A major milestone in the forum rebuilding process (see Rebuilding a cyber-institution) has been reached. The Philippine Navy ship database, the single most comprehensive online collection of information about Philippine Navy ships — both past and present — is back.
The return of the database also brings back one of the most, if not THE most, comprehensive photographic record of Philippine Navy vessels currently available on defense social media. Over the years, numerous community shipspotters have sent many photos specifically for use on the original index. These images have found a home in the DefensePH database.
Photos in this collection include this iconic photograph of BRP Andres Bonifacio crossing the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.
The thread index currently brings together 145 discussions and is divided into the following sections:
Decommissioned, strategic reserve, grounded
Scrapped, sunk, sold, etc.
Visitors to the index are brought to this section first. Threads here draw attention to everything from the largest combat vessels in Philippine Navy history — the Tarlac class Strategic Support Vessels — to lesser known vessels such as the ADFL-1 class Floating Drydock. From the historic Rajah Humabon which saw action in WWII, to the freshly minted Multi-Purpose Assault Crafts which are not only the youngest vessels in the fleet but also among the fastest.
Consistent with practices of other established public naval references, the operational condition of these vessels are not considered in section assignment. Given the average age the fleet, it is understandable that a number may actually not even be able to get underway, or at least get underway safely. Food for thought for avid followers of online databases that tout numbers of ships with no regard for the state of those ships.
Decommissioned, strategic reserve, grounded
These are vessels that remain in the vessel registry but are no longer in active status. Some are eventually destined to be scrapped. Others are kept as part of the strategic reserve and preserved awaiting reactivation at some future date.
Solely for purposes of this index, vessels that were grounded, and then left in place are placed here to acknowledge their unusual circumstances. One such vessel is BRP Lanao del Norte (LT-504) an ex-US LST-542 class Landing Ship Tank (LST) which ran aground off Pagasa. It’s thread shows the progression from what it looked like in US service to its current scrapped state.
BRP Sierra Madre, another LST-542 class vessel that ran aground at Ayungin shoal and currently serves as outpost monitoring Chinese activities in Mischief Reef, is also a prominent feature of this section. The forum discussion for this boat not only shows the most recent, Philippine Navy authorized, imagery of the vessel, but also shows what it looked like when it was still known as USS Harnett County. Given the vessel’s importance to national defense, this thread is updated as often as forum administrators are allowed.
Scrapped, sunk, sold, etc
This section dwells on ships that were once part of the Philippine Navy, but have since been completely taken off the registry. It a historical record of the fleet that was.
Among the ships in this category are several notable vessels that were lost in typhoons:
RPS Datu Kalantiaw (PS-76). An ex-US Cannon class Destroyer Escort which was lost during Typhoon Rubing (Int’l: Clara) while at anchor off Calayan Island on September 22, 1981. A retired PN officer (aldebaran@timawa/defenseph) described it as one of the worst naval tragedies in Philippine Navy history.
RPS Rajah Soliman (D-66). An ex-US Buckley class Destroyer escort lost to Typhoon Dading while at anchor at the Bataan National Shipyard.
The rebuilding process and beyond
The rebuilding process for this thread actually began on September 25, 2016. Fifteen days after the original Timawa forum was unceremoniously shutdown by its owner. The DefensePH forum itself was established on September 22, but thread index rebuilding didn’t start till 3 days after. The ship database was the first such index created as it was one of the lynchpins of the original community.
Although additional ship discussions have been added to the current thread index since the original Timawa equivalent, a number of mysteries from the Timawa thread remain. Ex-US SC-497 Submarine Chaser class in PN service are an example. Research on those outstanding items continue.
While mindful of the Navy’s past, the index also looks to the future. The DND recently issued instructions for the implementation of the contract with Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) — a South Korean shipbuilder — for the construction of a pair of frigates which are meant to be the most capable vessels in the fleet. In acknowledgement of this development, threads for each of these ships, which HHI reportedly refers to as P159 and P160, are all new additions to the index. As the Navy charts its own course to the future, the forum too continues to grow in content and coverage.
On August 21, 2006 the Timawa forum saw a discussion between a Philippine Marine Colonel (MBLT6) and a Singaporean Army Major (Shingen) about sniper rifles an engagement distances in the the Philippine setting. The end result was a glowing response from Shingen as follows:
This is one of the best post, or not the best post i have seen so far in this forum. Thank you so much for clarifiying things, all your examples are very clear and informative, especially no. 3. Would add this to my scrapbook and use it as material if required back camp.
This accolade elevated this discussion to a “reference thread” which moderators took special care in keeping troll free.
Marine Scout Sniper Rifle (5.56mm)
Barret (12.7mm / .50 cal)
In an effort to preserve this discussion from database crashes and similar incidents, this section the following thread has been replicated here:
First, lets define terms. The term primary sniper rifle refers to primary range. Our (Marine Corps) doctrine requires three types of sniper rifles ie., primary range (max 600m for company level) , intermediate range ( 800m max and a Bn organic) and long range (1000m and a Brigade organic). We practice combined arms concepts which means higher units may attach thier organic units to subordinates in order to tailor fit their capabilities to the environment they are operating in and the threats they are facing. secondly, the term sniper rifle does not dictate on the caliber. Its defined as a rifle with a scope accurized with high quality parts (match grade) and uses match grade ammunition. The 5.56mm round in the MSSR qualifies per our doctrines and international definition.
Why have 3 types of sniper rifles? Based on our experience in battling communist, muslim seperatist and military adventurism for 30+ years in different terrains in the Philippines. We had learned that under different sniping conditions the characteristics of a type of sniper rifle has its pros and cons.
Example 1. a sniper stalks his prey that requires moving at the least observation by the enemy the reason he has to be a master of camoflauge to avoid detection. It will be diffucult to crawl with a cal 50 barret. The MSSR will be a favorite in this conditions.
Example 2: The MSSR or primary range rifle is the king of 600m engagements simply due to lesser recoil. It accounted most of the kills in our year 2000 campaign in central mindanao. Why? against multiple targets and follow through shot in case of a miss nothing beats the 5.56mm round. the lesser recoil ensures target acquisition after recoil. We tested this with the equally accurisided M-21 7.62mm. each equally skilled sniper were required to shoot 6 poppers each and armed with the M21 and MSSR at 400m. The MSSR finished his 6th popper while the other was just starting to aim for his 3rd – FOV issues due to recoil i’m sure you know. Example 3: the cal 50 barret has the needed characteristics for longer range simply because of of its heavier 750 grain bullet which is less prone to that devil wind that all snipers fear. The MSSR cannot compete with this at longer range. But at shorter ranges below 600m the barret has distinct disadvantages. It has a louder sound report, flash and concussion (leaves/bushes moves) allowing easier detection and wow expect counter fire from the enemy. A sniper always ensures he is not detected please don’t do this in engaging the enemy with highly trained countersnipers. The barret is best in engagements at 1000m+ in a jungle environment if you can find one. the rule is more max at 400m. The MSSR has a an almost negligble flash an sound report. The 24 inch barrel has its advantages it ensures the total burning of the propellant before the bullet exits the muzzle hence lesser flash as well as higher velocity means lesser leads in moving targets – the 5.56mm round does have at least 250+ fps higher speed the the 7.62mm and cla 50 round – right?. longer barrels adds more velocity and having more range and lethality. and of course lesser concussion and sound report compared to the 7.62 and cal.50 round. the MSSR was adopted by us in 1996 and copied by the IDF and US in 2000 you are more than welcome to learn from our experiences.
I really had the same perceptions in my youth when I was a Lt 24 yrs ago. The macho 7.62mm or even the cal 30 (7.62mm x 54) M-1 garand round were superior in all aspects. But my experience change that with advancements in weapons technology as well as my combat and competition experience. I was amazed with the results of our 2000 year campaign as well as the success of the M-16 in the Service Rifle Competitions in Camp Perry,Ohio which since 1996 it had dominated the championships beating the favorites as the M-1A1 and military versions M-14 rifles. We in the Marine Corps have the only existing sniper school in the Philippines since 1967. We load our own match ammo for 5.56mm and 7.62mm in 69 grain Sierra BTHP match, 75 grain Hornady and 168 grain Sierra in 7.62mm BTHP match as well as subsonic rounds for both calibers for use in our Night Fighting Weapon System. Don’t know if there are existing sniper schools in other in southeast asian countries. And please no more lethality issues – shot placement at 600m is not an issue for the MSSR our snipers are trained to hit head shots at 600m and even a cal .22LR at shorter distances can ensure that kill. I’ve seen that – we operate in the most volatile region in Southeast Asia.
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The following article is an authorized reposting of the original adroth.ph article. It can also be found on the DRP forum here, where readers are encouraged to post their comments.
The two largest warships in Philippine Navy history are currently under construction at the PT PAL shipyard in Indonesia. The first vessel, tentatively named “Strategic Sealift Vessel (SSV) No.1”, is due for delivery in May 2016. Progress of construction for that vessel is chronicled in the following article: Strategic Sealift Vessel No. 1 taking shape. This article, on the other hand, chronicles the progress of SSV No.2, whose construction lags behind SSV No.1 by six months.
Both vessels are based on the Indonesian Navy’s Makassar class Landing Ship Dock (LPD), particularly the last two members of the class referred to as the “improved Makassar”, which were both built at PT PAL, based on a design by Daesun Shipbuilding & Engineering of South Korea. The resulting vessel should appear similar to the KRI Banda Aceh shown below.
KRI Banda Aceh c/o Wikimedia
The data assembled below largely comes from open-sources and is thanks in no small part to Indonesian members of the Timawa.net forum who monitor Indonesian news reports and share them with the Timawa community. Supplemental data was gleaned from the international press.
Event / Date photo was shared
September 20, 2016. Various photographs shared by Gombaljaya on the FB extension
January 8, 2016. TR4 block of SSV-2 being moved into position.
December 22, 2015. Blocks prepared for keel laying
October 5, 2015. Various photographs of keel construction. Shared with the Timawa community’s FB extension on this date. See here
June 5, 2015. Steel cutting ceremony for SSV-2 held at PT PAL Indonesia. Photo c/o Tribunnews.com
The Strategic Sealift Vessel project is the Aquino administration’s implementation of two older Arroyo administration projects:
Strategic Sealift Vessel – this was reportedly crafted by the Center for Naval Leadership and Excellence (CNLE) and originally envisioned to acquire a 2nd-hand civilian Roll-On Roll-Off (RORO) vessel from Japan. Delays in the execution of the project resulted in an aborted attempt as the Japanese vendor choose to sell the prospective vessel to another buyer.
Multi-Role Vessel (MRV) – this project sought to acquire a brand-new Makasaar class Landing Ship Dock directly from South Korea complete with an amphibious assault package and a sophisticated mobile hospital. The following image of a Philippine Navy poster displayed on Navy Day shows what this project sought to acquire as a single project.
The original project that was broken up onto different components
The current administration opted to break up the MRV project into multiple components, award the contract to South Korea’s partner in Indonesia — which had the license rights to the Makassar class LPD — and then renamed the project to the current SSV title. The latter decision initially created confusion among long-time defense enthusiasts who had been aware of both projects, but were not privy to project decisions.
Discussions about this SSV is also available on the DRP forum.
The following is the most successful article on adroth.ph, with 3,600+ likes to date. This is an authorized reposting of the article, which was also shared on the forum here.
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The Korean Aerospace Industries FA-50PH is the single most sophisticated aircraft in the Philippine Air Force inventory. The arrival of the first two aircraft on November 28, 2015 heralded the formal start of the service’s efforts to rebuild it’s air defense operations capability. These two “Fighting Eagles”, as South Korea calls them, were the first of what will ultimately be 12 aircraft. According to multiple PAF sources, two more aircraft are due in the final quarter of 2016, while the remainder will be delivered in 2017 at a rate of one a month.
The aircraft in question appears below. Photographs c/o Lester Tongco, reposted with permission.
The FA-50 represents many firsts for the PAF, to include the following:
First brand-new fixed-wing combat aircraft acquired since the F-5A Freedom Fighters that were acquired in the early 60s.
First aircraft with fly-by-wire technology
First combat aircraft capable of integrating with network-centric warfare environments
First supersonic aircraft since the retirement of the last F-5A in 2005.
On February 19, 2016, these two aircraft conducted an air interception exercise involving a Philippine Air Lines Airbus carrying President Aquino who was returning from a US-ASEAN summit in the United States. This was reportedly the first intercept exercise of its type attempted by the Philippine Air Force since 1998 using its now retired F-5As. This exercise not only benefited the pilots of the aircraft, but also practiced coordination between air traffic controllers of the Civil Aviation Administration of the Philippines (CAAP) and the PAF’s Air Defense Wing. CAAP and PAF controllers were responsible for tracking the President’s aircraft and guiding the FA-50s to a point where they could use their own radars to find the airliner.
During the PAF’s heyday, in the US-bases funded 60s, such intercepts were part of normal operations for enforcing the Philippine Air Defense Identification Zone (PADIZ). During this period PAF fighters would intercept all manner of aircraft, from Soviet bombers transiting the South China Sea enroute to Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam, to Air Force One on a visit to the Philippines as shown below.
Photograph c/o Francis Neri Albums
These aircraft, however, appear to have a questionable future under the administration of President Rudrigo Duterte, who raised a firestorm in defense social media circles when he called the FA-50 “useless” at an economic consultation forum in Davao City on the 21st of June
The President had the following to say about the crown jewel of the PAF’s jet-aircraft fleet. Relevant excerpt begins at Time index 36:07:
DUTERTE: “You only have . . . what . . . two F-50s? Bakit mo binili yan?
Kayong mga taga Air Force, do not misconstrue my . . . I am a Filipino, I’m a citizen of this country and I have every right to say what I want to say. Sayang ang pera doon. You cannot use it for anti-insurgency which is really the problem of the moment. You can only use it for ceremonial fly-bys. What do I care about <fade out>. Kung binili mo ng choppers na may night vision, you when the kidnapping . . . you could have a catch up those guys
There’s only one purpose for buying it. To match the airpower . . . at least 1-on-1 sa China. Pero, beyond that Scarborough Shoal, anak ng hueteng there are 300 Migs there. They can reach Manila in 6 minutes”
Duterte’s objections to the aircraft are predicated upon three assumptions:
The FA-50s were acquired to counter Chinese air power in the West Philippine Sea
FA-50s cannot be used for the anti-insurgency campaign
The AFP prioritized the FA-50s in lieu of helicopters with night-fighting capability
This article seeks to fact-check these assumptions.
Assumption 1: The FA-50s were acquired to counter Chinese air power
The short response to this would be: “No it is not”.
A detailed answer will require an understanding of what the FA-50 can and cannot do, and a high-level review of the AFP modernization program as a whole. To draw attention to the misconceptions surrounding this aircraft, both among its critics and even some of its well-meaning supporters, this article will begin with what the aircraft can’t do.
Had the Philippine Air Force sought an effective counter to Chinese fighters, the FA-50 would have been a poor choice. In South Korean Air Force service, the Fighting Eagle is a replacement for aging F-5E and F-4 fighters. Both are second-string combat aircraft relegated to supporting roles for Korea’s principal fighters, namely the F-15K air superiority fighter and the relatively smaller — but still formidable — F-16K multi-role fighter.
The FA-50s range is limited. Airforce-technology.com cites a range of 1,851 km for the pure trainer version of this aircraft: the T-50 . While the Fighting Eagle’s actual range is classified, the fact that it’s external dimensions are virtually identical to the T-50, it stands to reason that it’s range would be no better, and could only be worse given the range-sapping external weapons pylons and the weight of additional equipment of the FA-50. In contrast, the smaller of the multi-role fighters cited above — the F-16 — has range of 3,221 km.
To put these figures into a counter-China context, Pag-asa island is approximately 852.77 kilometers from Metro Manila — a one-way flight that’s already almost half the aircraft’s range . This leaves the FA-50 little time to remain on station over Pag-asa before it needs to return to an airfield to refuel. It also has no in-flight refueling capability, therefore to reach, and loiter, over Philippine garrisons in the West Philippine Sea, it would need to sacrifice its precious few under-wing pylons to carrying fuel tanks, much as it did during its ferry flight from South Korea to the Philippines. Fuel tanks in lieu of weapons.
Landing in Taiwan enroute to the Philippines. Note fuel tanks on the various hardpoints
The FA-50 is also hampered by lack of manufacturer-certified Beyond Visual Range (BVR) air-to-air weaponry. Official KAI documentation only cites AIM-9 short-range air-to-air missiles as its principal counter-aircraft armament, along with its 20mm gatling gun. While support for longer ranged missiles is not impossible, it will require a compatibility testing process that has not yet taken place.
All these facts inevitably lead to the question: If the aircraft is at such a significant disadvantage when facing Chinese fighters, why did the PAF bother to buy the FA-50 in the first place? Or in Duterte’s words “Bakit mo binili yan?”
The PAF’s long-term modernization program actually calls for the acquisition of Multi-Role Fighters (MRF) that can establish air superiority within the Philippine Air Defense Identification Zone (PADIZ), as well as provide air support for AFP forces on the ground or on water. These would be the “true fighters” that would challenge Chinese Sukhois (not Migs) in the event of escalation of hostilities and not the FA-50.
As per a Department of National Defense White Paper on the Philippine Defense Transformation — the successor to the AFP Modernization Program and the Capability Upgrade Program — the PDT’s goals with respect to air power are as follows:
Strategic Air Strike Force through a combination of manned and unmanned assets in order to gain and maintain air superiority over friendly and contested territories. The force should be capable of neutralizing a threat’s military potential that may be used against our forces; and, of supporting our surface forces through air-delivered weapons. The force should have multi-role fighter aircrafts and unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAV)23 capable of air interdiction, air combat maneuvering, air-to-ground and air-to-ship missions. Inherent to the assigned missions is the training and proficiency of the fighter pilots and operators. Continuous training and participation in joint and/or combined air, land, and sea exercises shall be undertaken towards developing a proficient Strategic Air Strike Force.
While a number of candidates for MRFs have been discussed in Philippine media at various points over the past 6 years — from the Saab Gripen to the Lockheed-Martin F-16 — selection of the actual aircraft has not yet been made. Nevertheless, the nature of the mission assures the following facts about these prospective MRFs will apply:
There will be a significant performance gap between existing PAF trainers and MRFs. Although the F-5As were retired in 2005, PAF pilots have not been flying supersonic since long before then because concerns about the material condition of the F-5s restricted them to subs0nic flight. This has implications at multiple levels, to include the physical training regimen for pilots that would acclimate to high-g maneuvers.
MRFs will employ technologies that are generations ahead of whatever currently exists within the PAF. Fly-by-wire, for example, is the gold standard for modern fighter aircraft. This a system of multiple flight-computers that translate what a pilot wants to do, into actual control surface configurations. A pilot’s flight controls are no longer directly connected to the tail, ailerons, and elevators of the aircraft, they simply send requests to the fly-by-wire computers. While relatively common in the civilian airline industry, the PAF has virtual no experience operating — and more importantly maintaining — this technology. Other avionics components present in modern MRFs, from multi-mode radars to advanced low-bypass turbofans, present similar learning curves for airplane handlers — both on the ground and in the air.
MRFs will require a level of logistical support to which the service is unaccustomed. The quantum leap in capability of MRFs comes at a price, not only in pesos, but also in logistical complexity. The piecemeal acquisition of replacement components and cannibalization of existing aircraft for parts — that have become the norm for the PAF — will have a much more detrimental effect on these sophisticated aircraft than on its existing fleet of Vietnam-era aircraft. This will will require paradigm shifts within the organization, no only for aircraft maintainers, but even the budgetary planners responsible for forecasting logistical requirements.
To ensure a safe, sustainable, transition to this class of advanced aircraft, the Philippine Air Force deemed it necessary to acquire a bridging platform that would help the entire organization prepare for the herculean task of assimilating future MRFs into the fleet. The consequences of transitioning neophyte pilots to advanced MRFs too quickly are illustrated by the accident rate of the Indian Air Force, which is partly attributed to the lack of intermediate-performance aircraft, that the aerospace industry currently refers to as Lead In Fighter Trainers (LIFT).
This search for a bridging platform gave rise to the acquisition project formally called the “Surface Attack Aircraft / Lead-In Fighter Trainer” project. This is an amalgamation of two previously separate projects: an effort to acquire ground attack aircraft which dates back to the original 1995 modernization program, and the relatively new LIFT project. To put the role of the FA-50 into perspective, LIFT will be discussed first.
In the PAF, LIFT fits into the following training syllabus (photos c/o of the Francis Neri Albums reposted with permission):
Basic Jet Trainer
Lead In Fighter Trainer
Prospective PAF student pilots begin flight instruction with the Cessna T-41s of the PAF Flying School. Pilots that pass the initial screening phase and are destined for fixed wing aircraft proceed to the SIAI-Marchetti SF-260 for more advanced flight instruction. The subset of candidates that are qualified for fighter pilot duty with the Air Defense Wing learn the air defense trade on the SIAI-Marchetti S211 Basic Jet Trainer.
In addition helping new pilots transition to high-performance fighters, LIFT also reduces operational costs associated with multi-role fighters by offloading part of proficiency training to the comparatively cheaper LIFT.
A notable difference with the PAF’s LIFT, compared to similar aircraft in other nations, is that it is combat-capable. South Korea, for example, uses the unarmed T-50 for its LIFT purposes, while using their FA-50s for the above-mentioned low-end attack role. To understand why the PAF went this route, one must understand the service’s experience with its trainers.
Training aircraft in the PAF have, historically, found themselves pressed into combat service either to make up for force-deficiencies, or as a stop-gap for a complete lack of suitable combat aircraft. When the T-28 Trojan close air support aircraft were withdrawn from service in the wake of the 1989 coup, select SF-260 trainers were converted into combat configuration. The retirement of the F-5A fighters in 2005 gave rise to Project Falcon, which produced the air superiority-grey colored AS211 which served as the PAF principal “fighter substitute” for almost a decade.
In a move that seemingly accepted the inevitability of history repeating itself, the PAF Project Management Team merged its LIFT requirement with its long-standing Surface Attack Aircraft project. So instead of acquiring a pure LIFT aircraft which would have been limited to flight instruction, the project acquired the FA-50PH: an aircraft suitably equipped to prepare the organization for the arrival of more capable multi-role fighters, with a secondary function of providing ground attack functionality. Like the S211 that came before it, it will also serve as an interim fighter — simply because the PAF doesn’t have anything else that even remotely approximates its capabilities.
Assumption 2: FA-50 cannot be used for anti-insurgency
Unlike it’s air-to-air weaponry, the FA-50 is already cleared to use a variety of ground attack weapons. All of which could be brought to bear in internal counter-insurgency campaigns, particularly against groups with a predilection for constructing defensive fortifications. The most recent instance of military action requiring fixed-wing strike was in Lanao in August 2008 where AS-211s were used.
The FA-50 can carry more ordnance than either the AS211s or the Vietnam-era OV-10 Broncos of the 15th Strike Wing. For comparison, the following table indicates the number of Mk.32 500lb bombs that each plane carries. Data reported from multiple sources within the PAF.
Number of Mk.82 500 lb
A brochure from Korean Aerospace Industries gives the following insight into the capacities of the various hardpoints, as well as support for bomb racks on the inner pylons, which makes the six-bomb report possible.
While superior bomb-carrying capacity is, by itself, a significant improvement. What sets the FA-50 apart is the increased bombing accuracy because of its avionics. Existing AS211 and OV-10 are largely dependent on the pilot’s aim, and restricted to specific bombing profiles that require flying over the target, at relatively low heights, for manual weapons release. The FA-50s, on the other hand, is not limited to such profiles.
While PAF sources are reticent to discuss these facets of the aircraft openly, the FA-50’s ground attack mission in the South Korean air force, combined with its lineage with the F-16 strongly, as well as open source data about the aircraft’s avionics (e.g., embedded GPS, Inertial Navigation System, Heads Up Display etc.) strongly suggests the presence of computer-assisted bombing capability that greatly improves the effectiveness of conventional bombs. In South Korean service, the FA-50 is equipped with an Israeli-made Elta EL/M 2032 Multi-Mode Fire Control radar system which aviation Website Daegel.com describes as:
The radar enhances a fighter jet’s air-to-air, air-to-ground, and air-to-sea capabilities, enabling long-range target detection and high-resolution mapping, among other features.
This translates to highly accurate “dumb bomb” delivery either via Constantly Computed Impact Point (CCIP) or Continuously Computed Release Point (CCRP) bombing modes. While these two bombing techniques have been in existence for decades, it wasn’t until the FA-50 that the PAF could begin training in them. CCRP would allow the FA-50 to drop its dumb bombs from very high altitude — above cloud cover — and still have reasonable accuracy. The exact Circular Error of Probability (CEP) for bombs dropped in this manner is secret, but will undeniably be less than that of Precision Guided Munitions (PGM) which public sources have cited at 20ft. However, CCIP and CCRP are still used in conjunction with PGMs for situations where guidance for the PGM becomes unavailable after weapons release (e.g., weather interfering with guidance laser, etc.). PGMs are, in fact, best used in conjunction with either CCIP or CCRP.
Purely for perspective, the following are two bombing maneuvers made possible by CCRP. These images were taken from an October 1957 article in Popular Mechanics about computer-assisted bombing in the USAF, purely based on Inertial Navigation Systems, and without the benefit of embedded GPS systems. Note that these samples are purely to enhance appreciation for the flexibility of the technology. It is not a declaration that these are, or will be, part of the PAF’s own Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTP).
Furthermore, as per PAF sources, the availability of embedded training systems on the aircraft — which were integral to its training function — permit the simulation of weapons delivery without actually expending ammunition.
Even without either CCIP or CCRP, the FA-50’s superior ordnance carrying capacity translates to more Paveway II Laser Guided Bombs (LGB) that can be brought to be bear on a target for precision targeting of multiple High Value Targets (HVT) with minimal collateral damage. This relatively new addition to the PAF arsenal provides a valuable capability in counter-insurgency, and one that was actually demonstrated in March 2012 reportedly c/o of an OV-10 carrying at least one such weapon. Although photographs of the event have never been release, a PAF modernization document with a photograph of a PAF OV-10 in the process of dropping a Paveway II was circulated in defense social media.
PAF OV-10 dropping Paveway II, photo c/o of a PAF pubication
Photo c/o Rappler.com
Assumption 3: The AFP prioritized the FA-50 in lieu of helicopters with night fighting capability
The AFP has already had five years of the COIN-centric first phase of the Capability Upgrade Program which initially replaced the 1995 AFP Modernization Program. It’s insurgency-focused capabilities are at an all-time high, as are it’s night fighting capabilities. Given that the speech was delivered before the President formally assumed office, and before his formal briefing about the AFP’s capabilities, it is not inconceivable that he was not aware that the Philippine Air Force actually already has eight (8) all-weather AgustaWestland AW-109 attack helicopters with the ability to detect ground targets day or night. These are addition to the two attack helicopters of the Philippine Navy.
AW-109 in hangar during Balikataan 2015. FLIR turret clearly visible under nose.
Close-up of FLIR turret with view of rocket pod. Screen capture taken from a PAF video
Screen capture of a night-time firing of air-to-ground rockets. Screen capture taken from a PTV4 video
High speed photo reconnaissance
The rebuttals to the assumptions listed above have already addressed the question of “What is the FA-50 for?” in broad strokes. This section will explore other uses for which this aircraft is highly suited.
One function that the FA-50 is uniquely suited is high-speed reconnaissance. Not to be confused with maritime patrol, which is slated to be fulfilled by another PAF project, which will be discussed in another article.
No other Philippine asset, military or civilian, can put human eye-balls above a crisis point faster than the FA-50. Be it an emerging crisis anywhere within the Philippine EEZ, or photo reconnaissance of remote disaster stricken areas as part of the preliminary assessment of a disaster response plan.
Although not currently part of the SAA/LIFT munitions project, reconnaissance pods that can provide real-time images to a ground station do exist and could broaden the FA-50’s usefulness. The following pod is an example. Only proper evaluation and testing will determine its suitability for the our aircraft.
Reecelite Tactical Reconnaissance Pod. Photo c/o Rafale
Why a brand new plane for LIFT?
Older, 2nd-hand, aircraft to perform the SAA/LIFT function could have potentially been acquired in lieu of brand new aircraft. However the availability of low-use airframes, with sufficient airframe life to satisfy the requirements of Administrative Order 169, Series of 2007 , while not impossible, is questionable.
3.2.3. Used equipment or weapons system may be acquired, provided that:
a. The used equipment: or weapon system meets the desired operational requirements of the AFP;
b. It still has at least fifteen (15) years service life, or at least fifty percent (50%) of its service life remaining, or if subjected to a life extension program, is upgradeable to attain its original characteristics or capabilities;
c. Its acquisition cost is reasonable compared to the cost of new equipment; and
d. The supplier should ensure the availability of after-sales maintenance support and services,
At any rate, right or wrong, the previous administration’s experience with sticker shock at a lackadasical attempt to acquire refurbished F-16s in 2012, soured the DND against refurbished fighters. This ill-fated F-16 project is a story in itself, and is reserved for a future article.
Selecting brand new aircraft, on the other hand, that are still in production not only assures the PAF of thousands of flights hours of useful airframe life — which translates to decades of service — but also of continued availability of parts. A factory-fresh F-16, for example, has a designed airframe life of 4,500 flight hours which, depending on the sortie rate and demands of the mission profiles, will actually last decades.
Delving into the PAF’s history yet again, it was the lack of spares for an aircraft that had long since been retired from service with the country of origin that eventually grounded the most capable fighter the PAF has operated to date: the F-8H Crusader.
F-8H in flight. Photo c/o Vought Corp.
F-8s scrapped in Clark AFB
Modernization of an air force cannot happen overnight. Dr Sanu Kainikaa, an air power strategist with the Royal Australian Air Force and a retired fighter pilot and Wing Commander of the Indian Air Force, summarizes this task on page 48 of his book “The Art of Air Power”, published by the Air Power Development Center of the Royal Australian Air Force:
Of all military capabilities, air power is the most cost intensive to develop, acquire and operate. This places an added responsibility on air force leaders to select and maintain the appropriate air power capabilities that will provide the necessary level of security to the nation. The situation is further complicated by the long lead time required to establish air power capabilities of the right calibre. In combination, the onus of responsibility on the air force leadership is ominous. On the other side of the coin, it has also to be emphasised that air power is critical to success in all contemporary conflicts and is, therefore, a crucial element in the overall warfighting capability of a military force.
Another aspect of the cost of developing air power capabilities is the quantum of resources that need to be expended to create a cadre of professionals who clearly understand all aspects of the professional application of air power. This is once again a drawnout process and cannot be put in place at short notice or in an ad hoc manner. Time and experience are of the essence here, perhaps even more than the need for financial resources. The resource intensiveness of the physical assets and the need to invest wisely in long-term developmental requirements—both in hardware and human capabilities—makes air power a unique capability. This also makes it a complex capability to sustain at the necessary level of competence.
Even if it were not the Duterte administration’s intention to pursue the PAF’s modernization during its tenure, it would be behoove his administration to preserve whatever gains had already been made to give future administrations the latitude to fulfill such plans. The momentum that the PAF is gaining with its FA-50s –if not in terms of raw military power, then in the airpower-related skills for the entire organization — must not be dismissed casually.
Had Duterte’s assumptions about the FA-50PH been correct, then he would have been justified in the stance he took at the SMX forum. With an acquisition cost of US$426.6 million (P19.9 billion), these 12 aircraft alone cost more than the budgets of the Department of Science & Technology and Department of Trade & Industry combined. These are funds that could have been put to use to shore up other aspects of the AFP’s capabilities, or kept in the AFP Modernization Trust Fund for use in the purchase of the true MRFs that the PAF intends to buy.
However, re-examination of the rationale behind why the FA-50 was purchased in the first place, its capabilities, and a simple review of the Philippine Defense Transformation program, yields flaws in these assumptions that arguably can be attributed to lack of information. This article was written in the spirit of aiding efforts that the DND, AFP, and PAF are undoubtedly taking to educate the President about the goals of the PAF component of the modernization plan. The sustainable transition to an external facing air defense posture and the future of the Air Defense Command hinge upon the success of this education campaign. It is of such importance that it deserves the support of any and all knowledgeable patriot.
Ensconced within that transition plan is the FA-50PH, and the training benefits it provides both pilots and plane handlers. It would do the AFP well to highlight the safety benefits that a bridging platform offers to pilots to the President. After all, Duterte is a pilot himself.