The Philippine Multirole Fighter Jet Procurement Program

As Horizon 2 funding now being approved and other procurements of military assets are in place, this program is one of the highlights for the horizon's list of big-ticket projects intended to bolster the capabilities of the Philippine Air Force further to the point that it can protect the skies once again and implement the Philippine Air Defense Identification Zone (PADIZ) along its way. This program, along with others, aims to have an armed force capable of minimum force deterrence against any domestic and foreign adversaries.

One of the Philippine Air Force candidate for the MRF program -
The JAS-39 Gripen.
Throughout the years, the Philippine Air Force aspires to have many Multirole Fighter Jets in its inventory even it predates way back two decades earlier on the original provisions of the AFP Modernization Program. As of this article's writing, both news outlets the Manila Bulletin and The Philippine Star reported that the Philippine Government with the blessing of President Rodrigo Duterte that this said project is about to get momentum with funding sets to approval where eventually, he approved it and paves the way for the further materialization of projects slated such as these capable flying assets.

Apparently coming from these outlets, they reported that PAF is opted to have 12 units or one squadron based on our preferences of what number of jets is composed within a squadron. Given that these news outlets regarding the platforms, it is composed of six (6) units which make the number of squadrons on the reports up to two. 

Nevertheless, it may come as a piece of good, heart-welcoming news to have where throughout the years, the Philippine Air Force is set to have this big-ticket project materialized in the hopes that this along with FA-50 Lead-in Fighter Trainer Jets will emphasize control over Philippine Airspace. 

Hence, this discussion is set to indulge in the timeline of the program from its first inception on the original AFP Modernization Program up to the present date where, given the timeline, takes up to two decades in which several negotiations, offers, and assessments were made to come up of the compositions of these fighter jets and, the lineup of candidates which will be discussed along the way on this write-up.

The original AFP Modernization Program (R.A. 7898) opts for three
squadrons of MRFs but discontinued as the result of the 1997 Asian
Financial Crisis. Photo: Boeing (McDonnell Douglas) pitches F/A-18
for the Philippine Air Force. From LT. Col Francis Neri via MaxDefense
The idea of the Philippine Air Force plans of obtaining Multirole Fighter jets in its inventory is definitely not the new one. The firsts of such plans coming out in the open dates way back the 1990s as the administration of then-President Fidel Ramos passed the Original AFP Modernization Program or Republic Act 7898.

The number of units should-be obtained from the original program was composed of three (3) squadrons equated to 36 units of these MRFs. As shown in the photograph, McDonnell Douglas (now part of Boeing) pitches to the Philippine Government to bag the F/A-18 fighter jets alongside other candidates such as Lockheed Martin F-16 C/D Block, Dassault Mirage 2000-5, and the Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-29 where it was demonstrated by the newly-democratic Russian Government that was also pitching at that time. 

However, such aspirations that almost went to fruition was simply disappeared as the region plunged in the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis that effectively, affects the Philippine economy which renders the resources wiped out and putting the original AFP Modernization Program at a stall. 

For this reason, the economy takes time to recover and as the change of tenures takes place as one administration takes over the other, this program wasn't materialized up to the point that the Philippine Air Force retires its last of F-5A/Bs in 2005 and beyond. 

It was only in recent times that this topic is being raised again and makes progress starting from the organization coming back to the jet age upon purchasing the Lead-in Fighter Trainer jet (LIFT) FA-50s from South Korea's KAI or Korean Aerospace Industries. 

From there, the aspiration for multirole fighter jets is emphasized given that these LIFT jets serve as an interim platform for primary protection of airspace at present as well as a training platform for pilots before embarking on projects like this. 

It is to have the training of operating and maintaining such aircraft hand-in-hand to the purchase of the airframes themselves, minimizing flight hours which lessens the fatigue for these jets on flying where in turn, lengthens its serviceable life.

Despite all of that, the program that is started in the original Modernization Program and wasn't made a reality that time somewhat provides the foundation in a sense that it shows the sense within the Air Force ranks where the dreams and aspirations of a fully-modernized fleet of aircraft simply do not fade away. With all of the negotiations and assessments made, the time is getting closer that the project will materialize once a go signal is given.

The Lockheed Martin F-16 Block 70/72 Viper is one of the candidates
of the program alongside SAAB JAS-39 Gripen. Photo Source
As being said earlier, the number of units for multirole fighters slated for this Horizon equates to 12 units which are equivalent to one squadron whereas there will be another 12 units for Horizon 3, which amounted to overall 2 squadrons or 24 units for the whole AFP Modernization Program phase. Hence, in each horizon mentioned, there will be one squadron allocated for funding and procurement.

Apparently, for this program intended for the main multirole fighter jet program of the Philippine Air Force, it comes with two prevailing candidates as of present wherein its respective manufacturers are willing to sell their products as well as to bag the contract.

Add to that the number of additives and sweeteners that may entice the people of the Technical Working Group (TWG) to consider, ranging from after-support to the "real" transfer of technology in which may see the benefit for the Air Force in maintaining the aircraft. 

It is given in the sense that this program looks to be competitive, considering that these main airspace manufacturers provide their respective deals that may seem advantageous in its own worth as both sides aim to claim the Philippine market for these jets. Now, here are the candidates of the Multirole Fighter Jet Project where it will define the capabilities of the Philippine Air Force.

F-16 Block 70/72 Viper

The revelation with regards to this multirole fighter option traces to the post made by another defense page where, as asked by one commenter, the answer is clear that the Philippine Air Force-Technical Working Group (PAF-TWG) wanted brand-new airframes for its Multirole Fighters, and Lockheed Martin is willing to sell it

This information provided is somewhat astounding on its own worth provided that the Block 70/72 Viper is the most sophisticated or advanced version of F-16 presently available in the market in which it is still produced in Lockheed Martin's Assembly Lines. 

This should be chosen, will further enhance the capabilities of the Philippine Air Force given that it is equipped with further-advance avionics, active electronically-scanned array or AESA radar and also a compatible platform with the FA-50 LIFT jets the air force obtains at present given that these airframes in the inventory are derived from F-16s which eases the transition of the pilots that were trained in the Lead-in Fighter Trainer Jets. 

Add to these things that F-16V platforms are powered by General Electric F110 engines which is more powerful than the F404s from the same manufacturer that powers the FA-50 jets presently obtains where the former provides more thrust than the latter.

Basic Aircraft Specifications From Lockheed Martin Website.

Length: 49.3 ft / 15.027 m
Height: 16.7 ft / 5.090 m 
Speed: 1,500 mph (Mach 2+) 
Wingspan: 31.0 ft / 9.449 m 
Empty weight: 20,300 lb / 9,207 kg 
Engine thrust class: 29,000 lb / 13,000 kg 
Maximum TOGW: 48,000 lb / 21,772 kg 

Design load factor: 9 g 

Here is the document or PDF File about the F-16 Block 70/72 Viper.
This is the F-16V. This is considered the advanced version of such
jets recently in production with Lockheed Martin. Source
SAAB JAS-39 Gripen Block C/D

Read More: The SAAB Gripen and the Marketing Over Philippine MRF Program.

It is discussed widely from this website and across defense communities that the JAS-39 Gripen from SAAB is currently the top choice for the Philippine Air Force pilots for this project. 

However, unlike the Lockheed Martin that is willing to provide its latest version of F-16s, SAAB is keen to sell its still-producing JAS-39 Gripen Block C/D rather than the latest, developing Block E/F which is for delivery in nations like Brazil and Sweden which is far more expensive to purchase with. 

But, despite these things up, SAAB is still aggressive in its marketing strategies to get the local Philippine MRF market in a sense that, as discussed in the SAAB Gripen article, points to the company set-up of its office in Manila alongside naval offerings as well as getting negotiations on-going for eight to ten years as discussed in SAAB's annual Gripen Seminar dated last May 2018

Even though SAAB offers its C/D Block of its Gripen Fighter Jet, the company is reputable on providing sweeteners where in the case of Thailand, the deal includes a SAAB Erieye Airborne Early Warning and Control Aircraft on board a SAAB 340 aircraft, training, and command, and control system with data links alongside a squadron of JAS-39 Gripen. 

It may not be far that SAAB will offer the same thing to the Philippines or it may include other potential sweeteners such as "true transfer of technology", better after-support for logistics, and spare parts chain, among others. 

It might be better for SAAB to offer its latest version of Gripen which is the Block E/F to counter those of LM, but its offer of the earlier and cheaper C/D block plus sweeteners and aggressive marketing in the hopes that its deal may find its way enticing to the Technical Working Group. 

Nevertheless, it is at best the decision of the TWG given that their assessments are for the best of the Armed Forces like the air force in this situation. Call these deals from both SAAB and Lockheed Martin a tough, competitive call to have, because a tough, healthy competition is something for a military branch like the Philippine Air Force to benefit where both suppliers are doing their part to grab and reap the sales that may have come up from the program. 

Although as the multirole fighter program gets the sign that it will proceed, let there be a nice discussion on the existing aircraft in the Air Force that may get treated as Multirole Fighter although it is clear from the very beginning that the organization categorizes it as Lead-in Fighter Trainer jets or LIFT.

Here is the chart with specifications about all variants of JAS-39 Gripen, including both C/D and E/F Blocks. [pdf file]

The aircraft SAAB Offered is something several, if not most PAF
pilots and defense community members admire for the MRF Program.
However, the Technical Working Group's decision is still what matters.
Additional FA-50PH fighters

Since the delivery of a squadron of FA-50PH for the Philippine Air Force from South Korea, there are several calls that an additional squadron or two of these kinds of aircraft shall be purchased instead of multirole fighters given that these Lead-In Fighter Trainers are already capable of its own worth. 

In fact, their multiple news articles that pertain to this proposal. One of those pertains to the recent visit of President Duterte in South Korea where such jets were produced. These jets and their roles as a fighter as well as a trainer was well discussed in our 2016 article entitled: "The Role of FA-50PH as Both Trainer and Light Fighter" where, although it is capable for air interdiction, its capabilities are still in no match to primary Multirole Fighter jets such as the JAS-39 Gripen and F-16s. 

Well, these jets, capability-wise may be considered as "light multirole fighter" that is capable to shoot air-to-air missiles and drop bombs as demonstrated in Marawi Conflict. Nevertheless, its designation in the Philippine Air Force as a Lead-In Fighter Trainer or LIFT definitely states its role in the organization as a staging platform for willing-to-be-trained pilots to enhance their skills on flying such aircraft and for mechanics on maintaining such aircraft before proceeding on the real deal which pertains to the more-capable, purely-designed multirole fighter jets.

This is to provide comparisons between the candidates given to provide the bigger picture. Note: LM as per posting is offering its
Block 70/72 with specs more advanced than the F-16 Block C/D
depicted in the infographic. Obtained from PAF Air Power Journal entitled
ultirole Fighters For the Philippine Air Force" by Lt Col Augusto Padua.
Link to the Source
Among the two candidates and one option, each competitor has its own edges in terms of pricing, capabilities, freebies, commonality, logistics, and so on and so forth. These things do really matter given that it will affect the ways maintenance work and operations for future Multirole Fighter jets have done where the capabilities and the mandate of the Philippine Air Force to protect national airspace lies at stake there.

As for the Lockheed Martin F-16 especially that it offers the Latest Block 70/72, they definitely have an edge for logistics considering that many air forces across the world use the F-16 platform of various types, making it viable for several sources in terms of spare parts to keep these birds flying and operational. 

Moreover, their offer also has the greater capability given its more powerful engine which provides more thrust to the jet as well as this platform having its service record in combat as it is used by various air forces like the United States in several combat sorties it made throughout history. Although a bit more expensive as the block C/D JAS-39 Gripen of SAAB, its capabilities and potentials provided are as impressive of its own worth.

So as for the JAS-39 Gripens offered by SAAB which is the C/D Block, it is still ideal on its own worth despite being less capable than the aforementioned competitor given that its engines, the General Electric F-404s are compatible with the assets that are presently in service with the Philippine Air Force which is the FA-50PH from South Korea

From there, one may think that it actually minimizes logistical and interoperability issues given that both the maintenance and spare parts for these two different jets are as similar as the type of powerplants these assets are used. However, having such similarities may also mean almost equal capability in terms of thrust with the variance attributed to other factors like payload capacity, airframe design, and in some other ways, purpose. 

The point is that FA-50s are derived from the original KAI T-50 Golden Eagle which is intended to be a Trainer Aircraft. It was only that FA-50s are armed to teeth, capable of carrying both air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions that are deemed essential for the Philippine Air Force as a Lead-In Fighter Trainer aircraft. 

In other words, the offer of SAAB is affordable and compatible should maintenance comes in the story with the only difference is that the product they offer is less costly in operations while providing the capabilities that make it a multirole fighter aircraft

For FA-50s, having either SAAB JAS-39 Gripen or LM F-16s for Philippine Air Force's MRF program is beneficial in each respective, mutualistic way. That is, having resemblance with F-16s which is ideal for pilot training to such aircraft while having the same engine with JAS-39s that benefits the supply chain and maintenance matters. 

In each and every way, this competition is a tough one where one in every way, should one candidate be chosen, will provide the air force its intended capabilities while lessening the burden either on those given inputs, one way over the other. To add things further, both of these aircraft offered can be equipped with Link 16 Tactical Data Link (TDL) where both the Lockheed F-16 and the JAS-39 Gripen can be integrated into a secured military communications network in interoperability with the air forces that obtain such networks like those within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or NATO. 

Hence, these things from specifications to sweeteners are for the Technical Working Group (TWG) to assess and determine with the primary aim is to provide the best capabilities on an ideal Multi-role fighter jet for the Philippine Air Force on a worthy investment where this goes to the assurance that the plans of implementing a Philippine Air Defense Identification Zone go on smoothly, in line on the organization's flight plan.

This is to provide details that the candidates for MRF are
really between F-16 Fighting Falcons and JAS-39 Gripen.
As the Horizon 2 budget is now approved, it is worthy to see the procurement process rolling especially in the case of this big-ticket project of the Philippine Air Force where this lies the capability of the organization for more years to come especially in line with its Flight Plan 2028.

This procurement program is competitive in the sense that suppliers are willing to provide the needs of the air force on the slated budget allocated for a squadron of capable air assets. 

For sure, the PAF-TWG is doing its part where doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel, and facilities (DOTMLPF) are being considered alongside assets that the air force, as well as the other branches of the armed forces. 

That means, alongside the fighter jet acquisitions comes the training of the personnel to operate and maintain, updating the doctrine regarding the use of airpower, efficient supply chain, and other relevant things in line with the DOTMLPF process. (Note: this process will be discussed in a separate entry for more elaboration). 

Add to that, having multirole fighter jets not only improves the capabilities of the air force to protect the skies against potential adversaries coming from the air but also may provide the better image of the air force as an organization in which these assets, alongside others, are a symbol of stronger armed forces aimed for minimum credible defense which makes any intruder think for consequences before considering a strike or a conflict.

Hence, the dreams and aspirations for the Air Force alongside the Navy and the Army to be more capable on doing its duties and responsibilities is on its way to fruition wherein the Horizon 2 signifies the importance of deterring both internal and external threats that pose danger to the national security of the country where it put innocent lives of the citizenry at risk. 

This project, along with others, comes with the hope that assessments, negotiations, transactions and the process, in general, will carry on smoothly until the delivery of these assets come by wherein this finally provides the minimum credible the Armed Forces seeks before any formidable threat that endangers peace on the citizenry and the nation's very security.


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Unknown said...

Our PAF must buy the jas-39 E/F or jas-39 ng, w/c are 4.5th generation jets not the jas-39 c/d, w/c are 4th generation jets, because China is already perfecting the technology of its present 4th & 5th generation jets, while all the other super powers are already beginning to acquire 5th generation jets. The jas-39 model E/F or model NG will be better able to serve our country for the next 20 or more years, before it is rendered obsolete by china's 5th generation jets. The jas-39 C/D model & its capabilities might become obsolete in about 7 or 10 years !

Anonymous said...

Well, let the Technical Working Group of the Philippine Air Force determine the best MRF they choose for their own operations. They are considering every technicalities that will conform their needs.

Dragon Was NOT here said...

The thing is that the jas-39-E/F or Jas-39 NG is not offered for the Air Force so better to go for F-16V Block 70/60 and besides it inter-operate with Gen 5 fighters like F-22/F-35

Curtis Conway said...

In my humble opinion there are a significant number of F/A-18C/D Hornets now parked in the desert now replaced by Super Hornets that could be had for a bargain. Many of these aircraft just completed an expensive and complete overhaul bring them up to combat standards. These are naval aircraft used to be operated in a salt air environment. They have two engines for extra safety in the Philippine Archipelago. The radar would be the big question mark, and I would go with the same AESA radar in their FA-50s for commonality.

Anonymous said...

Don't lose your time, none of both are adapted to Filipino needs. Indonesia took the right decision by ordering Rafale. Actually, Malaysia selected Rafale too, but ended with budget cuts and France can't barter for palm-oil, EU banns palm-oil fuel due to its high pollution, but bananas should be OK...
If Rafale is ordered with the 100kN dry thrust only version of the M88 engine, payload is increased to 12 tons (and speed to Mach2+), as RuAG also makes conformal fuel tanks and 3000L drop tanks, Rafale can take-off from a road in Itbayat isl. then attack the CCP gathering in Beijing,the aircaft factory in Shenyang as well as any ship in SCS and between Vladivostok, Nicobar and Port Moresby since two 3000L droptanks and the two 1150L CFTs extend the combat range to 2200km carrying 1 BrahMos/BrahMos-NG ALCMs and two Exocets or 3 SCALP.
Custom hardpoints can be made with an AAM rail on each side of the pylon so you can carry 2 Meteors/MICA-NG at the same time as drop-tanks, bombs etc, so, no matter the mission, Rafale can carry 14 Meteor and two MICA-NG/IR, but for air superiority, TERs (triple ejector racks) can be made for 3 Meteor/MICA-NG, so you can carry 29 Meteors and 7 MICA-NG.
Rafale F4 introduces 3rd gen stealth, 3rd gen quantum-IRST for upcoming F4.2
Moreover, the cost of use of a Rafale is even a little inferior to Gripen-E and just a little over Gripen-C or FA-50 while a F-16 costs the double with $22,251/hour then, in case of conflict, Rafale can fly as much as airliners : up to 12h/day or up to 11 missions. Then engine's core needs overhaul only after 4000h (US engines:2000h, Russian engine: 800-1000h), thanks to Safran being the world leader of jet engines, Rafale is the cheapest MRCA and as powerful as a 5th gen heavy fighter

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