MANILA, Philippines—The Philippines is looking at arming itself for the first time with dedicated fighter jets made outside of the United States, President Benigno Aquino said Wednesday amid a territorial dispute with China.
The Philippines last month requested aircraft, patrol boats and radar systems from its US military ally to help it achieve what the government said would be a “minimum credible defense”.
Aquino said that his government had asked to buy second-hand F-16s from the United States, but their maintenance costs could end up being too high because of their age.
“We might end up spending $400 million or $800 million per squadron, and we were thinking of getting two squadrons,” he said in an interview with Manila’s Bombo Radio.
“We do have an alternative, and — this is a surprise — it seems we have the capacity to buy brand-new, but not from America,” Aquino said, without mentioning the aircraft model.
“These are manufactured by another progressive country that I won’t name at this point.”
Aquino noted that Manila had retired its last fighter jet, a Korean War-vintage F-5, in 2005. It does continue to fly S211 trainer jets made by the Italian firm Marchetti, which are sometimes used as ground attack aircraft against various insurgencies.
But along with the F-5, the Philippines had previously relied on obsolete US hand-me-downs including the T-33 and the P-51 Mustang as dedicated attack fighters, and the country now has no effective air defenses.
It is engaged in a tense maritime standoff with China over the disputed Scarborough Shoal and surrounding waters in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). Both nations have stationed vessels there for over a month to assert their sovereignty.