Your 1st for Philippine Defense

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Philippine Air Force makes final push for Multi-Role Fighters with Saab JAS-39C/D Gripen

The Philippine Air Force (PAF) has started to make its final chance to push for the acquisition of new Multi-Role Fighter (MRF) aircraft, as securing funding for modernization projects has reached the final few months.

And based on information MaxDefense PH has gathered from sources from the Philippine Air Force and from the defense industry, the Technical Working Group (TWG0 for the Multi-Role Fighter Acquisition Project has revised its recommendation and go with the Saab JAS-39C/D Gripen fighter aircraft from Sweden.

This was approved by Philippine Air Force leadership led by PAF Commanding General Lt. Gen. Allen Paredes, as well as the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) led by AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Cirilito Sobejana.

If information provided to MaxDefense PH are correct, this has been already passed to the Department of National Defense (DND), which now has the ball in securing final approval from Malacanang to secure funding requirements.

The Saab JAS-39C/D Gripen. Photo credits to CZDefence.

From F-16 Viper to JAS-39 Gripen:

2019 - 2020: Selecting the F-16 Block 70 Viper:

MaxDefense PH reported previously that the Philippine Air Force Technical Working Group has selected the Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Block 70 Viper in 2019, and was already submitted to the Department of National Defense for approval by the National Government.

The PAF was said to stick to the original plan, as negotiations continued with the US Government and Lockheed Martin with the F-16 Viper deal. In the process, the offer made by Lockheed Martin was for 12 new F-16C/D Block 70 Viper fighters, as well as 2 to 4 used F-16D Block 30 or 40 Fighting Falcon fighters hot-transferred from the US Air National Guard.

A CGI of the F-16C Block 70 Viper. Credits to original source of photo.

If the contract was signed and Notice to Proceed (NTP) were released by early 2020, deliveries were said to be made starting 2024 for the F-16 Block 70 Vipers, although hot-transfer of used F-16 Block 30 or 40 Fighting Falcons will be made within 1 to 2 years from release of  NTP, which is somewhere around 2021 or 2022.

Training would be conducted in the mainland United States with US Air Force or US Air National Guard units, while succeeding training would also be conducted in the Philippines as part of regular deployment of US military personnel under the PH-US Visiting Forces Agreement.

The US will also provide an option to the Philippine Air Force for grants of additional F-16C/D Block 30 or 40 Fighting Falcons, although upgrades to Block 70 Viper standards would be paid for by the Philippine government.

Based on information we received back in 2019, the offer made by the US government was to be transacted through US Foreign Military Sales (US FMS) program, and would cost higher than the Php61.2 billion budget proposed by the PAF. Figures MaxDefense PH received back in 2019 was close to US$1.4 billion (Php70 billion), which is almost Php9 billion off the PAF's budget. This excludes munitions.

The Lockheed Martin F-16 Viper (above) was among those showcased re-opening of Basa Air Base and the Balik Basa 2018 reunion. Photos shared by a MaxDefense community member who wish to remain anonymous.

While the PAF selected the US offer for F-16 Vipers, funding has become a problem. The DND was asked to find ways to add more funding to the MRF Acquisition Project on top of the Php61.2 billion approval in-principle back in 2018.

But also by 2nd quarter of, 2020 COVID-19 global pandemic has affected the Philippine government spending and economic output, and the government was pressed to divert funds to pandemic-related expenses. This has not just affected the Multi-Role Fighter Acquisition Project, but several other projects of the Revised AFP Modernization Program that were even in more advanced stages than the Multi-Role Fighter project.

This also made it impossible for the national government to allocate more funding to the MRF Acquisition Project based on the F-16 proposal, and it has become apparent that the project will stall.

One of the flyers from Lockheed Martin marketing the F-16 Block 70 to the Philippines. Photo shared by one of our contributor who was present during one of LM's marketing sessions with the Philippine defense and military officials.

Also, by 3rd quarter of 2020, Lockheed Martin came back with a revised proposal. Since the issuance of contract has been pushed back by a year, their previous pricing and delivery commitments cannot be honored and have to be adjusted. The new proposal from Lockheed Martin for 12 new F-16C/D Block 70 Vipers has went up, and is now closer to US$1.6 billion (Php78 billion) excluding munitions.

Delivery was also pushed back. From 2024 for the 1st batch, it has been moved to 2025 to 2026 if the contract and NTP has been signed and released by early 2021. No changes were made on the hot transfer delivery of used F-16 Fighting Falcons, which still remains at 1 to 2 years from NTP release.


With these new developments, it has become apparent that the allocated funding for the MRF Acquisition Project is not enough, and is short by almost Php17 billion following Lockheed Martin's latest offer.

The PAF was asked to return to the drawing board if it still wishes to continue with the project, as it has become apparent that getting additional funding would not be possible in the next 2 to 3 years due to poor economic activity of the country, funding issues with the government, and the Visiting Forces Agreement cancellation adding in the list of issues that affect any offer from the US Government.

A few options has been looked at by the DND and PAF. This includes:
1. Revising its selection and re-open negotiations with Saab and see if their previous offer with the Saab JAS-39C/D Gripen could hold ground or could even be made better,

2. Looking at diverting funds from the MRF Acquisition Project and instead look at the possibility of acquiring additional FA-50PH Fighting Eagle light combat aircraft from Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) which costs less than half of the MRF Project. This is considering the acquisition of more FA-50 light combat aircraft is actually planned under the Revised AFP Modernization Program's original Horizon 2 proposal before funding was reduced to Php300 billion and PAF needed to revise its program.

As shown on the original Horizon 1-3 program submitted by the DND in 2017, PAF actually requested for 24 Multi-Role Fighters and 12 Fighter/Surface Attack Aircraft/Lead-in Fighter Trainer Aircraft under the Horizon 2 phase. This was reduced to 24 MRFs and 0 F/SAA/LIFTA, until the final Horizon 2 plan was reduced to 12 MRFs and 0 F/SAA/LIFTA. Photo screengrabed from DND document shared to MaxDefense PH.

3. Another option was to move the project to Horizon 3 phase and wait for the next administration to continue this program.

Obviously pushing the project back to Horizon 3 was not an acceptable option, considering the PAF is expected to request to procure more Multi-Role Fighters in that phase, as shown on the table above.  Pushing the Horizon 2 MRF project to Horizon 3 would affect their ability to procure more MRFs and meet their targets by end of Horizon 3.

While acquiring more FA-50PH is among the options, it was not a popular decision among PAF leaders and Air Defense Command leaders and officers. The point of acquiring the FA-50PH back in Horizon 1 phase was to prepare the PAF for MRFs under Horizon 2. Getting more FA-50s without making a significant jump to more capable aircraft does not make sense.

A scale model of the JAS-39C Gripen was displayed in Basa Air Base during the "Balik Basa 2018" reunion. Photo shared by a MaxDefense PH community member.

Best option among the three options is to re-negotiate with Saab, and try to push down Saab's proposed cost to make it acceptable to the national government.

2020-2021: Shift to Saab JAS-39C/D Gripen:

While MaxDefense PH does not have much more details on how negotiations between the PAF/DND and Saab/Swedish government pushed through, an agreement was reached by 2nd quarter of 2021.

According to PAF and industry sources, the PAF TWG for the MRF Acquisition Project has re-submitted its recommendation selecting Saab's offer, and was approved by PAF and the GHQ AFP for submission to the DND.

JAS-39C/D Gripen of the Czech Air Force. Photo credits to Saab.

12 new Saab JAS-39C/D Gripen fighters will be supplied by Saab, plus an addition 2 units would be provided by Saab free of charge. All fighters would be upgraded to the latest MS20 standard with improved combat systems and avionics including the use of the latest PS-05 Mk.4 fire control radar.

Although MaxDefense PH does not have an actual figure to the agreed price, sources confirmed that it is slightly less than the Php61.2 billion budget allocated for the project.

Contrary to what was believed back in 2018, Saab will not include any Airborne Early Warning & Control (AEW&C) aircraft similar to its deal with Thailand in the past.

Apparently the proposal was already submitted to the Department of National Defense (DND) as of early June 2021, and Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana himself was said to be very supportive of the project.

This is currently the most expensive defense project ever to be undertaken by the Philippine Government.

Saab brought in a full-size mock-up of the JAS-39C Gripen during ADAS 2018 defense exhibition in Manila last September 2018. Interesting note on the 2nd photo showing its features. Photos shared by MaxDefense community members who attended the expo.

Potential Problems that Needs Settling Soon:

While the project is believed to be only needing Malacanang approval for the funding to be made available and the contract to be signed, there are still issues that needs to be settled soon.

1. Time Issues:

The administration of Pres. Rodrigo Duterte has almost reached the final 1 year, as he will be ending his 6-year term by 30 June 2022. 

But in terms of approving projects and releasing funds and approving projects, the Duterte administration actually only has a few months to go for projects to become cleared from potentially being classified as "Midnight Deal" projects.

The Multi-Role Fighter Acquisition Project should be able to have its contract signed and NTP (including initial funding) released by 1st quarter of 2022 at latest. That means around 9 months from now.

If not, the DND would be in a better position to postpone and contract signing and funding release until a new administration and DND leadership comes in by July 2022. This is similar to what happened to the Frigate Acquisition Project.

But this means threatening the project's continuity and legacy, as shown also on the Frigate Acquisition Project. While the succeeding administration did not cancel the Frigate project, it was altered to their benefit. And despite contract signing made during the Duterte administration, it does not solidify Duterte's claim that the project is his legacy, especially when the previous administration have made press releases prior to change in leadership that they were halting the contract signing out of respect of the next administration.

2. Need for Philippine - Sweden Defense Cooperation Agreement: 

A mechanism to allow Government-to-Government (G2G) deals between the Philippines and Sweden needs to be settled immediately, before a contract can be signed between the DND and Saab. This could either be a Defense Cooperation Agreement, of Defense Cooperation Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).

Both the Philippine and Swedish governments should start working out the agreement as soon as possible, as this is needed even before a contract could be signed between the DND and Saab. 

The JAS-39C/D Gripen:

While MaxDefense PH has mentioned many times that the F-16 Block 70 Viper was the more superior aircraft than the JAS-39C/D Gripen, that does not make the Gripen a poor aircraft.

It only means that the Viper edges the Gripen in several features and capabilities due to its improvements compared to previous generation F-16 variants, which also made it more expensive than the Gripen C/D variant.

Our previous analysis of the Gripen did not touch on performance values as these information can be obtained from other websites that are more familiar with fighter aircraft. Instead we just listed features where it outshines the F-16 Block 70 Viper.

The Saab JAS-39C Gripen. Photo credits to original source.

Positive Notes:

1. The current JAS-39C/D Gripen being offered to the PAF is said to be in the latest MS20 standard, and includes the PS-05 Mk. 4 pulse doppler radar, which is considered among the best non-AESA fire control radar for fighter aircraft in the world.

The Mk.4 variant has made significant improvements over older variants of the PS-05 radar, including improved range, ability to detect low Radar Cross Section targets, enhanced jammer suppression, and improved missile-lock performance.

Some info on PS-05 Mk. 4 capability compared to older variants of the radar. Photo credits to Gripen News' Twitter account.

2. The JAS-39C/D Gripen is cheaper to procure than the F-16 Block 70 Viper, at least in the Philippine competition as explained earlier in this blog. This allows savings in initial procurement cost.

3. There's the still debatable but widely accepted concept of Gripen's low operating cost, quick turn-around time, less requirements for infrastructure and manpower, and simplicity of overall operation.

Fast turnaround and reduced crew requirements are among the key features Saab was said to win against the F-16 Viper. Photo credits to Saab and Flight Global.

This means savings in sustainment compared to the F-16 Block 70 Viper in every flight hour, reduced and simplified crew requirements, and most likely cheaper maintenance.

Saab claims that a team led by 1 technician and 5 semi-skilled personnel can re-arm, refuel, and turnaround a single Gripen fighter configured for air-to-air mission in 10 minutes, which is not expected to be possible with the F-16 Viper.

4. The Gripen uses the same engine design as the PAF's FA-50PH fleet, the Volvo RM12 turbofan engine which is essentially a version of the GE F404 engine that is already familiar with the PAF's maintenance and logistics team.

The JAS-39C/D Gripen uses the Volvo RM12 afterburning turbofan engines, essentially a GE F404 engine in the same family as those used by PAF FA-50PH light combat aircraft. Photo credits to Saab.

5. The JAS-39C/D Gripen uses the Meteor BVRAAM, which is said to be the best in its class. This is on top of the compatibility with several other munitions including the AIM-120 AMRAAM, MBDA MICA, and the IRIS-T missiles.

The MBDA Meteor medium-range air-to-air missile, said to be the best in the world, is compatible with the JAS-39 Gripen. Photo credits to AIN Online.

6. MaxDefense sources from the PAF confirmed that Saab guaranteed the delivery of the first 4 to 6 aircraft within 18 months (1.5 years) after Contract Signing and and release of Notice to Proceed. If PAF signs up for an MRF by 2021, it means the PAF could get their Gripens starting 2023, far earlier than the F-16 Viper standard delivery time which is around 4 years or 2025.

One of the JAS-39 Gripen in Saab's production line, and is almost complete. Photos taken from SvD Naringsliv.

7. Despite the variant already superceded by a new one in the form of the JAS-39E/F Gripen NG, Saab has made a commitment to fully support the continued development and improvement of the Saab JAS-39C/D Gripen through the next 30 years.

Roadmap for JAS-39C?D Gripen as committed by Saab to its international customers. Photo credits to Richard Smith's Twitter page.


With the DND and PAF determined to get this project ahead before it becomes too late, MaxDefense PH hopes that their request to make the Multi-Role Fighter Project funded by the National Government would be given priority, considering the limited time available.

Saab, which has an office in Manila, should also work hard to make sure it uses all its available resources including getting support from the Swedish government to push the Duterte administration to make the project happen within the year.


Multi-Role Fighter Acquisition Project (Horizon 2)

Note: Edited as of 06 June 2021.

* End User: Philippine Air Force (5th Fighter Wing)

Quantity: 12 aircraft or more

* Modernization Phase:
 Horizon 2 Phase of RAFPMP

* Project ABC:
 Php61,200,000,000.00 (approx. US$1.25 billion)

Acquisition Mode: Negotiated Procurement (Government-to-Government)

* SARO Release:

* Winning Proponent:
 TBA, expected to be SAAB AB.

Product for Delivery: TBA, expected to be Saab JAS-39C/D Gripen

* Contract Price:

Status: PAF TWG selected F-16C/D Block 70 Viper on August 2019. PAF approved selected on September 2019, and DND approved selection on 30 October 2019. Despite approval, pricing issues and lack of funding has stalled negotiation with Lockheed Martin and re-opened the line of communications with Saab as of 3rd quarter 2020. MaxDefense PH received multiple information confirming PAF TWG releasing new recommendation to proceed with Saab's offer, which was selected due to affordability/pricing issues, and delivery schedule. Recommendation was approved by CGPAF Lt. Gen. Paredes. As of June 2021, DND is said to prepare submitting proposal to Malacanang based on Saab's offer.

The Saab JAS-39 Gripen C and Lockheed Martin F-16 Viper remain as the only shortlisted contenders for the PAF's MRF Acquisition Project, with the Viper selected in 2019, but was retracted due to several issues. By 2021, Gripen was selected for procurement. Photo taken from

First release: 06 June 2021
Copyright MaxDefense Philippines


  1. Just go for more FA50s for now and divert the savings to LRPA and AWACS units. Several other airforces in the region (Malaysia) deploy a sizeable fleet of light fighters complemented by a squadron or 2 of MRFs. We can do the same.

    A mix of 24 FA50s with the block 20 upgrade plus a squadron of the Boromae Hawk or F16V or Gripen looks decent for our needs.

    In the future, we can get a better deal for the MRFs without having to rush this deal. Haste always makes waste. Just look at the Rizal frigate deal.

    1. Siguro gripen mrf nalang instead of fa50 para mas capable in any mission. Problem natin is fund. Gripen is cheap to operate at mura per unit compared f16 even mas malakas ang f16, di naman sinasabi na mahina na ang grifen. Kaya nga 2nd choice ng PAF di ba? We can go for f16 next horizon or go for more grifen but not c/d instead E/F.

  2. Sana gripen E/F kunin kahit smaller numbers harder target naman.

  3. Gripen JAS39C/D MS20 IS Best for our PAF.ITS economical operation maintenance.more flying hrs than hanger storage,has advanced EW system avoinics .can arm NATO US Israel UK missiles.has A.I. jet to pilot interface best jammer counter jam ir/ rf radar missiles.Sweden shares technology w/ Phil.will also invest here in factories .

  4. Why not just get additional FA50s for now and use the balance to secure LRPAs and an AWACS unit. Other airforces in the region deploy a mix of light fighters and a smaller contingent of MRFS so getting more FA50s wouldn't be a total waste. Better not to rush the acquisition for the CD Gripen. Get a new budget for the E/F Gripen or the Viper.

  5. Saw this link. How is this going to affect the decision shifting from the F-16 Viper to the JAS 39.

  6. Years ago when the acquisition project of MRF started, F16 was chosen as the ultimate MRF for the Philippines as selected by it's TWG. Every consideration regarding sustainment, training, parts availability among others were considered. Funds were set up to secure the project even before the pandemic. The slow moving government stalled on this project and the political will out of indifference and resentment to the government supplier to acquire this asset was nowhere to be found. Pandemic came and the funds are now not enough to cover the new price of this because it had taken too long to proceed with this project. Had something been done years ago, by this time Philippines could have had one or more of these MRFs already. I have nothing against JAS39 Gripen. It is more than a capable MRF. But would you rather settle for a better more than capable one than what is? Just my thought.
    Thank you.


Philippine Navy Modernization Projects

Philippine Air Force Modernization Projects