After decades of neglect, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has been engaged in an ambitious military modernization program over the past few years.
As I have detailed previously, the Armed Forces Modernization Act initiated under former president Benigno Aquino III and continued under Rodrigo Duterte divides military modernization into three horizons and phases which run up to 2028 (See: “What’s Next For Philippine Military Modernization Under Duterte?”).
Amid this, the Philippine Air Force (PAF) has detailed its own plan for its modernization called Flight Plan 2028, a 14-year plan designed to last from its inception in 2013 up till 2028, which details the approach to building its capability to defend the country from not just internal threats, but increasingly external ones as well.
But like other services, the PAF has seen several delays prevent it from getting what it needs to realize this goal for various reasons including specific procurement requirements. Under the First Horizon (2013-2017), the Aquino administration had approved several projects, including close air support (CAS) aircraft, long-range patrol aircraft (LRPA), FA-50 munitions, and anti-submarine warfare helicopters.
Yet several of the contracts were only signed towards the end of his single six-year term and remain incomplete as of today, even though defense officials have pledged that they will eventually be.
Despite these issues, some inroads are still being made. A case in point was last week, when AFP’s public affairs chief Arsenio Andolong told IHS Jane’s that the PAF’s longstanding CAS requirement had finally progressed, with Brazil’s Embraer EMB 314 Super Tucano selected as the lowest bidder (the list of prospective offerings had previously included Aero Vodochody of Czech Republic, offering the L-39NG, Textron Aviation-Beechcraft of the United States and the AT-6 Wolverine, and Korea Aeropace Industries with the KA-1 Woongbi light attack aircraft).
The approval is a major step forward, especially considering that this is the fourth time DND has had to launch a bid for CAS aircraft in two years. With the bid now approved, Andolong said it will now move towards post-qualification evaluation and then contract negotiations which may be finalized by the end of 2017.
The six new CAS aircraft, which had been initially costed for 4.96 billion pesos ($99 million), are expected to replace the PAF’s aging Boeing (Rockwell) OV-10 Bronco turboprop attack planes. Those planes have been used in the AFP’s fight against Islamic State-linked militants in the southern part of the country, which has recently been in the headlines following an outbreak of conflict in Marawi.