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Lockheed Martin Is Pitching The F-16 To The Philippine Air Force

January 28, 2019

The US aerospace giant is determined to corner a new market for its legacy single engine multirole fighter. Last week, Lockheed Martin’s representatives brought a simulator for the F-16 Block 70/72 to Manila so that members of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) can better understand its capabilities. With a generous new acquisitions budget at their disposal, the PAF are planning to upgrade their fixed-wing assets with a multirole fighter rather than settle for more South Korean FA-50’s.

While the Saab JAS-39 Gripen was believed to be a favored contender, strong ties with Washington, DC and a long heritage of flying US-made aircraft gives the latest F-16 variants a serious advantage in the Philippines.

PAF officers who favor the F-16 Block 70/72 are impressed with the model’s track record and serviceability. Other Southeast Asian air forces (Indonesia, Singapore, and Thailand) have flown the F-16 for decades and MRO for at least a full PAF squadron won’t be difficult. The largest air forces in East Asia rely on F-16’s too, with substantial fleets maintained by South Korea and Taiwan. F-16’s are also well-suited for air forces that want separate “light” and “heavy” fighters, with the latter being twin engine multirole strike aircraft. The best example of this is Singapore with its combination of F-16 C/D’s and F-15SG’s.

Another benefit of acquiring F-16’s is Lockheed Martin’s expansion to India, where it launched a joint venture with Tata for licensed assembly. This move had a broader aim as well, which is to establish an offshore supply chain for spare parts needed by the F-16 fleets in the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

The PAF’s search for a multirole fighter is driven by its Flight Plan 2028, a branch specific modernization road map that envisions full dominance over the country’s airspace within the next 10 years, and the long-term threat by China’s encroachment on maritime borders. The dozen KAI FA-50 lead-in fighters ordered by the previous Aquino administration were a stopgap that revived the PAF’s combat capability after its last operational twin engine F-5B Freedom Fighters were retired in 2005. Without the FA-50’s the PAF would have been stuck with its turboprop trainers and remaining hand-me-down OV-10 Broncos.

But major acquisitions by the Philippine military are slow and rigorous efforts and a fresh squadron of F-16 Block 70’s isn’t guaranteed yet. There are other priorities that must be taken care of sooner like ground based radars, short and medium-range air defenses, early warning and control aircraft, propeller driven light transports, medium altitude UAVs, and a new fleet of utility helicopters. The scale of the PAF’s grocery list is far from genuine arms racing, however. The Philippines does lag behind its neighbors when it comes to military spending (pegged at less than 1% of GDP) and modernization is a higher priority now than anticipating near-term conflict.

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