Tracking the Armed Forces of the Philippines Modernization program


Updated assessments of F-16 airframe life

At the turn of the 21st Century, as the USAF found conducting combat operations over Iraq and Afghanistan with increasingly aging aircraft that were leftovers from the Cold War it took stock of its aircraft inventory and came to the following observation

As a system’s cumulative operating time increases, the probability of its failure tends to increase, decreasing the system’s potential reliability. Reliability also decreases when the conditions under which the system was designed to operate change. Many of these aircraft are at critical points in their life cycles. For example, by 2001 many F-16s had reached 2,400 hours flying time, a significant point in an 8,000-hour service life. As these aircraft age and operating conditions changed, the reliability of systems and components decreases, and failures occur more often, which increased maintenance costs. Increased failures affect aircraft maintainability, requiring more maintenance and often increasing repair times when more hard breaks occur. In the case of the F-16, operational usage had been more severe than design usage (eight times more), resulting in the acceleration of its airframe service life at a rate that may not let it reach its expected overall service life.

Also at this point in history, the fate of its next generation stealth combat aircraft, the F-22 and F-35, hung in the balance. It, therefore, became politically expedient to highlight pessimistic projections about the future prospects of the USAF F-16 fleet.

Fast forward to the present day. The F-22 production line is complete, but with fewer aircraft than originally projected. F-35 development is moving ahead, but slowly. Faced with the prospect of reduced capability as a result of the latter aircraft's delays, the USAF re-evaluated it fleet again, and came to the following conclusions which were published in Aviation Week magazine.

< Edited >

However, the U.S. Air Force, which operates more than 1,000 F-16s of varying blocks, has no plans to procure more F-16s. Rather, the service is exploring options to extend the life of its fleet until the F-35 is introduced into service in enough numbers to handle the suppression and destruction of enemy air defense roles.

Originally designed for 4,500 flying hours, a previous upgrade extended the lifespan to 8,000 hr. But after conducting a monitoring program on the fleet, Air Force officials have found that they are flying the aircraft 15-20% “less hard” than planned, meaning pilots are not flying the jets to their maximum limits regarding such elements as speed or g-forces. This is partly because in the decade since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the F-16s have been used largely to support ground forces or patrol the skies in permissive airspace, missions that do not require the taxing maneuvers seen while operating in hostile environments, says Maj. Luther Cross, F-16 program element monitor for Air Combat Command.

This has prompted the Air Force to calculate what officials call equivalent flying hours for each airframe, just as they do actual flying hours. Using the equivalent-hour metric, service officials are able to estimate the projected life, taking into account lighter use of the fleet in recent years, says Cross. This practice is also being applied to other fleets in the service.

This alone adds “several years” of life to each aircraft, he says. Still, the Air Force is considering a structural service life extension program (SLEP) to the newest Block 40/50 F-16s, with a 12,000-hr. goal per airframe.

The prospects for the availablity of suitable aircraft for the PAF's needs, therefore, are not as bleak as the earlier would have pictured.

This article was also published on the following FaceBook group: F-16s for the Philippine Air Force

To discuss the article shared above, see the following discussion.


Preparing for F-16s: “Peace Carvin” in reverse

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 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
• Ordnance

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.

Task force

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.)

Training opportunities

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?



Philippine defense-related social networking sites have been awash with informal fighter aircraft recommendations for years. Many are simple collections of photographs of fighter aircraft with a mimimum of commentary, while others are assemblies of motherhood statements that make little, if any, effort into understanding the costs and complexities of operating modern aircraft.

Two discussions, however, standout for their depth of analysis and brutal attention to verifiable detail: the “VOX threads”. Both are off-shoots of long-standing, but cordial, debates between two protagonists: Horge and Ignatius1 (now Ignatius1@TMW). Ignatius is a Filipino officer in service with a non-Filipino army and is an air defense professional. Horge is a businessman with an above-average passion for research and attention to detail. These two are largely credited with elevating the overall quality of aircraft discussions on the  forum.

The resulting threads remain the most detailed analysis of aircraft of affordability on the forum, and arguably anywhere else on Philippine-themed discussion sites:

VOX POPVLI, VOX DENARII? (a comment on the Jet-Pool thread)

Created on April 7, 2010

VOX POPVLI, VOX DENARII expanded: additional thread

August 20, 2010

Both are voluntary post-mortem threads for a "Jet-Pool" that sought to get the forum membership's pulse on what they thought would be the most likely candidate for the PAF's F-5 replacement. These threads subjected the crowd favorites on the pool to financial analysis that included the following considerations:

  • Expected life of the airframe based on published sources
  • Projected annual operating cost
  • ROI
  • Credit considerations

It is worth noting that the principal movers of the threads caveat their claims to remind readers that their assertions are merely based on whatever is available from open-sources and faithfully cite these to support their points. This is in-keeping with the forum's policies.

While it is very possible, even likely, that there will be errors in the analysis because of the lack of direct access to the PAF's actual acquisition data, the logical journey that the protagonists take readers through remains an interesting exercise that benefits both laymen and professionals alike. For laymen, it broadens understanding of aircraft purchasing considerations. For professionals, on the otherhand, it presents insights into how to justify multi-billion peso acquisitions to the Philippine legislature.

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