Philippines will purchase 2 Maestrale class frigates. The Maestrale class frigates were primarily designed for anti-submarine warfare, however the ships are highly flexible so they are also capable of anti-air and anti-surface operations. Ships of this class have been widely used in various international missions, either under NATO or UN flag, and during normal operations of the Italian Navy.
Two days after President Benigno Aquino III vowed more support for the Philippine Air Force, a defense undersecretary disclosed the department is working for the immediate delivery of at least 4 of the total 12 FA-50 fighter jets it will be purchasing from South Korea.
Defense Undersecretary Fernando Manalo said the Department of National Defense (DND) has begun negotiations with the Korean Aerospace Industry (KAI) while it is waiting for Malacañang's final approval of the sales agreement. It will be a government-to-government procurement that requires multi-year obligational authority from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).
"Once we get confirmation of the sales agreement and once we get the multi-year obligational authority from DBM, we can start formal negotiations and we can schedule the delivery of at least 4 fighter jets," Manalo told reporters.
"We are negotiating for the immediate delivery of a certain number out of the 12 we are going to procure. We are hoping we can get at least four so our pilots can start their training," Manalo added.
The Philippines retired the last of its US-designed F-5 fighters in 2005 and lacks air defense.
In May, Aquino announced a ₱75-billion military upgrade to defend the country's territory against "bullies." The 12 fighter jets will cost ₱18.9 billion, part of the 24 items in the shopping list of the AFP.
The AFP modernization will give the Philippines "minimum deterrence capability" so that other countries would "think twice about waging wars against us," Manalo said. Manila is embroiled in a diplomatic row with Beijing over islands in the disputed South China Sea (West Philippine Sea).
The AFP modernization program will serve various purposes, Manalo added.
"We cannot deny that we have an internal security problem. We cannot deny that there are terrorist threats. We need to assert our rights in the West Philippine Sea," Manalo said.
"We are not advocating war. But we cannot just ask soldiers to defend our rights using only their hands. We have to give them equipment," he said. "Buhay na natin ang nakatalaga dito," he added. (Our lives are at stake here.)
Frigates for the Navy
Two frigates will be procured for the Phippine Navy, too. It will cost ₱18 billion.
Manalo said the navy had already decided to acquire two new Maestrale-class frigates from Italy instead of buying used ones from the Italian navy.
The frigates would add to two refurbished Hamilton-class cutters formerly used by the US Coast Guard that the Philippines acquired from its US ally to upgrade its ageing navy fleet, which includes some vessels that first saw action in World War II.
Manalo is hoping the military's procurement of frigates will give the country a chance to join military exercises with other countries.
Under the 2013 General Appropriation Act, ₱5-billion was allocated to the "regular fund" of the AFP while ₱10.6 billion was for "unprogrammed funds." The latter is intended for projects that are awaiting approval.
Manalo said the DND's 2014 budget proposal also includes an allocation of ₱15 billion for the "unprogrammed fund."
Military bases will be upgraded. Manalo said hangars and other infrastructure in various military bases, such as the Naval Base Rafael Ramos in Cebu, will be improved to make them suitable for the new equipment.
Aside from fighter jets and frigates, the Philippines will procure the following:
- Rocket launcher, handheld radios, night fighting system for the Philippine Army
- Radar system and long range patrol aircraft for the Air Force
- Combat utility helicopter
- Flight simulator
- Lead in fighter trainers
- Amphibious assault vehicle
Manalo said the objective is to deliver all these within the term of President Aquino. Outside the ₱75-billion budget, the DND is also procuring 55,000 assault rifles.
According to Manalo, it is the "deliberate" intention of President Benigno Aquino to implement all 24 projects under the plan before he ends his term in 2016, with initial delivery of at least four of 12 FA-50 fighters next year or soon after.
The FA-50s as well as the radar systems and helicopters will be used mainly to defend interests in the West Philippine Sea, with installations of support facilities, including hangars, set up on Palawan island, the Philippines' nearest province to the disputed territories, Manalo said.
The acquisition of new military equipment will also increase the Philippines' chances to participate in joint training and exercises with other countries or, at least, expand the scope of its participation, boosting its capabilities, Manalo said.
The Philippines has recently disclosed a plan to grant the United States, and possibly, Japan, greater access to its military facilities.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said strengthening ties with strategic allies, the United States and Japan, are necessary because the Philippines is not yet capable of dealing with "Chinese aggression" on its own.
To end China "bullying"
"We are modernizing not because we want to go to war with China," he told a news conference.
He said the government had a sworn obligation to defend the "West Philippine Sea," using the government's preferred term for Philippine-claimed areas in the South China Sea.
"We are not saying that this is part of our preparations to assert our sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea. What we are saying is that we cannot just give them up."
The frigates would add to two refurbished Hamilton-class cutters formerly used by the US Coast Guard that the Philippines acquired from its US ally to upgrade its aging navy fleet, which includes some vessels that first saw action in World War II.
Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also claim areas in the South China Sea.