Philippines to refocus on territorial defence

Singapore
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The Philippine air force hopes to announce the procurement of several new types during 2012, as the service re-orients from counter-insurgency operations to focus on defending the nation's territorial integrity.

Under the auspices of its Capability Upgrade Plan, the air force could announce several acquisitions in the coming 12 months, a spokesperson said.

The plan calls for between four and six lead-in jet trainer/attack aircraft and six aircraft to replace the Rockwell OV-10 Bronco, plus two maritime patrol aircraft, and one or two others to be dedicated to command and control/intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) tasks.

Manila also plans to request 12 former US Air Force Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Block 25 fighters from Washington, although this is not a formal requirement. Any Philippine F-16 deal would be similar to the USA's granting last year of permission to transfer 24 ex-US Air National Guard F-16C/D Block 15s - categorised as "excess defence articles" - to Indonesia.

The Philippine air force has not operated jet fighters since retiring its Northrop F-5s in 2005, but has continued to operate the Aermacchi S-211. "We still have the proficiency and doctrine to operate jets," the company said. "We are not starting from zero."

For the lead-in jet trainer requirement, potential candidates include the Korea Aerospace Industries T/A-50 and Alenia Aermacchi's M-346. Both companies have made representations to the air force, which also foresees a light attack role for these aircraft.

Manila also hopes to obtain six aircraft for counter-insurgency operations. Possible candidates include the Air Tractor AT-802U, Embraer EMB-314 Super Tucano and Hawker Beechcraft AT-6. Both the maritime patrol and ISR aircraft are likely to be in the twin-turboprop class.

The Philippines' interest in bolstering its air force stems in no small part from the increasing assertiveness of Beijing's territorial claims in the South China Sea. Both nations have competing claims in the region, along with Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam.