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AFP modernization: 48 jetfighters, more naval vessels and 4 to 6 mini submarines needed

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For the Philippines to have a credible military defense capability, it needs 48 F-16 jetfighters, four to six mini submarines, more well-armed frigates and corvette-size combat vessels and minesweepers, according to the Center for a New American Security (CNAS).

The assessment of CNAS, an independent, non-partisan and non-profit organization that develops strong, pragmatic and principled national security and defense based in Washington, DC, came amidst a swirling confluence of events, particularly the long-overdue modernization program of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the standoff between Beijing and Manila over Panatag Shoal or the Scarborough Shoal which is within the Philippines’ 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) but claimed by China as theirs.

The shoal is a coral reef surrounding a lagoon located 124 nautical miles from Zambales and 472 nautical miles from China's Hainan province.

The AFP has been struggling in its modernization program for over two decades leaving its Air Force without a single jetfighter interceptor since 2005 and the Navy with old warships, some of them World War II vintage.

The Philippine Air Force (PAF) and the Philippine Navy (PN) were second to none among countries in Asia, except Japan from 1947 up to the ‘70s until they were slowly overtaken due to the procrastination of the AFP’s modernization program.

Most, if not all, of its aircraft and ships were provided by the United States when the latter was still maintaining its air and naval bases in the Philippines under the RP-US Military Bases Agreement (MBA) until its expiration in 1991 when the Philippine Senate did not extend the MBA.

PAF records show that in 1965, the U.S. provided the Philippines 30 F-5A/B supersonic jetfighters. The Philippines was one of the first countries in the world to get of the U.S. made fighter jets, making the PAF a formidable air fleet.

In 1979, the PAF bought 25 F-8 Crusader war jets from the US, boosting further its air defense with an array of helicopters of various types.

But due to wear and tear and lack of spare parts, the F-8s and F-5s were decommissioned in 1988 and 2005, respectively, leaving the Air Force with no jetfighters to guard the Philippine airspace.

As a consequence, Philippine “air defense capability is practically zero,” said Col. Raul del Rosario, commander of the Air Defense Wing based in Pampanga.

“Our Air Force is referred to as a Helicopter Air Force (and) we have only one operating radar with very limited capability,” del Rosario said, adding that “what’s disheartening is that, with this token capability, our nation is faced with an enormous security challenges.”

“After 45 years, insurgency is still persisting. We are also faced with more than three decades of secessionist movement in Mindanao. To complicate matters, we have a resilient terrorist group (Abu Sayyaf). Aggravating these conditions are the natural calamities that plague us year in and year out,” de Rosario pointed out.

Del Rosario, a fighter pilot, stressed the need to restructure the Air Force “to optimize it for territorial defense role.”

“We need to develop facilities, for the equipment that will be acquired such as radar sites, forward operating bases, hangars, communication net, maintenance and command and control facilities,” he added.

Furthermore, the 1995 AFP modernization program was not implemented due to lack of funds.

CNAS said for the Philippines to have a credible defense capability, it needs four squadron or 48 upgraded F-16 jetfighters and several frigates and corvette-type ships and four to six mini-submarines.

“This level of capability would far exceed current Philippine planning and finances and it would be in Washington's interest to make it easier for Manila to acquire excess US fighters, frigates and other weapons system and encourage other countries such as Japan and South Korea to help modernize the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), it said in an article ‘Defending the Philippines: Military modernization and the challenges ahead.’"

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin went to Washington last month for discussions with their counterparts concerning each other's needs to ensure freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.

Last year the PN bought a Hamilton-class frigate from the US worth P400 million and another was acquired last month.


By Ben Cal




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