Gov’t to lease Japan aircraft for territorial defense

Posted on March 10, 2016

THE PHILIPPINES is to lease from Japan five aircraft to help patrol the disputed South China Sea; President Benigno S. C. Aquino announced on Wednesday, as China expands its military presence in the region.

A Beechcraft King Air TC-90 training aircraft is seen in this file photo. The Philippines is set to lease five such planes that will be used to help patrol the West Philippine Sea, a large part of which is claimed by China. -- Philippine Star
The Philippine military, for decades preoccupied with domestic insurgencies, has been shifting its focus to territorial defense, allocating P83 billion ($1.77 billion) until 2017 to upgrade and modernize its air force and navy.

Speaking at an air base south of Manila, Mr. Aquino said he had done more to build the air force than three previous governments, increasing the number of planes and helicopters to move troops and supplies; and guard maritime borders.

“All this new equipment will enhance the capability of the air force to guard our territory,” Mr. Aquino said.

Allies, the United States (US) and South Korea have already offered help to bolter air capabilities and Mr. Aquino announced the arrival this year of two refurbished C130 transport planes from the US “We are also leasing from Japan five TC-90 training aircraft to assist our navy in patrolling our territories, particularly in the West Philippine Sea,” he said, referring to the Spratly archipelago in the South China Sea.

He did not say when the Japanese aircraft would arrive.

South Korea has supplied two light fighters and will give 10 more up to 2017, he said, adding that his government would award contracts for six close air support and two long-range patrol planes. Three air surveillance radars are also due be installed.

Already in the military’s plans is the acquisition of a squadron of multi-role fighters, air-to-ground missile batteries, early warning aircraft and drones.

The Philippines has made the modernization of its air and naval forces a priority as China deploys missiles and fighters on a number of artificial islands in the South China Sea.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, where about $5-trillion worth of ship-borne trade passes annually. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam also have claims to parts of the sea.

Last week, the Philippines and Japan signed a deal on the transfer of military equipment and technology; a document Japan needs to allow it to export weapons and guarantee they will not be transferred to a third party.

A Philippine Military Spokesman, Brigadier-General Restituto Padilla, said the deal for the Japanese aircraft was being finalized.

“We are not yet aware of the actual terms and conditions of the lease agreement, including the cost and duration,” he said.

For his part, newly sworn-in Philippine Air Force Chief Lieutenant General Edgar R. Fallorina said he will continue the policies of his predecessor, an era marked by the modernization and a return to the supersonic age of the country’s air fleet.

“I feel no immediate temptation to change any policy coming in, changing in leadership after all does not necessarily call for changes in policy,” he said in his speech at the Fernando Air Base in Lipa City, Batangas.

Mr. Fallorina took over from Lt. General Jeffrey F. Delgado, who reached the mandatory retirement age of 56 years old.

The new commanding general of the Philippine Air Force also laid out the challenges that await the organization he now heads.

“[T]he challenges are extra ordinary because our security environment has unraveled in ways we never imagined before. Long used to divisions among the threat groups in our country, today we are seeing fusions, and affiliations and the blurring of lines,” he said as a vague reference to the internal security situation of the country.

Mindanao is threatened by radicalism with the non-passage of an autonomy law which was agreed as part of the peace deal between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the government peace panel has said.

Separatist armed forces and small but violent terrorist groups are also concentrated in the Mindanao, a problem that has persisted in region that is the least developed in country. -- Reuters with Alden M. Monzon