The Philippine Air Force (PAF) will finally have more force than air with the arrival on Friday of two of the 12 brand-new fighter jets that were ordered from a South Korean company.
The two FA-50 Golden Eagle lead-in fighter/trainer jets are scheduled to land for the first time on Philippine soil at Clark Air Base, PAF spokesman Col. Enrico Canaya said in a statement.
The aircraft, purportedly patterned after the US-made F-16 Fighting Falcon, was acquired from the Korea Aerospace Development Industries for P18.9 billion.
The rest of the FA-50 jets are scheduled for delivery by 2017.
The Golden Eagle has a rated top speed of Mach 1.5, or one and a half times the speed of sound and could carry a weapons load of up to 4.5 tons, according to the website airforcetechnology.com.
It said the aircraft can be armed with AIM-9 Sidewinder short-range air-to-air missiles, AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground tactical missiles, GBU-38/B Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM), CBU-105 Sensor Fused Weapon (SFW), Mk-82 Low Drag General Purpose (LDGP) bombs and Cluster Bomb Units (CBUs).
The FA-50 is also mounted with an internal, three-barrel 20mm Gatling gun and a rocket launcher.
“The wide range of weapon systems aboard the FA-50 allows it to counter multiple threats in today’s complex battlefield scenario,” the website said.
Three PAF pilots were sent to South Korea early this year to learn how to fly the FA-50s.
“This is the first time that we will have supersonic capability since 2005 when our jets were decommissioned. This is the revival of the supersonic jet age,” Canaya said as he referred to the moth-balling of the 10 remaining F-5A Freedom Fighter aircraft that were once the envy of air forces in the region when it joined the PAF arsenal in 1965.
The country’s airspace was virtually left defenseless after its decommissioning in 2005 as the Air Force had to make do with sub-sonic Italian-made S-211 trainer jets and Vietnam war-era propeller-driven OV-10 Bronco aircraft and SF-260 trainers that were reconfigured as light attack aircraft.
Early this year, PAF and the Philippine Navy took delivery of armed and unarmed variants of the Augusta Westland 109 helicopters as well as eight brand-new Bell 412 combat utility helicopters as part of the country’s revitalized armed forces modernization program.
The program, however, was mired in a controversy after The Manila Times exposed an allegedly anomalous transaction involving the acquisition of 21 refurbished combat utility helicopters as revealed by Rhodora Alvarez–whose identity was initially hidden under the code name “Joey”–who claims that she was privy to the deal.
The contract awarded to a joint venture between Rice Aircraft Services Inc. and Eagle Copters was eventually canceled by the Department of National Defense.
Alvarez is now under the custody of the Department of Justice Witness Protection Program.
One of the UH-1D helicopters that was delivered to the PAF before the deal was called off recently crashed in Sarangani province in Mindanao.
Crash investigators had reportedly ruled out human error in the accident where nine soldiers were hurt. The crashed helicopter was written off after it was declared beyond economic repair.
Subic naval base
Defense department spokesman Arsenio Andolong early this year revealed that the FA-50 fighter jets, along with several frigates to be acquired for the Philippine Navy, would be stationed at the soon to be reopened Subic Naval Base, which faces the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
“They are ideal. [Subic] has a deep-water port, the runways are perfect for the FA-50,” Andolong was quoted as saying.
US President Barack Obama last week announced that the US would transfer another decommissioned US Coast Guard high endurance cutter to the Philippine Navy in a bid to beef up the country’s maritime security capabilities.
The Philippines is engaged in a bitter maritime dispute with China, which claims the entire South China Sea as its own by virtue of a nine-dash line theory, which Manila had questioned before a United Nations arbitral tribunal in The Hague (See related story).
China took advantage of the country’s weak military presence in the disputed areas by annexing territories and reclaiming land within the Philippines’ 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone.