Singapore’s retirement of its Aermacchi S211 fleet will leave the Philippines air force as the only military operator of the basic jet trainer from 2008.
Philippines air force chief Jose Reyes says the country lacks the budget to acquire any new fixed-wing aircraft for at least the next five years and acknowledges keeping the S211 active will be challenging.
The air force now operates only four S211s from an inventory of 18, all of which Reyes says are in repairable condition.
“But they are costly to operate. If we have money we can put more in operation,” Reyes says.
The air force needs the S211, the only jet remaining in its fleet, to keep its fighter pilots proficient following the decommissioning of its last Northrop F-5 last year. It also uses the S211 for light attack missions to supplement its fleet of 14 Rockwell OV-10 Broncos.
“Without the S211 we have problems with our fighter pilots. It’s the only aircraft that retains proficiency of our fighter pilots,” Reyes says.
The air force needs to keep its S211s until it acquires a new attack aircraft to replace its OV-10s, which is now planned for 2012 to 2017. But Reyes says “maintenance and spares will be a problem”.
Contractor Aerodef Asia, however, says its inventory of S211 parts should be sufficient to support the current fleet for at least another 10 years.
Italian-owned Aerodef acquired the parts from Aermacchi several years ago and now supports the Philippines air force, the Singapore air force and a US civilian company that still operates two ex-Haiti air force S211s.
Singapore-based Aerodef Asia is seeking to buy Singapore’s 27 remaining S211s and remarket them to other operators.
Aerodef is also backing Aermacchi’s M311 campaign in Singapore, but does not see the Philippines as a potential short-term customer for the M311 because of budget constraints.
Raytheon, however, sees Philippines as a potential customer for the T-6B because the aircraft can be used as both a trainer and light attack aircraft. The T-6B could replace the S211, OV-10 and the air force’s fleet of six Aermacchi SF260 turboprops, which it uses for primary pilot training.
“I think we may have some opportunities in the Philippines,” says T-6 regional manager for the Asia-Pacific Jim DeGarmo.
Reyes says he evaluated the T-6B while it toured Australia last year and adds the air force may also be interested in Embraer’s EMB-314 Super Tucano for counter-insurgency missions. But he says the service aims to acquire a jet rather than a turboprop to replace its OV-10s.
He expects the new platform will be used for lead-in fighter training (LIFT), ground attack and fighter intercept missions. The LIFT role will be particularly important if the air force’s plan to acquire a multi-role fighter between 2018 and 2023 is realised.
Under this plan, another aircraft will eventually have to be acquired to replace the SF260s, but the air force has not included any new basic trainers in its 18-year spending plan.
In the meantime, the air force is upgrading its OV-10 fleet by equipping them with four-bladed propellers and belly cannons. The service installed the new propellers, supplied by Arizona-based Marsh Aviation, on four OV-10s last year, and will upgrade another two aircraft early this year.
The air force seeks funds to upgrade the final eight aircraft. The new propellers, coupled with slight modifications to the engine, have resulted in a 25-30% power improvement, giving the OV-10 the ability to carry heavier loads and remain over target areas longer.
The 20mm cannons have been installed on five aircraft and the service aims to equip the remaining nine by mid-2007. It has also received a proposal from Boeing and local maintenance company Asian Aerospace for a package of OV-10 structural and avionics upgrades.
But Reyes says the OV-10s can be flown for at least a few more years before they reach 15,000h, the projected end of their current service lives, and structural and avionics upgrades will only be considered after the propeller and cannon upgrades are completed.
BRENDAN SOBIE / MANILA
Source: Flight International