AFP modernization 2017: Marawi siege 'game changers' in spotlight

By: Frances Mangosing - Reporter / @FMangosingINQ INQUIRER.net / 01:18 PM December 27, 2017

Modernization efforts of the Armed Forces of the Philippines continued to roll this year despite occasional delays and controversies.

The year 2017 was a shining moment for the FA-50 lead-in fighter trainers during the five-month battle in Marawi between government forces and ISIS-inspired terrorists, the biggest security crisis under the current administration and the bloodiest local urban war in recent memory.

Here's a recap of some of the acquired assets and signed deals for the military this year:

Completion of the delivery of FA-50 fighter jets

The delivery of eight brand new FA-50 lead-in fighter trainers from Korea Aerospace Industries this year completed the Air Force's squadron or 12 units it procured. Bought for P18.9 billion, the biggest modernization project sometimes criticized by President Rodrigo Duterte proved useful in destroying ISIS strongholds and clearing the path of ground troops during the Marawi crisis. At the heroes' welcome last November for the airmen who participated in the liberation of Marawi, Air Force chief Lt. Gen. Galileo Kintanar described the FA-50s as the "game changers" during the siege and "the sharpest tip of our airpower spear," alongside the AW-109 attack helicopters. Then AFP chief Gen. Eduardo Ano also said the war could have lasted longer without these air assets.

Air-to-air missiles for FA-50s

As an addition to its weapons inventory, the Department of National Defense (DND) ordered about P1-B worth of AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles for the Philippine Air Force's FA-50 fighter jets from Diehl Raytheon of Germany last September. Details on the delivery were not provided for security reasons.

Flight Simulator System for FA-50s

The Air Force is further developing its flight skills through the latest technology by acquiring a flight simulator system for its FA-50s. The DND signed a contract with Korea Aerospace Industries in February for the flight simulators worth about $7.8 million or P376 million. South Korean media reported that the purchase includes a cockpit system, navigation system, video system, manuals, repair parts and support equipment. The delivery is expected in 2019.

6 Embraer Super Tucano close air support aircraft

Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer Defense and Security was awarded a P4.968-billion contract by the DND for the supply of six new light attack aircraft in November. The planes can be used for surveillance, interception, and counterinsurgency missions, a great addition to the Air Force's airpower capabilities. The planes are expected starting 2019.

Spike ER missile system

The Rafael Advanced Defense System Ltd.'s Spike ER (extended range) missile systems from Israel were expected to be mounted on the Navy's multi-purpose attack craft (MPAC) by Christmas time. An Air Force C-130 was supposed to pick up the missiles from Israel but the plane was diverted to disaster relief after two consecutive typhoons hit Mindanao. Instead, the missiles and launchers will be delivered by January next year as originally stated in the contract. The missiles can engage surface targets as far out as eight kilometers.

Commissioning of BRP Davao del Sur

The BRP Davao del Sur (LD-602), commissioned into service early this year, is the Philippine Navy's second amphibious landing dock vessel after BRP Tarlac (LD-601). The two brand new ships from Indonesia cost P4 billion. These assets were deployed to transport personnel and equipment during the Marawi crisis. It also conducted relief operations to typhoon-stricken areas this month.

Aerostat radar for the Navy

The United States donated a tethered aerostat radar system (TARS) to the Navy last August in a bid to enhance the latter's maritime surveillance and disaster response capabilities. The radar system was pledged during the time of President Barack Obama under the US government?s Maritime Security Initiative.

The 28M Class TARS can soar to an altitude of 5,000 feet while tethered by a single cable. It is stationed at the Naval Education and Training Command in Zambales.

5 TC-90 Beechcraft surveillance aircraft from Japan

The five refurbished TC-90 Beechcraft surveillance planes that the Japanese government earlier leased to the Philippines have been donated instead after the bilateral talks of the two governments at the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit last November.

Two of the TC-90s were delivered in March, while the rest are scheduled for delivery in the first quarter of 2018. One of the two planes delivered was already commissioned into service in late November. It will be used by the Naval Air Group.

Activation of three Mk.3 MPACs

The Navy activated three Mark III models of MPAC into its inventory last May. These assets can be used for surface warfare, ship building, search and rescue. The P270-million project was constructed by Filipino shipbuilder Propmech Corporation and Taiwanese shipbuilder Lung Teh Shipbuilding Corporation. It will be armed with the Spike ER missiles from Israel early next year.

Howitzers and KM450 trucks

A dozen of Elbit-Soltam M-71 155mm/39CAL towed howitzers from Israel with an estimated worth of P410 million were delivered to the Philippines this year, two years after the contract was signed. The Marines and Army received six each of the artillery piece.

The DND also signed a government-to-government contract last October for Korean military trucks to be used by the Army and the Marines. The 227 units of KM 250 1/2 ton trucks and 10 KM250 2 1/2 ton wreckers have a value of about P1.4 billion, while the 108 KM450 1 1/4 trucks for Marines are worth about P313 million. The deal was signed with Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency.