Manila plans wide-ranging modernisation of air force

Singapore
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The Philippines could issue requests for proposals (RFPs) for advanced jet trainers, transport aircraft and helicopter modifications within the next 12 months.

The Philippines air force has identified several capability gaps that it hopes to fill in the coming years, says an air force spokesman. Budgets have been approved for several acquisitions, but a competitive bidding process must be conducted for each purchase, with request for proposals to be issued before the end of 2013, he adds.

The highest profile acquisition planned is for 12 lead-in fighter trainer aircraft. Requirements for the type include radar, supersonic speed, and the ability to prosecute both ground and air targets - the latter with beyond visual range missiles.

"The [Korea Aerospace Industries] F/A-50 more or less fits our requirements, but we have not concluded it will be the F/A-50," says the spokesman.

Other types Manila could consider include the Alenia Aermacchi M-346, Yakovlev Yak-130 and the BAE Systems Hawk.

The Philippine Department of National Defence is in the process of drafting an RFP and the air force hopes to have the aircraft on the flight line as early as 2014-15, the spokesman says.

Although the Philippines retired its last Northrop F-5s in 2004, the spokesman says it has retained a foundation of jet pilots through the continued use of four Aermacchi S-211 jet trainers.

The 12 new aircraft would be used for both training and combat, and form a bridging capability for the future acquisition of a multi-role fighter, he adds.

With regard to airlift, the air force has two operational Lockheed Martin C-130Hs and a single C-130B. It hopes to obtain an additional C-130, as well as two medium lift transport aircraft and two light transport aircraft. All three acquisitions have been approved by air force leadership, with RFPs likely in the next 12 months.

In addition, the air force hopes to upgrade or refurbish 21 Bell UH-1 utility helicopters. The work would involve the modification of transmissions, improved engines and airframe improvements. Some of these aircraft are in service and some in storage. Manila hopes to start receiving refurbished UH-1s in 2014, the spokesman says.

Manila will also re-task its PZL-Swidnik W-3A Sokol helicopters to the search and rescue (SAR) role from the combat utility role. So far, the Philippines has received four Sokols from a 2010 order for eight examples of the type. It will receive the remaining four by the end of 2012.

"It was decided that the Sokols would be best to fill the SAR role," says the spokesman. "We are optimising resources."

The Sokols will still be operated by the air force, but will be available for civilian SAR missions.