Philippines Orders South Korean TA-50 Jets

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KAI TA-50 jet trainer. Photo: KAI

With new territorial challenges facing the Philippines and an antiquated military force riddled with inefficiencies, the Philippine’s ABS-CBN news released a report on 20 June that the Philippine Air Force (PAF) has decided to acquire twelve South Korean TA-50 trainer/fighter jets.

The news report indicates that the aircraft are being offered at a price of $29.8 million per unit with a total package cost of $591.3 million. This purchase is part of a Filipino modernization program estimated to cost a total of $1.5 billion. This acquisition will include spare and replacement parts, training, necessary technical support, and other necessities required to get the aircraft operational.

Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin told ABS-CBN news that modernizing the PAF’s air defense capabilities is an urgent priority in light of recent territorial disputes with China and is needed to polish the nation’s international image.

Renewed tensions with China have arisen in recent months over territorial disputes that have served to highlight weaknesses in the Philippine’s self-defense capabilities creating a heightened unease in the minds of the Filipino leadership. This unease has spurred Filipino leaders to shop around for affordable military hardware to modernize the island nation’s military forces.

The ABS-CBN report indicated that a firm contract was expected to be finalized by the end of this year with delivery of the twelve aircraft to be completed by the end of 2013. At the present time, Filipino neighbor Indonesia is the only other export customer destined to receive the TA-50, but Seoul has hopes that the TA-50 will eventually prove to be a very attractive buy because of its performance and affordability.

Despite the media report, South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) has publicly stated that although efforts to export the TA-50 to the Philippines were ongoing, they have not yet received a firm commitment for the reported sale.

In purchasing the TA-50, the Philippines will be able to restore jet combat capability to the PAF that has been mostly lacking since the nation’s ten F-5 jets were retired from active service in 2005. The Vietnam-era F-5s were expensive to maintain and no real match against modern aircraft. Back in 2008, the Philippines bought an additional 18 Italian SF-260F trainers for $812,000 each, but the design is decades old and has proven only marginally effective in the light attack role. Most of the other SF-260s in the Philippine inventory have seen hard service and only twenty remain operational. The PAF’s Italian-made S211 jet trainers were replaced by the SF-260s.

Intense efforts by the Philippine government to buy used F-16 aircraft from the United States have so far failed to receive the required clearance from the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA). The plan to buy used F-16s has now pretty much been dropped in consideration of the high cost of reconditioning and maintenance that would be required.

KAI TA-50 jet trainer. Photo: KAI

In April, Manila requested US assistance in creating a “minimum credible defense” through the acquisition of upgraded aircraft, radar systems, and patrol boats. In May, President Benigno Aquino announced that his government was looking at obtaining jet aircraft from sources other than the United States, affordable aircraft that could be delivered quickly.

The Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) TA-50 Golden Eagle is a combat-capable version of the T-50 jet trainer. It is a light fighter/attack aircraft of supersonic speed equipped with a 20 millimeter automatic gun and the ability to carry as much as 4.5 tons of missiles and bombs. The aircraft was designed to serve as a lead-in fighter trainer and light fighter attack. When fitted with the Israeli EL/M-2032 radar, the TA-50 can carry a variety of precision-guided munitions, air-to-ground missiles, and air-to-air missiles as well as electronic warfare and reconnaissance pods on external hardpoints.

It is reported that the TA-50 has a level of operational performance equaling that delivered by the South Korean KF-16 aircraft. The TA-50 is equipped with the same F404-GE102 engine that powers the F-16. KAI developed the T-50 in cooperation with Lockheed Martin and both companies are actively involved in promoting the sale and export of the aircraft.

The PAF is also looking to replace its aging fleet of OV-10 Bronco counter-insurgency aircraft. Along with the announcement about the purchase of the TA-50s, the PAF is said to have selected Brazil’s Embraer EMB 314 Super Tucano to replace the Broncos. The reported deal would deliver six Super Tucanos at an estimated cost of $115 million.