|The Philippine Air Force's AS-211 Warrior, a modified SIAI Marchetti S-211 basic jet trainer with limited attack capability.|
SIAI Marchetti S-211 in Philippine Air Force: Currently the PAF's foremost asset is the SIAI-Marchetti (now Aermacchi) S-211 jet aircraft from Italy. It is the only jet powered combat and trainer aircraft in the PAF, and is only available in limited numbers due to poor serviceability and funding issues. Originally designed as a basic jet trainer, it was procured by the PAF in the early 1990s as the first step to improve the training capability of future PAF pilots. A total of 25 units were acquired, 9 units built by SIAI-Marchetti in Italy, 15 units assembled locally by the Philippine Aerospace Development Corporation (PADC), and 1 non-flying airframe. These aircraft were divided into 2 training squadrons, one each based in Fernando Air Base in Batangas and Basa Air Base in Pampanga.
|PAF S-211s in flying school trainer colors, probably taken in the early 1990s.|
Plans to acquire more sophisticated advanced jet trainers were made before 1995, with the PAF considering the BAE Hawk, Aero Vodochody L-39 Albatross, and Dassault Alpha Jet. But this plan did not materialize due to lack of funding and support from the national government. Instead, it was included in the 1995 AFP Modernization Program as part of the PAF's wishlist for around 24 Surface Attack / Advanced Jet Trainer Aircraft. And 17 years later on, nothing was acquired by the PAF for this role until the awarding of the SAA/LIFT acquisition project to Korea Aerospace Industries for its FA-50 Fighting Eagle.
|Then PAF Gen. Loven Abadia (in orange) after conducting test flight with the Dassault Alpha Jet in the early 1990s, which was then offered to the PAF.|
Photo taken from Lt. Col. Francis Neri (PAF) Facebook page on The Greats of the Philippine Fighter Force: Gen. Loven C. Abadia
The absence of an advanced jet trainer forced the S-211 to shoulder the role of transitioning pilots to the F-5A/B Freedom Fighter jets after the last T-33 Shooting Star jet trainer was withdrawn from PAF service in the early 90s. Then, with still no replacement for the ageing F-5A/B, the S-211 was again made to shoulder the role of being the PAF's only air defense asset and the entire working fleet were upgraded to AS-211 Warrior standards. Being an aircraft designed for as a basic jet trainer without radar, missile capability, internal gun, and enough power and size to match any of the Philippines' neighbors, it is only apparent that it is not the proper aircraft for the job. It was overused to do duties other than what it was designed for aside from lack of budget to maintain and repair the entire fleet,
Current Training Aircraft Inventory of the PAF:
Currently, there are 2 aircraft models that all upcoming pilots will have to fly before moving on to specialist training. These are the Cessna T-41B/D Mescalero for Ab-initio / Primary Pilot Training, and the SF-260F/TP for Basic Flight Training. Pilot graduates that are going for advanced / specialized jet training will then proceed to the Air Defense Command to train with the AS-211.
Lacking enough aircraft, the PAF was forced to push the AS-211 to become its basic and advanced jet trainer, and combat jet all at the same time. With the FA-50 expected to enter service soon, the AS-211 may be given some rest on combat duties and might concentrate on advanced training flights until a replacement is provided.
Why Replace the S-211?
The most obvious reason is that the AS-211 fleet is getting old, with the aircraft in service with the PAF for almost 24 years, its systems outdated, and is becoming a maintenance burden. The PAF, being the only remaining military operator of the type, was said to be experiencing difficulty in maintaining the remaining operational aircraft in its arsenal. The lack of enough operators of the type has made spare parts availability an issue, similar to what the PAF experienced with the F-5A/B in the past. There are several non-operational aircraft that are not being revived by the PAF even if budget can be made available for such move. Latest press releases by the PAF only indicated a plan to revive 2 non-working units to raise the total fleet to 6 aircraft.
|A fleet of non-working F-5A/B and S-211 jets at Clark Air Base. Several S-211 airframes can be revived if the PAF wanted to, but the service is not making such effort.|
When Singapore retired their S-211, the PAF did not make any major effort to acquire them to beef up its current fleet, instead letting a private Australian firm have the priority to acquire most of the Singaporean aircraft. They were reportedly being sold at a very low price, and being a major operator of the type, the PAF was expected to push hard for its acquisition.
MaxDefense believes that the PAF was already contemplating to find a suitable replacement for the aircraft, although budget is scarce as the PAF is prioritizing other aircraft requirements in their short term acquisition program.
|The S-211 was preceded by the Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star, like the one shown in the photo above now displayed in the Philippine Air Force Museum, which was the PAF's jet trainer from the mid 1950s to the early 1990s.|
Photo taken from Wikimedia.
The need for a bridge between the SF-260 and FA-50
The PAF's SF-260F basic trainer aircraft is said to be categorized in a lower level than the basic-advanced trainers used by friendly air forces, like the USAF's T-6 Texan II, the RoKAF's KT-1 Woongbi, the RAAF's PC-9, and the RSAF's PC-21. A cash-strapped PAF, which will definitely do its very best to protect its FA-50 from unnecessary losses due to pilot error, will probably not risk SF-260F graduates to go directly to the FA-50.
This is even evident with the pilots chosen by the PAF to train in South Korea for its first batch of pilots, wherein they chose the pilots with the most flying hours and experience with the AS-211.
Any move by the PAF to retire the AS-211 may include inducting a new platform to bridge the performance gap between the SF-260 and the FA-50. A good example that can be used by the PAF is that of the Italian Air Force's system, which uses the SF-260 in the basic training role, bridged by an advanced trainer (currently filled by the MB-339), and finally with a LIFT (currently using the M-346 Master).
Options for Replacing the AS-211:
A. New Advanced Trainer:
There are several trainer aircraft in the global market today that meets the PAF's requirement for an S-211 replacement that could slot in between the SF-260 and FA-50. A good example to look into is the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF), which is a former S-211 user, and the like the PAF, used the S-211 for basic to advanced flight training purposes. The RSAF replaced the S-211 with the Pilatus PC-21 turboprop aircraft, under a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) contract awarded to Lockheed Martin Simulation, Training & Support in 2006, which in turn acquired 19 units together with flight simulators and maintenance. RSAF's first aircraft delivered by 2008. RSAF pilots finishing their training with the PC-21 moves up to the M-346 Master LIFT, which is in the same level as the PAF's FA-50.
|The RSAF replaced the S-211 with the Pilatus PC-21 advance turboprop trainer.|
Photo taken from Victor Pody c/o Planespotters.com
Aside from the PC-21, other designs available in the market today include the jet powered Alenia Aermacchi M-345 HET, a modern derivative of the PAF's S-211. Unlike the S-211 which did not enter service with the air force of its country of origin, the M-345 is slated to enter the Italian Air Force in the next few years to replace the ageing MB-339 in its arsenal including those of their famous aerobatic team the Frecce Tricolori.
|The PAF could also consider replacing the S-211 with its modern derivative, the Alenia Aermacchi M-345 jet trainer, which will see service with the Italian Air Force soon, and replace the MB-339 with the Italian aerobatic team Frecce Tricolori.|
B. Adjusting the PAF's trainer fleet role:
Although MaxDefense believes that options "A" above is a better option, the PAF can look at adjusting the roles of its current trainer aircraft fleet. This includes retiring the Cessna T-41 Mescalero from the Ab-initio / primary training role and replacing them with the SF-260F. To fill in the basic to advance trainer, the PAF could opt to acquire more advanced turboprop trainers like the Pilatus PC-9M, Beechcraft's T-6C Texan II, and Korea Aerospace Industries' KT-1 Woongbi.
With the PAF currently in the market for Close Air Support (CAS) aircraft to compliment and eventually replace the venerable OV-10 Bronco with the 15th Strike Wing, the PAF can look at the trainer versions of the CAS candidates. As discussed in previous MaxDefense blog entries, possible candidates include the Embraer EMB-314 /A-29 Super Tucano, Beechcraft AT-6C Texan II, Korea Aerospace Industries KA-1 Woongbi, and IOMAX Archangel. Except for the Archangel, all are based on basic-advanced turboprop trainer aircraft, with the EMB-314 being a further development of the successful EMB-312 Tucano, the AT-6C and KA-1 being an armed variant of the T-6 Texan II and KT-1, respectively.
|Beechcraft's T-6 Texan II can be a good replacement, especially if the PAF opted to get the AT-6C Texan II for its CAS aircraft requirements.|
Photo taken from Beechcraft's website.
MaxDefense believes that the PAF could consolidate its CAS and basic/advanced trainer platforms to allow better and simplified logistics, training, and maintenance commonality. But this could be a problem if the PAF and DND's baseline specifications for the CAS aircraft allows for a specific model that doesn't have a trainer derivative like the IOMAX Archangel.
(Originally MaxDefense believes that the specifications indicated in the CAS project is very close to the A-29 Super Tucano from Embraer.)
According to MaxDefense sources, the EMB-314 Super Tucano (which MaxDefense believes is most possible choice for the CAS requirement) has disadvantages in being a platform for the training requirement, as the aircraft was design more for light attack use and have features that are not needed for training duties (examples are the rugged terrain landing gears, strengthened airframe to carry ordnance and additional armor, etc.) and may push the aircraft's cost higher than the competition. Although converting them to purely training aircraft by removing vital equipment used for armed missions can be done.
C. Send PAF pilots to get advance training with Air Forces of Friendly Countries:
The lack of enough aircraft to train upcoming pilots or keep its pilots in high operational readiness may require the PAF to get the assistance of friendly air forces for its pilot and even ground crew training requirements. AETC-graduate pilots may be sent to countries like the United States, Australia, or South Korea and train under their system. Although this is not a permanent solution, this might be needed to meet the PAF's training requirements in the shortest possible time. Not only are PAF pilots being trained, they are also immersed in a different and probably more advanced training system than what the PAF currently offers. These pilots could then pass on their knowledge and experience to the service by becoming PAF instructors later on to younger batches of pilots.
Whatever option the PAF chooses, it is inevitable for them to find a replacement for the aircraft, or acquire a new aircraft that could work in tandem with the S-211/AS-211 in the basic to advanced training requirements. The PAF expects the number of pilots ready for fast-jet training to increase in the coming years, and the current fleet number may not be enough to reach the required target. It is expected that aside from the S-211 getting older and more difficult to maintain, the PAF must upgrade its training curriculum to improve its pilot's capabilities and prepare them to fly more advanced aircraft like the incoming FA-50 Fighting Eagle and the expected new MRF the PAF plans to acquire beginning 2017.
Until then, the PAF should provide adequate budget to keep the AS-211 fleet in tip-top condition, provide the best maintenance support it can give, and make efforts to improve the fleet numbers and operational readiness of the fleet.