Philippine president Benigno Aquino III confirmed Wednesday that his country would lease five aircraft from Japan to help the Southeast Asian state’s navy safeguard its claims in the disputed South China Sea as the two sides celebrate the 60th anniversary of the establishment of their diplomatic ties.
Japan has been a strategic partner of the Philippines since 2011, and the two countries have boosted the defense side of their relationship significantly over the past few years amid growing concerns about China’s assertiveness in the East China Sea and the South China Sea (“Japan, Philippines Boost Defense Ties”).
Last week, the defense ministers from both sides inked a defense equipment and technology agreement, formalizing an arrangement already approved in principle in November 2015 (See: “Japan, Philippines to Agree New Military Deal on APEC Sidelines”). One of the future steps long expected in the defense realm, just the third that Japan has signed with any nation, is Tokyo’s potential supplying of Beechcraft TC-90 King Air Planes to Manila, which remains one of Asia’s weakest militaries despite recent military modernization efforts (See: “Japan’s New South China Sea Gift to the Philippines?”).
Speaking at an air base south of Manila on Wednesday, Aquino announced that the deal would indeed be going forward.
“We are also leasing from Japan five TC-90 training aircraft to assist our navy in patrolling our territories, particularly in the West Philippine Sea,” he said according to Reuters, using the Philippine term for the South China Sea.
The TC-90s, currently used to train Japanese Self Defense Force pilots, would indeed be a boost for the Philippines’ capabilities. Manila currently does not have enough aircraft to conduct regular patrols in the South China Sea, and the planes could be fitted with basic surface and air surveillance radar for surveillance as Manila responds to China’s threat to Philippine claims there (See: “The Truth About Philippine Military Modernization and ‘The China Threat’”).
Aquino did not offer specifics, such as when exactly the planes would arrive or how much they would cost. The cash-strapped Philippines had initially wanted the planes for free, but The Diplomat understands that the TC-90 aircraft, which constitute Japanese defense equipment, will likely be transferred in accordance with the Three Principles of Transfer on Defense Equipment and Technology approved by Tokyo in April 2014 governing arms exports.
Military spokesman Brigadier-General Restituto Padilla said the deal for the Japanese aircraft was still being finalized.
“We are not yet aware of the actual terms and conditions of the lease agreement, including the cost and duration,” he said.
Future progress on the deal may be ironed out when Japan’s defense minister Gen Nakatani is expected to visit the Philippines later this year (See: “Japan’s Defense Minister to Visit Philippines to Boost Security Ties”). Earlier this year, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko had visited the Philippines from January 26 to January 30, the first such trip by a Japanese emperor to the Southeast Asian state.