IF foreign aircraft, whether hostile or friendly, intrude into Philippines skies, the air force will watch them closely and do nothing, according to military and defence officials.
The Philippines has no capability to confront foreign aircraft violating the country’s airspace because of government failure to implement the military modernization act of 1995, which mandated purchase of 36 “multi-role” jet fighters, said the officials, who asked not to be named for lack of authority to speak on the issue.
“It’s public knowledge. We have no fighter planes in our hangars. Negotiations are still going on to buy FA-50 fighter planes from South Korea,” a senior official said.
But news about the air force getting the FA-50 “lead-in” fighter planes was met with snide remarks from air force pilots and defense industry analysts, who said the FA-50 planes are trainer aircraft and are not a match to multi-role jet fighter planes.
“The FA-50 falls short in terms of performance, function, and weapons as compared to a muti-role combat aircraft,” said Jorge Rillona, a defense industry analysts and former US Marine specialist in combined air, sea and land combat systems.
He said the FA-50 is similar to the Aermacchi M346 of Italy, and the Yaklovelev-YAK130 of Russia, which are top-of-the line fighter planes that come from a family of advanced jet trainers with limited capabilities and weapons.
What the Philippines needs are multi-role fighters such as the US-made F-16 and F-18, France’s Mirage 2000 or Russia’s MIG -29, Rillona said.
In the 1950s until the 1980s, the Philippines was a dominant air force in Southeast Asia with 60 F-5s and F-8 jetfighers in its arsenal armed with air-to-air and air-to-ground guided missiles, 50 caliber machine guns and 20-mm cannons.
“During that time the Philippine Air Force was second to none in Sotheast Asia and our planes can confront within minutes unauthorized incoming aircraft or ships before they could enter the country’s territory,” former Air Force chief Lt. Gen. Loven Abadia said.
As part of the Armed Forces Modernization program, the Philippines bought last year eight brand new Sokol helicopters from Poland and another three this month for the Philippine Navy.
But the mandate of the AFP Modernization Act to purchase 36 multi-role fighter planes is yet to be implemented and plans to lease at least 12 F-16s has been shelved because of the high cost of refurbishing the planes.
“It means, right now, we have no fighter planes. The F-5s were phased out in 2005,” a senior air force official said.
Manila Standard Today sought comments from the Department of National Defense on its decision to buy the FA-50s rather than multi-role F-16 and F-18 jet fighters.
A Defence Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the government chose the FA-50s because of the high cost of the F-16 and F-18 and its “equally high maintenance cost.”
Asked what the country will do in case of intrusion by foreign aircraft, former executive secretary Eduardo Ermita, a retired AFP vice chief of staff with the rank of a three-star general, said: “We will just watch them.”