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Updated December 25th, 2023 at 15:51 IST

Philippines considers used US F-16s for defense modernization amid budgetary pragmatism

The Philippine Air Force aims to enhance air warfare capabilities, considering used F-16s for a practical and cost-effective solution.

Yuvraj Tyagi
US Air Force
F-16 Fighting Falcons fly over the CENTCOM area of responsibility | Image:Twitter/@usairforce
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The Philippines is currently engaged in discussions with the United States to bolster its defense capabilities by acquiring combat-proven F-16 fighter jets. The country's Ambassador to the United States, Jose Manuel Romualdez, highlighted the ongoing talks, emphasizing the Philippine Air Force's long-standing desire for F-16s due to their adaptability and proven effectiveness in air defense. 

While specific details and timelines remain undisclosed, Ambassador Romualdez indicated that "open discussions" are in progress. Notably, the Philippines is leaning towards acquiring used F-16s, citing challenges posed by the country's procurement law, which typically requires the purchase of brand-new equipment. Romualdez suggested that opting for slightly used aircraft could provide a more practical and cost-effective solution given budgetary constraints. 

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F-16 acquisition to enhance Philippines' air warfare capabilities 

If the deal materializes, the acquisition of F-16s will significantly enhance the Philippines' air warfare capabilities, a crucial move as the nation focuses on modernizing its armed forces and securing its exclusive economic zone, especially in the face of maritime tensions with China in the West Philippine Sea. The anticipated increase in military and defense cooperation between Manila and Washington in 2024 aligns with recent strategic moves, including expanded access for U.S. troops to four new bases in the Philippines.

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The interior of F-16. | Credit- General Dynamics

The Philippine Air Force's pursuit of advanced fighter aircraft dates back to the mid-2000s when the decision to retire F-5s left a void in genuine supersonic capabilities. The subsequent Flight Plan 2028, initiated in 2015, highlighted the need for modernization. The acquisition of KAI FA-50 Golden Eagle supersonic light fighters served as an interim measure, showcasing adaptability in combat scenarios. 

Deliberations on fighter options: F-16 vs. Saab JAS 39C/D MS20 

Currently deliberating between the F-16 and Sweden's Saab JAS 39C/D MS20, the Philippine Air Force's preference for single-engine models aligns with historical factors and cost considerations. The proposed F-16 Block 70/72 version represents the latest iteration, with a potential sale of 12 fighters valued at approximately US$2.43 billion, as approved by the U.S. State Department in 2021. The Philippines, however, deemed the deal expensive, prompting exploration into the procurement of used F-16s.

Credit- US Air Force

The F-16 procurement plan, accounting for a significant portion of the Philippines' annual defense budget of US$4.26 billion, faces scrutiny due to budgetary constraints. The latest statements from Ambassador Romualdez signal a pragmatic approach, exploring the possibility of acquiring used F-16s to meet defense needs effectively while navigating financial limitations. Notably, the Philippines' pursuit of F-16 fighter jets underscores the nation's commitment to enhancing its defense capabilities amidst regional tensions, with a strategic focus on securing its maritime interests and fostering strengthened military cooperation with the United States. 

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Published December 25th, 2023 at 15:51 IST

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