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AFP urgently needs to upgrade its defense capability for a credible Air Force, Navy

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If the Philippines had sustained that deterrent defense capability it had after World War II until the 1970s, including a credible Air Force and Navy, Chinese vessels would not have ventured into Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal with impunity and there would have been no standoff there.

This was the consensus expressed by the officers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) during random interviews by this writer at the sideline of the Air Power Symposium held at the SMX Convention Center of the SM Mall of Asia in Pasay City over the weekend.

They reminisced the days when the Philippine Air Force (PAF) and the Philippine Navy (PN) were second to none in air and sea power superiority in Southeast Asia for four decades.

Unfortunately, the dilly-dallying modernization of the AFP has taken its toll as Chinese vessels have intruded into Philippine territorial waters, particularly the Panatag Shoal off Zambales province.

Time was when the Air Force had several squadrons of jet fighter interceptors such as the F-5A/B, F-8 Crusaders, Sabre jet fighter bombers, Mustang aircraft and other types of planes and helicopters in its arsenal.

The same was true with the Navy. In its arsenal were numerous warships and gunboats.

“Those were the days. Today, they are all gone,” the AFP officers said in unison.

Today, not a single jet fighter is left in the Air Force arsenal since 2005.

PAF fighter pilots are saddened by these turn of events, shaking their heads when asked about the present state of the Air Force.

They said that if the PAF had jet fighters and modern warships, Chinese ships would not have dared venture into the Panatag Shoal which is clearly within the Philippines’ 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

When the PAF had modern jet fighters and an equally credible Navy, any intrusion by foreign aircraft or vessel into the country’s airspace or sea lanes were met and challenged by PAF pilots armed with sidewinder air-to-air missiles and naval warships to drive the intruders.

This is not the case today because of a weak Air Force and Navy.

Not only one or two Chinese vessels have entered Panatag Shoal but several of them the past month or so with impunity as against three ships from the Philippine Navy and Philippine Coast Guard just standing by, resulting in a standoff to date.

For the country to uphold its territorial integrity, the primary challenge to the AFP is to devise a strategy to support this policy by protecting the national interest through a responsive air power strategy.

This strategy was taken up extensively during the symposium last week.

The symposium was hosted by Lt. Gen. Lauro Catalino dela Cruz, PAF commanding general.

Vice Admiral Alex Pama, Navy flag officer-in-command, also attended the daylong symposium.

Speakers were Sen. Loren Legarda, Lt. Gen. Jorge Segovia, Col. Galileo Gerard Kintanar Jr., Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Delgado, Commodore Caesar Taccad, Brig. Gen. Romeo Tanalgo, and Col. Raul L. del Rosario.

Among those invited as reactors were retired PAF chief Lt. Gen. Loven Abadia and former AFP chief of staff Benjamin Defensor.

The symposium cited the importance of mobilizing air power for the nation’s multi-dimensional challenges in the 21st century with the following objectives:

* Highlight the importance of air power development as part of Philippine National strategy to address current and future security and development challenges.

* Advocate the progressive modernization of the PAF, especially to a young stakeholder audience, for its value to national development in the future.

* Provide a glimpse of potential PAF and AFP capabilities through a defense exhibit by selected aerospace companies and security exhibitors.

* Project the accomplishments of the PAF in its multi-faceted duties, roles and responsibilities to the people.

* Develop air power consciousness among the invited youth leaders and inspire their dreams of making a dif­ference in the future through the PAF.

* Lay the foundations of a quarterly and progressive air power forum which will culminate with the annual holding of the symposium.

This year’s symposium gave priority on refocusing Philippine air power to address the various challenges of a fluid, complex and multi-dimensional security environment.

These challenges, both within and beyond the country’s borders, include politico-military, environmental and socio-economic.

The role of Philippine air power then is to develop the appropriate strategies and mobilize the required resources as well as capabilities to address these challenges in conjunction with the other instru­ments of national power.

It also examined past experiences and current practices in order to draw lessons that would guide current and future air power strategy, operations and capability development.

By Ben Cal




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