Korea Aerospace Industries and the Philippine Air Force's Future Fighter Plans

The Philippine Air Force held an industrial fair recently, and different aerospace companies marketed their plans and vision of their respective products to the leadership and personnel of the air service branch who take part in the event.

The maker of the Philippine Air Force's FA-50PH Lead-In Fighter Trainers, of which some regard it as a Light Multirole Combat Fighter Aircraft, is now showcasing their plans of what will be their plans and programs for what will be an additional capability of the organization, as they provide their suggestions and ideas before the leadership and of course the marketing pitch that came with it.

FA-50PH, Philippine Air Force, Korea Aerospace Industries
Two (2) out of twelve (12) units of FA-50PH that the Philippine Air Force ordered under Horizon 1.
Image Source.

In June 2023, the Philippine Air Force held the year's Air Force symposium in Pasay City's Manila Marriott Hotel, whereby different aerospace contractors such as SAAB, Lockheed Martin, Embraer, and even Korea Aerospace Industries or KAI showcasing their respective military hardware. 

Both the first two aerospace companies mentioned showcased the JAS-39 Gripen C/D variant and F-16 Block 70/72 Viper as both are competing for the Multirole Fighter Jet Projects, while Embraer showcases the A29 Super Tucano and Korea Aerospace Industries with their FA50PH Lead-in Fighter Jets (LIFT) that the Philippine Air Force both have in its fleet of aircraft.

With the symposium comes the speech made by the Philippine Air Force Commanding General, saying and recognizing that air power is essential in providing a full-scope for its territorial defense planning and vision, as the organization sets to improve the country's Philippine Air Defense Identification Zone further, with the coordination between fighter aircraft for intercept, ground-based air defense systems, and air search radars, comes as an essential thing that ensures the security of the country's airspace.

And the highlight coming from this event, among others, is the speech made by the CEO of the Korea Aerospace Industries, showcasing the South Korean firm's deal of providing the Philippine Air Force the tools and avenues that it needs of improving its capability further, ranging from the upgrades for its existing squadron of FA-50PH aircraft down to an outright offer of the KF-21 Boramae as a prospect Horizon 3 Multirole Fighter. 

As they presented the deal, there comes the plausible outcome that a part of what they've pushed, if not its entirety, may get into consideration by the planners within the Philippine Air Force, whether it may be a request from the 5th Fighter Wing being the end-user of the deal, or as it may have approved on budget inclusion and eventually finding its way to the air service branch's Capital Outlay items.

Given the speech made by an official from one of the Philippine Air Force's key suppliers of military aircraft, especially with their plans and visions of having their products playing a role in the country's air defense plans and goals, we will deal with three main parts that may come from this discussion, namely the upgrades, the additional aircraft, and ultimately the future aircraft offer.

FA-50PH, Philippine Air Force, Block 20, Block 30, Block 50, Block 70, Korea Aerospace Industries
Korea Aerospace Industries presented their upgrade framework, going beyond their current Block 20 configuration.
Image Source.

Currently, Korea Aerospace Industries produces the Block 20 variant of the FA-50 Lead-in Fighter Trainer, of which the same variants may end up with both the Polish Air Force and the Royal Malaysian Air Force. This variant, on paper, is more capable than any variant of the FA-50 that has fielded by the South Korean aerospace firm included the Philippines, even though the FA-50PH comes with a different upgrade path of its own.

It is with fully knowledge that the Philippine Air Force FA-50PH comes with a different variant, of which it comes with Israeli technology integrated within the jets, making it more advanced than the FA-50s fielded during that time and before the FA-50 Block 20 came into fruition. This went into our discussion as early as 2019 and has become reiterated across other Philippine defense circles that has gives more bearing in this point.

While the FA-50PH comes with its advanced capabilities that edges that of other nation's other variants of the same aircraft at this period, Korea Aerospace Industries is still presenting its plethora of FA-50 Block upgrades, as the Block 50 variant comes as 'complete' in the presentation (in the image above), while the Block 60 variant comes as 'in-progress' and Block 70 being in the 'planning' stage.

The Block 50 comes with Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod integration, in which this is actually available with the current upgrades that the Philippine Air Force comes with FA-50PH, as these jets come with IAI ELTA EL/M -2032 fire control radar that enables this feature. Also, this upgrade also enables the integration of GBU-12 Paveway II Laser-Guided Bombs that are intended for close air support operations and precision bombing procedures, just like what the FA-50PH jets did during the Marawi Siege, with this performance being the deciding factor for the Malaysians in getting this jet for their Light Combat Fighter (LCA) requirement.

On the other note, the 'in-progress' Block 60 variant of the FA-50 jets is being marketed by Korea Aerospace Industries as an upgrade that will further improve the capability of these jets, specifically regarding to the increased range that this type of aircraft will go as compared to the previous reiterations, while coming with air-to-air refueling probe as an additional feature. 

This capability is helpful in increasing air patrol times, especially with an archipelagic country as big as the Philippines and the airspace that comes with it.

Finally, the 'planned' Block 70 upgrade comes with an idea of making it a capable 'Light Multirole Fighter' platform, enabling a Hi-Low Mix of capable fighter aircraft that can shoot down intruding enemy aircraft that can go hand-in-hand with other platforms such as the more-capable F-16 Viper that the Philippine Air Force aims, through a different procurement arrangement (as the JAS-39 Gripen becomes the preferred platform under the current Multirole Fighter Jet Acquisition Project).

The upgrades provided may benefit the Philippine Air Force in the long run, as having the upgrade framework as presented clearly signifies that FA-50 as a platform will continuously get support in the next couple of years, if not decades. Also, the presented upgrade path will benefit all users of the FA-50 aircraft as its enhanced capabilities will augment more capable Multirole Fighter Aircraft for air defense patrols.

FA-50, Philippine Air Force, Korea Aerospace Industries, KAI, PAF
Korea Aerospace Industries suggests that the Philippine Air Force come with at least three squadrons of FA-50s, totaling the number of units to at least 36 functioning aircraft.
Image Source.

The idea of procuring additional FA-50s for the Philippine Air Force is not necessarily a new thing, as there really is an idea for the organization to get at least one more squadron of these Lead-in Fighter Trainers on a budget separate from the Multirole Fighter Jet Acquisition Project. We even discussed it in an article published in August 2022 regarding the possibility of getting additional aircraft from Korea Aerospace Industries.

It is only in this manner that Korea Aerospace Industries offered an idea that the Philippine Air Force needs to secure at least two more squadrons of FA-50s instead of just one squadron of the aircraft as the leadership suggest into getting, as the organization maximizes the utility of its current FA-50PH, going to a certain point in time that there are only few aircraft of this type are fully operational in its fleet.

With several FA-50s being out of service, with reasons pointing to its usual maintenance schedule, severely hits the overall capability of the Philippine Air Force in doing its mandate relating to the usage of the FA-50PH. This only shows that only having a single squadron of Lead-in Fighter Trainer Aircraft with light combat capabilities is not sufficient for the organization to use, so much so that the idea of at least one or two more squadrons of this aircraft comes into the picture.

The rationale given by the Korea Aerospace Industries in suggesting that the Philippine Air Force may come with at least three squadrons of FA-50s comes as each of these squadrons, if deployed in one in three of any airbase that the air service branch has across the country, gives them at least full coverage of patrolling and responding into any areas within the Philippine Air Defense Identification Zone, clearly showing its role as a Light Multirole Combat Aircraft. 

This, of course, does not dismiss the fact that the Philippine Air Force still desires to get the Multirole Fighter Jets as part of its Flight Plan initiative, now with the news that they have the chance of securing both the JAS-39 Gripen under the current Multirole Fighter Jet Acquisition Project, and used F-16 Falcons under the Excess Defense Articles or EDAs, upgradable to Block 70/72 Viper variant with the Philippine government shouldering the costs.

To simply put it, the Philippine Air Force may come with multiple squadrons of combined Lead-in Fighter Trainers that are doubled as Light Combat Aircrafts and the Multirole Fighters that the organization aims to have with at least 48 units of such aircraft, making it at least six squadrons of this combined force, of which four squadrons are for Multirole Fighter Jets and two squadrons (24 units) of FA-50s if the organization’s plan is to follow.

Having more aircraft will help not only to provide additional coverage into responding in every part of the country’s national airspace, but also to enable several existing units of the FA-50 to undertake some maintenance schedules without significantly compromising the capabilities of the Philippine Air Force in terms of the availability of aircraft that upholds its mandate. Regardless of whether it may be a single squadron or two, additional FA-50s for the Philippine Air Force is better than nothing at all.

FA-21, FA-21 Boramae, Philippine Air Force, Korea Aerospace Industries, KAI
Korea Aerospace Industries actually offered their KF-21 to the Philippine Air Force in their part of the presentation.
Image Source.

Another sales pitch that Korea Aerospace Industries made before the officials of the Philippine Air Force is the KF-21 Boramae 4.5 generation, semi-stealth fighter jet whereby they are marketing it as a cost-effective and fully sophisticated‌ air dominance aircraft solution, just like how they market the FA-50 as a cost-effective Light Combat Aircraft although the organization still count the jets as Lead-in Fighter Trainer jets.

Currently, at the time this article published, the KF-21 Boramae still undertakes multiple test flights and other necessary measures that the aircraft’s design still comes within the parameters set by Korea Aerospace Industries fit for a 4.5 generation fighter. There are now at least six prototypes of the fighter aircraft, four of which are single-seat variants, while the rest come with a dual-seat variant of the Boramae.

So far, all six prototypes of the KF-21 Boramae have successfully undertaken multiple flight tests and other parameter checks, and it is only a matter of time that Korea Aerospace Industries will start its production line for a first mass-produced copy of the KF-21 Boramae that comes accordingly to the basic requirements set and intended for the first two end-users of the aircraft, namely the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) and Indonesia’s TNI-AU.

With both South Korea and Indonesia being the priority end-users that will first receive the KF-21 Boramae, it may take the Philippines at least several years more until by the year 2027-2030 where such aircraft may get reconsidered once more by the Philippine Air Force leadership, which by the time may already have its basic multirole fighter jet and light combat aircraft requirements fully complied, unless otherwise there are changes or obstacles throughout the period that hampers this development. 

As the Philippine Air Force operates a squadron of FA-50s with a plan of acquiring at least a squadron more (or two squadrons as what Korea Aerospace Industries wants to happen), the presentation of the KF-21 Boramae comes as a highly expected move from the South Korean aerospace company. 

It comes as they further cement their establishment of access among multiple defense markets in the region’s different air forces, the Philippines included, which may bring them the advantage to present the aircraft which they market as being a cost-effective solution worth considering.

Speaking of the Philippine Air Force, the leadership has the KF-21 Boramae on their sights for quite some time now, as the aircraft’s potential, plus Korea Aerospace Industries’ good reputation of successfully delivering its FA-50s that the air service branch organization is enjoying right now, makes it viable that such aircraft may find its sights into getting the Philippine market, giving the country additional tools to defend its air defense identification zone.

While there is so much to talk more about the prototypes made by Korea Aerospace Industries with 'partly-inadequate' support from the Indonesian government regarding its ongoing development, the KF-21 Boramae aircraft for the Philippine Air Force deserves its discussion, in a separate entry other from the details specified in this article. 

To surmise it up, it is a promising prospect made by Korea Aerospace Industries regarding the development of a semi-stealth aircraft that countries like the Philippines may benefit, while it presented itself as a similarly cost effective platform that can conduct operations similar to far more expensive solutions such as Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II aircraft.

The Philippine Air Force's current fleet of FA-50s may get an upgrade as recently pitched by Korea Aerospace Industries.
Via Wikimedia Commons.

Korea Aerospace Industries’ presentation before the symposium held by the Philippine Air Force comes as their marketing pitch attempt as the air service branch of the Armed Forces of the Philippines is gearing itself up in acquiring more military hardware as Horizon 3 is now focusing more into external defense posture that require the likes of the FA-50PH (see image above) for the operations.

This also comes of top of a top likelihood that the Philippine Air Force securing both the JAS-39 Gripen from SAAB through the Multirole Fighter Jet Acquisition Project, and the F-16 Fighting Falcon Block 50s through a potential Excess Defense Articles that the United States government may provide to the Philippines, with the government shouldering its upgrades into the latest Block 70/72 Viper variant.

The South Korean aerospace and defense firm’s marketing of KF-21 comes not as a surprise, as they are gunning the export of the 4.5 generation fighter across the region aside from its immediate prospect customers of both South Korea and Indonesia. It remains to be seen regarding the plans provided by the Philippine Air Force, although there are reports that the leadership is considering it for its future fleet of combat aircraft.

As for the additional FA-50s, a squadron or two of the aircraft may help lessen the fatigue incurred by the current FA-50PH jets that the Philippine Air Force is operating, as its constant use immediately maximizes its rated flight hours before any engine retrofit and Service Life Extension Program takes place to extend its serviceable life. This proposal will lessen the stress inflicted on the airframes of the currently serviceable aircraft.

Overall, aside from the marketing it pushes to cement further its market share within the Philippine defense market for aircraft sales, Korea Aerospace Industries in overall aspect is supportive of the ongoing modernization efforts pushed by the Philippine Air Force along with the entire Armed Forces of the Philippines, as they envision their products serving defense duties of defending a country’s airspace as one way to increase its good reputation as an aircraft manufacturer.

(c) 2023 PDA.

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