PAF going back to supersonic age with South Korean jets
MANILA, Philippines—The Department of National Defense on Friday completed negotiations with a Korean aerospace company for a squadron of FA-50 lead-in fighter trainer jets, bringing the Philippine military a step closer to returning to the supersonic age after nearly a decade of relying on helicopters and fixed-wing, propeller-type aircraft.
“I will say that, yes, we can now boast a little about our capability. I will not be ashamed to accept… that we are back to the supersonic age,” Defense Undersecretary Fernando Manalo, a retired Philippine Air Force (PAF) general, told reporters after the negotiations.
Manalo said the FA-50s were “not ordinary lead-in fighter jets because it can deliver short-range missiles.”
“There is a potential for these to be classified as beyond the short-range fighter aircraft,” Manalo said.
He said the defense department and the state-owned Korea Aerospace Industries Inc. (KAI) would sign the $415.7-million contract later this month or early March.
The first two of the 12 aircraft will be delivered to the Philippines 18 months after the contract is signed, Manalo said. The next two will be delivered 12 months after the initial delivery.
The Philippines’ acquisition of the FA-50s was a highlight of the state visit of President Benigno Aquino III to South Korea last October.
Mr. Aquino said then that the procurement was to be a government-to-government agreement.
The acquisition of the FA-50s is one of the 24 projects under the P85-billion Armed Forces of the Philippines modernization program aimed at giving the military a “minimum credible defense capability.”
The AFP was the first military in the region to attain the supersonic capability.
But that capability declined through the years, with the PAF returning to the subsonic age after it retired its Northrop F-5s in 2005.
When the Aquino administration took over in 2010, one of its key priority programs was to modernize the AFP amid China’s aggressively asserting its territorial claims in the South China Sea.
Col. Ernesto Miguel Okol, PAF spokesperson, told the Inquirer by phone that the FA-50s can “essentially perform limited fighter capabilities.”
“It has the qualities (of a fighter jet), has defense weapons. It’s (in the) supersonic regime. It can carry precision guided munitions and AIM-9 air-to-air missiles,” said Okol, an F-5 pilot.
The FA-50, Okol said, is a step lower than a multirole aircraft, which is designed as a fighter plane.
He said the FA-50 could “train us to get to that regime because its cockpit is already state of the art. It has a radar that can track other targets.”
Friday’s final meeting between the KAI officials and the defense and military officials ran for nearly three hours.
The talks centered on whether the Korean company should assume any amount in excess of the estimated $5.938 million buyer furnished equipment (BFE) and KAI’s proposal to reduce by $500,000 or P22 million the cost of spare parts.
The buyer furnished equipment are the components of the aircraft that the Philippine government would have to buy from the United States.
A weaker peso could raise the acquisition cost of the BFE, and ultimately affect the P18.976 billion earmarked for the project.
At the start, the KAI officials bucked the proposal, prompting the defense department’s special bids and awards committee headed by Manalo, the technical working group, and the observers to hold an executive session.
The Filipinos maintained their position, making the KAI officials hold an executive session of their own.
The Koreans later agreed to assume any amount in excess of the $5.938 million BEF. They also maintained the spare parts cost reduction.
The Filipinos held another executive session and emerged agreeing to KAI’s final offer, which signaled the end of the seven-month negotiation.
Applause erupted around the table, with both the Filipinos and the Koreans thanking each other.
A KAI official told the Filipino officials: “We promise you that we will implement the FA-50 program very successfully.”
The contract with KAI will include the training of PAF pilots.
Manalo said the bids and awards committee also decided to forgo the postqualification process.
Asked by a representative of the Korean Trade and Investment Promotion Agency if there was a “special reason” for waiving the postqualification process, Manalo replied: “We negotiated with the government of the Republic of Korea and we are confident that KAI will be able to deliver and will be responsible. This is a government-to-government procurement. Why would we negotiate with you if we are not confident?”
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