The Philippine Air Force's Medium Term "Flight Plan" for an Effective Air Defense Capability
Other Acquisition Plans of the Philippine Air Force for its Medium Term "Flight Plan"
The advancement of the flight plan as of mid-2015 has produced modest results so far, with the program still in the early stages and is still about to gain traction.
This blog entry is a mid-year 2015 update on the progress made by the PAF in accordance to its Flight Plan 2028's acquisition of assets and bases development. Other factors of the Flight Plan like doctrines, training, human resources, and others are not discussed here.
KAI FA-50 and Munitions Acquisitions:
|The PAF ordered 12 FA-50 from KAI, with the 1st 2 units expected to arrive either December 2015 or January 2016.|
The PAF initially reported in the past that the first 2 units of the FA-50 lead-in fighter trainers it ordered from South Korea's KAI will be delivered by early December 2015, but it will depend on the capability of KAI to meet the schedule. Recent PAF information releases shows that there might be some changes in this, which could see the first 2 FA-50 delivered as late as the end of January 2016. The rest of the 10 units will be delivered by batches from 2016 until 2017.
Pilot training was provided for 3 PAF pilots with high flying time and experience with the PAF's AS-211 Warrior light jet aircraft. Pilot training was done at KAI's facility in Sacheon City, and in ROKAF's 1st Fighter Wing at Gwangju Air Base and 16th Fighter Wing at Yecheon Air Base. Ground crew training for maintenance will also be provided to existing Air Defense Wing personnel, which is scheduled from June to November 2015 in South Korea.
|Officials from the Philippines led by President Benigno Aquino III (center) during the group's visit to view the KAI FA-50 at an airbase in Busan, South Korea in December 2014.|
The DND and PAF is also expecting to award the contracts with a combined worth of around Php 4.5 billion ($99 million) to supply air launched munitions for the FA-50 by September 2015, if all issues regarding budget and procurement can be cleared by Malacanang and the DND before August 2015. Among those in the acquisition are short range air-to-air missiles on the same category or better than the Sidewinder AIM-9L/I-1 that was originally planned, air-to-ground missiles like the AGM-65 Maverick, 20mm cannon ammo, and countermeasures including chaffs and flares. No confirmation yet though if the air-to-air munitions will include medium-range beyond visual range (BVR) missiles similar to the Derby missile.
Air Defense Surveillance Radar System Acquisition:
The DND has already awarded the contract for 3 air defense surveillance radar systems to IAI-Elta of Israel for the Elta ELM-2288 AD-STAR system. It is not expected for the radars to be in the country within the year, but the first system could be delivered and online by 2nd quarter of 2016. As part of the deal, a gap filler radar is expected to be fielded by the PAF using a radar system provided by IAI-Elta as part of the deal. Originally MaxDefense posted that this radar system will be used to help secure the airspace as part of the APEC Summit in November, so it is expected that the system will be activated before November 2015.
|The IAI-Elta ELM-2288 AD-STAR air defense surveillance radar system.|
Photo taken from IAI-Elta website.
Long Range Patrol Aircraft Acquisition:
Currently, the re-bidding for the acquisition of 2 units Long Range Patrol Aircraft (LRPA) has not yet started as of this writing, without formal confirmation from the PAF on the reason why. But recent agreements between the Philippine government and the US and Japanese governments might have an impact on this project. Previous press reports indicated that the both the US and Japanese governments may provide the Philippines of used and refurbished Lockheed P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft, either by grant or sale. There was previous information indicating the possibility of the Americans providing between 1 or 2 units, while Japan may provide somewhere between 2 to 4 units. If traced back to the PAF's Flight Plan 2028, the PAF is planning to acquire 4 LRPA in 2 batches, targetted to arrive by 2016 and 2020, respectively.
Should the plan to acquire P-3C Orion from either the US and/or Japan comes to fruition, it is expected that the PAF and DND may totally cancel the acquisition of new platforms, subject to the performance and longetivity of the P-3s and availability of additional funds after 2020.
|Japan and the US are being touted to provide the Philippines with the Lockheed P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft, either by sale or grant, to improve the maritime surveillance and domain awareness capability of the country.|
Repair of PAF Air Bases and Air Stations:
Several existing facilities of the PAF are slated, or are currently undergoing repair and rehabilitation as part of the Flight Plan, to enable them to accept the upcoming new PAF assets.
Among those already in the advance stages are the basing facilities for Search and Rescue (SAR) units of the PAF at Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan and the Sanga-Sanga Air Station in Tawi-Tawi which were awarded last year.
Also being prepared is the new base for the 15th Strike Wing, which is scheduled to vacate their home base at Antonio Bautista Air Base (Sangley Point) in Cavite to give way to civilian development. The unit will be transfering to the Lumbia Airport in Cagayan de Oro, which was transfered to PAF after civilian traffic was permanently transfered to the new Laguindingan Airport.
Other basing projects are being prepared to accommodate several new upcoming assets:
1. Antonio Bautista Air Base (Palawan), Basa Air Base (Pampanga), and Subic International Airport (Zambales) will be prepared and refitted to accomodate air defense aviation assets, which will include the AS-211, the FA-50, the future MRF. It is also expected that all 3 air bases will also benefit from construction work related to the PH-US Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) which is still waiting for approval with the Supreme Court, and possibly the Philippine Senate.
|Subic Intenational Airport is expected to be turned-over to the Philippine Air Force to host air defense and territorial defense assets due to its close proximity to the West Philippine Sea conflict areas.|
Photo taken from Philippine Airspace blogsite.
2. The facilities at the Paredes Air Station in Ilocos Norte, Gozar Air Station in Lubang Island, and Salakot Air Station in Palawan were chosen to accept the first batch of Air Defense Surveillance Radar systems from Israel. It was reported previously that these air stations will be undergoing repair and rehabilitation works to enable the acceptance of new radar systems, as well as other support systems related to its function.
|This is how Gozar Air Station looks like in the late 1960s when the Americans were helping the Philippine Air Force maintain the facility. Today it is in poor shape and requires rehabilitation work.|
Photo taken from delahyde.com.
3. Fernando Air Base (Batangas), Antonio Bautista Air Base (Palawan), and Edwin Andrews Air Base (Zamboanga) are scheduled for improvements to accomodate Long Range Patrol Aircraft / Maritime Patrol Aircraft assets, which includes erection of additional hangar and support facilities. The bases are expected to be partially ready by 2016.
4. Ground Based Missile Air Defense assets will also be requiring their own facilities, and the initial bases to receive these assets are the Paredes Air Station (Ilocos Norte), Gozar Air Station (Lubang Island), and Basa Air Base (Pampanga). The missile systems will be working hand-in-hand with the Air Defense Surveillance Radar, while at the same time are expected to defend these radar and air defense facilities from air attacks.
|The PAF's upcoming 780th Ground Base Air Defense Group is scheduled to receive guided missile air defense systems to defend air bases and radar sites from air attacks.|
5. Command and Control Facilities will be erected at the PAF Headquarters in Villamor Air Base, and will probably connected to the C4ISTAR system being developed for the entire Armed Forces of the Philippines.
6. Basing support systems will be improved together with the improvement of the airstrip and facilities at the Rancudo Air Station in Pag-asa Island, Kalayaan Group of Islands in the West Philippine Sea. Currently the runway is in poor condition, and plans to repair it has not been moving forward due to the government policy in relation to its case with the United Nations against China.
7. The use of Crow Valley Gunnery Range in Tarlac for aerial gunnery and bombing practice will be reimplemented, aside from the use of the range for ground military training and testing purposes. The Flight Plan includes a program on rehabilitating the facility for air force use.
|Crow Valley Gunnery Range in Tarlac, as seen during the 1980s before the Mt. Pinatubo eruption. The facility will be rehabilitated by the PAF for aerial gunnery and target bombing training purposes.|
Photo taken from Wikipedia.
Reactivation of the 105th Fighter Training Squadron and 5th Fighter Wing:
The PAF is scheduled to reactivate the 105th Fighter Training Squadron (105th FTS), which is the primary unit tasked to train pilots that are to be assigned to fly air defense aircraft like the AS-211 and FA-50. The unit previously operated T-33 Shooting Star and S-211 trainer jets in the past to prepare pilots to fly the F-5A/B Freedom Fighter and other PAF fighter aircraft in the past. It was expected that the activiation could be made by May 2015, although there is no confirmation yet if this was realized by now.
To consolidate its air defense aircraft assets, the PAF is also on its way to reactivate the 5th Fighter Wing (5th FW), its foremost air defense unit since the PAF's inception, to replace the current Air Defense Wing. This could become a reality by 2016. The 7th Tactical Fighter Squadron will return back to the 5th FW, and is expected to be the unit to receive the FA-50s. Like before, the 5th FW will be based in Basa Air Base in Floridablanca, Pampanga, although they would also be expected to operate from other bases including the Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan, and the Subic International Airport in Zambales, which is expected to be converted to a PAF air base with emphasis on territorial defense.
|The PAF will revive the defunct 5th Fighter Wing to replace the Air Defense Wing. The 6th Tactical Fighter Squadron will be returned back to the unit, together with the reactivation of the 105th Fighter Training Squadron|
Horizon 2 Asset Acquisitions:
The PAF has already started the acquisition planning for several assets that will be acquired as part of the Flight Plan's Horizon 2 phase, which is from 2017-2022. The PAF expects the acquisition planning for at least 6 systems to be completed by end of June 2015, and the procurement stage to proceed afterwards. Procurement for these systems may depend, and could either be by negotiated procurement or by public tender.
1. Ground Based Air Defense System:
With the formation of the 780th Ground Based Air Defense Group (780th GBADG) and the basing facilities in several PAF facilities to house the unit's assets, it is now expected that the PAF will be acquiring missile-based air defense systems. Previous press releases by the DND, AFP, and PAF pointed out to at least two systems: the SPYDER (Surface-to-Air PYthon & DERby) system from Rafael and IAI of Israel, and the Hawk XXI from US company Raytheon. Other systems were reportedly offered but official confirmations were not made as to what models were among those considered by the PAF or DND. There is no confirmed choice yet as of this writing, and anything can happen even after previous reports of interest from the DND, AFP, or PAF existed. MaxDefense previously covered the possibility of acquiring the SPYDER in a blog entry dated June 18, 2013.
3 systems are planned for acquisition by 2016, and another 3 systems are to be acquired by 2020. Each system will be based on one of the PAF's air bases or air stations, and are assigned to defend PAF facilities and nearby areas from air attacks.
2. Heavy Lift Helicopters:
To improve the helilift capability of the PAF, the 205th Tactical Helicopter Wing will be diversifying their fleet aside from its light combat utility helicopters by adding heavy lift helicopters into its inventory. Much empahsis was given by the PAF's lack of large helicopters that could carry huge amounts of cargo and personnel to areas without airfields as shown during the rescue and relief operations after the Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda in 2013. The PAF relied on US Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey to carry heavier load on affected areas, releagating the PAF's small UH-1H Huey and the Canadian Armed Forces CH-146 Griffon (similar to what the PAF's upcoming Bell 412EP) to lighter duties.
Great consideration will be on the helicopter's ability to load and unload cargo and men from a rear ramp, a feature present on two choices being eyed by the PAF if they decide to go brand new: the Boeing CH-47 Chinook of the US, and the AgustaWestland AW-101 from the UK. 2 units are eyed for procurement by 2019, and another 2 by 2022, although MaxDefense believes that the numbers and the schedule could change depending on funding and future decisions by the PAF to prioritize this project in anticipation of more HADR missions from natual disasters. It is also still unclear if the PAF will consider acquiring refurbished units due to the greater numbers it could acquire as compared to new ones using the same budget.
Previously, Boeing announced a global offer to sell refurbished and modernized CH-47 Chinooks to friendly countries at a considerably lower price than their new CH-47F. The PAF could be among the possible buyers.
3. Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft Acquisition:
As the FA-50 comes into service and prepare PAF's pilots into flying more advanced combat aircraft, the PAF has also started the acquisition planning to acquire multi-role fighters (MRF). Originally the PAF Flight Plan 2028 indicated a requirement to order an additional 12 SAA/LIFT aircraft, possibly more FA-50 from KAI, to beef up the PAF's requirements. But that could change due to the FA-50's limited capability compared to contemporary fighter aircraft fielded by its neighbors, particularly China.
The FA-50, as discussed in several forums including in MaxDefense, is considered a bridge for the PAF from its existing aircraft and technology to modern fighter aircraft. Its size has affected a lot of performance factors, limiting the aircraft to light combat aircraft capable of air policing, point interception, and ground attack roles. Even South Korea will only be using the FA-50 to replace the F-5E/F Tiger II, while replacement for the F-4 Phantoms will be of a more capable type.
The FA-50 has a limited range, limited carrying capacity, limited weapons compatibility, limited radar range and technology, and can be considered as totally substandard compared to larger, more expensive, and more capable fighter aircraft. This could become a deciding factor in the PAF's decision to skip acquiring more SAA/LIFT and instead start investing in acquiring multi-role fighters.
As reported by the PAF, they are about to finish the acquisition planning by the end of June 2015 and will be deciding soon on how the DND could implement the acquisition by either negotiated bid or through public tender. If the PAF will replace more SAA/LIFTs with the MRF, then they expect the PAF to have its new fighters by 2019. Should this happen, it is expected that the PAF may initially acquire 12 units, and may order another 12 units a few years later as part of its Horizon 2 (2017-2022) phase.
Recently, Saab reported that the PAF has asked questions regarding their JAS-39 Gripen, but admitted that no formal process has started yet. Saab has been active in pushing their Gripen, and has been present in several of the PAF's annual Air Power Sympotiums and at ADAS 2014.
|Saab eyes the Philippines as a possible JAS-39 Gripen user, boasting of its low acquisition, maintenance, and operating costs, STOL, quick turn-around rate, and ease of maintenance as its main points.|
MaxDefense also expects American companies to push hard for their wares should the DND and PAF confirm an existing MRF acqusition project, with Boeing expected to bring their F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, and Lockheed Martin their F-16C/D Blk. 52 or F-16V.
Due to pricing, MaxDefense believes that other European offers like the Eurofighter and the Dassault Rafale will probably pass on this project. This could change, however, if easy payment schemes, counter-trade, or alternative payments sponsored by the manufacturer's government could be offered and is acceptable to the Philippine government, similar to what France offered to Egypt when they accepted to acquire Rafales, its munitions, and FREMM frigates for the Egyptian Air Force and Navy. A Russian offer might be possible from either MAPO-MiG and Sukhoi, but MaxDefense highly doubts the PAF's interests on such.
|Lockheed Martin is expected to offer their F-16C/D Blk. 52 or F-16V Viper should the PAF open a MRF acquisition project.|
Photo taken from Lockheed Martin.
4. Aerial Early Warning and Control System Acquisition:
Another important project to fill in the gaps of the air defense capabilities of the PAF is for the acquisition of Aerial Early Warning and Control System (AEWACS) system. This is expected to be operated by the 300th Air Intelligence and Security Group (300th AISG)
|The Northrop Grumman E-2D Advanced Hawkeye.|
Photo from Kevin Whitehead - Jetwash Images c/o Airliners.net.
MaxDefense received information that among the strongest offers were those made by Saab for its Erieye AEWC system, which Saab is offering together with its JAS-39 Gripen. Should Saab captures the MRF project, it is expected that a counter-offer involving the Erieye AEWC system could be provided by Saab, similar to what they provided to Thailand.
Also a possible strong contender due to its recent wins in the Philippine military is IAI-Elta, which recently also have agreements with Airbus to supply the AEWC AESA radar systems for the C-295AEWC variant. With the PAF already a C-295 operator, its not far fetched for them to choose the Airbus-Elta offer.
An American offer could also be possible, with the Northrop Grumman E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, which was recently sold to Japan and is being actively marketed in the Asia Pacific region.
Another possible offer could come from India, with their newly developed AEWC by India's Defence Research & Develpment Organization, which it recently showed-off using an Embraer ERJ-145 business jet platform.
The PAF could have the choice of aircraft platform it wishes to use, and MaxDefense believes that Airbus' C-295 and Embraer's R-99 (EMJ-145) could be strong platform contenders, given Embraer's strong position to bag the pending Close Air Support Aircraft (CASA) project of the PAF.
|India has developed a new indigenous AEWC system, installed on an Embraer ERJ-145 business jet designated as a R-99 replacing the Saab Erieye.|
Photo taken from AIN Online website.
5. Unmanned Aerial System and C2 Center:
The PAF has also released information on the impending completion of the acquisition planning for an Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) and Command and Control (C2) Center. The PAF also expects the acqusition planning to be completed by June 2015, although no definite deadline was announced on when they expect these assets to be in service.
The UAS could supplement the different surveillance systems presently available or being acquired by the PAF and the AFP as a whole. Being a maritime country with no land borders, it is expected that any UAS system will take maritime surveillance as its main role, assisting the LRPA/MPA assets of both the PAF and PN (yes, the PN are still expected to use their BN-2 Islander limited MPA) in detecting surface targets.
Previously Elbit Systems of Israel presented the PAF with an offer to use its Maritime Hermes 900 UAS as maritime patrol assets, gaining positive response from PAF and PN representatives.
The C2 Center will be used to closely coordinate and control all PAF aerial assets, radar systems, airbases and air stations from its headquarters in Villamor Air Base. It is also expected to be interconnected with the AFP's C4ISTAR system which the AFP intends to acquire very soon. This enables the AFP to have total control of all its units and assets during operations.
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Being a mid-2015 report, this analysis is still subject to change, still being in the early part of the entire Flight Plan. But it is expected that the PAF will be using this to chart their course of action in the near future in a similar fashion as the Philippine Navy's Sail Plan 2020. So MaxDefense advices its readers to take this interpretation of the PAF Flight Plan 2028's mid-2015 report as dependent on the PAF and may not be 100% accurate.
Although the plan looks good, the PAF should also consider the threat at hand, with China already banging its feet inside Philippine EEZ and interests in the West Philippine Sea. Instead of being too reliant on this Flight Plan, MaxDefense believes that the PAF should also consider an alternative option emphasizing on a faster phased modernization dependent on the DND and AFP high command's ability to push its goals to the National Government (Executive and Legislative). Although it is already unexpected for the Aquino administrtion to do something better than what is already laid beforehand, the PAF should push harder for more funding and support to hasten its modernization and strengthening in the face of Chinese aggression.