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. These are interesting times for the Philippine Air Force, whose prevailing skill-sets are still geared towards equipment that is decades behind the Falcons.
It's been six years since the PAF had operational fighters in its inventory. Its last F-5A Freedom Fighters, which were day-time-only interceptors, were decommissioned in 2005. Over two decades had passed since it operated true all-weather fighters -- its F-8 Crusaders. The 60's era Crusaders proved to be a handful for the PAF (see the following Timawa discussion for details), and by the late 80s were relegated to a grass field at Clark field, where ash fall from Mt. Pinatubo eventually sealed their fate. While the handful of S211s allows the service to maintain a modicum of competency in jet-aircraft operations, the PAF Air Defense Wing is a shadow what it once was when its aircraft intercepted Soviet bombers in the South China Sea.
If we are to keep the hoped-for F-16s from becoming hangar queens, or become the latest recipient of the Philippine media's favorite moniker for PAF aircraft: "flying coffin", its ability to operate aircraft at this level of sophistication must be elevated without delay.
The following is a summary of a Timawa.net discussion that seeks a way to fast-track the upgrade of PAF skills . . . should the request for these aircraft be granted.
How does this exercise seek to accomplish its mission statement and objective?
Learning by example
When Singapore replaced their Hawker Hunters with F-16A/Bs in 1987, they opted to have them delivered to Luke AFB AZ instead of direct to Singapore. Thus the first incarnation of Operation: Peace Carvin began. For two years, from 1987 to 1989, the USAF trained 100 RSAF pilots and maintenance personnel to operate and maintain their new birds. Subsequent Peace Carvins trained additional personnel in F-16C/D aircraft and more recently the F-15SG.
These Singaporean operations can be broken down into the following elements:
Aircraft – the RSAF stationed as many as 12 aircraft at the air base as training platforms
Trainees – these are the 150 Singaporean personnel, including 15 pilots, are that undergo training at the base. These personnel and their families live on-base for the duration of the training cycle
Trainors – these are USAF personnel that are seconded to the RSAF and have operational control of the unit. Personnel management, however, remains with RSAF officers
Budget – Singapore was responsible for the following items:
• Salaries of all personnel involved, to include USAF personnel
• Maintenance and operations expenses
This training arrangement afforded Singapore access to the full range of training facilities that the USAF established for its own pilots (e.g., bombing ranges, etc.) and maintenance crews (e.g., AFTOs, training mockups). Although the US and Singaporean governments refuse to publicly declare the annual cost of the program, it would arguably be safe to assume that it would be prohibitive.
While some overseas training will be required for the initial batch of pilots and maintenance crews for the planned F-16s, what if alternative arrangements could be made to permit training in advance of MRF delivery?
Peace Carvin in reverse
This proposal seeks to gain the benefits of Peace Carvin, but without the attendant costs.
Key elements of this proposal:
• Task force
• Use of subject matter experts
• Training opportunities
While there is no avoiding sending PAF personnel overseas for training, why not work to build-up in-country training capabilities in preparation of the arrival of aircraft? Training, therefore, can begin well in advance of the actually transfer of equipment.
The “reverse” in this proposal is that foreign training resources are brought to the Philippines, where training can be done all year, instead of sending personnel overseas for a few months at potentially great expense. It will not, however, preclude overseas training opportunities.
PAF HQ, ADW, and AETC will establish a task force to identify skills gaps related to operating aircraft at the F-16 complexity level, and develop both fast-tracked and long-term training programs to address these gaps. This task force will function as a training directorate that will have overall responsibility for the program.
The mission statement for the effort:
“Create a maintenance, operations, and logistical culture that is conducive to effective, efficient, sustainable use of 4th Generation combat aircraft”
These training programs will be conducted in the Philippines.
Use of subject matter experts
The task force will be empowered to retain the services of subject matter experts who will be responsible for administering key aspects of training programs either as a whole or in part.
These subject matter experts can be:
• Technical advisers seconded or assigned to the Philippines by a foreign country
• Private contractors
• A combination of both
Subject matter experts will be responsible for the following in their respective areas of concern:
• Familiarize PAF personnel with relevant AFTOs or their equivalent
• Impart best-practice information and techniques
• Aid in forecasting
When selecting contractors, preference will be given to entities that are willing to lease key maintenance and/or training equipment, that are relevant for their training programs, to the PAF using a BOT scheme. Contractors can include companies such as Sikorsky Aircraft Services or be entirely new companies that are setup as Public-Private Partnerships.
Whenever practical, the BOT scheme will be used to acquire support and training equipment (e.g., APUs, simulators, training mock-ups, etc.)
This is the “core” of the reversal concept.
To provide practical learning opportunities for prospective PAF F-16 crews, the task force, in cooperation with the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) board and the DFA, will work to establish high-frequency exercises with foreign armed forces that operate F-16s.
Having operational F-16 units in-country will provide PAF personnel, who complete pre-requisite training modules designed by the task force, the opportunity to apply theoretical knowledge, and acquire practical best practices information from experienced air crews.
Small-scale, temporary, basing of foreign assets is preferable. Forward-basing for the receptive foreign country results in a training opportunity for the PAF.
The task force will have a hand in selecting personnel who will be sent to the US for training on F-16 maintenance and operations. These personnel will be selected not only for their qualifications, but also for their ability to serve as mentors / team leaders who will then form the leadership foundation for a new jet-qualified work-force.
Other interim training opportunities
Indonesia reportedly takes up a significant amount of Singapore’s simulator resources (see here). Could a similar arrangement be setup with our non-US allies? South Korea perhaps?