Armed trainers to help Philippines rebuild fighter capability

Singapore
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The Philippines plans to acquire six advanced jet trainers that can also serve in the air-to-air and ground attack roles.

Defence secretary Voltaire Gazmin outlined the requirement during a press conference with local journalists on the occasion of the Philippine air force's 64th anniversary. He said the Korea Aerospace Industries/Lockheed Martin T/A-50 Golden Eagle and Alenia Aermacchi M-346 were possible candidates.

Gazmin said the new aircraft would likely become operational within the next six years, and estimated their cost at one billion Philippine pesos ($23 million) each.

Separately, the air force said the six trainers will need a ground attack and basic air-interception capability. The service sees the new fleet as a stepping stone to its long-term goal of acquiring more advanced fighters.

"You can't build a fighter capability overnight," the air force said.

The air force confirmed that its chief visited South Korea earlier this year, and received a briefing on the T/A-50 (T-50 trainer pictured below) from KAI and the South Korean air force.

 
© Lockheed Martin

Manila retired its last fighters, Northrop F-5s, in 2005. Today its air force is largely equipped with turboprop aircraft and helicopters. It is well suited to combating insurgencies on the nation's southern island of Mindanao, but is incapable of more advanced missions, such as air-to-air interception or the suppression of enemy air defences.

The Philippine air force has long desired more advanced aircraft types, but securing funding for new equipment has been a major problem. Regional geopolitical trends, however, could spur the country's lawmakers to place a higher priority on improving air force and naval capabilities.

Philippine media reports have highlighted the nation's relative weakness in light of China's growing assertiveness in the South China Sea's Spratly Islands, where both nations have territorial claims. Other nations with claims include Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.

During May there was extensive coverage in local media of an aerial incident over a portion of the Spratlys claimed by Manila. Two patrolling Rockwell OV-10 Broncos reportedly spotted two unidentified jet fighters. The jets, which Manila strongly suspects were Chinese, were far overhead, and the 1960s-era Bronco turboprops were unable to pursue or intercept them.