the story behind a British flying boat that crashed in the Belgian Congo. As part of that exploration, the author chronicled the changing attitudes towards seaplanes and flying boats. It contained numerous interesting insights into the challenges of operating seaplanes, which could be summarized as follows:

  • Salt vs aluminum
  • Water landings
  • Foreign Object Damage concerns

Salt vs aluminum

Salt water is corrosive. This is obvious to anyone who’s been on a ship or frequents the coasts. While marine aluminum is more corrosion resistant than steel (corrosion rate of 1mm/year versus 120mm, see here), corrosion still occurs. This necessitates measures to combat this phenomena.

The following quotes from the book directly reference this issue. Note that “Seaplane” and “Pan-Am Air Bridge” were seaplane operators that the author used for his research into seaplane operations.

A floatplane did little more that dip its toes in on each landing, but at the end of everyday, Seaplane‘s Cessna had the hose turned on it for an hour and a half.

. . .

Two out of Pan-Am Air Bridge’s (aka Chalk’s Ocean Airways) 5 Mallards needed work . . . That insinuating, continuously destructive, salt again: everyday they had to run fresh water through the airframes, wash down the hull, apply all kinds of preservatives, coat rivet lines and joins with grease. ‘For every hour we fly’ . . . your going to take 3 to 4 hours of maintenance.

Philippine aircraft operators are no strangers to salt. With a significant portion or all airports and airfields being close to the sea, and salty sea spray, measures to control the build-up of this corrosive substance, ideally, ought to be common place knowledge. However, an aircraft that deliberately makes contact with salt water will require additional attention to ensure longevity.

Water landings

Whereas salt water’s effects on the seaplane’s airframe presented what amounts to an inconvenience to its maintainers and the organization that operates them, the floatplane’s operating environment presents challenges for its pilot.

The book presented insights from a former Sunderland pilot. The Sunderland is a British flying boat shown blow. This particular photo shows an Australian example of the aircraft.

461_Sqn_Sunderland_AWM_P01520

Here are the pilot’s thoughts about the idiosyncracies of floatplane flight:

For a take-off, once you were out on the water, everything was variable. ‘It won’t just sit on the runway — it’ll roll — so the wings won’t stay level: you have to use the ailerons. Then, because of the torque of the engines, it’ll swing: you have to use the rudder to keep it straight’. Because the swing was habitually to port, you opened up the port engines first, and built up speed to 50, 60 knots until the flying boat’s 5-foot draught was out of the water and the craft was planing on its step . . .

The variability of the landing surface also requires an additional skill for pilots: “reading the water”. The following excerpt from the book illustrates this skill, c/o an interview with an Alaskan seaplane pilot.

See those black spots in the water?’ They were like scuffmarks, bruise-shadows in the indigo bay. ‘That’s where the wind is denting the water — coming down over this mountain and kind of bouncing off it’. Cat’s paws was the aviator’s nickname for them, because they also looked like a scatter of prints: the sight of them warned you that as you descended below that mountain the gusts could knock you about. Over east in the next bay . . . the water was fish-scaled silver . . . like silver-thread cloth, but said Fred, that fish-scaling was the wind whipping up the water. Try to land near that and both descent and touchdown would be a lot rougher. ‘We learn to read the water.’

The Federal Aviation Authority’s seaplane manual highlights the conditions that pilots have to “read”:

While a land plane pilot can rely on windsocks and indicators adjacent to the runway, a seaplane pilot needs to be able to read wind direction and speed from the water itself. On the other hand, the landplane pilot may be restricted to operating in a certain direction because of the orientation of the runway, while the seaplane pilot can usually choose a takeoff or landing direction directly into the wind.

Even relatively small waves and swell can complicate seaplane operations. Takeoffs on rough water can subject the floats to hard pounding as they strike consecutive wave crests. Operating on the surface in rough conditions exposes the seaplane to forces that can potentially cause damage or, in some cases, overturn the seaplane. When a swell is not aligned with the wind, the pilot must weigh the dangers posed by the swell against limited crosswind capability, as well as pilot experience.

While landing gears provide some level of forgiveness during hard landings, such landings for a flying boat have serious consequences, as shown in this excerpt from Corsairville:

Ken Emmott had once had to swim for it . .  in Southampton Water when his BOAC captain had landed too fast, bounced their Sunderland off the water and cut away a large section of the nose before they sank to the bottom.

The Federal Aviation Authoriy’s seaplane manual affirms the plane’s sensitivity to hard landings

Because floats are mounted rigidly to the structure of the fuselage, they provide no shock absorbing function, unlike the landing gear of landplanes. While water may seem soft and yielding, damaging forces and shocks can be transmitted directly through the floats and struts to the basic structure of the airplane.

Foreign Object Damage concerns

The unique handling characteristics of seaplanes and flying boats require specialized training and flight experience. But there is one issue that no amount of flight training can completely address: debris.

The FAA seaplane manual offers the following guideline for seaplane landings:

It is usually a good practice to circle the area of intended landing and examine it thoroughly for obstructions such as pilings or floating debris, and to note the direction of movement of any boats that may be in or moving toward the intended landing site. Even if the boats themselves will remain clear of the landing area, look for wakes that could create hazardous swells if they move into the touchdown zone.

Ocular surveys from the air, however, can only go so far. As Iren Dornier and his crew demonstrated spectacularly at an Austrian airshow in Salzkammergut in July 2015.

Dornier, the pilot, is the grandson of the German Aviation Pioneer Dr. Claude Dornier and has significant investments in the Philippines to include South East Asian Airlines (SEAir) and a flying boat factory at the former Clark AFB in Pampanga, where his company manufactures the S-Ray 007 amphibian. He and his crew had been flying their refurbished World War 2-era DO 24ATT flying boat as part of a round-the-world tour to raise funds for the UNICEF, and were thus experienced flying boat operators. His floatplane credentials and lineage are impressive. That, however, did not make him or his crew them immune to floating debris.

The following photographs show what happens if a flying boat makes contact with unseen floating debris (believed to be a tree trunk) during landing. The object tore a fist-sized hole in the side of the DO 24ATT flying boat, which then took on water. The plane had to be towed to shore. None of the crew were injured.

dornier2 dornier3
dornier4  dornier5
 dornier6  dornier7

Video of the event available below

Given the amount of debris in Philippine water ways, from flood water run-off, garbage thrown off ships, and cast-offs of various marine economic activities, the probability of similar contact is not insignificant

Bodies of water are constantly changing. Even if a seaplane were to take off and land from the same location. The condition of that landing point will never be same as it was when the plane took off from it. What was safe when the pilot left it, might not be so upon return. It is that variability that increases the uncertainty.

Seaplanes alternatives

Arguably, one contributory factor to the decline of the seaplanes and and flying boats was the rise of the helicopter. It replaced the floatplane as the preferred platform for non-aircraft-carrier-based aerial missions. Seaplanes used to perform reconnaissance, liaison, and search and rescue missions from ships large enough to accommodate them.

In World War II, some vessels could launch their planes using catapaults. However to recover them, the ship had to stop to bring the plane back onboard — a risky and time consuming maneuver. If the sea state around the recovering ship was unfavorable, landing alongside the recovery ship would be impossible.

float-plane-12 floatplane-19
 Catapault launch photo c/o Pacificaviationmuseum.org Seaplane recovery photo c/o Pacificaviationmuseum.org

Helicopters on the other hand could land on ships while underway, and in a broad range of sea states. They could also rescue individuals in the water, without needing to risk the aircraft in a water landing, by hovering above them and lowering a rescue winch.

Long range maritime patrol missions have also been traditional fixtures the flying boat’s offerings. The same qualities that made floatplanes the principal means of air travel across the Pacific, also made them the ideal maritime patrol aircraft for their time. Their ability to take off from water meant that they could be based closer to the intended patrol area without needing runways, and could be refueled and re-provisioned by ship.

However advances in aviation technology have given conventional land-based aircraft the range and reliability to perform such missions, all from the safety of a non-variable runway . Furthermore, land-based aircraft do not require the aerodynamic compromises imposed by water landing requirements (e.g., floats and associated struts, etc.) thus improving performance.

Air forces simply no longer needed flying boats for the bulk of their traditional missions. But . . . not all.

Flying boats, and to a large extent seaplanes, retain the advantage of speed over helicopters. Whereas a relatively slow World War II flying boat like a PBY Catalina only flies at 189 mph, the Philippine Navy’s newest multipurpose helicopter, the AgustaWestland AW109 only had a maximum cruising speed of 177 mph. That speed advantage is a key differentiator.

11180636_1465213630446253_8275562330979501449_n agusta_zps2f72ac6a
 PAF PBY Catalina photo c/o Francis Neri Albums  AW109 photo c/o Philippine Navy

Justifying the risk

Water take off and landings compound the dangers already inherent in flying. If a helicopter or a conventional plane can do the mission better and safer, then the suitability of a floatplane for that task is debatable. However, there are specific missions that only seaplanes and flying boats are able to perform. These are unique requirements that justify their expense, both in pilot training and additional maintenance for the aircraft, as well as the risk inherent to operating from water.

No place in the Republic of the Philippines better illustrates the potential for floatplane use better than the garrisons in the West Philippine Sea. Among them, the BRP Sierra Madre, which serves as the republic’s outpost on Ayungin reef. Because of its proximity to Panganiban Reef, known internationally as Mischief Reef, this ship is on the frontline of the EEZ conflict between the Philippines and the People’s Republic of China.

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AFP Western Command resupplies this station by sea and by air. These missions are performed on a regular schedule, and the station itself is stocked with supplies to accommodate unexpected delays that, in the past, have doubled the tours of duty of the Marines guarding the ship.

Troop rotations are performed by boat. For Operational Security (OPSEC) reasons, exactly how resupply boats reach the station despite the Chinese blockade will not be discussed here.

Consumables and care packages, on the other hand, can be air dropped to the ship. Items are placed in sacks which are then enclosed in plastic along with bouyancy aids such as styrofoam. These are then dropped in the water beside the the outpost and the resident Philippine Marines simply bring them onboard. See inset on the photo below on the right.

 999642_610321529003252_1266993513_n 11403109_1464861363814813_6684020412641144776_n
 Logistic air drop. Photo c/o Philippine Navy  Philippine Navy islander dropping cargo. Photo c/o Philippine Air Force

To summarize the state of logistic affairs on Ayungin, existing techniques allow for either slow transport of large quantities of personnel and provisions, or rapid delivery of modest quantities of supplies. Neither method, however, can be used for rapid extraction of men or materiel. Which also means that neither method would be suitable for Medical Evacuation (MEDEVAC) missions. If AFP personnel on these outposts ever fall seriously ill or are injured, they will be in for a long wait before they can be given proper medical care.

Heli-deck equipped vessels, such as the Del Pilar class frigates, Frank Besson LSVs, even Philippine Coast Guard Tenix boats, could presumably dispatch helicopters to recover a stricken individual from the outpost. Rotary-wing aircraft could fly over any Chinese blockading ships to reach their destinations. But the ships would still have to travel to within helicopter-flying distance to be effective. Furthermore, the medical facilities on these ships are limited — none are normally equipped for tertiary care. Once the patient is onboard, they would still have to sail at best possible speed to an alternative medical facility.

Seaplanes and flying boats would be the logical choice for the MEDEVAC role, as they are the only aircraft that can embark passengers from WPS outposts, and travel with sufficient speed back to air bases in Palawan, Metro Manila or at the very least to the medical health center on Pag-asa island.

These aircraft could also be used to satisfy the MEDEVAC needs of Philippine Navy and Philippine Coast Guard ships on patrol or remote island communities in other parts of the Philippines. While acquired primarily for a military purpose, it has windfall benefits for the general population.

This is an operational challenge that needs a solution. The defenders of the West Philippine Sea deserve nothing less than the country’s best effort in ensuring access to medical treatment within the all-important Golden Hour, during which medical intervention will yield the most benefit. Philippine Navy or Philippine Air Force floatplanes, whichever service gets them first, offer the best means for satisfying this need.

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About this article

The base research for this article was completed in 2006, as part of back-end work for the following thread on the Timawa.net forum: Operating Seaplanes.

“Sea denial” vs “Sea Control”

Thanks to a position paper published by Congressman Roilo Golez, the term “area denial” has entered mainstream Philippine social media discussions about tensions with China and territorial threats in the West Philippine Sea. But what exactly is “Sea Denial”? To fully appreciate that mission, one must also understand the super-set mission: “Sea Control”.

The following quotations were initially collected for the following discussion on the Timawa.net forum: Sea Control vs Sea Denial: Why small boats aren’t enough and provide an easy-to-follow layman’s guide to understanding these two concepts.

From an online excerpt of the book The Influence of Sea Power on History: 1600-1783, Boston: Little, Brown and Co, 1896 by Mahan, A. T. comes the following concise distinction between control and denial

Sea denial. Sea denial, or commerce-destroying, provides a means for harrying and tiring an enemy. It may be a means to avoid losing a war. It may cause “great individual injury and discontent”. But by itself, a sea denial strategy is not a war-winning one. Nor is it a particularly deterring strategy.

Sea Control. Sea control means, fundamentally, the ability to carry your, and your allies’, commerce across the seas and to provide the means to project force upon a hostile, distant shore. A sea controller must limit the sea denial capabilities of the enemy. To quote the Prophet again, “… when a question arises of control over distant regions, … it must ultimately be decided by naval power, …, which represents the communications that form so prominent a feature in all strategy.”

Between the two strategies, sea denial remains the lowest hanging fruit. Expensive capital ships are principal means of exercising Sea Control and is therefore often beyond the resources of most maritime nations. Even China initially started with this strategy as related by Hugh White, a professor of strategic studies at ANU. The paper not only points out China’s approach, but affirms the limitations of this strategy as explained above by Mahan

The Chinese have long understood that America’s sea control in the western Pacific has been the military foundation of its strategic primacy in Asia, and that the US Navy’s carriers are the key. They have therefore focused the formidable expansion of their naval and air forces over the past 20 years on trying to deprive the US of sea control by developing their capacity to sink American carriers. In this they appear to have been strikingly successful, to the point that US military leaders now acknowledge that their sea control in the western Pacific is slipping away.

But for China, depriving America of sea control is not the same as acquiring it themselves. Its naval strategy has focused on the much more limited aim that strategists call ”sea denial”: the ability to attack an adversary’s ships without being able to stop them attacking yours. These days, sea denial can be achieved without putting ships to sea, because land-based aircraft, long-range missiles and submarines can sink ships much more cost-effectively than other ships can. This is what China has done.

< Edited >

The central fact of modern naval warfare – which the Chinese grasp as well as anyone – is that sea denial is relatively easy to achieve, but control is extremely hard. We seem to be entering an era in which many countries can achieve sea denial where it matters to them most, but none can achieve sea control against any serious adversary.

The key take away from White’s thesis is the multi-dimensional nature of the strategy. To enable its own sea denial capability, the AFP needs to make investments in the airborne, maritime, and land-based systems listed above. The Philippine Navy currently has an ongoing acquisition project for brand new Frigates with explicit, albeit limited, Anti-Air, Anti-Surface, and Anti-Submarine Warfare capability. The Philippine Army is moving ahead with studies to acquire land-based Anti-Ship Missile systems. The Philippine Air Force is pursuing a variety of patrol and surface attack aircraft projects. All these efforts, as of writing, remain works-in-progress and their successful and timely completion is hardly assured.

While it is very unlikely that the Philippines will ever be able to make significant headway into sea control on its own, a sea-denial build-up will still put it in a better position to keep cadence with its allies. A coalition of countries with individual sea denial capabilities can approach sea control capability more effectively together than they could alone. A concerted effort to deploy sea-control-compatible assets, would also demonstrate the Philippines’ willingness to participate in an allied effort at sea control and establish its status as a reliable partner in such an allied effort, even if such assets can only maintain a tenuous presence in our EEZ when viewed in isolation.

The Geagle game

Spot the difference between different Golden Eagle versions using the following images taken from the KAI Website. Do the following:

1. Open a tabbed browser (latest versions of Chrome, IE, Firefox fall in this category)

2. Copy the following links to a different tabs:

http://adroth.ph/afpmodern/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/fa50.jpg

http://adroth.ph/afpmodern/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/ta50.jpg

http://adroth.ph/afpmodern/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/t50b.jpg

http://adroth.ph/afpmodern/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/t50.jpg

3. Switch from one tab to the next. Focusing on the three views of the aircraft at the bottom, the ones with dimensions.

Note what changes . . . and what doesn’t.

Comparison: Crusader vs Geagle

Barring any significant reversals (which still remain possible as of writing), the South Korean KAI Golden Eagle appears poised to become the most sophisticated combat aircraft ever to enter service with the Philippine Air Force. It is a 21st century aircraft that will mark the start of the age of Fly-By-Wire for the PAF. The Aermacchi AS-211, the long serving but ill-suited, basic-jet-trainer-turned-makeshift-multirole-fighter will no longer be the PAF’s solitary connection to the combat-jet age.

But aside from the technological advancements that will prepare the PAF for true Multi-Role Fighters (MRF) capability, what does the Geagle really bring to the table? Where does it put us in terms of capability? The answers require data that are not readily available in the public space. However we can glean some insight by comparing this aircraft with what previously was the most advanced fighter in PAF service: the Vought F-8 Crusader. This Vietnam War veteran gave the PAF true all-weather interception capability and featured the most capable avionics suite in a PAF fighter up to that point. It is therefore a fitting yardstick for capability enhancement.

The following table puts together a simplistic comparison of both aircraft. More data will be added to this table over time. There are many other factors that affect aircraft performance beyond what is apparent in the specifications listed here. However, the Geagle’s limited range and a prevailing lack of Beyond Visual Range (BVR) engagement capability are both readily apparent.

While the Geagle is heads and shoulders above the S211 in a combat role . . . a need for a more capable aircraft in the near future remains necessary to meet the threats of today. To quote a Timawan in the AFP: “We are doomed if accept a Lead-In Fighter Trainer as our frontliner”.

Specification F-8H Crusader FA-50 Golden Eagle

Photo c/o Vought

Photo c/o Korean Aerospace

Crew One Two
Length 54′ 3″ 42′ 7″
Height 15′ 9″ 15′ 8″
Wing area 375 sq. ft. 255 sq. ft.
Wingspan 35′ 8″ 29′ 11″
Empty weight 16,483 lbs 14,285 lbs
Max take off weight 27,938 lbs 27,300 lbs
Powerplant Pratt & Whitney J-57-P-4A General Electric F404-102
Range 1,295 miles 999.46 miles
Speed Mach 1.5+ Mach 1.5
Avionics Magnavox AN/APQ-83 fire control radar For the FA version. Actual specs for PAF may vary:IAI EL/M-2032 Fire Control Radar
Tactical Data-Link System
Fly-by-wire digital flight controls
Night Vision Imaging System (NVIS)
Hands-On Throttle and Stick (HOTAS)
Multifunction Displays (MFD)
Armament Four Colt Mk.12 20mm guns
AIM-9
AGM-12 Bullpup
One 20mm M61 3-barrel cannon
AIM-9
AGM-65 Maverick
JDAM
Beyond Visual Range(BVR) capability None Uncertain
In-flight refuelling Yes None (proposed)

References

  • Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft (Updated October 2012)
  • http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/aircraft/f-8-specs.htm
  • http://wiki.scramble.nl/index.php/Chance_Vought_F-8_Crusader
  • http://www.airforce-technology.com/projects/t-50/
  • http://www.koreaaero.com/english/product/fixedwing_t-50.asp
  • http://www.deagel.com/news/Republic-of-Korea-Air-Force-Selects-ELM-2032-Fire-Control-Radar-for-its-T-50-Training-Jet_n000006581.aspx

Three operational C-130s at last

The following DND photograph captures a significant milestone in recent PAF history: the return of the rule-of-three to its airlift operations. Aircraft #4704, which recently arrived from a PDM cycle in the United States, and #4726, the PAF workhorse in recent years.

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Touted as a milestone in self-reliance, the Philippine Air Force completed Programmed Depot Maintenance (PDM) for C-130B #3633 through the efforts of its own personnel at the 410th Maintenance Wing.  Lockheed-Martin endorsed consultants were reportedly on hand to ensure compliance with industry standards.It was the first time the PAF had ever undertaken a project of this magnitude. Previous PDM efforts had either been done in Malaysia, or in-country through Asian Aerospace — a Lockheed-Martin approved contractor. As of writing, it is unclear if Asian Aerospace provided assistance for the project.

At the turnover ceremony for the refurbished Hercules, PAF Vice Commander MGEN Raul Dimatactac reported that the project gave PAF personnel invaluable experience in the conduct of PDM cycles for C-130 aircraft, and hinted this this experience would pave the way for more in-country PDM projects in the future. MGEN Dimatactac revealed that the project started in 2010, and would have been completed in 2011. But procedural difficulties in the acquisition of required components delayed the project. He also counted the experience gained in working with the procurement process as an achievement of the project, and would hasten similar efforts.

The PAF came close to returning to the critical 3-plane mark in 2009 when C-130 #4726 completed its Programmed Depot Maintenance cycle. Unfortunately, C-130 # 4598 crashed a few months prior. When the long-serving #4704  — which had been the lone C-130 for several years — was finally set aside for repair, the PAF returned to a one-plane fleet.

Sokols in action

Ten months after delivery from Poland in February, and only weeks after the second-batch of two units arrived at Clark AFB, the Sokols have been deployed to their first high profile mission in COMPOSTELA Valley in support of relief operations in the wake of typhoon Pablo. The following screen capture from an ABS-CBN report shows two W-3As deployed, indicating satisfactory completion of the testing phase of the aircraft service career in the Philippine Air Force. The helicopters are first visible at time index 00:29 of the video.

abscbn

 

PAF: Waiting on the 5th attempt at getting Attack Helicopters

The Philippine Star confirmed what had been feared on the Timawa.net forum for months, the most recent attempt by the Philippine Air Force to acquire all-weather attack helicopters, had failed. It was the fourth project in a series of attempts that dated back to 2006.

The focal point for this effort were ten (10) Eurocopter AS550 Fennec helicopters that were reportedly originally destined for Pakistan. The deal had been aborted, and Eurocopter sought alternative buyers for the helicopters that had already been manufactured and were simply in storage. Enter the Philippine Air Force.

The PAF had initially been slated to award Project #AFPMP-PAF-00-06-042 to Agustawestland for the armed version of its W-3 Sokol helicopters. Earlier, this company had received a contract for 8 of the transport version of this aircraft for the Combat Utility Helicopter (CUH) project. However on September 2010, the then incoming Secretary of National Defense, Voltaire Gazmin, issued a memorandum suspending further action on the Sokol-tender. The memorandum, which appears below, cited “possible collusion”  as the rational for the deferment, which eventually became a cancellation that then led to the Fennec deal. After years of delays, the prospect of acquiring ready-to-go aircraft that were merely in storage appeared to be the ideal option.

3rd bid invitation   Investigation

The PAF, through the Department of National Defense, sought to acquire the Fennecs through a government-to-government arrangement with France. This was originally thought to be in accordance with the revised implementing rules and regulations issued by the Government Procurement Policy Board, which granted the DND leeway in pursuing negotiated procurement for modernization items provided it had Presidential approval. The DND sought the GPPB’s approval in June of 2012. The GPPB, however, denied this request citing that the DND was negotiating directly with the supplier of the Fennecs, and not the French government itself. In November 2012, the Philippine Star reported that the GPPB reversed itself, and granted permission to pursue negotiations provided the French government was directly involved in the transaction.

Unfortunately for the PAF, Pakistan had revived its acquisition effort for the 10 Fennecs in the interval between GPPB intereactions. Therefore when the DND returned to the negotiating table, the original helicopters were no longer available. Where the PAF goes from here, whether it pursues an order of new-build Fennecs, or it seeks alternative suppliers, remains unclear at this time.

Prior to the Fennec and Sokol efforts, the PAF mounted the following unsuccessful attempts at supplementing its fleet of MD520 gunships with more capable helicopters that could operate at night.

Project IAETB Qty Budget Status
Night Capable Attack Helicopter (NCAH) TBA 6 P1,200,000,000 Initially awarded to Asian Aerospace for MD530F. Award decision on January 7, 2008 cancelled due to irregularities. See here for details.
Attack Helicopter (AH) acquisition projectProject# AFP-MP-PAF-00-08-42 14 P3,213,040,000SARO# D-0706412 FY2007
SARO# D-07-05905
Failed bidding declared

Aerotech awarded P69.5M contract for MSI of PAF S211

Aerotech Industries Philippines was awarded a P69,482,840.81 contract to perform a Major Structural Inspection (MSI) of S211 #021 of the Philippine Air Force. Teresa Parian, CEO of the company was given notice on the 6th of November 2012.

MSI, alternatively referred to as Programmed Depot Maintenance (PDM) or Inspection Replace As Necessary (IRAN), is a process by which the subject aircraft is taken apart and all its components — with the exception of the engine, ejection seat, and similarly self-contained systems — are evaluated and then replaced when required.

As per the DND’s 1st semester Procurement Monitoring Report, it issued the following resolutions in connection with this project.

March 1, 2012 Pre-procurement conference

DND BAC Resolution No. AFPMP-PAF-MSI-12-001 and 002 – Resolution recommending to the SND the use of alternative mode of procurement (Direct Contracting) in lieu of Public Bidding for the procurement of services for MSI of S211 Project of the PAF

June 8, 2012 Change in the mode of procurement from Public Bidding to Direct Contracting and the creation of the negotiating committee for the project. Approved and signed by the SND
June 21, 2012 BAC resolved to approve the Terms of Reference, Timelines and the Post Qualification Plan

A copy of the Notice of Award appears below

For additional information about efforts to keep the S211 in the air, see the following Timawa.net thread.