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Manila to buy South Korean fighter jets

Aims to bolster the country’s defence capabilities

Gulf News

Manila: The Philippines has formally announced that it is buying 12 multi-role fighter jets from South Korea to bolster the country’s defence capabilities.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda in a press briefing at the palace, said the purchase of the new aircraft is aimed modernising the air force and addressing the country’s lack of capability to challenge airborne threats as well as train new pilots on supersonic high-performance weapons platforms.

“We are buying. I confirmed it with Secretary Voltaire Gazmin. They are primarily for training, interdiction, disaster response. These planes have camera capabilities (reconnaissance and surveying) to monitor and also take pictures of disaster areas. So it will be used in a number of ways,” Lacierda said.

“We don’t have any existing jets right now that are in use, therefore, it is necessary for us to upgrade based on our commitment to upgrade our military hardware and this is part of the on-going process of modernising our military,” he said.

For years, the Philippine Air Force had to make do without a suitable fighter aircraft to meet challenges posed by foreign air arms intruding in its air space. Its handful of supersonic F-5 Freedom Fighters were retired in 2005 after serving the country for more than 35 years.

Currently, the country’s interceptor capability is provided by five Marchetti S-211 trainers/ground attack aircraft as well as aging OV-10 Bronco turboprop aircraft.

It had been reported as early as 2011 that the Philippines is planning to purchase 12 brand new T-50 Golden Eagles from the Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI).

Defence Secretary Gazmin, during a press briefing Wednesday said the Philippines is announcing the purchase of the new aircraft only now because the government now has the budget allotment to back up its force modernisation programme.

Lacierda for his part, said: “The Armed Forces of the Philippines Modernization Act has been a priority for the administration,” noting that the plan to buy new fighter aircrafts is part of the upgrade programme.

Earlier, the Philippines bared intentions to acquire second hand F-16 Fighting Falcons from the United States. The plan was shelved however after officials in Manila determined that it would not be cost effective to embark on such a programme.

The $21 million, South Korean single-engine T-50 is similar in profile and capabilities to the American F-16. Both aircraft carry the same variety of weapons such as 20 millimetre cannons, the infra-red-guided Sidewinder short-range air-to-air missiles and Maverick surface to air missiles for land based and sea-based targets such as ships.

According to Lacierda, the military hardware upgrade has long been a priority of the Philippine government even before the country’s latest incident with China over conflicting sea territorial claims. The palace official said the dispute wasn’t an issue when the government decided to upgrade its military hardware.

The planned purchase of the 12 fighter aircraft from South Korea follows the delivery more than ago of the frigate BRP Gregorio del Pilar.

With its 115 metres length, the Hamilton Class ship BRP Gregorio del Pilar is the biggest combat vessel in the Philippine fleet.

A similar class vessel, the BRP Artemio Ricarte is also expected to join service for the navy early this year while plans are afoot for the purchase of a third and fourth frigate from Italy.