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NC-212i Light Transport Aircraft of the Philippine Air Force

The Philippine Air Force's logistics fleet comes with multiple types of aircraft, ranging from light transport to medium and heavy-lift aircraft, all of which have its ultimate aim of transporting troops and military hardware across the country, whether it may be a rotational assignment, or a rapid military deployment in an event of a conflict, or the rapid delivery of essential goods when natural calamities ravage a portion of the country.

In this discussion, we will deal with light transport aircraft, in which this one has produced in the neighboring archipelagic nation of Indonesia.

Philippine Air Force, NC-212i, PT Dirgantara, C-212 Aviocar
Philippine Air Force's Light Transport Aircraft from Indonesia.
(c) Miguel Cenon, Flickr.

Just recently, the Department of Budget and Management or DBM has displayed its latest SARO releases on its website (you can check our FAQs link here), whereby the amount of around Php 624,000,000.00 or six hundred twenty-four million pesos Special Allotment Release Order has posted for covering the Department of National Defense's funding requirements for the Light Lift Wing Aircraft Acquisition Project.

This project, under the Philippine Air Force, is part of the ongoing implementation of the Revised Armed Forces of the Philippines Modernization Program or RAFPMP under the Republic Act 10349, in which we can see this as a project of potentially adding more aircraft of such type in the fleet, especially that the air service branch of the Philippine Military already has two units of NC-212i Light Transport Aircraft in the fleet.

The amount provided covers at least 15% of the total Allotted Budget for the Contract of around Php 4.16 Billion for the project, significantly higher than the US$19 Million price or Php 946 Million for the original project for two units, based on 2016 exchange rate of around US$1.00 equated to Php 48.90, which is not surprising given that the number of units ordered for this acquisition has increased to six (6) units plus ILS package, as opposed to the two units bought under the original acquisition project.

Under the 'Additional Light Lift Aircraft Acquisition Project' of the Philippine Air Force, the number of units for NC-212i Light Transport Aircraft will increase from only two  (2) units to eight (8) units all-in-all, adding up an array for airlift and logistical capabilities of the Philippine Air Force, as these small planes may cover tasks that only require short flight time and shorter distance to nearby airports, as opposed to the medium and larger cargo transport aircraft available like the C-295s and C-130s.

As the development of adding more Light Transport Aircraft in the Philippine Air Force lessens the stress of the two existing NC-212i, as well as improving the prospects of logistics chain involving the procurement of spare parts, maintenance, and operational use of these air assets, let us discuss further regarding the Indonesian manufacturer who made these units, the origins of the design as this is a license model of another aircraft, and the specifications of the aircraft as opposed to other assets within the organization.

PT Dirgantara Indonesia, Indonesian Aerospace, Bandung Indonesia
People taking a picture before PT Dirgantara Indonesia's license-built aircraft.
Image Source.

PT Dirgantara Indonesia is an Indonesian Aerospace company that specializes itself in producing license-built aircraft intended for the Indonesian Armed Forces and local Indonesian civilian users, along with its prospects of exporting their products abroad to countries like the Philippines, as this is the other Indonesian-built product used by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the other being the Tarlac-class Landing Platform Docks.

On their website, the creation of the PT Dirgantara Indonesia as the current entity started upon the declaration of the Indonesian independence, although the concept of aircraft production within the country has started even way back the Dutch colonial era, when there was an aircraft production department that produced the Canadian AVRO-AL, with the fuselage made from wood available in the country during that time. 

The framework that set the foundation for the PT Dirgantara Indonesia as an entity started in the 1960s, when the Indonesian government, through the Indonesian Air Force, issued the Staff Decree No. 488, establishing the Aviation Industry Preparation Agency or Lembaga Persiapan Industri Penerbangan/ LAPIP in Indonesian, with its mandate being to prepare aviation industrial development that is capable to provide Indonesia its national aviation needs.

Its development, in local Philippine parlance, goes reminiscent of the formation of the Philippine Aerospace Development Corporation or PADC, although Indonesia's aerospace efforts go beyond the repair and maintenance capabilities as they show they produce license-built aircraft aside from providing maintenance and repair support, as this is the case for South Korea's Korea Aerospace Industries or KAI or the Turkish Aerospace equivalent.

In 1965, a Presidential Decree established the fundamentals of Indonesian aviation industries, as it founded the KOPELAPIP (Komando Pelaksana Industri Pesawat Terbang) or Executive Command for Preparation of Aviation Industry and PN. Industri Pesawat Terbang Berdikari or the Berdikari Aircraft Industry, state-owned and organized entities that pave the way to the eventual creation of what is today PT Dirgantara Indonesia.

It took a lot of mergers and organizational restructuring until in 1976 that the IPTN or Industri Pesawat Terbang Nurtanio has founded, and it took until 1985 when it moved and became the Industri Pesawat Terbang Nusantara that still bear the IPTN acronym which it remained as it is until August 24,2000, when it is now named as the PT Dirgantara Indonesia or PTDI/Indonesian Aerospace.

From its foundation up to its current iteration, PT Dirgantara Indonesia has served a lot for the Indonesian Armed Forces, and it stands up as an Indonesian state-owned entity that produces license-built aircraft for the Indonesian government to use, so much that they have secured a license from Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm or MBB of Germany and EADS-CASA of Spain for the production of BO-105 helicopters and NC-212, the main topic of this article.

NC-212i, C-212 Aviocar, Philippine Air Force, EADS-CASA, Airbus Defense
Here is a C-212-200 Aviocar aircraft of the Spanish Air Force.
Via Wikimedia Commons.

While PT Dirgantara Indonesia manufactured the NC-212i Light Cargo Aircraft of the Philippine Air Force, the design origins of the aircraft traced back to the Spanish firm named EADS-CASA, which is currently known as a subsidiary of Airbus Defense that provided the Philippine Air Force its C-295 Medium Lift Aircraft that has the same logistical purpose as the NC-212i, only that the C-295 comes with larger capacity and longer range.

It started in the late 1960s when the Spanish Air Force needed replacement for their piston-powered cargo aircraft like the C-47 Douglas SkyTrain military transport, as they pushed their desire to modernize their fleet of aircraft into a more modern design that suits the Spanish's needs, such as having a twin-engine 18-seat cargo aircraft that EADS-CASA complied which led to the creation of the C-212 Aviocar. 

A prototype version of the aircraft first flew on March 26, 1971, where it replaced the older C-47 military transports since its introduction to the Spanish Air Force, whereby its design also introduced new features that are not available to the fleet of aircraft it replaces, such as a retractable rear ramp, while it comes with its own ease of maintenance features that the older aircraft also possesses.

Since then, around 292 C-212s have produced and are currently being used by both civilian and military organizations in 40 countries across the globe, of that includes the Philippine Air Force that now has the desire to get additional aircraft for its Light Lift Wing Aircraft Acquisition Project, with the current production of the aircraft now limited to Indonesia's PT Dirgantara (Indonesian Aerospace).

Apparently, there are four variants or "production forms" that defined the C-212 Aviocar, which are the series 100, series 200, series 300, and the series 400, whereby the first one served as the base production model that are intended for the Spanish Air Force's military aircraft, the second being a lengthened fuselage that Indonesia's PTDI also produced, while the latter two have increased capabilities and an improved engine output configuration, with the series 400 even offered as a maritime patrol aircraft.

Currently, PT Dirgantara Indonesia no longer produces the C-212-200 and the C-212-400 light cargo aircraft series and since then focuses their attention into the current NC-212i variant, itself a whole new improvement from the four presented variants or production forms that it is also the one that the Philippine Air Force currently uses and soon will have more upon the finalization and delivery of additional units.

Hence, the current light transport aircraft of the Philippine Air Force came as the result of the modernization program of the Spanish to replace their older C-47 aircraft with an equally reliable platform, and Indonesia's PTDI sought an opportunity to secure a license to produce, built, market, and improve the design of the aircraft, which is now known as the NC-212i aircraft that the air service branch fully enjoys in using for its operations.

NC-212i Specifications, NC-212i Features, Philippine Air Force NC-212i, PTDI, PT Dirgantara Indonesia
Features of the NC-212i Light Transport Aircraft. 
Via PT Dirgantara Indonesia Website.

Based on the information provided by PT Dirgantara Indonesia on their website, the aircraft's performance comprises the following - 

Maximum Take Off Weight - 8,100kg
Maximum Landing Weight - 8,100kg
Maximum Payload - 3,000kg
Fuel Capacity - 1,560kg

Take note that the final maximum payload depends on the final configuration selected by the customer, and the information given only pertains to the NC-212i product currently produced by the said Indonesian Aerospace company.

Comparing this to the EADS-CASA C-212-200 Aviocar specifications regarding weight, the NC-212i comes with a slightly better capability of carrying heavier cargo, as the former comes with 7,700 kg maximum takeoff weight and even near to the maximum payload of the NC-212i at around 8,000kg in military overload conditions. 

Getting further, the NC-212i as a final product really sees itself as an improvement over the original C-212-100 production model, as the cargo compartment of the former comes with 26 passengers plus 2 crew onboard, while the latter only comes with 18 passengers and their luggage, or only 16 fully equipped paratroopers for its launch customer, the Spanish Air Force.

Another specification to take note is its performance, whereby the NC-212i possesses the following attributes:

Maximum Cruise Speed (MTOW, ISA, 1,000ft) - 195kts
Long-Range Cruise Speed - 163kts
Range with Maximum Payload (3,000kg) - 207NM
Range with Maximum Usable Fuel with 2,060kg payload - 806NM
Service Ceiling (All Engine Operative) - 23,000ft
Service Ceiling (One Engine Inoperative) - 7,000ft
Long Range Fuel Flow - 647lb/hr
Takeoff Distance - 740meters
Landing Distance - 527meters

Completing it up, the aircraft's engines primarily comprises by two (2) Honeywell TPE-331-12JR-701C Turboprop engines with Maximum Continuous 970 SHP (Shaft Horsepower) rating.

The performance and specifications of the NC-212i Light Transport Aircraft fit its intended design specification, as its intended replacement in the Spanish Armed Forces, the C-47 SkyTrain (or DC-3 for civilian configuration) comes with varying specifications, with an almost similar speed, service ceiling, and quick maintenance fix, although the latter comes with a better weight capacity and range.

From its specifications, the NC-212i Light Transport Aircraft comes with its design purpose of having an aircraft that deploys on shorter range flights like on conducting cloud seeding or maritime patrol , or on airports and airbases designed with shorter runways while being more economically operated and maintained as opposed to its larger peers in the Philippine Air Force such as the C-2195s and C-130s, both designed for medium lift and heavy-lift operations.

Completing it up, the Philippine Air Force's decision to get more of these Light Transport Aircraft like the NC-212i comes to get an aircraft with differing capabilities and purposes in mind, as having these platforms really augment the existing two units of NC-212i aircraft in the inventory, doing its shorter flights and smaller cargo and troop configuration, while getting larger cargo aircraft assigned to a cross-country flight that transports troops and equipment in bulk.

A Philippine Air Force NC-212i on its final approach in Clark International Airport.
(c) John Andrei Policarpio, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Philippine Air Force may be about to get its contract for Light Lift Wing Aircraft Acquisition Project sealed soon, as the Department of Budget and Management or DBM has released a Special Release Order or SARO, enabling the project to push through as there is already the financial release intended for securing a 15% down payment, getting through the process that completes the terms and eventually starting the production of the units.

It goes to show that the Philippine Air Force is so far satisfied with its current two units of NC-212i delivered from Indonesia by PT Dirgantara Indonesia, and their desire of getting additional units gives relief to the ones currently in service as it may undergo its repair and maintenance schedule eventually that keeps it operational without disruptions as there are other aircraft of similar type that takes over its intended functions and duties.

This also shows Indonesia’s defense industries getting more involved than ever in providing the Armed Forces of the Philippines the military hardware it needs, as it is worthy to take note that the Philippine Navy secured another additional orders for its Landing Docks Acquisition Project, supplementing its two Tarlac-class Landing Platform Docks that are both produced by Indonesia’s PT PAL Persero.

The development and production phase of the C-212 Aviocar ‌is astounding, as it accrues several users aside from the Spanish Air Force and it gives incentive to the likes of PT Dirgantara Indonesia in securing its foothold in the market for military and civilian aviation, as they secured the license from EADS-CASA, as the latter’s production lines no longer produces such type of aircraft and focuses on its production of the likes of the C-295 Medium Lift Aircraft that the Philippine Air Force also benefits on.

To end this up, the Philippine Air Force sees a promising prospect in adding its Light Lift Wing Aircraft in inventory, which is an attribute of its entire effort and of those of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in striving to fully modernize its forces, ranging from its organization to military units and composition, as well as rehabilitating and building new facilities and buying new military hardware, pursuing the ultimate desire of getting the minimum credible defense posture, and in the steps that making sure that the country is safe from both domestic and foreign threats.

(c) 2023 PDA.

The Philippine Army's Interest on the FGM-148 Javelin Anti-Tank Missile System

The forces from both the United States and the Philippines joined in taking part in what it considers being the largest bilateral exercises for this year, as well as the largest iteration of that exercise to-date, whereby the latter took a chance of testing and firing one of the U.S. sophisticated systems, and they are now seeing interest of getting it as part of the Horizon 3 plans and programs of the Revised AFP Modernization Program.

FGM-148 Javelin Philippines, Balikatan Exercises 2023, BK23, Friends Partners Allies, Free and Open Indo Pacific, PH-US Alliance
Both the U.S. and Philippine troops fired the FGM-148 Javelin Anti-Tanks in a live-fire exercise in Fort Magsaysay. 
This is a U.S. Army photo captured by Staff Sgt. Brenden Delgado, distributed via DVIDSHUB.

Troops from both the United States and the Philippine Armed Forces have conducted the largest iteration of the Balikatan Exercises held to-date, and also the largest bilateral exercises of any type held by the Philippines for the year 2023. With this bilateral exercise, plus the participation of a small contingent from the Royal Australian Armed Forces, comes with its new introductions that are nonexistent in the previous iteration of the exercise.

Just recently, several troops from the Philippine Armed Forces test-fired some FGM-148 Javelin Anti-Tank Missile System for the first time as the U.S. troops introduced it to the Philippine troops for them to try to and witness the capability and packed firepower it brought, as some troops familiarized the systems as they have taught by instructors from the United States Army during the Salaknib Exercise 2023, held weeks before this largest bilateral exercises took place.

The announcement came as early as March 2023, at least a month before the actual Balikatan Exercise took place, whereby several personnel from the Philippine Army have subjected on a 'Subject-Matter Experts Exchange' or SMEEs between them and their counterparts in the United States Army. The lectures made throughout the exercise Salaknib, especially on the functions and usage of the FGM-148 Javelin Anti-Tank Missile System, will help the troops apply the knowledge in an actual firing exercise that took place recently on Fort Magsaysay.

As troops in the Philippine Army who played a part in the exercises learned and have an experience on how to use and fire the FGM-148 Javelin Missiles, it is of no surprise that the leadership is now looking forward in procuring such anti-tank missile systems, although it is worth taking note that the Armed Forces of the Philippines comes with similarly functioning anti-tank systems, of which will discuss comprehensively in this topic.

As Army chief Lt. Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr told on a news report that the leadership expressed its interest in getting the FGM-148 Javelin Anti-Tank Missile System under the Horizon 3 phase of the Revised AFP Modernization Program, we will cover multiple discussions regarding the development and performance of the systems, especially its well-noted contributions on the ongoing war effort that takes place in Eastern Europe, as a smaller country fight for its survival against a larger, more formidable neighbor.

Javelin Missile, Philippine Army, Horizon 3, AFP Modernization, Lockheed Martin
Here is an FGM-148 Javelin missile, launched from an armored vehicle.
Image Source.

As countries produce and deploy their armored vehicles, specifically the use of either Light or Medium Main Battle Tanks into combat that packs a lot of firepower that overwhelms the battlefield aside from its sheer speed that may quickly wins the war on their favor given that they did a blitzkrieg, it comes as no surprise that others produce anti-tank countermeasures that will stop these menacing armored columns from their tracks, giving that sense of deterrence and a chance of giving a fight against enemy armor at any other day.

This article from Center for Strategic and International Studies or CSIS on missile defense basically tells a lot regarding the development of the FGM-148 Javelin missile, whereby while it is a development that came into fruition from the final years of the Cold War as a creation of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency or DARPA that replaces the old FGM-77 M47 Dragon Anti-Tank Missile, its effectiveness has fully documented during the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian conflict, in which it increases the interest from the leadership in getting such systems as part of the ongoing modernization efforts.

To summarize the elaborative article linked above, the United States Army established the “Advanced Anti-Tank Weapon System-Medium” (AAWS-M) program in 1984 intended to replace the FGM-77, with the Pentagon presented an award that will enable further development of the missile system in 1989 which comes with the naming designation of "Javelin", bearing the name of the FGM-148 anti-tank missile today. It took them almost a decade before a first firing test took place in 1993, in which an actual human test-fired a missile long before troops of the Philippine forces did the same thing with U.S. troops three decades later, in the year 2023.

The first production of the FGM-148 Javelin Anti-Tank Missile System took place in 1997, which is still in continuous production and development up to the present time we publish this article, with Lockheed Martin now transitions to the latest FGM-148F variant over the previous FGM-148E variant of the missile system. Take note that the Javelin anti-tank missile system has multiple variants that have produced since its introduction, as we further discuss the details regarding this topic.

Given that it is a full development that involves key agencies within the United States government starting with DARPA up to the joint venture of both Lockheed Martin and Raytheon that made further development of the FGM-148 Javelin Anti-Tank missile systems possible, its performance and capabilities are worthy to check into, especially that its primary design is to eliminate armored threats, specifically main battle tanks.

Sabrah Tank, Philippine Army, Elbit Systems Ltd., Philippines Sabrah Tank
The Philippines is an archipelagic nation, and armored threats only arise once enemy forces successfully land its armored vehicles, tanks in particular, into the country's coastline.
Image from Wikimedia Commons.

As the leadership of the Philippine Army has plans of securing a handful of FGM-148 Javelin Anti-Tank Missile System as part of their push of improving the land service branch's capabilities under the Revised AFP Modernization Program, let us take note that the country does not have armored threats internally, and such threat only arises once a conflict goes regional, with an opposition force employs its armored vehicles into combat.

One thing to point out from this thought is that the Republic of the Philippines itself is an archipelagic nation with around 7,640 islands, and by that essence, it does not have any land border with another country in Southeast Asia, let alone a regional superpower like China. Hence, the plans of securing Javelin Anti-Tank Missile System munitions only make sense if the country's coastal defense efforts fail and the troops and armored equipment from the opposition forces have managed themselves, landing on the country's territory.

Despite being an archipelagic nation dotted with multiple islands, the Armed Forces of the Philippines having a handful of FGM-148 Javelin Anti-Tank Missile System may come as a redundancy, whereby despite having a full reliance on naval vessels and coastal defense efforts on assuring that the Opposition Forces or OPFOR does not land on the country's beaches, the systems come as a guarantee of creating more trouble on the aggressor forces by increasing further destruction, making a likelihood of an invasion more expensive as it is on the ongoing conflict in the Eastern Europe.

Troops having such systems are a helpful augmentation to the Philippine Army's Armor 'Pambato' Division's fleet of Light Tank such as the Israeli-made Sabrah Tank (see image above) and other armored personnel carriers like the remote-controlled weapons systems armed M-113 Infantry Fighting Vehicles and the VBTP-MR Guarani 6x6 armored vehicles, as a fully armed and capable infantry together with the said armored vehicles gives more trouble to the invading force, making the incurring losses unbearable to their end through time.

Hence, as the country's first line of defense relies more on its navy and air force to keep foreign threats from getting into the core territory while threatening the sovereignty and interest of the citizenry, getting several of these anti-tank munitions are just part of ensuring peace through deterrence, and in an event that a conflict takes place, God forbid, works as a weapon that minimizes the capability of an enemy force from inflicting more destruction to citizen lives and property.

Saint Javelin, Philippine Army, FGM-148 Javelin, Ukraine
The Saint Javelin art, inspired by the ongoing Ukrainian resolve to defend their nation.
Image (c) Chris Shaw.

Since its first production in 1993, the Javelin anti-tank missile system has seen action in several theaters of war as used by several troops and units within the United States forces, especially in conflicts that took place in both Iraq and Afghanistan, almost two decades before it became prominent in the ongoing conflict in the open fields of Ukraine, used by the defenders against the armored units of the Russian armed forces.

One theater of war that has seen the prevalence in terms of FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank missile used in combat is the recent and still ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, as the latter used it on the defense of their country from the waves of armored vehicles that the former deploys, inflicting more damage to the invading units more than they replace (with sanctions playing the factor) as they lost almost half of their key battle tanks during the combat.

The usage of the FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank missile and its success in deterring the Russian aggression in Ukraine caught the attention of other countries, such as the case in the Philippines, whereby its capabilities has showcased into them by their counterparts in the United States Armed Forces throughout the conduct of the Exercise Balikatan 2023. On another note, China also took notice of the FGM-148 Javelin’s overall capabilities, as they are seeking to find ways of creating any form of technology that defends their armored vehicles and tanks from this sophisticated missile system.

To the country’s northern neighbor, the island nation of Taiwan has set to receive its first delivery of the FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank missiles from the United States, whereby they expect to receive at least 200 munitions of the missile for the year 2023, while the remaining 200 more munitions of the Javelin may get delivered by the year 2024, totalling the overall numbers to at least 400 of the munitions.

The deal is part of the island country’s acquisition of Abrams Tanks, TOW anti-tank missiles, and Stinger anti-air missiles in a deal with the United States in 2019 as part of their ever-increasing defense efforts amidst increased aggression from China’s desire to invade the country it considers as a so-called ‘renegade province’ that the mainland sees as a need to reunite, under the red banner.

FGM-148 Javelin Specifications, Saint Javelin, Anti-Tank Missile Specifications
Here is some primary information regarding the FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank missile.
Screenshot Source.

The FGM-148 Javelin comes with its specifications, as the missile payload’s weight being 11.8 kilograms, its diameter being 127mm missile, its wingspan having 0.38 meters, and length having 1.08m missile. On another note, its system dimensions come with a weight of 22.3kilogram, including the Command Launch Unit or CLU, while the CLU itself only weighs 6.1 kilograms, with the munition itself carrying more weight to the anti-tank missile system itself. 

The diameter of the launch unit comes with a 142-millimeter tube, while its length comes at around 1.2 tube that has the capability of carrying a warhead with a tandem-shaped charge, with penetration of over 600-millimeter rolled homogeneous armor or RHA of an armored vehicle even behind Explosive Reactive Armor or ERA, powered by a solid propellant rocket motor that has with a subsonic maximum speed and it comes with an impact fuse configuration that will trigger its destructive power once it gets to the target’s armor setup.

Comparing this to other anti-tank missiles that the Armed Forces of the Philippines have, especially with the Philippine Navy’s SPIKE-ER and SPIKE-NLOS missiles produced by Rafael Advanced Systems, Ltd., whereby the former has the range of around 400 meters to 8 kilometers, and the latter has the overall range of at least 25 kilometers, both have a longer overall maximum range than the FGM-148 Javelin’s 4.5 kilometer maximum range as these Israeli-made systems came with a platform like a tripod or a fixed launcher for it to launch.

On another note, still regarding the comparison between the FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank missiles that the Philippine Army desires to have and the SPIKE missiles of both ER and NLOS variants that the Philippine Navy already has in its inventory, the longer ranges that both SPIKE missiles mentioned also comes at the cost of its weight, as it gives the Javelin the advantages of getting carried on the shoulder, getting its mobility that comes along the infantry that carries it. 

The weight of the SPIKE-ER variant comes at around 46 kilograms, including the missile itself that weighs 33 kilograms, while the SPIKE-NLOS variant comes at around 165 lbs, or around 74.85 kilograms after conversion. The weight of the munitions makes sense, especially for the Philippine Navy regarding its installation onboard its AW-159 Wildcat Anti-submarine helicopters, along with other platforms such as its Multipurpose Attack Craft or MPAC Mk.3 variants and Shaldag V-derived Nestor Acero-class FAIC-Ms.

A Philippine Navy Multipurpose attack craft tested its SPIKE-ER missile.
Image Source.

As both the Philippines and the United States successfully conducted its largest iteration of the Balikatan Exercise to date, so does the exchange of essential military knowledge that has shared throughout the conduct of the bilateral military engagement, particularly regarding the knowledge in operating and getting a live-fire practice using the one of the most sophisticated anti-tank missiles currently in service with the United States Armed Forces.

Its increased reputation during the ongoing conflict that is taking place in between Ukraine and its larger neighbor Russia, especially regards to the increasing statistics of tank losses that the latter incurred since the start of its invasion on top of tank abandonments and stretched logistics, the performance that the FGM-148 Javelin Anti-Tank Missiles showcased caught the attention of the Philippine Army leadership that the considerations of acquiring it is not a surprise.

While the weaponry has the attention of the Philippine Army leadership, it does not mean a finality in their decision to secure such platforms, as there may be factors such as commonality and logistics coming into play given that their counterparts in the Philippine Navy already has several of Rafael Systems’ SPIKE-ER and SPIKE-NLOS anti-tank missiles, and getting such platforms instead of having the FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank missile systems from the United States are considered a win, given those considerations.

Although the Philippine Army may find commonality regarding its logistics with the Philippine Navy if it considers the SPIKE anti-tank missile systems from Israel’s Rafael Systems Ltd., the same goes applicable with the FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank missiles, especially if the constant bilateral exercises with the United States comes in the equation as having such platforms increases the interoperability between both nations, as this interoperability comes as one of the key priorities aimed throughout the exercise.

As the bilateral defense guidelines has set-up by both the governments of the Philippines and the United States as a signal of what they call as ‘modernization’ of both nations’ alliances with the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty as the foundation, it remains to be seen how will it weigh to the continuous Modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, especially that whether the Philippine Army gets the FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank missiles depends on the current conditions on defense relations, and the future projections of where the direction of how defense dynamics between the Philippines and the United States will go from that day onwards.

(c) 2023 PDA.

The Close Competition That Is the Multirole Fighter Jet Acquisition Project

The Philippine Air Force is really keen to secure this big-ticket acquisition project, that will set the direction of having a sophisticated squadron of Multi-role Fighter Jet of its choice, especially that both suppliers of this program are providing their best offers for the sake of getting the contract for the largest project undertaking that the Armed Forces of the Philippines is getting to-date, from the budgetary point of view.

This article will talk about the details, the information provided from the sources held and we are giving our two-takes from what is being unveiled from this overly hyped project that has the majority within the Philippine's small community of defense enthusiast and watchers taking notice.

F-16 Philippine Air Force, F-16 Viper PAF, Philippines F-16 Falcon, 5th Fighter Wing
An F-16 Fighting Falcon took off on a routine training event at Kunsan Air Base, South Korea, March 24, 2021.
Image Source.

The Philippine Air Force has the Multirole Fighter Jet Acquisition almost near its finalization, whereby it may only take a signature or two for an approval before pushing through the project by setting the deal in a stone, with the end-user, being the Philippine Air Force, and the winning proponent, either between Lockheed Martin and SAAB, signs the contract with approved provisions written.

This comes with the current administration's recent push into modernizing the Armed Forces of the Philippines, especially with the Philippine Air Force's capabilities, as the tensions in the West Philippine Sea only worsen through time, with no hopes in sight regarding to any prospect of it getting cooled down. The recent commitment comes at the top of the Commander-In-Chief's reminder of getting air assets ready for deployment, suggesting the need of Air Force assets or at least having more of it, in addressing national security issues coming beforehand.

Just recently, the Swedish Ambassador to the Philippines, Ambassador Annika Thunborg, visited the office of the Department of National Defense to meet Defense Senior Undersecretary Carlito Galvez, in the light of the good bilateral relations between Sweden and the Philippines, and also with the former's interest of forging and developing defense cooperation between both countries. It has well noted that the Swedes, through their aerospace company SAAB, offered its JAS-39 Gripen Block C/D multi-role fighter jets for the Philippine Air Force's big-ticket acquisition project to-date.

There is a previous report that has provided on our website regarding the plans made by SAAB to provide the JAS-39 Gripen multi-role fighter jets to the Philippine Air Force as a lease option, with the arrangement coming similar with other countries that availed this similar scheme like the Czech Republic and Hungary, as this comes with continuous support from the said Swedish aerospace firm.

While the Swedes provided the deal that is enticing enough for the leadership within the Philippine Air Force to consider, the changing dynamics of the defense environment in the country is now changing in favor to the United States, as the recently approved additional EDCA sites (with areas now confirmed) may give Lockheed Martin the advantage as the United States government may provide more enticing sweeteners to the deal that the Philippine Air Force simply cannot ignore on.

F-16 Philippine Air Force, F-16 Viper PAF, F-16 EDA PAF, Phil. Air Force F-16 MRF
This is an old F-16 production line in Texas Fort Worth.
Image Source.

The Multirole Fighter Jet Acquisition Project of the Philippine Air Force can consider as one of the most ambitious acquisition projects that the Armed Forces of the Philippines has throughout its Modernization Program under the Republic Act 10349, especially that this project will provide the Philippine Air Force far more capable fighter jets that both can defend its airspace and provide close air support operations, hence its description as a multirole fighter.

Two aircraft manufacturers are the primary participants for this acquisition project, with each of them are hoping to secure the contract of providing at least 12 units of Multirole Fighters for the Philippine Air Force requirements. One is Lockheed Martin and their F-16 Viper Multirole Fighter Jets, that is a mainstay fighter jet for multiple air forces across the world, including a multitude of squadrons within the United States Air Force. The other is SAAB and their JAS-39 Gripen Block C/D jets, as they show their desire to secure another customer of the jets in the Indo-Pacific region, aside from Thailand.

Let us take note that both offered fighter jets to the Philippine Air Force received export approval from their respective country of origin, giving a go signal to both aerospace companies to fully market their aircraft to the air service branch of the Philippine Armed Forces, plus freebies and amenities of their respective pitches. The Lockheed Martin F-16 Viper received approval for export under the Defense Security Cooperation Agency or DSCA notification that took place in June 2021. The SAAB JAS-39 Gripen fighter jets, meanwhile, received the same export approval, as this has accomplished through Sweden's Export Control Board (EKR) at the Swedish Arms Export Authority (ISP).

Currently, air interdiction operations within the Philippine Air Defense Identification Zone lie to the responsibility of the FA-50 Lead-In Fighter Trainer jets of the Philippine Air Force as these jets counts as a mainstay fighter jet platform for the air service branch as there are no multirole fighters serving in its air fleet, although the push for having dedicated fighters now intensifies given the current developments as we discuss it throughout this article.

Since then, the competition between two aircraft manufacturers intensifies as the leadership within the Philippine Air Force and the Department of National Defense are still into maximizing the offers that both Lockheed Martin and SAAB have offered to them, as this comes with diplomatic and political considerations that gives any leverage to the both aerospace companies, like with Lockheed Martin having the full backing of the United States in offering their fighter jets to the Philippines.

JAS-39 Gripen Philippines
Different users of the JAS-39 Gripen.
Image Source.

During the recent months since Swedish export controls allowed the sale of JAS-39 Gripen Block C/D variants to the Philippine Air Force, the Swedish Ambassador to the Philippines has making rounds to the Department of National Defense, regarding the push of bilateral defense cooperation between both countries that includes their sale of the Swedish-made aircraft for the Multirole Fighter Jet Acquisition Project.

One of those discussions took place December 2022, whereby Swedish Ambassador Annika Thunborg visited the Department of National Defense to discuss with then Officer-In-Charge Jose Faustino Jr about the acquisition of the SAAB JAS-39 Gripen under the Multirole Fighter Jet Acquisition Project, as it counts as a part of an ever-growing bilateral cooperation between the Philippines and Sweden.

Speaking of sweeteners and bargaining chips, SAAB actually provided the Philippine Air Force a lease option, a similar arrangement that is found in both Czech and Hungarian Air Force, in which we already discussed its advantages and disadvantages on a previous article we have on this website. Just to take note, SAAB offers the Philippine Air Force not 12 units of SAAB Gripen, but 14 units of the aircraft, exactly the 14 unused fuselages of the JAS-39 produced that kept production lines open before they shift their production to the newer Gripen E variant.

This comes alongside previous reports of the Swedish aerospace company's offer of providing Erieye airborne early warning or AEW systems to the country aside from Indonesia, although the report made took place five years ago and since then changed their preferred sweeteners to the current lease option arrangement for the 14 unused fuselages of the JAS-39 Gripen Block C/D fighter jets and did not go further than that.

As there are no further reports of how far SAAB can go in pushing their JAS-39 Gripen deal with the Philippines, let us now discuss the recent developments surrounding the offer made by Lockheed Martin, now that the United States and the Expanded Defense Cooperation Agreement or EDCA has provided more prospects of providing the Philippine Air Force more aircraft than the 12 Brand New F-16 Vipers from the production line.

F-16 Philippines, F-16 Viper Philippine Air Force, F-16 Philippine Air Force, Lockheed Martin, Philippines F-16 Viper, Multirole Fighter Program, MRF Philippine Air Force
Here is a Lockheed Martin brochure depicting an F-16 Viper jet with PAF insignia.

Since the approval for additional sites for the troops of the United States Armed Forces under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement or EDCA has approved, there comes the possibility that both governments of the Philippines and the United States to push the Multirole Fighter Jet Acquisition Project as a priority, which eventually happened during the 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue between both nations in Washington D.C.

One possibility that can arise here is the chances for the Philippine Air Force to get at least 16-24 units of used F-16s upgradable to Viper variant, under the Excess Defense Articles of the United States, coming at the top of the ones under the Multirole Fighter Jet Acquisition project of the air service branch with Lockheed Martin offering brand new F-16 Viper to the Philippine Air Force approved by the U.S. government under DSCA.

The used F-16s under Excess Defense Articles or EDAs are justified, as the production of brand new F-16 Block 70 Vipers in Lockheed Martin’s facility in Greenville, South Carolina subjects to resume production this year after preparations of the production line transferred from Fort Worth, Texas took place as the latter intends to be the new production line of the company’s top of the line F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter jet product. It is also worth taking note that the production of F-16 Block 70 Vipers also came with backlogs of orders from multiple air forces such as Bahrain, Taiwan, and Slovakia.

Speaking of used F-16 fighter aircraft from Excess Defense Articles or EDA, there is a  likelihood that it may undertake a process that restores its airframes into zero airframe hours, although the Philippine side may incur some cost regarding the upgrades of the said aircraft to the Viper variant at their discretion to do so (like what Taiwan did with its old F-16s), although the cost on their side may reduce as the upgrades may shouldered by both United States and the Philippines in this undertaking.

Take note that the F-16 upgrades to the Viper variant are an optional feature for the Philippine Air Force to avail on, although it may be more ideal for the upgrades to go through as it may take time for the air service branch to get the brand new units given the backlog of orders from other air forces, as long as a small sum and an availability of funds is there for the program to push through. 

Another note to take on is the number of F-16s provided under Excess Defense Articles or EDAs, as the numbers may change to its final amounts, although the sources provided information that it may come with at least two squadrons or 24 units, far more than what SAAB provided with their JAS-39 Gripen C/D fighter jets.

Peace Agila, Philippine Air Force F-16, F-16 Block 70 Viper Philippines, Lockheed Martin
Here is an F-16 fighter jet flying on an excellent sunset scenery.
Image Source.

The fierce competition between SAAB and Lockheed Martin has delayed the time in deciding the preferred multirole fighter jet platform for the Philippine Air Force, although the recent developments have provided the opportunity to the latter to get into this opportunity as the United States government comes aggressive with its dealings, coming along alliance-related developments such as the recent addition of EDCA sites.

Without the freebies that may come potentially from the Excess Defense Articles, the JAS-39 Gripen C/D variant of SAAB may get the advantage, especially coming from the price point of view, as they came as less expensive than the offer made by Lockheed Martin for its F-16 Block 70 Vipers, as the Defense Security Cooperation Agency or DSCA approved the latter with extra engines, spare parts, and missile packages that have made their offer far more expensive.

Given that the F-16 Block 70 Viper fighter jet offer comes as a package of its own, it remains to be seen regarding the financing scheme that may enable it to fit the budget provided to the Multirole Fighter Jet Acquisition Program of around Php 61 Billion, although there comes a chance that the United States may present another form of a Foreign Military Financing or FMF scheme (aside from the $100 Million for the Medium Lift Helicopters) to make the deal push through, on top of the Excess Defense Article offers as a mainstay as production backlogs mounted up.

All that it takes now is the budget and a signature to push through, although there is still no Secretary of National Defense appointed at the time this article gets published. That being said, there may be a high likelihood that a development for the multirole fighter jet acquisition project takes place in the latter half of this year, with the deal for used F-16s under the Excess Defense Articles may get delivered by the next year or two years from this period.

With an ever-growing bilateral relations and ever-growing concerns over the tensions in the Indo-Pacific region, we are seeing both Sweden and the United States seek defense-related cooperation with the Philippines with the multirole fighter jets being the main deal, although being the end-user, the Philippine Air Force comes with its discretion in getting the best offer from this deal, with the ultimate aim of adding more air interdiction units for the country’s current and future air defense identification zones.

(c) 2023 PDA.




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