AFP chief sees new fighter jets for PH military before Duterte steps down
MANILA, Philippines—A deal that would bring multi-role fighter jets to the Philippine military, one of its big ticket projects, could be signed before President Rodrigo Duterte steps down in 2022, according to Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Gen. Gilbert Gapay on Monday (Dec. 7).
The defense department has yet to make public its choice between two types of fighter jets—Saab JAS 39 Gripen or Lockheed Martin F-16V–but Gapay dropped hints it could be the US-made F-16s.
“Soon, before our President steps down, we will finally have multi-role fighters in the likes of the F-16 in our Air Force inventory,” said Gapay at a Laging Handa press briefing held online.
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The potential acquisition of F-16 fighter jets was among the topics discussed by American and Philippine officials during the visit to Manila of US Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett in November, a security official privy to the meeting told INQUIRER.net.
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The new fighter jets would add to the Philippine Air Force’s fleet of 12 South Korean KAI FA-50 light fighter jets, the PAF’s first supersonic aircraft after the retirement of Northrop F-5 Tiger jet fighters in 2005.
The PAF was once among the finest in Asia, but its inventory of aircraft had deteriorated over time without replacement because of funding problems and the painstaking process involved in modernizing the military.
But Gapay said the Philippine military is now “60 percent at par” with those of its neighbors in the region as it modernizes its systems, equipment, materiel and personnel.
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“Once those in the modernization pipeline materializes, we will somehow be at par,” said Gapay.
The continuing effort to modernize the Philippine military comes as the country is confronted with an aggressive enforcement by China of its discredited claims in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Gapay said at the same briefing that AFP has monitored an increasing number of Chinese vessels in disputed waters with some found to be inside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
“There are some intrusions in our territorial waters that were monitored and our armed forces challenged them,” said Gapay. “We are challenging these vessels which are entering our territorial waters,” he said partly in Filipino.
The upgraded capability of the Philippine military had allowed continued patrol of Philippine territory, Gapay said.
“Before we didn’t have the capability to monitor but now because of modern equipment we got through the AFP modernization program, we were able to monitor,” Gapay said in Filipino.
“We improved our maritime domain awareness capability and we have established an effective military presence in West Philippine Sea,” he said.
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