The selection of a new multi-role fighter aircraft for the Philippine air force is in danger of slipping by as much as a year, following the failure of its evaluation team to meet successive deadlines in choosing a shortlist.

Following the submission of tenders at the end of May, the air force had originally intended to narrow down the choice by 30 June and make a final selection by around October. The shortlist was subsequently pushed back to the end of July, but a decision has still not been taken.

As a result, there is growing concern that the award of a contract might have to be delayed until after the Philippine presidential election in June 1998. Philippine procurement rules do not allow for a major contract to be concluded in the six months leading up to the election.

Local defence sources caution that, once the shortlist is made, it is still only a recommendation and as such is subject to change. It will then have to be forwarded to Philippine Armed Forces General Headquarters for consideration and, ultimately, to the defence secretary for final approval.

The matter is further complicated by the scheduled retirement in December of armed forces chief-of-staff Gen Arnulfo Acedera, a strong proponent of the new fighter programme. The country's defence secretary, Renato de Villa, is also expected to stand down to concentrate on his presidential election bid.

Of the six proposals submitted, a shortlist of three or four aircraft is expected. Aircraft types in contention include the Dassault Mirage 2000-5, Israel Aircraft Industries Kfir 2000, Lockheed Martin F-16C/D, McDonnell Douglas F-18C/D, MAPO-MIG MiG-29 Fulcrum and the Saab JAS39 Gripen (Flight International, 7-13 May, P19). The air force has also made a last-minute flight evaluation of the Denel Cheetah.

The evaluation has been complicated by the requirement for an accompanying package of weaponry. The air force wants to tie the purchase of a new fighter to the release and supply of an active-radar-guided beyond-visual-range (BVR) air-to-air missile.

While Israel is offering its Derby BVR missile, along with the shorter-range Rafael Python 4, the US Government has so far withheld release of the Hughes AIM-120 advanced medium-range air-to-air missile.

Israel is reluctant to discuss the Derby programme, although it is believed to be based around a lengthened Python 4 airframe. The missile is also thought to form the basis of South Africa's R-Darter project.

Source: Flight International