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.


Anonymous said...

It's disappointing that with the additional 4 EDCA sites, all the US can provide are used F-16s and refurbishment to be shouldered by the Philippine Government

Pitz Orpiano said...

There are already some other equipment that the United States government provided during the President's visit to Washington D.C., specifically the three C-130Hs and four U.S. Coast Guard patrol boats.

Another thing to point out is that it is unhealthy for the Philippine Armed Forces if they go over-reliant to the support of the United States as that may repeat the lack of improvements on the organization from 1990s to 2000s, only to gain momentum when RAFPMP was passed in early 2010s.

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