PH buying SK fighter jets

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SEOUL—Move over. The big boys are coming.


President Benigno Aquino III said the Philippines was close to finalizing a deal with a state-owned Korean aerospace firm to buy a squadron of FA-50 fighter jets worth P18.9 billion—a move seen to bolster the country’s aerial power and defend its territory in the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

Mr. Aquino said he discussed the procurement of 12 brand-new multirole combat aircraft from the Korea Aerospace Industries Inc. (KAI) when he met with South Korean President Park Geun-hye at the Blue House, South Korea’s seat of power.

He said it was part of the commitment of both countries to improve their military cooperation, in line with a memorandum of understanding they entered into on Thursday.

 “(These are) Korean lead-in fighters. The purpose of this (procurement) … is to maintain our ability to fly jets, at least for the Air Force to fly jets,” Mr. Aquino told the Philippine media covering his visit.

“We’re handling this as a G-to-G (government-to-government) procurement,” he said. “The Air Force looked at several models and after all of the negotiations, this is their preference.”


Last fighter jet

Mr. Aquino noted that the last jet fighter the Air Force had, the US-made light fighter aircraft F-5, last flew in 2005.

“While we have (fixed-gear) aircraft, those are just propeller-types. So you slowly lose your expertise to fly jets,” he said.

The KAI website describes the FA-50 as a combat aircraft capable of carrying up to 4.5 tons of weapons, such as air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles, machine guns and precision guided bombers, among others.

The aircraft is also equipped with a night vision imaging system with day and night capability.


‘Now we can fight’

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, who signed the agreement, said the Philippines and South Korea would sign the contract for the purchase of the fighter jets within the year.

He noted that the Korean-made military aircraft were more affordable than the fighter jets made in other countries and that their maintenance would be easier as the spare parts for them were readily available.

Asked how the FA-50s would fare with Chinese fighter jets which fly by the West Philippine Sea, Gazmin said: “Pwede na nating labanan siguro yun (We probably can now fight them).”

Gazmin said the hefty price tag would also include the training of Filipino pilots who would fly them.


No delivery date yet

He expressed confidence that the purchase of FA-50s would help the Air Force resuscitate its fighter jet program, which took a nosedive when the military decided to focus on buying helicopters and smaller jets for its counterinsurgency campaign and domestic security program.

Mr. Aquino said there was as yet no definite delivery date for the military aircraft but that both Korea and the Philippines had pledged to expedite the process of procurement.

“We’re just finishing some things both in their laws and our laws regarding the procurement,” Mr. Aquino said. “The bottom line is that both sides agreed to expedite the arms purchase and the delivery of these planes.”


Defense cooperation

Included in the agreement both countries signed were cooperation in the defense industry, exchanges in military technology, exchange of defense-related experience and information, and exchange of visits by military personnel and experts.

They also agreed to share experiences in military education and training; research and development; logistics and maintenance; humanitarian assistance and international peacekeeping activities; military sports and cultural activities; and military medicine and health services.

Col. Miguel Okol, Air Force spokesperson, said that at present the military only has four S211 military trainer jets. They saw action during military operations against Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels who attacked Zamboanga City.

Okol said the Air Force also flies three C-130 military transport aircraft, 18 basic trainer airplanes, a fleet of UH-1H and MG-520 attack helicopters and eight Polish-made Sokol combat choppers.

“This is a welcome development because we can start our fighter jet program for our territorial defense,” Okol said. “For the past 11 years, the Armed Forces had focused on internal security and domestic security program.”


Territorial claims

Mr. Aquino also said he relayed to Park the Philippine concern about the security of 50,000 Filipinos living and working in South Korea every time there is a military confrontation between North and South Korea.

He also thanked Park for South Korea’s support for a peaceful settlement of the conflicting claims over oil-rich isles in the West Philippine Sea “consistent with international law.”

“They can choose to stay quiet but expressed their interest being a very large trading country. I thanked them for the promotion of stability and the easing of tensions in these disputed waters,” Mr. Aquino said.

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