Asia Defense | Security | Southeast Asia

What’s Next for the Philippines Multirole Fighter Program?

The Southeast Asian state continues to consider choices for its pursuit of additional fighter jets.

Prashanth Parameswaran
What’s Next for the Philippines Multirole Fighter Program?
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Earlier this month, we heard more details about the status of the Philippines’ ongoing pursuit of fighter jets to increase its limited capabilities in this regard. The comments once again put the spotlight on one of the key line items in the ongoing military modernization of the Southeast Asian state that continues under President Rodrigo Duterte.

As I have noted before in these pages, though the Philippine military has long faced a range of internal and external challenges – including insurgencies, natural disasters, and unresolved territorial and sovereignty issues with neighboring states – it has also suffered from anemic and at at times astrategic investment in past periods. The country has been trying to make up for this through advancing a phased Armed Forces Modernization Act over the next few decades – with three horizons or phases initially out to 2028 which has continued under Duterte amid a mix of continuity and change.

One of the key line items in Philippine military modernization was that of fighter jets. Previously, Philippine officials had said that fighter aircraft such as the FA-50 from South Korea – technically classified as light combat aircraft – would act as interim option until Manila gets enough familiarity and more funding to pave the way for acquisition of more capable fighter aircraft.

Earlier this month, the program was in the headlines again with remarks given by Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana. Lorenzana provided more specifics on the aircraft that Manila was evaluating for the program.

Per the Philippines News Agency (PNA), Lorenzana said on December 16 that the two aircraft under consideration for the MRF program were American and Sweden, referring to the Saab Gripen and the Lockheed Martin F/16V. Lorenzana said that the aircraft were “being evaluated” and did not provide further details.

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Lorenzana’s revelation itself was not surprising. The Gripen and the F/16V had been speculated to be among the aircraft being considered by the Philippine military. And Lorenzana himself had previously made comments about the aircraft suitability for the Philippines’ needs, including his reference to the Gripen as a platform that was cheaper and being easier to maintain back in 2018.

Nonetheless, Lorenzana’s comments provided confirmation about the current state of the Philippines’ thinking on this front as well as what we could potentially expect in this regard. And given that this remains on the of the key items within the Philippines’ military modernization, one can expect continued scrutiny on this front into 2020 as well.