Paul Lewis/MANILA

THE PHILIPPINE Government has halved its projected 15-year defence-modernisation budget, to 170 billion pesos ($6.48 billion), throwing into doubt many of the air force's long-term procurement plans.

President Fidel Ramos, under pressure from the Philippine Senate's finance committee, has cut by 50% the armed force's 344 billion peso funding request. It argues that the proposed budget was too high and could not be supported by projected economic growth.

Under the revised budget, the Philippine air force will receive 65 billion pesos over the next 15 years, while the navy will receive 72 billion pesos and the army 25 billion pesos. Some senators, however, are pressing for an increase in the air force's share.

Defence sources suggest, that the air force's immediate requirements will be met, as the initial 50 billion peso outlay planned for the first five years is intact. The cuts will instead, come in the succeeding second and third five-year periods and are likely to affect follow-on and longer term equipment purchases.

The air force is giving priority to the purchase of 36 multi-role fighters, the first 18 of which will be funded in the first years. According to air force chief of staff Arnulfo Acedera, the selection has been narrowed down to a choice of secondhand Dassault Mirage F1s, Israel Aircraft Industries Kfir 2000s, Lockheed Martin F-16A/Bs and Mikoyan MiG-29s.

Other high-priority systems include long-range radars, although numbers may be reduced from six to three. Plans for a combined air force/civilian air-traffic-management purchase of an initial two GEC-Marconi Martello 473 radars collapsed in late 1995 because of domestic political infighting. A new request for tenders has been issued to five companies, including Alenia, GEC-Marconi, Lockheed Martin and Thomson-CSF.

The air force is also attaching importance to the purchase of up to 12 new search-and-rescue (SAR) helicopters. They will be used to establish six 280km (150nm)-range SAR zones, covering the Philippine archipelago. As an interim measure, it has converted some Sikorsky S-76 gunships and Bell UH-IH utility machines to the role.

Programmes pencilled in for the second and third five-year periods, and which are considered most at risk, include four new heavylift helicopters, two command-and-control aircraft and up to 18 new transport aircraft. The air force's ten Lockheed Martin C-130B/Hs and L-100s are in a particularly poor state of repair, with only one aircraft operational, and a second undergoing overhaul in Malaysia.

Source: Flight International