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The Philippine Air Force Is Getting A Huge New Budget

July 11, 2018

A US Marine Corps V-22 Osprey during joint exercises in the Philippines. Via Wikimedia Commons.

This month President Rodrigo Duterte confirmed the extent of the budget increase for the armed forces. In a speech to commemorate the Philippine Air Force’s (PAF) 71st anniversary Duterte mentioned billions of pesos will be spent for the branch by 2022. This is to accomplish the “Second Horizon” or Horizon 2 modernization program that also falls under the Flight Plan 2028, whose ultimate goal is full coverage of Philippines’ airspace within the next 10 years.

While Duterte didn’t get too specific on what’s in store for the PAF, he did say there were “16 projects in the pipeline” with a total value reaching Php 139 billion by the end of his term. When calculated using today’s US dollar exchange rate ($1=Php 53.56) the amount is equivalent to $2.6 billion.

To be clear, the $2.6 billion isn’t meant for the upcoming fiscal year but the total for the air force’s modernization expenditures until 2022. This is much larger than the $1.46 billion for the Philippine Navy (PN) that Duterte announced two months ago. Both figures represent some of the most generous allocations for the Philippine military in decades. But the country’s yearly military budget remains below 1% of its nominal GDP that’s enjoyed consistent growth since Duterte took office in July 2016.

The sudden jump in military spending shouldn’t be understood as a distinct policy crafted by the current administration either. It’s but the latest stage of the Revised AFP Modernization Act passed in 2012. The law was a clear response to two problems. First was the poor state of the military’s capabilities that stemmed from inadequate budgeting. Second was the grave threat posed by China’s annexation of Philippine maritime territory. While the Duterte administration has put so much effort into normalizing relations with Beijing, there’s a clear distrust of its motives in the South China Sea.

Even with Duterte’s openness about the military’s spending plans the PAF hasn’t made clear what it intends to spend the money on. During the previous Aquino administration (2010-2016), for example, the Department of National Defense (DND) made sure it it acquired more fixed wing aircraft, including a dozen FA-50 multirole jets, and additional helicopters.

Under the Second Horizon, the PAF’s $2.6 billion affords another series of acquisitions. Judging by statements from air force leaders, the focus now is on improving intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) by expanding the military’s radar network and syncing them to the Philippine government’s civilian radars. Improvements in ISR can lead to large contracts for air defense weaponry such as short and medium-range SAMs. The DND was already negotiating for Israeli SPYDER missiles between 2012 and 2016 but the deal never pulled through. Maybe it works this time around.

During the same period Sweden’s Saab was aggressively marketing its single engine JAS-39 Gripen multirole fighter for the PAF and the defense contractor even opened an office in Metro Manila. The $2.6 billion for Second Horizon is more than enough for another dozen fixed wing aircraft meant to patrol national airspace. Depending on the model preferred by the PAF, the Swedish Gripen, the South Korean FA-50, and the US F-16V are now within its grasp–it has to choose which suits it best.

There’s also a possibility the PAF orders new utility helicopters to replace its aging UH-1’s. Other priorities may include more Embraer Super Tucanos for close air support and short and long endurance UAVs from a dependable supplier. Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) and seaplanes are to be expected as well.

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