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Up-Arming the Del Pilar-Class Frigates

The ships, since being commissioned in the Philippine Navy serve as an interim training and combat platform for the personnel to learn as well as to serve the nation where its capabilities are to be enhanced further than the World War 2 vessels the Navy obtains at present. These in which, upon installation, will become better and many capable vessels at the will of the decision holders that will up-arm the ships.

Pitz Defense Analysis Note: There are already articles that also discuss this subject matter. But with the recent events slowly unraveled within this year alone, it is now a good time to put this discussion up-to-date.

BRP Ramon Alcaraz FF-16 returning from Vietnam.
Courtesy of BRP Ramon Alcaraz FF-16 Facebook Page.
The United States government through the Foreign Military Sales program approves the purchase of SPS/ANS 77 or the SAAB Sea Giraffe AMB which is intended for installation in the ship that will enhance its radar/sensor system. This radar system is far greater than the older radars that were once installed in these ex-Hamilton class cutters before being stripped out for other active assets to use. Through the Excess Defense Articles (EDA) deal, the Philippines acquires three of these Hamilton ships which are now known as the Del Pilar-class Frigates (GMA News). The same radar system is said to be used in the U.S. Littoral Combat Ships like the U.S.S. Coronado as well as the Swedish Visby-class Corvettes.

These details give us an insight as to provide these ex-Hamilton cutters the eyes and teeth that is enough for it to be a capable unit where the radar system serves as a foundation for these vessels to get armed with a better weapons system such as missiles and countermeasures where it can be better branded as missile-guided frigates like the ones being procured from South Korea.

For this article, let us use the following abbreviations for simplified description:
CIWS refers to Close-in weapons system;
RCWS refers to remote-controlled weapons system;
AFP refers to the Armed Forces of the Philippines;
USCG refers to the United States Coast Guard;
PN stands for the Philippine Navy; and
DPCF stands for the Del Pilar-class Frigates.

This is how the Del Pilar-class will look like if armed.
Courtesy of Philippine Military Modernization Today.
The D.P.C.F.'s dimensional design is indeed spacious where the said class of ships can be upgraded with various weapons systems that will improve as well as enhance its firepower where it will complement the newer pair of missile-guided frigates from South Korea that is in the process and will arrive by years 2019 and 2020. Moreover, speaking of weapons systems applied in a ship, there are many options in the market that the Navy can choose with viable considerations in terms of compatibility, combat effectiveness, and of course, the budget allocated. Now, let us further dig in on the said weapons systems that can be filled in these ships.

Secondary Guns
These are the Mk. 38 Mod 2 Autocannons installed
in BRP Ramon Alcaraz. Courtesy of Timawa Forums.
The D.P.C.Fs upon arrival to the Philippines from the United States are not armed with secondary guns since the weapons systems installed once in the said ships serving in the United States Coast Guard are stripped out, in which only the main 76mm Oto Melara Gun was the only weapon left on board the ship. 

The same things happen to the other ex-Hamilton ships handed over to Nigeria and Bangladesh. Considering this, the PN opted to install machine guns on both sides of BRP Gregorio del Pilar and BRP Ramon Alcaraz, in which the latter has an automated machine gun installed, which is the Mk. 38 Mod 2 autocannon or Remote-Controlled Weapons System (RCWS) [seen photo above]. 

The Mk. 38 Mod 2 RCWS is indeed a big plus for the said ships considering that this kind of weapons system will guide the operator properly as well as aiming and firing on the target without risking being exposed to the enemy's bullets. 

Moreover, the said guns are using the 25mm M242 Bushmaster gun which is found to eliminate close-approaching targets from both surface and aerial threats to get the ship protected, in which it may be considered as a sort of Close-in Weapons System, which will also be discussed in this article.

The kind of RCWS is presently installed only on the BRP Ramon Alcaraz where the same weapons system is said to get installed on the BRP Gregorio del Pilar somewhere along the way in time.

Close-in Weapons System

Aside from the secondary weapons like the Mk 38 Mod 2 which can also serve as a CIWS, a fully-fledged Close-in Weapons System is also being considered where these said weapons, like the RCWS, can eliminate approaching targets to keep the ship safe from threats. These in which are with an advantageous range of ship protection from all threats, aerial and surface.

The Hamilton WHECs that are still in the service under the United States Coast Guard (USCG) are armed with Phalanx CIWS. The said system is one of those armaments removed by USCG to be reused in their newer National Security Cutters which will replace the existing Hamilton cutters they obtain.
A Phalanx CIWS firing. Via Pinterest.
In the case of the Philippines, the Phalanx CIWS may be seen as a good option since it was installed before in these ships. Such a weapons system is capable to do its job like the RCWS which is to shoot incoming targets at close range. That is, ranging from Antiship missiles to small vessels. Another good option is the Goalkeeper CIWS. It gives as well a good advantage on the ship's defense capability.

However, it comes at a cost as well as being heavy where it gives a disadvantage when choosing this as an option. Right now, a 50mm manually-operated machine gun is the ones presently installed in these ships where a CIWS was once installed which is in the stern. But all of it, in a certain way as it is given, will materialize with the new frigate's CIWS option be used as a benchmark for the sake of interoperability and easier logistics.

Anti-ship missiles
SSM-700K C-Star Haesong Missile.
Having a frigate is indeed a good thing to have especially on the Philippine Navy's given standpoint with the D.P.C.Fs. And all of it will become better with the idea of these ships being armed with anti-ship missiles which will definitely give teeth to these frigates.

Throughout its service in the USCG, the Hamilton cutters aren't equipped with an anti-ship missile with the exception of USCGC Hamilton (WHEC-715) and Mellon (WHEC-717) armed with Harpoon anti-ship missiles.
Photo of USCGC Mellon (WHEC-717) firing a Harpoon Missile.
Courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard
The Harpoon missiles in itself is indeed an ideal platform for the DPCFs since it was tested on the said ships. However, with regards to procuring these missiles, the Philippine Government shall undertake United States bureaucratic procedures that involve congressional approval before taking it as foreign military sales like the SAAB Sea Giraffe procured by the PN to these ships. 

As it is proven, it will take time as well as the uncertainty for it to get passed since the relations between the US and the Philippines, despite being a long traditional ally, is in the moot point.

These ships are indeed proven that said missile systems can be installed where it increases the capability of DPCFs to be considered a missile-guided frigate. Moreover, aside from Harpoon, there are also sources to gather such systems as French Exocet and South Korean C-Star Haesong.

In terms of missiles, it seems that the SSM-700K C-Star missile is the best option for the DPCFs right now citing that at present it is the same missile system being offered in the new frigates from South Korea under the Frigate Acquisition Project. Moreover, such things are as expected considering that logistics, interoperability, and commonality is an ideal thing wherein an organization like the PN, it is the practical thing as well as the most efficient one to do where maintenance isn't so much costly.

The Exocet meanwhile, it seemed like a good choice also given that the C-STA's maximum range is at around 148km or 92 miles (Deagel) and the Exocet's maximum range is better at 180km (military-today), these missiles can also be seen as a preferable choice for up-arming these missiles considering its reputation. Moreover, the Exocet is being considered several times but being put out in favor of C-Star given the reasons in the previous paragraph.

The main point here is that these ships are capable to have guided missiles installed within these vessels and are seen as planning will take place in due time. All of which, upon arrival of the new frigates made by Hyundai Heavy Industries in South Korea, will ensure the type of weapons systems that can be serve as an upgrade for the Philippine Navy Ships.


The Del Pilar-class Frigates, accordingly are in service both as training and a combat platform that at present it really gives a boost for the Philippine Navy to do its job protecting the higher seas from numerous threats ranging from drug smugglers to foreign adversaries. 

These in which will definitely serve more of its purpose and firepower if given the upgrades it needs. In the near future, upon the arrival of the newer frigates, these ex-Hamilton vessels will complement the newer hulls from South Korea one over the other in the sense that the Navy will definitely have it's minimum credible defense in the sense that in the timeline specified by the Sail Plan 2028, there are more vessels to get procured in due time. 

These in which will help in part improve the AFP all in all as a world-class Armed Forces with itself a source of national pride where at the present, the Del Pilar-class do its job just that, a baby step towards a promising future starting from the year 2018 where the Horizon 2 plans are prepared to get materialized.

As of March 5, 2017

The Defense Department from the US posted several contracts where some of these pertain to the Mk. 38 Mod 3 guns in which it was considered as an improved version of the Mk. 38 gun which is much better than the Mk. 38 Mod 2 of the BRP Ramon Alcaraz (FF-16). You can see the details about the Mk. 38 Mod 3 guns here.
The sample of Mk. 38 Mod 3 with a stealth-featured cupola.
From Defense Media Network.
Apparently, these guns will be installed not only to the BRP Gregorio Del Pilar (FF-15) but also to the BRP Andres Bonifacio as well. There are separate contracts per both ships wherein the delivery date of the guns for Del Pilar will be within this year possibly by next month of April whereas Bonifacio's guns will be expected by next year in May 2018.

The contracts are awarded to BAE weapons systems and were dated on different dates:
BRP Gregorio Del Pilar (FF-15) - September 2015 (Link to the contract here)
BRP Andres Bonifacio (FF-17) - October 2016 (Link to the contract here)

Speaking of which it will further enhance the ship's armaments where they are better armed than the Hamilton-class ships of both Bangladesh and Nigeria. Moreover, it is as well planned that the Sea Giraffe will be delivered and installed on an unspecified date as well as having missiles installed on the basis of the brand new frigates made in South Korea so as for compatibility and logistically effective uses. These will make the ships armed more to the teeth as the Philippine Navy enhances further its Sail Plan as part of the AFP Modernization Program.

The Role of FA-50PH as Both Trainer and Light Fighter

People from various places like several media outlets, defense circles, the political arena, and even the ordinary ones are in the confusion with regards to the role of the South Korean-made FA-50PH which is now the main fighter-trainer jet of the Philippine Air Force.

The flight line of the four FA-50PH. Two of those recently arrive
on December 1. Courtesy of Capt. Mario Mendoza Jr.

The Philippine Air Force is longing to have a fighter jet after ten years of not having them upon the retirement of the last F-5A/B in 2004. From there then, the flight capabilities among the air force pilots come into rust that such knowledge must be re-learn to this new pool of fighter pilots with now having a squadron of FA-50PH made by South Korea having acquired by the previous administration. 

Insofar as the reports are concerned, the air force obtains nine pilots who are capable to fly these jets. This in which still demands more pilots who need training so that the skills needed especially in the event of acquiring more fighter jets, especially on Multi-role fighters, can be fulfilled. 

However, there are several things that need to ponder, especially on its capability and the plans of the Philippine Air Force with regards to future acquisitions in the sense that political will, capability, and practicality comes into play.

Now, let us present to you several viewpoints from people with proper analytical aspects based on academic work, assessment on reports, and experience in the field. These people are Tan Tian Cai and Trevor Llewellyn Evans, both contributors to Defense of the Republic of the Philippines FB Honeypot Extension (DefensePH). (link to their forum here.)

Photo credits from John Chua.
Here's something to think about. We've (sic: I've) noticed that oftentimes whenever the subject of the FA-50PH comes up, there would often be an argument over what to call it. Is the FA-50PH a Fighter? A Trainer? Or is it somewhere in between?

Here, We (sic) try to present an overview of both sides of the argument as well as provide an alternate take on the issue. Please note that all points raised here are solely the personal opinion of the author. Reader discretion is advised.

First and foremost, officially, the KAI FA-50 is a Lead In-Flight Trainer (LIFT) with a secondary combat capability. As the name suggests, it's designed to train pilots to operate complex equipment before they move on to a front-line fighter type. The FA-50 is equipped with a radar and is capable of combat use by virtue of being armed with an internal cannon and being capable of carrying external stores like bombs and missiles. Officially, that makes it BOTH a Fighter AND a Trainer as it's capable of being used for both purposes.

A common argument against calling the FA-50PH a Fighter is that people tend to compare it with other designs and finding it short because it appears that other purpose build Multi-Role Fighters (MRF) are more capable and 'powerful'. The other common accusation thrown at the FA-50PH is that because it's 'just' a 'Trainer on steroids' it can't compare to a 'proper' MRF like, say, the Saab Gripen. The main point is indeed true to an extent. The FA-50PH is not a 'proper' MRF. But it IS indeed equipped with the basic equipment that makes it capable of performing the basic job of air defense.

Taking a look at examples from around the world, it's wrong to say that you strictly need a 'Proper' MRF to properly defend one's airspace. Such armed 'Trainers on steroids' have been successfully employed as gap fillers by many top tier air forces such as the RAF. 

Armed trainers like the BAE Hawk Mk.208 in RMAF service supplement their fighter fleet and directly contribute to their air defense. Taking a closer look at the specs of the Hawk Mk.208, it's actually more capable than the now-retired Northrop F-5A/B Freedom Fighter's that once served the PAF by virtue of having a radar which the older F-5A/B's lacked completely. 

If the F-5's had served well despite the lack of onboard radar, imagine what a modern integrated weapons system on the FA-50PH is capable of achieving? Also, consider Thailand's Aero Vodochody L-39ART, those lack radar like the F-5A/B. Even so, they are capable of the same tasks that the F-5A/B was able to perform. Indeed. In RTAF service, the L-39ART supplements the F-5E Tigris in the same role.

Now. Another common argument against armed trainers is that in a real fight, they won't stand a chance against a proper MRF opponent. The problem of making such an assumption is that it's largely academic and not proven in real life. To date, as far as is known, no one has yet pitted an MRF against an armed trainer in real combat. To totally write off an armed trainer as being unable to stand against an MRF is unwise. 

History has proven that avionics and flight performance are largely academic when put to the test. The Americans learned this lesson the hard way during the Vietnam War when they thought the Mig-17 would be a harmless pushover when faced with their advanced high-performance F-4 Phantom II's equipped with radar and guided missiles. Both of which the 'slow' Mig-17 lacked. Turned out, the Mig-17's weren't so docile or useless after all.

So. At the end of the day, the question was, what to call the FA-50PH? The proper answer has always been in its official designation. The maker of the FA-50PH, KAI, called their product a LIFT. So a LIFT it is. But is it that simple? Is the question answered? Surprisingly enough, no. Why not? The real reason why this argument over what to call the FA-50PH has persisted for so long is that it's largely psychological and yet it has a bearing on the future state of the PAF. Let me break down the points:

1. If people call the FA-50PH a 'Fighter', there is a risk that the aircraft may be expected to be able to do things it may not have been capable of doing. This point is largely related to the question of if the FA-50PH is capable of standing up against a 'proper' MRF should it have to face one. As was discussed above, it's a double-edged sword. While in theory, it's up to the task by virtue of its avionics fit and weapons capability, the opposite is also true. What if the naysayers were right after all? That's the problem.

2. If people just call it a 'Trainer', then it negates the purpose of buying the more expensive armed FA-50 version of the aircraft when an unarmed pure trainer version, the T-50, is available at a cheaper price. As was said, the FA-50 is more than 'just' a trainer and is capable of combat use provided it's been properly armed with the proper weapons to do the job.

3. If they call it a 'Fighter', there is the risk that some people may think that "Oh. We already have a 'Fighter'. The FA-50PH is already good enough for our purposes. No need to spend more money to buy a better one". If that's the case, bye-bye future MRF. Why need to buy a new MRF if the FA-50PH is already good enough? 

Keep in mind that the purpose of buying the FA-50PH was to prepare and train the staff to operate a proper MRF in the future should the PAF buy any. But of course, there's the danger that the FA-50PH may become the PAF's de facto MRF if those in power feel it's already good enough as one. For this reason, some people may feel it's better not to mention the FA-50PH's armed capabilities because they don't want to put the wrong ideas in people's minds.

4. If they call it a 'Trainer', then some may think it's useless because 'It's just a Trainer that can't fight and is only good for display only'. Such a view may doom the FA-50 program and hence set up a vicious cycle. You need the experience to be able to handle the types of MRF on the market today which feature equipment the PAF has never encountered before such as glass cockpits and integrated avionics. To learn how to handle an MRF, you need a comparable Trainer to learn on before you move on to the real thing. But if people think the trainer is worthless, they won't support it. No trainers = no MRF.

These are just some of the reasons why it's such a hot potato to decide on what to call the FA-50PH. There may be more. Some of the points raised may be wrong or irrelevant. For that, we (sic) apologize. But this is an earnest look at what we (sic) feel is a center subject to the controversy behind the arguments on what to call the FA-50PH. As always, fire away. 

The FA-50PH in a diamond formation.
Courtesy of Capt. Mario Mendoza Jr.
There's been a lot of speculation about the FA-50 and it's capabilities and potential, even though it's not been properly armed or equipped for the PAF (yet..) a lot of that is explained by Tan Tian Cai in his earlier post. I thought it was worth pointing out some of the issues for people who don't actually understand that much about the "systems' in the FA-50. It must be remembered that all weapons, including aircraft, should be part of a "system" since they aren't meant to operate autonomously, but as part of a much bigger, integrated defense/offense plan. To avoid anyone speculating on my knowledge, I'm going to preface this by saying that I am formerly a Military Officer (and military pilot) who worked in Force Development (Aerospace) with a very well equipped regional military, I was also a Contributing Editor to several Aerospace and Defense publications, so my "references' are myself and my experience, which includes access to "classified" data, etc. This will be a long post, so if you're prepared to read, you might learn a few things about the FA-50:

The indigenously developed FA-50 light attack aircraft was designed to replace the ROKAF's aging fighter fleet of F-5E/F and A-37 aircraft. For export, the FA-50 combat aircraft is intended to meet the light fighter requirements of air forces around the world who can’t afford to purchase and operate 1st Tier MRFs. The development of the aircraft was funded 70% by the South Korean government, 17% by KAI, and 13% by Lockheed Martin. Part of the agreement with Lockheed Martin is that the FA-50 cannot outperform the KF-16 until all those units have been delivered, and the F-16 production line has been shut down, and that is why some of the Air-to-Air weapons aren’t integrated as yet.

The EL/M-2032 radar provides the FA-50 with detection capability which is similar to that of the original KF-16 fighter’s APG-68v5/v7 system, but with far better integration to enable able the FA-50 to carry GPS-guided weapons, AIM-9X Sidewinder missiles, and other new equipment, should it be fitted. (these weapons are on the development roadmap for the aircraft.)

Everyone is lamenting the fact that the radar isn’t AESA, so let’s talk a bit about radars. The EL/M-2032 was initially chosen over Lockheed Martin's preferred AN/APG-67(V)4. Why? The AN/APG-67 is a multi-mode all-digital X band coherent pulse doppler radar originally developed by General Electric for the Northrop F-20 Tigershark program of the early 1980s. It offers a variety of air-to-air, air-to-ground, sea-search and mapping modes, and compatibility with most weapons used by the US Air Force in the 1980s. However, it has never been “combat-tested”, nor is it “qualified’ for use with the latest GPS and “next-gen” BVR or LOAL weapons. The EL/M-2032 is an advanced Multi-mode Airborne Fire Control Radar designed for MRFs, oriented for both air-to-air and strike missions. Modular hardware design, software control, and flexible avionic interfaces ensure that the radar can be installed in fighter aircraft (such as F-16, F-5, Mirage, Harrier variants, F-4, MiG 21, etc.) and can be customized to meet specific user requirements. The EL/M-2032 radar integrates ELTA's experience with real operational feedback from Israeli Air Force combat pilots. In the air-to-air mode, the radar delivers long-range target detection and tracking capability. In the air-to-surface mode, the radar generates high-resolution ground imagery using Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) technology for smart weapons guidance. Air-to-Sea mode provides long-range detection and tracking as well as target identification capability. The EL/M-2032 air-to-air mode has a detection and tracking range of up to 150 km (depending on the size of the aircraft it’s detecting, and the size of the antenna of the radar), the air-to-ground mode generates high-resolution radar imagery of locations at up to 150 km, and air-to-sea mode can detect and classify naval targets at ranges of up to 300 km. The radar system weighs between 72 and 100 kg, depending on the size of the antenna. To date, Elta Systems has integrated this radar system into F-4, F-5, F-16, Mirage, and Mig-21, all of which are combat aircraft.

Let’s consider another reason the EL/M 2032 was chosen. Since the sale of the aircraft to foreign governments comes with a “rider” clause from Lockheed Martin which dictates what US weapons can be integrated and supplied to the end-user, it offers an easy option of fitting “other” weapons from “other” than US suppliers to these aircraft. So let’s look at what that means.

The EL/M2032 is pre-qualified to work with the Israeli Derby AAM. The Derby is a beyond visual range (BVR) air-to-air missile (AAM) developed by Israeli defense company Rafael Advanced Defense Systems to work with a variety of fighter aircraft such as F-5, F-16 Fighting Falcon, Gripen E, and Mirage. The I-Derby ER advanced active radar missile was unveiled at the Paris Air Show in 2015. It features a solid-state active radar seeker and a dual pulse rocket motor, which provides an operational range of up to 100km when fed mid-course correction data by the El/M2032 radar by the FA-50’s data link system. The missile can operate in lock-on before launch (LOBL) and lock-on after launch (LOAL) modes. In LOAL mode of operation, it receives target information after being deployed from its launch platform, while in LOBL mode, which is enabled in tight dogfights, the seeker is locked onto the target before the missile is launched. Rafael has already spoken to the PAF about offering this weapon for integration to the FA-50, along with the Python 5. The Python 5 is currently the most capable air-to-air missile in Israel's inventory and one of the most advanced AAMs in the world. As a beyond-visual-range missile, it is capable of "lock-on after launch" (LOAL), and has full-sphere/all-direction (including rearward) attack ability. The missile features an advanced electro-optical infrared homing seeker which scans the target area for hostile aircraft, then locks-on for a terminal chase.

So let’s get more specific to the radar itself, and what it can do, and what it is comparable to:

The EL/M-2032 pulse-Doppler radar is comparable to the AN/APG 65/73 radar in the FA-18A/B/C/D. Very comparable in range to the AN/APG65 (V)2, developed for the AV-8B+ Harrier II Plus. The AN/APG-65 is a multi-mode, digital I-J band (8 to 12 GHz) radar developed in the late 1970s by Hughes for the US Navy's F/A-18 Hornet strike fighter. It can be used with the AIM-7 Sparrow and AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles and the 20-mm gun for air-to-air combat as well as a variety of conventional and guided weapons for ground attack. The system consists of five line-replaceable units (LRU) each of which can be removed and replaced in as little as 7 to12 minutes. Faults are identified by the radar's built-in test (BIT) which also runs pre-flight and in-flight diagnostics. The specified mean time between failures (MBTF) is 106 hours. The elliptical, flat-plate, planar array antenna has low sidelobes for better electronic countermeasures (ECM) resistance. It is electrically driven. The gridded traveling wave tube (TWT) transmitter is located behind the antenna and under the other LRU. It is liquid-cooled, which Hughes claims reduces stress on the components and increases reliability and software programmability. Immediately behind the antenna mount is the receiver-exciter U, which houses the analog-to-digital converter and uses field-effect transistors (FET). Behind the receiver-exciter is the general-purpose radar data processor (RDP) which has a 250,000-word 16-bit bulk storage memory. Behind the RDP is the digital, fully software-programmable (as opposed to "hard-wired") instructions. The programmable signal processor (PSP) operates at 7.2 million operations per second (MOPS). For air-to-air operations, they incorporate a variety of search, track, and track-while-scan modes to give the pilot a complete look-down/shoot-down capability. Air-to-surface modes include the Doppler beam sharpened sector and patch mapping, medium-range synthetic aperture radar, fixed and moving ground target tracking, and sea surface search. The radar includes a velocity search (to provide maximum detection range capability against nose aspect targets), range-while-search (to detect all-aspect targets), track-while-scan (which, when combined with an autonomous missile such as AIM-120 AMRAAM, or Derby, gives the aircraft a launch-and-leave capability), single target track, gun director and raid assessment (which enables the operator to expand the region centered on a single tracked target, permitting radar separation of closely spaced targets) operating modes. The AN/APG-73 is a late 1980s upgrade of the AN/APG-65 for higher processor throughput, greater memory capacity, bandwidth, frequency agility, higher analog/digital sampling rates, synthetic aperture modes, improved reliability, and easier maintenance. The PSP's speed jumps from 7.1 million complex operations per second (MCOPS) to 60 million. Since 1992 the APG-73 has been operational in U.S. Navy and Marine Corps F/A-18C and D aircraft; early models of the U.S. Navy F/A-18E/F Super Hornet; and in the air forces of Finland, Switzerland, Malaysia, Canada, and Australia. A total of 932 APG-73 systems were delivered, with the final delivery in 2006.

The EL/M2032 is even more advanced. In actuality, the antenna might be mechanically steered, but the back-end hardware and software is similar to the EL/M2052 AESA radar. It’s small, lightweight, and has solid-state circuitry and modern processors. It has great room for expansion via excess data storage and software programmability. Because of this, the MTBF is in the hundreds of hours and the PSP is over 600 Million (MCOPS), a tenfold increase in computing power. All communications with the cockpit are handled using the MIL-STD-1553 data bus; the data bus allows the data from any of the aircraft's sensors to be shown on any of the in-cockpit displays or sent to other aircraft using a data link.

The FA-50 measures 13.14m in length, 9.45m in width, and 4.82m in height. The empty weight of the aircraft is 6.47t. The aircraft can take-off with a maximum gross weight of 12.3t. The tandem glass cockpit of the FA-50 can carry two crew members. It is equipped with a wide field of view head-up display (HUD), color multifunction displays (MFDs), digital engine instrumentation, Hands-On Throttle-And-Stick (HOTAS), integrated up-front controls, and zero-zero ejection seats. The high-mounted canopy developed by Hankuk Fiber is applied with stretched acrylic, providing the pilots with good visibility, and has been tested to offer the canopy with ballistic protection against 4-lb objects impacting at 400 knots.

The flight control systems include digital fly-by-wire, active stick, electrical emergency power unit, digital break-by-wire, and triple-redundant electrical system. The cockpit also integrates an On-Board Oxygen Generation Systems (OBOGS). The Night Vision Imaging System (NVIS) aboard the aircraft ensures mission capability during day and night.
The avionics package consists of embedded Inertial Navigation System/Global Positioning System (INS/GPS), integrated mission computer, identification, friend or foe (IFF), radar altimeter, multimode radar, store management system, UHF/VHF radio, tactical data link, data transfer and recording system, Radar Warning Receiver (RWR) and Counter Measure Dispensing System (CMDS). The FA-50 can be externally fitted with Rafael's Sky Shield or LIG Nex1's ALQ-200K ECM pods, Sniper or LITENING targeting pods, and Condor 2 reconnaissance pods to further improve the fighter's electronic warfare, reconnaissance, and targeting capabilities.

The FA-50 has a total of 7 hardpoints, with 4 underwings, 2 wingtips, and one under-fuselage; holding up to 3,740 kg (8,250 lb) of payload. The aircraft can presently be armed with AIM-9 Sidewinder short-range air-to-air missiles, AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground tactical missiles (AGM), GBU-38/B Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM), CBU-105 Sensor Fused Weapon (SFW), Mk-82 Low Drag General Purpose (LDGP) bombs, and Cluster Bomb Units (CBUs). In October 2015, Taurus Systems revealed it was developing a smaller version of the Taurus missile, called the 350K-2, for use on light fighters, particularly the South Korean FA-50. The range would be reduced to 400 km (250 mi) and it would have a cruise speed of Mach 0.6-0.9. The Taurus KEPD 350 is a German/Swedish air-launched cruise missile, manufactured by Taurus Systems and used by Germany, Spain, and South Korea. (In October 2016, South Korea announced it would acquire a further 90 Taurus missiles, in addition to the 170 previously ordered, in response to North Korean nuclear and missile provocations. It has announced it will sponsor the development of the 350K-2 for the FA-50) Taurus Systems GmbH has also proposed an anti-ship variant. The missile incorporates stealth characteristics and is powered by a turbofan engine, making it extremely quiet and difficult to detect. This would enable the FA-50 to use long-range stand-off weapons to strike enemy targets. The aircraft is also mounted with an internal, three-barrel 20mm Gatling gun for strafing and air to air close-in engagements.

The power-plant of the FA-50 aircraft integrates a General Electric F404-GE-102 turbofan engine developing 17,700lbf of thrust with afterburner. The engine's performance is controlled by the dual-channel Full Authority Digital Engine Control (FADEC) system. F404 is also used by the LCA Tejas and the JAS-39 A/B and C/D and the “classic” F/A18 Hornet.

The altitude limit is 14,600 meters (48,000 ft), and the airframe is designed to last 8,000 hours of service. There are seven internal fuel tanks with a capacity of 2,655 liters (701 US gal), five in the fuselage, and two in the wings. An additional 1,710 liters (452 US gal) of fuel can be carried in the three external fuel tanks.

The power plant provides a maximum speed of 1,640 km/h, 1,020 mph at 9,144 m, or 30,000 ft. (Mach 1.5). Max Range is 1,851 km (1,150 mi) on internal fuel. A “probe & Drogue” air refueling system is under development, while a “boom” refueling system has been developed for the USAF TX Advanced Jet Trainer demonstrator. The “probe & drogue” system is seen as a better option since most countries can’t afford dedicated tanker aircraft and the drogue system can be mounted on a variety of transport aircraft such as C-130 making them far more affordable for countries on limited budgets.

So, with the information provided above, it can be seen that the FA-50 is an extremely capable aircraft. The Philippines are several years away from getting the entire fleet in service, and by that time, the possible weapons available for the aircraft will be more than enough to make it a very affordable, extremely versatile, and very effective light MRF. If the Country were able to equip one or two of the C-130Ts with refueling pods, and the “kits’ to fit probes to the front of the FA-50s were ordered, you would have the range needed for extended patrols, without using the external tanks.

Furthermore, if more of these were ordered (and properly equipped with modern weapons), for a total of 36+, along with a low-cost AWACS solution, such as the Erieye (or Globaleye) as used by Thailand, that would be a more effective use of funds than ordering old F-16s with high airframe hours or a handful of new MRFs. In my view, supporting one type of aircraft is the most cost-effective solution, rather than a few of these, and a few of those, as the PAF has done in the past. The commonality of parts and support is what most Air Forces focus on, along with training and supportability. If the PAF were to acquire another, more advanced MRF, it should at least have some commonality with the FA-50, at least with engines, or avionics, to make it viable. If the PAF were to order decent turboprop training aircraft, such as the PC21 (which can also be armed as FAC/COIN aircraft), prior to putting pilots into the FA50, they would have the makings of a decent, modern Air Arm. In my view, they should stick to the FA-50 and ride the growth path, look at Force Multipliers such as tankers and AWACS, and support the aircraft properly until the air arm is back and functioning correctly. The PAF is defensive in nature, and the FA-50 is a very good “defensive” aircraft. Most fights will be taking place over the Philippines territory, and the FA50 is more than capable of handling that task.

At some point, the FA-50 will get a mid-life upgrade, and that could mean AESA and the F414, and with the South Korean Air Force pushing development, and the production of the F-16 winding to a close, the growth path for the FA50 is set to “take-off” without restriction.

These are the weapons, sensors, and electronics that FA-50PH is capable of.
Based on the understanding of the given points and their underlying technical terms and contextual implications, let us give you a lay man's point with regards to their given ideas with regards to FA-50PH and its questionable role as a lead-in fighter trainer or LIFT.

First and foremost, given the political attitude as well as other attitudes coinciding with it, treating the FA-50PH as a fighter will mean the end of the MRF program due to practicality reasons. In that, it is practical to say that why the PAF needs to acquire Multi-role fighters if the FA-50PH is already capable to do so? Moreover, given the specifics as per perceived capabilities, one will wonder and say: "Why FA-50PH and not other fighter jets that are capable like F-16s and MiG-29s? Isn't it ideal to buy them than these Korean-made fighters since those jets sought combat? Given the things to ponder on, these jets are ideal to have since it is considered an interim jet for the pilots to train on before having MRFs.

But then again, capability wise, it is given that the FA-50 as a light fighter is already capable to do its job like a JAS-39 Gripen Block C/D would have. That puts the whole MRF program in mere jeopardy given the assessments in its capabilities given the technicalities. Moreover, Lockheed-Martin, the maker of F-16 as well as the part-owner of FA-50 where it derives from the F-16, will close its production line for the F-16 fighter jets in which it gives the FA-50 the full potential to increase its capabilities at par with F-16 given nature plus the provisions and restrictions given therein. Speaking of the MRF program, it can be as well ideal for the Philippine Air Force to go after medium MRFs in which, in doubt are more expensive to have unless there are terms that can make deals agreeable.

Meanwhile, treating it as a trainer and it also gives negative feedback from several people. It is indeed common in the social media outlets in the comments section that the jets are indeed a waste of money and more for display purposes. In fact, the President of the Republic also reiterates it at one point. Given the points in this article, trainer jets are very essential so as for the fighter pilots to enhance their skills to fly such deadly weapons up in the sky. Given their talents, they are being taught and the pool of pilots are indeed hard to obtain. Several people may say that simply acquire MRFs directly and fire it against insurgents and so on. That is not the case. Having MRFs with no pilots to fly it in is indeed useless than having trainer jets with pilots enhancing their flying skills in order to fly a multi-role fighter. These in which prevents the loss of pilot and equipment from sheer incompetence.

There is indeed one more thing to ponder on which is using these fighter jets as close-air support aircraft where it bombs areas filled with insurgents. It maybe ideal as it seems to be, but practicality-wise, as well as the categorizations the Philippine Air Force, have, there are aircraft that are dedicated to close-air support operations. There are OV-10 planes, AW-109 gunships, and MD/MG-520 light attack helicopters which are designated as close-air support platforms. These fighter jets are more on training as well as interim for MRFs which are all for territorial defense. In other words, these planes are for intercepting intruders, patrolling the airspace, and defending the Philippine Air Defense Identification Zone (PADIZ) from any kind of foreign aircraft illegally intruding the airspace.

Given the assessment, the FA-50PH in its sense is ideal since the Philippines is more on defense. In the home territories, scrambling the fighter jets are essential wherein its capabilities can outwit other light aircraft there is to be. But then again, having it, against a fully-dedicated MRF raises the question as to the capabilities to shoot them down. That in which, it may give the FA-50PH its advantage due to its potential as well as the weapons that can be fitted for it. Hence, acquiring MRFs will be considered where it can complement the FA-50PH in protecting the skies from enemies.


Overall, the FA-50PH is a light fighter that is different from its T-50 Golden Eagle and TA-50 Strike Eagle cousins. The jet serves as a platform for the pilots in the air force who have to regain their capability back to the jet age. These planes are ideal in the sense the pilot's training and territorial defense are indeed essential for the country to be fully secured from foreign aggression. These in which, the citizens of the Philippines shall fully understand the strategic importance to have these jets wherein it will further enhance the mandate not only of PAF but as well of the AFP in General.




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