Bongbong’s Joyride Reveals Skeletons in Air Force Closet


By Adolfo Quizon Paglinawan


If Noynoy Aquino became legendary for his joystick skills at videogames, Marcos Junior went overboard, maybe unwittingly, risking his life and the Presidency for an actual joyride in one of the Philippine Air Force’s flying coffins.

Actually, if only for the thrill for a “Top Gun” moment, he could have done this at Star City, for all I care.

But Inquirer reported that codenamed “Lawin” and clad in an aviator suit, he did ride an FA-50 to prove the capability of the military’s air assets.

The flight reached the Zambales Intensive Military Training Area in the West Philippine Sea. And for daring the devil, Marcos Junior also received a Mach Buster Patch, an FA-50PH Patch, and a Pilot Codename patch.

After the ceremonial toasts, he delivered prepared talking points saying that FA-50PH fighter jets would improve the country’s maritime patrol capability, help the PAF monitor the developments within the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone, and provide close air support to combat troops.

Was all this bravado necessary?

 As reported some five months ago, the Philippine FA-50PH jets began undergoing “Mandatory Precautionary Maintenance” because only three out of twelve aircraft procured by Noynoy Aquino might be currently operational after delays in the supply chain of spare parts.

According to the air force spokesperson, the supply chain was slowed down because of the recent global events.

The Philippines acquired twelve FA-50PH, which were delivered from 2015 to 2017. The Korean jets, considered the PAF’s premier air combat aircraft after the retirement of the F-5 in 2005.

The delays in the supply chain have also affected the other users of the aircraft, which currently include Indonesia, Iraq, South Korea, Thailand, and Colombia.

Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) received a $420m contract from the Philippines Government in March 2014 to supply 12 FA-50A multi-purpose fighters to the Philippine Air Force (PAF).

That’s $35 million or P1.75 billion a piece.

Funded by the Revised Armed Forces Modernization Programme, the PHP18.9bn ($463.3m) FA-50 procurement contract is said to be the biggest in the Philippines military’s upgrade efforts, and aims to augment the country’s territorial air-defense capabilities.

Wrong priorities

Rodrigo Duterte had assailed the Aquino administration’s purchase of 12 FA-50 lead in fighter trainer jets was just a waste of money as the air assets are only being used now for ceremonies.

Duterte said the jets – the biggest items in the military’s modernization shopping list – cannot be used to fight insurgency and are not enough to challenge China.

“Why did you buy that?” Duterte said in a business forum in Davao City a few days before he assumed the presidency.

“To the Air Force, do not misconstrue me. I’m a Filipino. I’m a citizen of this country and I have every right to say what I want to say. Sayang ang pera dun (Money was wasted there). You cannot use them for anti-insurgency, which is the problem at the moment. You can only use these for ceremonial fly-by,” he added.

Duterte said the money spent for the jets could have been used to buy helicopters or boats that could help prevent or prosecute insurgency and kidnappings.

Abu Sayyaf terrorists kidnapped Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall, Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad and Filipina Maritess Flor at the Ocean View Resort in Samal Island off Davao Oriental on September 2015. They later beheaded Ridsdel last April and executed Hall because their ransom demands were not met.

“If we had night vision goggles, we could have caught up with these guys and if we had fast boat, we could have pursued them,” he added, noting that the assets would have allowed security forces to reach Davao del Norte in two to three minutes to respond properly.

Duterte said the internal security problems should be solved first so the country can promote tourism and lure more investments.

Trainers not fighters

The FA-50 is a variant of KAI’s T-50 Golden Eagle trainer with features upgraded EL/M-2032 pulse-doppler radar, advanced avionics, a longer radome, a greater internal fuel capacity and a tactical datalink tailored to adopt multirole functions like interdiction and disaster response missions in addition to reconnaissance and survey operations.

The PAF originally planned to buy used F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft from the US, but dropped the plan due to budgetary constraints. The F-16 was not only a lot costly to acquire, but more costly to maintain.

Faced with the same predicament, the Pakistani Air Force had better wisdom.

It partnered with China to develop the JF-17. Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) and China’s Chengdu Aircraft Corporation (CAC) have inducted more than 100 Thunder jets since 2007.

The JF-17 can destroy the FA-50 anytime. Remember the F-50 is basically a trainer-converted-into-a-fighter. The JF17 is a fighter aircraft, and its Block 2 version is just as good as the F-16C which the Pakistan Airforce both have and tested in battle against each other.

JF-17 Block 2 costs $25 million.

What about interoperability with US and western avionics?

The JF-17 Block 3 is a whole different story. This updated version is already pushing a lot of envelopes, as it incorporates an ARSA radar and infrared imaging spherical coverage MAWS that talks to American-based command and control. Added on are DSI air inlet, PL-15 and PL-10 missiles, HMD + advanced glass cockpit, stand-off nuclear strike capability, and a new engine.

It is a true 4.5th generation fighter that can always lock on the FA-50 before it detects the JF-17. Better yet, it has a two-seater trainer model (JF-17B).

Significantly, the JF-17 shares technology from China’s J-20 stealth fighter.

Besides besting than the FA-50, China may be able to give it up to $10 million dollars less. That’s half-a-billion savings per unit for the Philippine economy.

We may even negotiate foreign military credits with China on softer concessional rates.

As to parts and technical and maintenance assistance, the track record of Chinese automotive brands in the Philippines today makes it possible for a one-week turnaround, so much that their dealers do not really have to build big inventories.

That could work too for JF-17 serviceability, but definitely a lot better than the downtime the FA-50s are experiencing.

Debugging Updates

As anticipated, the west has already demonized the JF-17 Block 1 and 2 track through its usual information war, accenting on its bugs and early mishaps.

Since its introduction in 2007, four JF-17s have crashed in accidents:

The first known crash of a JF-17 was on November 2011 during a routine training flight in the mountainous Mullan Mansoor region while flying from Pakistani Air Base in Minhas.

On September 2016 a PAF JF-17 crashed during Exercise High Mark in the Arabian Sea. Five years later, a JF-17A crashed during a routine training flight near Pindigheb, Attock District and the latest incident was August 2021 when a PAF JF-17B crashed during another routine training flight in Attock District. Both pilots ejected successfully and no loss of life was reported on the ground.

In the last three incidents, the pilots ejected successfully and no loss of life was reported on the ground. The incidents were factored against the heavy intensity with which the Pakistani Air Force uses the aircraft.

Be that as it may, despite early manufacturing glitches reported in Myanmar, as of October 2021 some 145 JF-17s are already  in service. Pakistan currently operates the most JF-17s. Myanmar, the first international customer, operates six and Nigeria has three.

This total was set to rise to 185 JF-17s by mid-decade — growth that would make it the most widely operated Chinese combat jet in service overseas by the end of 2023.

“It’s not cutting edge, but it is a reliable performer,” Timothy Heath, a senior international and defense researcher at the Rand Corporation think tank, told

Several other countries have already expressed interest in the jet, and its numbers are poised to grow. Myanmar, Nigeria, Argentina, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Bolivia, Malaysia, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Zimbabwe, queue negotiating for procurement.

The first few JF-17s were made entirely in China, but Pakistan now does most of the production. At present, 58% of the aircraft is made in Pakistan and 42% in China.

The question is, will Marcos Junior take a joyride in a JF-17 Block 3, a possibility which I am sure the Americans would frown upon?

<strong>Adolfo Quizon Paglinawan</strong>
Adolfo Quizon Paglinawan

is the anchor of Ang Maestro – the Unfinished Revolution at Radyo Pilipinas1, co-host of Opinyon Ngayon at Golden Nation Network Television, a political analyst, and author of books. His third book, The Poverty of Power will soon be off-the-press. It is a historiography of controversial issues of spanning 36 years leading to the Demise of the Edsa Revolution and the Rise of the Philippine Phoenix. Paglinawan’s past best sellers have been A Problem for Every Solution (2015), a characterization of factors affecting Philippine-China relations, and No Vaccine for a Virus called Racism (2020) a survey of international news attempting to tracing its origins. These important achievements earned for him to be named one of the 2021 international laureates for the Awards for the Promotion of Philippine-China Understanding. Ado, as he called for short, was a former press attaché and spokesman of the Philippine Embassy in Washington DC and the Philippines’ Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York. Facebook





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