Philippines Looking to Buy Non-USA Combat Aircraft

The PAF operates these SF260TP trainers since the mid 1990s. One such plane crashed Friday off Lamonja island, with two crew members on board.

For the first time in its history, the Philippines is looking to non-USA sources for combat aircraft to strengthen the nation’s warfighting capabilities. The Philippine Department of National Defense (DND) is reported to be in the market to purchase as many as two squadrons of combat aircraft and, according to DND representatives, has already entered into negotiations with non-USA manufacturers. Usually, a squadron would consist of 15 to 18 aircraft, but each squadron is configured to meet specific defense needs. On 7 May Dr. Peter Paul Galvez, speaking for the DND, announced that the Philippines had approached several nations with an eye towards procuring war materials needed to upgrade the nation’s armed forces. He stated that France, the United Kingdom, Italy, and South Korea were all prime candidates being considered.

Dr. Galvez indicated that his nation was in the market for second-hand combat aircraft and missile-firing gunboats in an effort to modernize the military and build an effective defense force. In consideration of the nation’s budget limitations, the DND seeks to achieve an acceptable balance of cost, capability, maintenance needs, and longevity in purchasing the desired warfighting assets.

The Philippines is now locked in a tense maritime dispute with China over ownership and control of Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. Chinese and Filipino ships have been in a face-to-face standoff for more than a month now with no end in sight. Both nations have dispatched ships to the area to secure their claims to the Shoal and the surrounding waters. Dr. Galvez also stated that the DND is also reviewing the possibility of procuring jet trainers for the Philippine Air Force (PAF). The PAF currently flies Italian Marchetti S211 jet trainers, aircraft that are frequently used in a ground-attack role in the nation’s continuing war against insurgents.

The Philippines wants to negotiate “government-to-government” purchases in an effort to save money. When asked if the Philippines was planning to buy modern multi-role aircraft, Dr. Galvez said that such an acquisition was a dream of the DND, but one that would not likely fit into the defense budget. He also mentioned the substantial costs involved in maintaining new aircraft, costs the Philippines is presently not able to afford. He said that if they can buy “cheaper planes of the same quality and firepower, that’s another plus factor” for the Philippines.

PAF is currently using the OV10 Bronco for ground attack / counter insurgency operations. A cost effective replacement for both bronco and the F-5s, retired in 2005 could be the Korean FA-50, planned to replace the Korean F-5s by 2013. Aero Image photo via PAF

During a radio interview on 16 May, Philippine President Benigno Aquino stated that he had requested second-hand F-16 Falcons from the United States, but this request may not be practical considering the maintenance costs associated with keeping the aging aircraft operational. He said, “It’s not necessarily the F-16s. We are also looking at jet fighters with the same capability as that of the F-16 but are cost-efficient and low in maintenance.”

President Aquino went on to say that his government was looking to spend between $400 and $800 million for each of two combat squadrons. He also pointed out that the PAF’s last fighter jet, a Vietnam War-era Northrop F-5A/B Freedom Fighter, was retired in 2005. For all practical purposes, the Philippines no longer has a credible air defense capability.

Last month, Manila requested additional military assistance from the United States including aircraft, radar systems, and gunboats. This request was submitted as a means of enabling the Philippines to create a “minimum credible defense.” Aquino went on to say that his government had various options to consider and that the nation has the “capacity to buy brand new, but not from America.” He declined to mention any specific aircraft model being considered and he said he was not at liberty to mention the country of manufacture at that time.

The president also stated that the DND’s acquisition endeavors also included upgrading the Navy. The flagship of the Philippine Navy, and largest warship the Navy has, is a former US Hamilton-class Coast Guard cutter, now renamed the BRP Gregorio del Pilar. A second and more capable Hamilton-class cutter, the USS Dallas, is expected to be delivered in November of this year.

President Aquino said that the DND was in the process of completing 132 projects with the expectation that these efforts would be finalized by the end of July of this year. The projects now in the works are unlikely to approach the level some analysts believe is needed for the Philippines to deploy an effective defense capability.

The Center for a New American Security (CNAS), an American think tank, has published what their analysts believe are the Philippines’ minimum defense needs. According to CNAS, the Philippines needs at least four F-16 squadrons (48 aircraft), modern frigates, fast corvettes, minesweepers, and four to six mini-submarines to meet the challenges posed by China’s military modernization. CNAS claims that upgrading the Philippines’ defense posture as a counter to Chinese ambitions is in the best interest of the United States and her Asia-Pacific allies.

A Philippine modernization on the scale CNAS advocates is almost certainly beyond Manila’s financial ability at the present time. Such an extensive modernization would undoubtedly require financial assistance from the US and other Asia-Pacific nations, a prospect that is unlikely given the global economic challenges now hobbling the United States and other nations.


  1. America should help the phil. Modernize it’s military hardware thru grants, donations, soft loans for the modernization effort to be realize in the shortest possible time, T-6 aircrafts, P-3 anti submarine aircraft, missile boats, anti-ships missile batteries, OV-10 aircrafts, just to name a few

  2. The Phillippines decision is another reason why the US should divorce ourselves completely of this country and not provide financial or military assistance to them because if they want to be independent, we should let them go it alone.

    • Why not buy from China? They are cheap and as for the Spratleys, forget about it. If we can’t beat ’em, join ’em. US gives junk to Philippines with strings attached. Spratley’s should not be a headache for the Filipinos and China should not be a problem for the Filipinos either, let alone the US to face China in the Pacific.

      • Good point about Beijing govt and military not needing to be a problem for Philippines. It’s too bad, really. However, that’s up to Beijing to decide of course and not for Philippine govt to either force or bribe such good relations out of the current stand-off (as much as Philippines could use best possible relations with all her neighbors).

        Philippines is in the right to be ‘firm’ towards Beijing in her conflict-resolution and do so on equal terms and footing — not being intimidated. And btw, the word now is that the TA-50 will be acquired along with very notable Super-Tucano aircraft — both very suitable and prudent selections to replace the retired F-5 and OV-10 platforms.

  3. The Philippines is the gateway to the Pacific. They have the deepest trench if you ask a squid.

    The PHL plays an important part for U.S. deterrence. If it falls -then the the whole pacific will fall under PRC. They can launch it’s ballistic missiles from their diesel subs to Guam, Hawaii and San Diego Ca. in minutes while we listen to Chatanooga Choo Choo, rendering the whole U.S. navy pacific fleet useless.

    Sleep Better ?

  4. The SAAB JAS-39 Gripen makes more sense for the Philippines AF. It has the capabilities of the F-16 at a lower cost of acquisition and operation.

    The Korean FA-50 is basically and armed trainer/light attack aircraft, and not in the same league.

    As I understand it, the US was willing to finance the F-16 deal at very reasonable terms, essentially giving most of the acquisition costs away. These debts (loans) are often forgiven.

    I wonder if this announcement isn’t a reaction to the US declining to get into the Pantag Shoal territorial dispute. Many Filipino blogs assumed that the US would be required to back up their government if the Chinese took any military action against the Philippines. The US State Department made it clear that a fight over these islands might not qualify under the Mutual Defense Pact.

  5. @omegatalon- The reason the Philippines is not purchasing american f-16’s is because they’re old and outside the budget of the Philippine Armed Forces, they want to have them but cant afford them. Please get your facts right before commenting.

  6. If the Philippines will be buying South Korea’s FA-50 which mostly likely to match their budget and capability needs. It may not be directly of US identity but it’s a product of KAI and LockMart so its still mostly from US. Besides, the Philippine Airforce is in need of LIFT to prepare its pilots for jet and TA-50 or FA-50 is the most fitting before plunging into buying F-16.

  7. I think they will go with the Saab Gripen like Thailand did. And Saab does lease deals like in Hungary. Where they get a state of the art light fighter without the major accusation costs.

  8. What they should get depends on what they want it for, do they want jet fighters or ground attack turbo props and of course the size of their check book.

    If its jets they want then the South Korean Golden Eagle is their best bet or possibly the JL-8 from Pakistan both of which while no match for the F16 or new European fighters would certainly serve the purpose of the Philippines.

    If its just a turboprop ground attack plane they want then American is the way to go and get the Super Tuscano.

  9. If the Phllippines will buy second hand Arm ( EDA)
    from USA .

    They don’t have more commission .

    If you are Phllippino ” Do you buy band new arm or
    second hand arm ?

    Same Royal Thai Airfort Thailand Don’t like F 16 AB.
    They like Saab Gripen


  10. We really would love to purchase US-military hardware, as those have been proven to be effective.

    But our budget is really hurting, that’s why we are trying to balance between quantity and quality of the hardware we’re purchasing.

    Once China leaves our EEZ alone, I believe the Philippines plans on using funds from the oil and gas deposits in our waters to further enhance our military. But that is still far off in the future.

    • Given the PRC’s willingness To bring overwhelming fire power and aggression to prop up its illegitimate claim to the West PH it is unlikely that the PH people will be able to enjoy the natural resources in the PH seas any time soon

  11. The Philippines can arrange a Multi-Year Procurement contract (MYP) with any of the US companies such as Lockheed Martin or Boeing much like what the Australians did with their F/A-18F Block II. If the LIFT program of the Philippine Airforce pushed through, they may opt later for FMS of new F-16s through MYP.

  12. The Philippines have long neglected their defense expenditures, and prior to the nationalists sentiment that removed the US bases from what use to be part of the United States (as a territory, than commonwealth) the government relied on a strong presence at Clark Air Base and Naval Base Subic Bay as a substitute for their own capabilities. When those forces left, they did not make an honest attempt to create their own capabilities.

    While “Red China” with its economy growing and with it an effort to expand their reach into the blue water and to make a more assertive claim on disputed waters and islands it was only a matter of time that a lopsided confrontation would occur. Since in the realm of defense the Philippines was the region’s least capable for its size, it only made sense for China to attempt it’s new more assertive policy on islands and surrounding waters that had conflicting claims with the Philippines. Now that the Philippines has their lack of capability shown bare for all to see they are looking for historic alliances to shore up their capabilities until they can purchase and train up their own. However, given the strong stance coming from Beijing and their overwhelming capability any hope of success for Manila would come from diplomatic channels or levering distance to their advantage if armed conflict where to occur.

    Given that, combat aircraft is only one part of such an equation. Although the F-16 is a capable aircraft, as stated by others and in the article, given the advanced maintenance required of older airframes being (presently) offered a purchase of a newer less expensive aircraft maybe a better bang for the buck; these aircraft could be either. The other alternative, which would not sit well with the anti-american nationalists, would be to host a limited American presence back on Philippine soil; say a rotating squadron to assist in training of whatever new aircraft that the Philippines may receive or decide to purchase.

  13. The US Defense Center of Gravity is shifting to the Pacific. It does not make any sense to ‘not help’ the PI. However, they have to ask us, and support us as well. So . . . “Where’s the Beef”?

  14. Swedish Saab Gripen could be a very good choise.
    Very high quality and resonable price. Can start and
    land on ordinary roads. Extremely low maintenance costs.Has been in the air during a couble of decades.
    No pilots have lost their lives in accidents. Mach 2.
    Leasing can be a possible deal. New upgraded models.

  15. For the permanent Multi-role fighters for our Philippine air force, after the Northrop F-5A/B Freedom Fighter jets of the USA, is this, the TA-50 Golden Eagle the Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) of South Korea, ‘Oooh’, it’s worth T-50: US$21 million. Is better than the M-346 Master the Alenia Aermacchi of Italy is worth €20 million. And for the permanent Lead-in Fighter Trainers (LIFT) that will also fill in the Surface Attack Aircraft (SAA), for our Philippine air force, also, where the Aermacchi S-211 jets of Italy, is this also, the Yak-130 Mitten the Yakovlev Design Bureau of Russia is worth $15 million, it’s brand new. Is better than the L-159B ALCA the Aero Vodochody of theCzech Republic is worth, US$13 million (2003), US$15–17 million, this will be considered, nothing more.

  16. I think our armed forces would pick M-346 from Italy with two main reason , first of cost . second because Italy will be stop operation of large nos of naval assets due to budget constraint from frigates to mine sweepers beginning this year up to 2015 which our country can get in almost at minimal cost or at bargain prices

  17. Philippines have no chance to counter chinese military power even if they have advance aircraft from United States. They should to the chinese to share the wealth they can get from those little islands.

  18. I agree the Philippines military has been neglicted thier defense since they want the U.S facilites out from the Country. Do you think getting those equipements from South Korea some of those equipments also from the US.

  19. For me, if our country(Philippines) wants to have a non US fighter jet, I suggest Su-T50 Pak Fa and EF-2000 because they are Cost effective ,low maintenance but high in performance.

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