The Philippines needs 48 F-16 jet fighters, four to six mini submarines, more armed frigates and corvette-size combat vessels and minesweepers if it is to have a credible military defense capability. The assessment of the center, an independent, non-partisan, and non-profit organization that develops strong, pragmatic and principled national security and defense proposals based in Washington, DC, came amid the standoff between Beijing and Manila over the Panatag or Scarborough Shoal, which is within the Philippines’ 200-mile exclusive economic zone but is being claimed by China as its own.
The shoal is a coral reef surrounding a lagoon, and it is 124 nautical miles from Zambales and 472 nautical miles from China’s Hainan province.
The Philippines’ Armed Forces has been struggling to get financing for its modernization program for over two decades, leaving its Air Force without a single jet fighter interceptor since 2005 and the Navy with old warships, some of them of World War II vintage.
The Philippines’ Air Force and Navy were second to none in Asia except Japan from 1947 up to the ‘70s, but then it was slowly overtaken as a result of the poor financing of the military’s modernization. Most of the country’s aircraft and ships were provided by the United States when the Americans still had their air and naval bases in the Philippines under the RP-US Military Bases Agreement, which expired in 1991 when the Philippine Senate did not extend the agreement.
Air Force records showed that in 1965 the US provided the Philippines 30 F-5A/B supersonic jet fighters, becoming one of the first countries in the world to acquire US-made fighter jets. In 1979 the Air Force bought 25 F-8 Crusader war jets and some helicopters from the US, but due to wear and tear and the lack of spare parts the F-8s and F-5s were decommissioned in 1988 and 2005, leaving the Air Force with no jet fighters to guard Philippine airspace.
As a result, the country’s “air defense capability became practically zero,” said Col. Raul del Rosario, commander of the Air Defense Wing based in Pampanga. “Our Air Force is referred to as a Helicopter Air Force [and] we have only one operating radar with very limited capability,” Del Rosario said. “What’s disheartening is that, with this token capability, our nation is faced with enormous security challenges.
“We need to develop facilities for the equipment that will be acquired such as radar sites, forward operating bases, hangars and command and control facilities.”