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.
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.
|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:
|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):
|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.
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|
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.
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).
|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.
|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.
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.
|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.
|F-8H in flight. Photo c/o Vought Corp.||F-8s scrapped in Clark AFB|
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.
Whereas 2014 was the year of the "Notice of Award", 2015 was the year of deliveries. No less than 18 projects -- for all three services -- saw their first or full deliveries this year, making it the most active project-conclusion period since the first acquisitions of the AFP Modernization Program in 2003.
Among the capabilities that the AFP acquired this year are:
- Supersonic flight with a limited capability for conducting air interception missions
- Close air support platforms that can engage ground targets at night
- Significant increase in cargo transport capability, both by air and sea
- Armored, night-fighting-capable, mobility for mechanized troops
|Commissioning ceremony for various PAF assets. Photo c/o DND||Armored recovery vehicles during the 80th anniversary of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Photo c/o DND|
To give a more complete view of the state of the modernization program, this year's article is divided into the following sections, presented here in reverse order:
- Pending acquisitions - these are acquisitions that have been publicly announced, either in conventional media or on the DND Website, that are still in various stages of completion. Some are still awaiting results of bids or re-bids. Others have had Notices to Proceed (NTP) to issued. Notable examples of projects in this state are the Philippine Army Shore-based Missile System and the Philippine Navy Frigate projects. Both of which have experienced very public reversals over the past year.
- Awaiting delivery - these are are projects for which the acquisitions are in the process of being built from scratch, or are currently undergoing mandatory refurbishment, and have yet to be formally turned over to the AFP for operational use. A notable examples of acquisitions in this state would be the Strategic Sealift Vessel which is currently underconstruction in Indonesia and the ex-ROKN Mulkae class LCU, which is already in the Philippines, but is still awaiting refurbishment before it can be commissioned into service.
- Acquisition list - these are items that are officially in the possession of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
In addition to the various official acquisitions, South Korea has committed to providing the Philippines with one surplus Pohang Class corvette (see here). To this date, details of this project have not been firmed up. It is unclear if this project will materialize.
Note: This article is also available on the Timawa.net forum on the long standing What's happening with the AFP modernization thread that's been documenting the progress of the up-arming effort since 2003.
The following list focuses on actual deliveries of equipment that were made in 2015.
|Surface Attack Aircraft / Lead-In Fighter Trainer||After an arduous 5-year process -- from concept to signing -- the Philippine Air Force is finally slated to return to supersonic flight operations after almost a decade with the acquisition of twelve (12) Korean Aerospace Industries FA-50PH Fighting Eagle aircraft worth P18.9B. These will also be the first brand new supersonic aircraft that the PAF will acquire since the factory-fresh F-5A Freedom Fighters that were delivered in the 60s. Subsequent fighter acquisitions had focused on excess defense articles such as the F-8 Crusaders which were recovered from AMARC and 2nd-hand F-5As from South Korea. The first two aircraft were delivered to Clark Air Base on November 28, 2015 with the first aircraft touching down at 10:23AM GMT+8. Details here.
The screen capture on the right was taken from the official PAF video timeline of the event.
|Attack Helicopter Acquisition Project||The DND awarded the contract to supply eight Agustawestland AW109E helicopters in late 2013. Training of flight and maintenance crews commenced in Italy in 2014. The first two units were delivered in late December 2014 along with two Philippine Navy Multi-purpose AW109s. The remaining six were delivered this year and commissioned on the 5th of December. Details here.|
|Combat Utility Helicopter (CUH)
||Not to be confused with the Arroyo-era CUH project that acquired the W-3 Sokol in 2009, this P4.8B project sought to acquire eight additional helicopters for combat and VIP duties. This project went to Bell Helicopter which will delivered Bell 412EP aircraft by 2015. Three of these helicopters will be delivered in VIP transport configuration. See here.|
|Refurbished UH-1 acquisition project
||This P1.26B project sought to acquire 21 refurbished UH-1 Iroqouis helicopters. The helicopters eventually bought were ex-German "D" versions, built under license in Germany aircraft that were equivalent to the "H" versions that were already in service with the PAF. This effort was marred by scandal with allegations of extortion, resulting -- intially -- in the cancellation of the deal while deliveries were being made, and then made even more controversial by the DND's self-exoneration of all charges without the benefit of a third-party investigation. Details of this convoluted affair are available here.|
|Medium-Lift Aircraft acquisition project||Notice of award for this P5.3B acquisition was issued to Airbus for the delivery of three C-295 aircraft on February 2014. The first aircraft was delivered on March 30, 2015, while the second aircraft arrived on September 15, 2015, and the third arrived on December 11, 2015. Details here.|
|Rockwell OV-10 Bronco refurbishment||OV-10 #636 returned to service in November 2015. This was part of a PhP16,490,363.56 effort to return two OV-10s to active duty. #402 is also slated for refurbishment See here.|
|BRP Ivatan (AT-298)
||On the 2nd of July 2015, Philippine Navy personnel arrived in Australia to take possession of two Balikpapan Class Landing Craft Heavy (LCH): HMAS Brunei and HMAS Tarakan. They were donated by the Australian government as part of an aid package promised in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan. Both ships were commissioned into the Royal Australian Navy in 1973 and were subject to navigational upgrades before being turned over to the Philippines.
The former HMAS Brunei entered service with the Philippine Navy as the BRP Ivatan on July the 23rd, 2015. See Timawa discussion here.
|BRP Batak (AT-299)
||The former HMAS Tarakan entered service with the Philippine Navy as the BRP Ivatan on July the 23rd, 2015 and was donated by the Australian government along with the HMAS Brunei as described above. See Timawa discussion here.|
|BRP Lake Caliraya (AF-81)||The first of three tankers that the Philippine Navy received from the Philippine National Oil Corporation (PNOC) was commissioned into service on the 23rd of May 2015 as the BRP Lake Caliraya . Timawa discussion here.|
|Agustawestland AW-109E gunships
|| Two armed AW-109E gunships were commissioned into Philippine Navy service on August 10, 2015. These joined the three AW-109s that were delivered in December 2014. These aircraft featured combination 0.50 cal gun and 2.75 inch rocket pods comparable to those carried by PAF AW-109s.
The photo on the left shows one of these gunships on a deck qualification landing on the BRP Gregorio del Pilar. Photo c/o of the Philippine Navy.
|Britten Norman Islander refurbishment
||The Philippine Aerospace Development Corporation (PADC) delivered a refurbished Philippine Navy BN Islander (#PN320) on July 21, 2015 sporting a new grey color scheme. See Timawa discussion here.|
|PF-16 weapons upgrade||The two Mk.38 25mm RCWS were initially slated for installation prior to the ship's departure from South Carolina but had been delayed. Timawa discussion here.|
|General Purpose Machine gun 7.62mm||On January 4, 2015, the Philippine Marines received 220 units of US Ordnance M-60E6 General Purpose Machine Guns via FMS. See Timawa discussion here. Photo c/o Philippine Star.|
|ex-Belgian Army M113 Armored Personnel Carriers with RCWS
||The first six of 28 ex-Belgian Army M113s from Israel were delivered on July the 28th. These units were armed with Elbit Remote Control Weapon Systems (RCWS) which featured .50 cal machine guns in a gyro-stablized mounts. In an interview with the PNA, Army spokesperson Lt. Col. Noel Detoyato reported that fourteen of the remaining M-113s were configured as fire support vehicles, four as infantry fighting vehicles, and another four as armored recovery units. See Timawa discussion here.|
|ex-US Army M113A2 Armored Personnel Carriers
||The Philippine Army acquired 114 M113A2 armored vehicles, in various configurations, from the US as Excess Defense Articles (EDA) (Timawa discussion here). While the transfer of the vehicles were completed as early as January 2014, difficulties in arranging for transport delayed actual delivery, which eventually cost the GRP P67.5M. The first 77 units were delivered to Subic on December 9, 2015|
|High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle - Ambulance variant||Thirty units of HMMWV ambulances with associated shelter and medical equipment acquired. Twenty-three were delivered on January 26, while the remainder arrived the following month. Total value for this acquisition was 229,944,149.10. Details here.|
|Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear protective and detection gear
||The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) received $1 million worth of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) protective gear and detection equipment from the United States intended for the Army Support Command on Thursday at Camp Aguinaldo. According to the US Embassy press release about the donation:
The Dismounted Reconnaissance Sets Kits and Outfits (DRSKO) is a portable collection of Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) protective gear and detection equipment used to support dismounted Reconnaissance, Surveillance and CBRN site assessment missions. This increases the AFP’s capabilities to conduct CBRN site assessments to mitigate risks and gather intelligence on Chemical Agents, Biological Agents or other potential chemical hazards. The DRSKO is designed to equip a team of 27 CBRN personnel.
The photo shown on the right was taken from the above-mentioned embassy press release. See Timawa discussion here.
|GA Special Purpose Rifle (SPR) / Designated Marksman Rifle (DMR)||Government Arsenal produced 70 units of these SPR/DMR for the Philippine Marine Corps and Philippine Army. For the Marines, this involved upgrading existing Marine Scout Sniper Rifles (MSSR) from their Generation-3 configuration to this, which could be called "Gen 4". For the Philippine Army, particularly the Scout Ranger Regiment, the GA upgraded unused lower-rifle components for M-16A1s that were previously in LOGCOM storage. See Timawa discussion here.|
|GA 5.56 16 inch mid-length barrel
||The Government Arsenal undertook refurbishment of 400 existing M-16A1 rifles to their GA Carbine 16 inch mid-length standard. First units were issued to JSOG and NAVSOG. See Timawa discussion here.|
In addition to acquisitions via bidding, South Korea has committed to providing the Philippines with one surplus Pohang Class corvette, a landing craft, and several rubber boats. These and the aforementioned Korean acquisitions have yet to be delivered and have therefore been omitted from the list above.
A significant number of high-profile projects remain pending, and have been omitted from the acquisition list. These are listed immediately below.
ex-ROKN Mulkae class (LCU-78) - South Korea promised this EDA item in June 2014 and quietly delivered the boat in July 2015. As of writing the ship remain queued for a refit costing P27,138,295.51, and has not yet been commissioned into PN service. See Timawa discussion here.
LCH 3, 4, and 5 - efforts are underway to acquire three more Balikpapan class Landing Craft Heavies from Australia. Invitiations to bid have even been issued for equipment associated with these vessels. See here.
Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAV) - Samsung Techwin was declared the lowest single calculated bidder for the P2.5B AAV project. Details here.
5.56mm assault rifle acquisition - this project went to Remington to supply rifles to both the Philippine Army and Philippine Marines in 2013 with deliveries made in 2014. However, issues with rifle quality hounded the acquisition which in faced termination earlier this year. The AFP announced that by August, Remington had replaced all defective rear-sights and that they were satisfied with them. It was unclear whether or not other quality related issues (e.g., quality of hand guards, rumored Front Sight Block alignment issues, etc.) were also resolved. Another batch of rifles is due for delivery.
Rocket Launcher Light Acquisition Project - Airtronic USA, Inc. was selected to supply 400 US-made RPG7 rocket launchers, and associated 40mm rockets, as part of a Foreign Military Sale (FMS) deal. While components of this deal have reportedly been delivered, the remainder remain obscure. For that reason, this project remains listed as "awaiting arrival. See Timawa discussion here.
A significant number of high-profile projects remain pending, and have been omitted from the acquisition list at the bottom of this article. These are listed immediately below.
|Long Range Patrol Aircraft acquisition project - the DND declared a bidding failure in August due to documentation deficiencies among bid participants. see here.
Close Air Support Aircraft acquisition project - the bid for this project failed for the second time in December 2015. Based on procurement rules, the DND is now authorized to pursue negotiated procurement. However, an announcement to that effect has yet to be issued. See here.
Air defense radar acquisition project - like the SAA/LIFT project, this P2.68B acquisition is part of the PAF's systems approach to reviving the country's ability to enforce the Philippine Air Defense Identification Zone (PADIZ). This project has been the subject of much speculation, with very little official discussion. The TPS-77 and Elta ELM 2288 are touted as contenders for this project, however media reports have touted the Israeli contender as being favored. See details here.
SAA/LIFT munitions - the ordnance that SAA-LIFT aircraft will carry are being acquired via a separate acquisition project. These include Air-to-Air Missiles (312 Pieces), Air-to-Surface Missiles (125 Pieces), 20mm ammo (93,600 Pieces), and Chaffs/IR Flares. Details here. Upon arrival of the first two FA-50s, however, the PAF revealed that this project had fallen behind and would not yield results till three years.
|Frigate Acquisition Program - this P18B project seeks to acquire two brand new multi-role frigates in a complicated two-stage bidding process. To date, the following shipbuilders have signified interest in the project: Navantia Sepi (RTR Ventures), STX Offshore & Shipbuilding, Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering Co Ltd, Hyundai Heavy Industries Inc., Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers Ltd of India, STX France SA. Details here.
Anti-Submarine Helicopter Acquisition - as of writing, Agustawestland was the only company that qualified to take part in the bidding in November. Second-stage bidding set for December 22, 2015. See here.
USCGC Boutwell (WHEC-719) - On November 17, 2015, the Office of the President of the United States issued a press statement that confirmed a planned transfer of the USCGC Boutwell to the Philippines as an Excess Defense Article item. This confirmed various US news reports circulating the month before of the impending transfer. Incidentally, the first crew of the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, previously the USCGC Hamilton, served on board the Boutwell as part of their training for accepting the PN's first Hamilton class WHEC. See Timawa discussion here.
Jacinto Class Patrol Vessel Upgrade Phase 3 - this project sought to upgrade the weapons and electro-optical systems of all three ships of the class. See Timawa discussion here.
Jacinto Class Patrol Vessel Upgrade Phase 2 - this is a sought, among other things, to overhaul and improve the main propulsion system, electrical, and various auxiliary systems of BRP Artemio Ricarte (PS-37). Other members of the class had already been upgraded to this standard. See Timawa discussion here.
Marine Forces Imagery and Targeting Support Systems (MITSS) - this P684.32M project sought to acquire 6 sets of Small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, 9 sets of Target Acquisition Devices, and 12 kits of Tactical Sensor Integration Subsystems. Details here.
40mm automatic grenade launcher - the DND issued a Notice To Proceed (NTP) in favor of Advanced Material Engineer / ST Kinetics, represented locally be Floro International Corp, to supply and deliver eight (8) units of 40mm automatic grenade launchers for the contract price of P19,750,672.00 on March 4, 2014. Details here.
|Shore-Based Missile System - arguably, the AFP modernization controversy of the year was the deferral of the Philippine Army's Shore-Based Missile System (SBMS) to an as yet undisclosed "horizon" of the AFP Modernization Program. This was discussed on the Timawa forum on the following thread. Funds for the P6.5B project -- which originally became public in 2011 and discussed on the forum here -- were realigned to acquire force-protection equipment instead. It was a stunning reversal of a territorial defense initiative that drew boisterous condemnation on defense social media and earned the Chief of Staff AFP, General Hernando Iriberri, the monicker "General Helmet".
60mm Mortar Acquisition project - 150 mortars are being acquired. Details here.
KM-450 1/4-ton truck acquisition - on October 19, 2015, the DND issued a Notice to Proceed to Kia motors for the supply of 717 trucks to the Philippine Army. See here.
KM-451 ambulance acquisition - on October 19, 2015, the DND issued a Notice to Proceed to Kia motors for the supply of 60 units of Field Ambulances to the Philippine Army. See here.
The Philippine Air Force posted the following on their FB page
Korean Aerospace posted pictures of the take off sequence here.
For updates on the progress of the aircraft, see the following thread on Timawa.net. Note that this Timawa thread will eventually be merged with the original SAA/LIFT thread, so the first link will eventually be deactivated.
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
|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
|One 20mm M61 3-barrel cannon
|Beyond Visual Range(BVR) capability||None||Uncertain|
|In-flight refuelling||Yes||None (proposed)|
- Jane's All the World's Aircraft (Updated October 2012)