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SAAB's JAS-39 Gripen E/F Offer to the Philippine Air Force

The Philippine Air Force is now in need of multirole fighter jets more than ever, especially with the shift made by the national government from addressing internal-related counterinsurgency problems into addressing geopolitically resolving territorial defense, as it is only recently that it embarks to a program that will enable the entire Armed Forces of the Philippines to get all the badly needed military hardware it deserves to get and operate.

Philippine Air Force, JAS-39 Gripen E, SAAB, Multirole Fighter Jet Acquisition Project, Sweden, Swedish Air Force
Here is an image of a JAS-39 Gripen fighter aircraft of the Swedish Air Force.
Image Source.

The showcasing of bilateral flexing in terms of diplomatic matters has stirred much into the field of national defense in the past couple of months from the start of the year 2024, as this comes primarily in the ongoing materialization of the Philippine Air Force’s Multirole Fighter Jet Acquisition Project. 

In the Department of National Defense’s Latest Procurement Monitoring Report, the ongoing limbo on the project points to the awaiting ratification of the Memorandum of Understanding or MOU with Sweden.

In a statement done in the first few weeks of the year 2024, the Swedish Embassy to Manila disclosed a message that pertains to the long-term bilateral partnership between Sweden and the Philippines surrounding the aspects of National Defense. 

The statement reads with the following message: “We look forward to continued implementation of the MOU on the defense cooperation between the Philippines and Sweden.” Followed by the information that the MOU signed on 3 June 2023 and ratification three months later.

The statement made by Sweden then countered by the Philippine Department of National Defense, whereby the clarification has made that both the Philippines and Sweden have actively conducting series of meetings, with the recent one took place on January 17, 2024 that aims in finalizing the Implementing Agreement (IA) part of the MOU. 

The IA pertains to the provisions in the MOU on the Procurement of Defense Materiel and Equipment, abbreviated IA-PDME. This will take place within the month of March 2024.

These unfolded developments immediately gave a quick yet hasty conclusion from the defense community that the Philippine Air Force’s Multi-role Fighter Jet Acquisition Project may likely get awarded to Sweden’s SAAB rather than the competitor Lockheed Martin of the United States, as the primary indicators of processes involving the bilateral Memorandum of Understanding on the Procurement of Defense Materiel and Equipment are all taking place.

But there is nothing set in stone just yet, as the Department of National Defense’s Facebook page quickly denies what’s in the reports, with the statement providing a sign that the Philippine Air Force’s Multi-Role Fighter Jet Acquisition Project is still open and ongoing. 

This means that the deal does not get limited to what’s between the bilateral relations of the Philippines and Sweden, but there are still last-minute changes to the deal, suggesting that Lockheed Martin’s F-16 Viper deal still stands a chance.

Prospects for the Philippine Air Force to secure the SAAB JAS/39 Gripen C/D variant only exacerbates to its worst form with the newest deal set between Sweden and Hungary, as the latter renews its lease deal with the former, whereby the Hungarian Air Force expects to get at least four (4) more units of new JAS-39 Gripen C/D variant multi-role fighter jet, increasing the number to at least eighteen (18) units. This means that a squadron of JAS-39 Gripen for the Philippines seems likely to become less viable than ever.

With the discussion regarding the reduction of pre-made and brand-new JAS-39 Gripen C/D multirole fighter jets to at least ten (10) units, less than the intended twelve (12) units that the Philippine Air Force considers as a squadron, plus the plans laid for the second phase of the Multirole Fighter Jet Acquisition Program, gives the viability for SAAB to push its newer JAS-39 Gripen E/F variant to the Philippine Air Force, although it depends primarily to the discretion of the planners of the leadership.

JAS-39 Gripen C/D, JAS-39 Gripen E/F, Philippine Air Force, Swedish Air Force, Multirole Fighter Jet Project, MRF
Here is an image of a JAS-39 Gripen of the Swedish Air Force, sporting company demonstrator scheme, in display in the service branch's museum.
From Wikimedia Commons.

It is a given and fully understandable concept that an aerospace company like SAAB will continuously develop their existing products, such as the JAS-39 Gripen into later variants that comes as an improvement, incorporating enhanced capabilities that perform better or goes nonexistent to the previous iterations of the aircraft. 

The aircraft’s development comes as continuous, as the Swedish aerospace company puts modification into the design of the previous JAS-39 Gripen designs, like the existing C/D variant.

The overall design of the JAS-39 Gripen traces back to its first development in the mid-1980s, in an era when the Swedish Air Force aimed to replace its aging SAAB 37 Viggen fighter aircraft, itself developed in the late 1960s and introduced into active service in the early 1970s. 

In context, the SAAB 37 Viggen fighter aircraft also incorporates the iconic delta-wing design and structure along with its fuselage, of which it serves as an inspiration for the development of the JAS-39 Gripen as the aircraft design known today.

In the development phase of the first variant of the JAS-39 Gripen for the initial requirements of the Swedish Air Force, as they are about to replace their legacy fighter aircraft mentioned from that period, the premise into the inception of the JAS-39 Gripen into a capable multirole combat aircraft that it is currently is on the Swedes seeking performance on a versatile fighter aircraft that can take off and land on short fields, roads, and snowy runways, while having a maximum performing speed of Mach 2 on intercept.

Throughout the development phase for the JAS-39 Gripen in the mid-1980s, the Swedish firms, with guidance from the Swedish Defense Materiel Administration (FMV), formed a consortium named "Industrigruppen JAS", of which, aside from the joint SAAB-Scania partnership,also comes with other companies such as Volvo Flygmotor, Ericsson, and Foerenade Fabriksverken. The aircraft’s project designation comes as the “SAAB 2110”, adhering to the Swedish ‘JAS’ aircraft requirements, translated as an aircraft with ‘Fighter, Attack, & Reconnaissance’ capabilities.

The development of JAS-39 Gripen prototype models began in 1984, with a complete sample fully accomplished in early 1986. It took two (2) years and intensified political pressure to cancel the budget and buy foreign-made aircraft resulted from cost overruns that plagued the development of the project for the multirole fighter aircraft prototype to have its first test flight on December 9, 1988, proving to the critics of that time that Sweden and SAAB has the capability of developing and producing its own aircraft, setting the direction into the SAAB JAS-39 Gripen aircraft of present day.

For the Gripen E variant, it stemmed out from the previous upgrade development project of SAAB for the aircraft named as the “Gripen NG” variant, whereby its primary feature being the compatibility of the aircraft to the NATO requirements, especially with the country of Sweden now a new full-fledged member of the military organization. Add to this the advanced avionics integrated into the aircraft, and also the new AESA radar that are not integrated to the likes of the Gripen C/D variant.

Another thing to point out to the development of the Gripen NG or what is eventually be the Gripen E variant is the use of General Electric F414 engine as opposed to the Swedish-built licensed copy of the General Electric F404 engine found on the JAS-39 Gripen C/D variant. 

The development timeline of the aircraft comes in the late 200s to early 2010s, with the first demo started in 2007, and the first pre-production copies introduced in 2013. Subsequently, Sweden and Brazil take up orders for these new aircraft.

JAS-39 Gripen E, Philippine Air Force, SAAB, Brazilian Air Force, Embraer, Multirole Fighter Jet Acquisition Project, MRF Program
The Brazilian Air Force categorizes the JAS-39 Gripen E as F-39A.
Image Source.

In terms of current users and orders booked for the SAAB JAS-39 Gripen E multirole fighter jet at the time this article has written, there are only two (2) countries that have actively ordered and operate this fighter aircraft, such as the Brazilian Air Force and the Swedish Air Force. 

This means that based on the information provided, there are at least ninety-six (96) units that are in the process of production, spanning two production lines as Brazil produces its licensed copy of the JAS-39 Gripen E variant through the country’s own aerospace company Embraer in a technology transfer agreement. In context, Embraer is this similar company that has provided A-29 Super Tucano Close Air Support Aircraft for the Philippine Air Force’s close air support requirements.

In comparison, the Swedish aerospace company produces at least ninety-five (95) JAS-39 Gripen C/D variant for the Swedish Air Force alone from 1996 to 2007, although the numbers initially ordered for the JAS-39 Gripen E variant might eventually increase as the Swedish Air Force might replace the currently servicing JAS-39 Gripen C/D variant, eventually. As the Gripen E gets into production, the C/D variant likely receives operational and capabilities support all the way to the 2030s.

Going further, General Dynamics, and eventually Lockheed Martin, produces at around 4,600 units of F-16 multirole fighter aircraft as operated by more air forces around the globe, with Thailand, Singapore, and Indonesia being its primary users in Southeast Asia. The units mentioned comprise more of the earlier variants of the fighter aircraft than the latest Block 70/72 Viper variant produced in South Carolina. In context, SAAB competes with Lockheed Martin’s F-16 Block 70/72 with the Philippine Air Force MRF project.

From a logistical point of view, the number of users of the type of aircraft across the globe defines the viability of its use for the end user like the Philippine Air Force to consider, as there is the full abundance of spare parts sources that came from multiple sources. 

However, that commonality of the aircraft design might entail its utilization against another country that uses this similar type of aircraft, as in the case between Greece and Turkey with their F-16 fighters

Regarding potential users and prospects that SAAB sets in selling its JAS-39 Gripen E to other countries other than the Philippine Air Force under its Multirole Fighter Jet Acquisition Project, they set their sights to two Latin American countries such as Colombia and Peru, with Brazil service as the reference of this prospect marketing. 

In Southeast Asia, the Philippines has a likely companion with another Gripen user such as Thailand, in which this country aims to get more Gripen fighters in its aircraft inventory.

While the potential customers of the SAAB JAS-39 Gripen seem promising, this does not mean that things will come according to the desires and projections set by the Swedish aerospace company, as the competition like Lockheed Martin always come with offers that makes it irresistible to aspiring end-users like the Philippine Air Force. While the offers provided are enticing enough, there are more details to delve into, especially with the specifications of the fighter aircraft, as compared to competitors.

JAS-39 Gripen E Specifications, Philippine Air Force, Multi-Role Fighter Jet Acquisition
Details of the JAS-39 Gripen E are in the image. Kindly click the image to enlarge.
Reference Source.

Aside from the detailed information provided in the image above, the JAS-39 Gripen E/F variant always come with two forms - the more-known, single-seater Gripen E multirole fighter aircraft that is the primary product intended for combat roles of both air defense and close air support operations, and the Gripen F conversion trainer fighter aircraft, whereby it provides newer pilots a familiarization platform before getting embarked to the single-seater JAS-39 Gripen E.

This also means there is a slight variation on both the single-seater and the double-seater variant of the latest version of the JAS-39 Gripen, whereby according to the detailed specifications provided by SAAB, the latter comes with a slight longer fuselage of 15.9 meters overall, as compared to the 15.2 meters that is the default length for the JAS-39 Gripen E variant. 

Aside from the slight variations on the aforementioned plus the absence of the gun on the Gripen F variant, there is not much difference between both types in other areas.

As marketed, the Gripen E, as described by SAAB, has the powerful GE F414G engine, great range and the ability to carry an impressive payload with its ten hard-points. It also has a new AESA-radar, InfraRed Search and Track System (IRST), highly advanced electronic warfare and communication systems. The E-series redefines air power for the 21st century by extending operational capabilities. The hard points have increased over JAS-39 Gripen C/D’s eight, meaning that the Gripen E can carry more munitions and fuel tanks.

Like any modern fighter aircraft employed by other aerospace manufacturers of today, the Swedish aerospace company also incorporates Electronic Warfare or EW capabilities on the JAS-39 Gripen E/F variant, providing the multirole fighter aircraft with its own array of both offensive and defensive electronic warfare options that ensures increased likelihood for a mission success, while making sure that the aircraft’s survivability increases and enables both the fighter and its pilot to return to base safely.

As for its armaments, it has the capability of carrying and firing the IRIS-T short-range infrared missile and the Meteor Beyond-Range Air-to-Air Missile or BVRAAM, while being capable of firing missiles that are typically available on the Philippine Air Force’s Spyder Air Defense System such as the Python short-range missiles and Derby long-range missiles. For ground targets, the JAS-39 Gripen E carries Mk82, Mk83 and Mk84 bombs, AGM-65 Maverick missiles, and GBU-10/12/16 laser-guided bombs.

Now, on the comprehensive specifics of the JAS-39 Gripen E’s advanced sensor systems on top of its highly marketed Electronic Warfare (EW) suite. The Swedish-made multirole fighter jet sports the Selex ES-05 Raven active electronically scanned array or AESA radar, giving real-time position of both friendly and opposition forces in an actual combat over a certain air domain. The IRST system is the Skyward G also by Selex. Its Laser Designation Pod is by Rafael Advanced Systems Ltd., and can fit with different pod systems.

Ultimately, the JAS-39 Gripen E multirole fighter jet comes with a digital cockpit, which is a mainstay feature in currently produced fighter aircraft, and its feature being the hands-on-throttle-and-stick or HOTAS flight controller stick that provide additional capability options for the pilot, such as the overall situational awareness of the entire battlefield. With the subsystems mentioned, the JAS-39 Gripen E/F variant is a decent and capable multirole fighter aircraft of its own right.

PAF, Philippine Air Force, FA-50PH, F-16 Block 70/72 Viper, JAS-39 Gripen E/F, Multirole Fighter Jet Acquisition Project
A table showing comprehensive comparison between an FA-50, a JAS-39 Gripen E/F, and an F-16 Block 70/72 Viper.
Image Reference Here.

The improvements introduced to the JAS-39 Gripen E/F variant makes it a worthy multirole fighter aircraft, competing with other contemporary single-engine fighter jets produced by other aerospace companies such as both F-35 Lighting II and F-16 Block 70/72 Viper of Lockheed Martin. 

In the Philippine Air Force’s setting, this comparison will come between three types of fighters which, aside from the JAS-39 Gripen E/F multirole fighter jet, will also include the F-16 Block 70/72 Viper and the FA-50PH light fighter.

Corroborating the information provided above, the F-16 Block 70/72 Viper comes with a single Pratt and Whitney F-100-PW-229 engine, or a General Electric F-110-PW-129 engine, each coming with a thrust output of 29,100lbs and 29,500lbs, respectively. 

The engines provide an excellent performance for the F-16 Block 70/72 multirole fighter jet, as it helps provide the aircraft’s maximum speed to around Mach 2.05 or 1,353 miles per hour at 40,000 feet altitude. The aircraft’s maximum sustained speed is at Mach 1.89.

Still regarding the F-16 Block 70/72 Viper, its certified service ceiling as specified in the table provided is at 50,000 feet, in which this is the standard across different variants of the F-16 Fighting Falcon since its development in the 1970s by General Dynamics

And as with all the variants of this single-engine fighter aircraft now produced by Lockheed Martin, the F-16 Block 70/72 Viper has an airframe with a rating of withstanding up to nine (6) Gs, or nine times the force of gravity.

Now, it is FA-50PH light fighter trainer aircraft’s turn to have the information provided above getting corroborated as compared to the two primary candidates for the Philippine Air Force’s own Multi-role Fighter Jet or MRF Acquisition Project. For a start, the light aircraft produced by Korea Aerospace Industries or KAI comes with a General Electric F404-GE-102 turbofan engine. The JAS-39 Gripen E/F comes with a General Electric F414-GE-400 engine, which is more powerful.

The G404-GE-102 turbofan engine found onboard the FA-50 light fighter trainer aircraft provides the South Korean-made jet the maximum performance speed of around 1.5 Mach, or one point five times more than the speed of sound. 

The aircraft comes with a service ceiling of 48,000 feet, thrust of 17,700lb, and an airframe that can withstand up to eight (8+) Gs, or eight times the force of gravity. Philippine Air Force’s leadership expresses desire to purchase more of this aircraft, which is for an entirely different acquisition project.

Regarding the armaments each aircraft presented comes and can carry with, it is noticeable that each aircraft have some commonality in some air-to-air missiles and air-to-ground bombs used, as this is usually the standard for western-based technological integration that is available on all three fighter jets depicted. 

While all fighter aircraft mentioned can carry and fire an AIM-9 or AIM-120 AMRAAM missile, only the Gripen E/F can carry and fire the Meteor BVRAAM as the F-16 Viper with the AIM-7 Sparrow missile.

Completing the corroboration of data, the Raytheon AESA radar that the FA-50 comes is the PhantomStrike radar, of which this may come as an upgrade for existing aircraft from 2025 onwards and as an included version for the succeeding versions like the FA-50 Block 20. 

The Philippine Air Force FA-50PH comes with a different radar solution, likely the IAI EL/M 2032 pulse radar. SAAB’s JAS-39 Gripen E/F comes with SELEX Raven ES-05 AESA Radar, and the F-16 70/72 Viper comes with the Northrop Grumman APG-83 AESA radar.

F-16 Viper, Philippine Air Force, PAF, Lockheed Martin, JAS-39 Gripen E/F, SAAB, MRF, Multi-role Fighter
Lockheed Martin’s F-16 Block 70/72 Viper, along with the ones under U.S. Excess Defense Articles or EDA, is the Philippine Air Force’s other MRF platform option.
Image Source.

As the Philippine Air Force sets into finalizing its prospects for the awarding of the multi-role fighter jet acquisition project, another country secures additional units of JAS-39 Gripen C/D variant multi-role fighter jet in a form of a renewed lease deal that involves adding the numbers on the already-leased aircraft for this country. 

To take some notes, this website discussed the viability of a lease option for the Philippine Air Force from a different financial standpoint in this article link right here.

This country refers to the Eastern European country of Hungary, of which the premise of this decision comes as this country provides a decision to let Sweden enter the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or NATO, of which Hungary is a member

The renewed deal increases the number of leased JAS-39 Gripen C/D variants within the Hungarian Air Force to at least sixteen (18) units, increased from the original twelve (14) leased units as the result of this renewed lease with the increase of four (4) more fighter jets.

With the outcome of the deal reducing of new JAS-39 Gripen C/D variants in SAAB’s storage reduced to ten (10) units, and the Philippine Air Force’s tender for the acquisition of at least twelve (12) brand new multi-role fighter jets or MRFs at the contract amount of Php 61 Billion still never changes, this option is becoming less tenable, and instead making the SAAB JAS-39 Gripen E/F a likely offer made by SAAB for the Philippine air defense requirements, without this following advantage that the Swedish aerospace company have.

The advantage mentioned is regarding the speedy time for SAAB to deliver the JAS-39 Gripen for the Philippine Air Force, of which this is achievable with the fourteen (14) JAS-39 Gripen C/D variant in the storage before the Hungarians securing four (4) units from this stockpile, something that is nonexistent to the JAS-39 Gripen E/F variant that is still to deliver the first units in 2025 with Swedish Air Force being its priority. This makes SAAB’s delivery times under this deal less tenable.

But is the competition fare better? In context, the order backlogs for the production and delivery of Lockheed Martin F-16 Block 70/72 Viper multi-role fighter jets are getting longer, with the delivery of the first pair to Slovakia just taking place recently in January 2024, even with the 135 units of the fighter jet orders for other countries still on the backlog. While the figures presented show that things are not even better for Lockheed Martin about delivery dates, there is one essential thing that is at their advantage.

That advantage are the commitments made by the United States through the Excess Defense Articles and the ones provided under the Security Sector Assistance Roadmap or SSAR, of which the Philippine Air Force have the chance to secure its F-16s of the previous variants, with the option of upgrading to the latest Block 70/72 variant presented. 

This puts Lockheed Martin’s deal under the MRF project at an advantage, as this presents logistical advantages if a platform chosen goes similarly to the one provided in the SSAR.

If the F-16s presented from the SSAR or the Excess Defense Articles push through, not to mention the proposed measures from the United States Senate that provide Foreign Military Financing to the Philippines for five (5) years, the speedy delivery dates might less likely playing a role in the decision-making, as these measures presented are enticing enough for the Philippine Air Force to consider, especially now that the bilateral relations between the United States and the Philippines being in the overdrive.

JAS-39 Gripen C/D, JAS-39 Gripen E/F, Philippine Air Force, MRF, Multi-role Fighter Jet Acquisition Project
Here is an image of a single JAS-39 Gripen fighter jet flying in the sunrise.

As the Philippine Air Force puts the Multi-role Fighter Jet Acquisition Project in the priority list, with the likely decision and awarding of the contract taking place within this year, the Swedish defense company SAAB intensified the offer for its multi-role fighter jets, as the JAS-39 Gripen Block C/D variant becoming less viable with remaining new units left being less than the desired number intended for the project as the result from the recent deal with Hungary.

From the Swedish point of view, particularly those for its government, the decision to proceed with the Hungarian renewed leases for its existing fleet of JAS-39 Gripen C/D plus the additional four (4) units in this arrangement comes as an advantage, especially that this is a crucial element that enables the aforementioned Scandinavian country to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or NATO, of which this includes approval of all member countries, Hungary included.

Added to this, a bolstered air defense capabilities Hungary receives from this renewed arrangement provides an enhanced framework needed for Eastern European countries for self-defense, especially with the looming threats posed by the Russians even with the ongoing conflict in Ukraine as the countries of Europe keep on providing the latter military hardware it needs to survive and keep the fight going. Sweden’s entry to NATO comes with its commitments that might involve investing in its fighter jet production.

This change provided a welcoming development for SAAB to promote its newest multirole fighter jet on the line, of which it is the JAS-39 Gripen E/F variant, also formerly known by its development model designation ‘JAS-39 Gripen NG’ variant. While this offer might provide boosted capabilities that count as an improvement over the earlier JAS-39 Gripen C/D variant offered by the Swedish aerospace company, it removed one essential component of it to win the award, which is the time element.

The time element gave advantage to the primary competitor of the Multi-role Fighter Acquisition Project, whereby the Excess Defense Article or EDAs coming from the United States serve as a preference for an immediate delivery of fighter aircraft for the Philippine Air Force to use, even with Lockheed Martin’s increasing order backlogs of F-16s in its South Carolina production line. All of which helps provide the Philippine Air Force a boost of its capability shall the F-16 Block 70/72 Viper get chosen.

As the competition is still ongoing for the Multi-role Fighter Jet Acquisition Project of the Philippine Air Force, the primary decision-makers within the air service branch and the Department of National Defense are still looking for ways to maximize the offer of both aerospace companies, which eventually makes it an advantage for the Philippine Armed Forces in getting the best offer for fighter aircraft intended for air defense, with the funding it provides to this acquisition project.

Finally, this development gives preference that both aerospace companies show its determination to secure its project, and with the Multi-role Fighter Jet Acquisition Project being the priority one for both the Philippine Air Force and the Department of National Defense, it is only a matter of time for the winner of this project gets named and the contract gets awarded to the winning bidder. All of which brings the difficult decision-making phase of the project to an end.

(c) 2024 PDA.

The Story of the Philippine Army's AKM Rifles

It is with full fascination to see that the Philippine Army uses a firearm that goes contrary to its usual firearms that have originated from traditional sources, as the purchase of these weapons usually come with interoperability in mind, particularly when in use in unison with allied forces and other like-minded militaries that use such firearms on their troops. This topic will cover the use of this specific firearm that has a different caliber and usage compared to the ones originated from western sources.

Philippine Army, AKM Assault Rifles, Russian Rifle, AK-47, First Field Artillery Battalion
Here is an image of an infantry trooper belonging to the Philippine Army firing a target using an AKM Assault Rifle. Image originated from First Field Artillery Battalion, Philippine Army.

In the traditional sense of how the Philippine Army comes into being, from in its inception in the late 1890s to fight for freedom against Spain and then fighting against the United States and eventually gets succumbed and comes into being once more under the commonwealth government of the mid-1930s, it will be not that surprising that the current armaments and weaponry of the land service branch primarily originates from the United States, if not the countries that adopt its weapons standardization.

This means that the modern infantry that defines the Philippines’ core military usually comes with different variations of firearms, specifically the ones that have originated from western sources such as the Remington R4 or M4-derived rifles, the iconic M-16 rifles or the ones refurbished by the Government Arsenal or GA, or the other firearms that bear some semblance or have similar caliber such as the SIG Sauer SIGM400 or the Heckler & Koch HK416, which are limited to several units.

While these western-based firearms are a mainstay for the Philippine Army’s western-oriented infantry, there are several oddities on some weapons load-out that the service branch have in its inventory, of which this comes as the primary topic in discussion for this article. This points to the organization’s existence of AKM rifles in its inventory, whereby it primarily is not of western origin and is likely from either the eastern bloc countries or even from the country that produces such weapons like Russia.

The existence of such rifles in the Philippine Army’s inventory comes at the benefit of the troops familiarizing and understanding its uses, while coming at the cost of logistics and interoperability as these rifles come with a different caliber. 

Specifically, details like this will come as this discussion proceeds along, with the quirks on different design features and technicalities permeating its understanding and operational use to the entire service branch as western-made weaponry remains as mainstream in the organization.

Aside from the quirks mentioned, the discussion on this concise topic will dwell on the misconceptions that this weapon has to the mainstream AK-47 rifle, despite sharing similar design cues and similar manufacturer, the other variant of the rifle produced by another Eastern European country, and ultimately, the specifications of this rifle plus its comparison to the other aforementioned western-originated firearms. This discussion only entails a purely educational approach and will remain limited to this area.

AKM, AK-47, Philippine Army,
The difference of each Avtomat Kalashnikov Assault Rifles presented.
Image Source.

Upon checking the appearance of the rifle, average people will quickly point out that it is the iconic AK-47 rifle that the Philippine Army uses. In fact, some outlets may resort to misinformation that the service branch uses AK-47 rifles to its operation, in which this is not clearly the case. While the AK-47 rifle comes as iconic that it shares design cues with succeeding versions of the Avtomat Kalashnikova as what the abbreviation stands for, saying that it is an AK-47 is misleading to see on comprehensive defense discussions.

The AKM assault rifle counts as one of the successor variants of the original AK-47 variant, whereby the former entered active service within the Armed Forces of the Soviet Union in 1959, whereby the first design cue for the AK-47 took place in the late 1940s. 

Apparently, the primary difference between AK-47 and AKM is the use of stamped sheet metal for the receiver. This significant difference makes the AKM both lighter and less costly to produce than the machined receiver of the AK-47.

Aside from the stamped steel metal for the receiver, there are many key features that differentiate the AKM from the previous AK-47 design, such as the improved trigger/hammer unit with a hammer release delay device, the redesigned, slightly raised buttstock and the pistol grip, and the addition of the removable muzzle flip compensator. These features, aside from an improved rear sight, incorporate the first improvements in the iconic Avtomat Kalashnikova design that come as a continuing trend in the following decades.

As an improved variant of the AK-47, the Avtomat Kalashnikova Modernizirovanniy, or Kalashnikov Rifle - Modernized as this name stands, the introduced improvements on the Soviet-era assault rifle enable it to differentiate to the earlier version of the Kalashnikov Assault Rifle. 

Like the succeeding versions of this assault rifle, such as the AK-74 and later, the AKM comes as a rifle variant of its own right and is not the AK-47 rifle that average people know for, despite having almost similar design cues.

Now that this misconception comes clearer in differentiating the two Soviet-era firearms, the next sub-topic deals more with the once-blooming relations between the Philippines and Russia that have enabled the former into securing this type of firearm in the first place, more than half a decade before the latter’s adventurous attitude in Eastern Europe received the ire of the international community, as sanctions have imposed against the country as the result of an ongoing conflict in their invasion of Ukraine.

AKM, AK-47, Kalashnikov, Philippine Army, First Field Artillery Batallion
Here is an image of Philippine Army personnel shooting AKM assault rifles in a group.
Image originated from First Field Artillery Battalion, Philippine Army.

The Philippine Army’s way of gaining AKM rifles comes with some diplomatic essence with it, as it resulted from what was once superb and friendly relations between two countries, at least five (5) years before the conflict that eventually closed down the donor’s access to the world, and even before that, the time when the idea of penalizing countries that purchase military hardware from this specific country of origin spouts into mind. This story comes with a visit to an iconic frigate from this country’s Pacific Fleet.

It was 2017, and relations were at an all-time high between the Philippines and countries like China and Russia, as then-Duterte administration fostered an idea of Independent Foreign Policy, a stance that comes differently from just sticking into traditional alliances like the United States - of which this gets reversed later on under the current Marcos administration by the time this article has published. This period of warm relations bears fruit that a donor like Russia provided the Philippine military with some military hardware.

The materials, tools, and military hardware that a country like Russia donated during this friendly period comes with several notable examples, such as the SSH-68 steel helmets that are in use by Philippine Army personnel during training, Ural 4320 cargo logistics trucks for hauling of both personnel and military hardware, and, of course, the AKM assault rifle that many average people mistaken it as the AK-47 assault rifle given the similarity in the design cues.

Going into the details, the equipment donation as the result of what was then the ever-warming ties between Russia and the Philippines results to the latter receiving 20 Ural 4320 cargo logistics trucks, 5,000 units of AKMs, even though the Philippine News Agency reports it as AK-74M, 1 million rounds of 7.62mm steel core bullets, and 5,000 units of SSH-68 steel helmets that matches the number of AKM assault rifles presented. This is the only instance that Russia provided that donation.

In comparison, the Philippine Army’s acquisition of the Taurus T4 Assault Rifles from Brazil comes at around 12,000 units of this 5.56 caliber firearm derived from the United States M4 rifle, which is not surprising as this is the mainstream rifle that the Philippine Armed Forces use in combat. 

This means that while it is a welcoming addition to have AKM assault rifles donated from an Eastern European country, the Philippine Armed Forces have preferences on western armaments and its NATO-standard features.

AKM, AK-47, Philippine Army, Assault Rifle
Here are some features and setups that differentiate the AKM to other variants.
From Small Arms Survey factsheet.

The following information that is about to provide here will encompass the fully technical details of the AKM assault rifle, along with insights and comparisons of this firearm to other platforms currently in use by the Philippine Army, particularly its western-made ones. 

Discussions of the sub-variants of this assault rifle will get some brief discussion, as delving into this portion gives additional details on the improvements that have come since the entry of the AKM into service within the Eastern Bloc.

Going to the specific technical dimensions, features, and other essential information of the AKM assault rifle, it comes with the following details, such as having a 7.62 x 39mm M1943 gun caliber, 896mm long fixed stock, 907mm long extended folding stock, 657mm long folded folding stock, 3.06kg weight for the AKM when unloaded, 436mm barrel length, 30-round detachable box magazine, post, adjustable fore sight and U-notch tangent rear sight, and a 600 rounds per minute rate of fire.

The following specifications provided comes from this document from Small Arms Survey, a reputable outlet that provides comprehensive information regarding the technical information, specifically for firearms of different builds and variants such as the AKM assault rifles for this discussion. Apparently, the information it provides also includes several sub-variants of the AKM assault rifle, of which different arms producers in the  Eastern Block have features that are specific to a production line different from Soviet ones.

There are at least twelve (12) different sub-variants of the AKM assault rifle, of which it ranges from different arms manufacturers of the eastern-aligned countries. These are the AKM, Russia, AKMS, Russia, Type 56 (later), China, Type 56-1 (later), China, Type 56-2, China, Misr, Egypt, MPiKM, Germany (GDR), Tabuk, Iraq, Type 68, North Korea, PMKM, Poland, RomArm AKM, Romania, and M70, Serbia. Each weapon sub-variants have its respective unique design features, but with shared commonalities for spares.

With the prevalence of this firearm design originating from the AK-47 to the succeeding designs such as the AKM, it gives precedent to another purchase of the Philippine Army to another design similar to the iconic AK family of assault rifles that have originated from what was then friendly relations to Russia, whereby it provides an opportunity for the service branch to buy another firearm that shares features with this design, this time originated from the country of Bulgaria.

AR-M Assault Rifle, Philippine Army, AKM Rifle, Arsenal JSCo, PA, Bulgaria
Here is an image of personnel belonging to the Philippine Army checking the AR-M52F Assault Rifle.
Philippine Army photo.

Aside from the AKM Rifles that the Philippine Army received from the grants provided by the then-friendly Russian government of the previous administration, this service branch also comes purchasing the different type of rifle that shares attributes to the Soviet-era rifle, although the orders have originated to another East European country that is also a current member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or NATO. This country refers to the Balkan country of Bulgaria.

This rifle made in Bulgaria is the AR-M1 rifle, specifically the AR-M52F 7.62×39mm rifle variant made by Arsenal JSCo for the Philippine Army’s additional requirements, along with an order of 1,000,000 rounds of 7.62x39mm rifle ammunition originating from this specific Bulgarian-based arms manufacturer. 

Apparently, the Bulgarian manufacturer also produces the 5.56x39mm variant of the assault rifle, although the 7.62x39mm variant gets chosen with the compatibility with the AKM rifles as reference.

The production of the AR-M1 rifles by a Bulgarian arms manufacturing firm come because of the country’s continuous production of firearms, going way back 1960s when it was still part of the Soviet-dominated Warsaw Pact, an Eastern European bloc of nations that shares the communist form of economy and government with the one ruled in Moscow. It started when the Bulgarians started locally producing its own AK-47 rifles, which then exported to other members of the bloc.

Bulgaria’s long experience in producing license copies of the iconic Kalashnikov rifle enables them to produce better designs such as the AR-M1 rifle, whereby like the Soviet era rifle that comes before it, is also in operation and active use by multiple militaries across the globe, including the Philippine Army, the Indonesian Armed Forces through the Tontaipur (Army Special Forces), and the United Kingdom for training-related purposes intended for the Ukrainian forces under the Operation Interflex.

Ultimately, the purchase of Bulgarian-made assault rifles and ammunition provided an additional lifeline to the donated AKM assault rifles, especially given the current sanctions that Russia faces as the result of their invasion of Ukraine. 

Also, Bulgaria’s current membership within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization gives it additional points for the Philippine Army to consider its firearms at that period, expanding the need for rifles that can fire 7.62x39mm ammunition rounds.

Philippine Army, M4 Assault Rifle, Infantry Battalion, AKM Rifles, Bulgarian AR-M1 Rifles
Philippine Army personnel usually use M4 assault rifles on its operations, having commonality with allies like the United States and other like-minded nations.
Image Source.
In a military that usually comes with western-based military equipment like the Philippine Army, it is already an oddity itself that this service branch of the Philippine Armed Forces maintains an assault rifle that comes with a caliber that comes differently from the ones it already have. And this difference comes because of what was then an improvement of ties between two countries, at a period when conflict in Eastern Europe isn’t that escalated as compared to the present day.

The resources provided for what became the Philippine Army’s own stash of AKM assault rifles and additional ammunition often come misrepresented by others as the iconic AK-47 assault rifle, of which both firearms share similar attributes although the AKM comes as a far more modernized variant of the Kalashnikov family of firearms compared to its AK-47 predecessor, making it fully different to the variant that is iconic and widely known to the average people regarding Soviet-based firearms.

While the Soviets primarily did the AKM assault rifle, it actually has different design cues that produced by other arms manufacturers across the Eastern bloc, making it as widely produced for an assault rifle as the other ones belonging to the Kalashnikov family. To take it further, it is here that the Bulgarian arms manufacturer Arsenal JSCo takes knowledge for them to develop, produce, and introduce the modern AR-M1 assault rifle that the Philippine Army uses alongside the AKM assault rifles.

Despite getting such type of weapons bearing the 7.62x39mm ammunition rounds and originates from now rogue countries like Russia, the Philippine Army still sticks to NATO-standard assault rifles like the Remington M4 assault rifles, as it goes with commonality not only between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and other uniformed agencies that uses this firearm, but also with allied countries like the United States and like-minded nations that promotes interoperability between units and forces alike.

Ultimately, it is fascinating to see the Philippine Army maintaining differing variants and types of firearms in its arsenal of infantry-based weaponry, whereby both serve its purpose of giving field troops the firepower needed in various mission objectives that comes under the name of national security and sovereign integrity of the nation. These, in which, give the Philippine Army additional tools to uphold its mandate like the rest of the Armed Forces of the Philippines to protect and uphold the country’s defense and interest.

(c) 2024 PDA.




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