The Philippine Air Force (PAF) revealed on July 5 that it has shortlisted the Lockheed Martin F-16V Block 50/52 Fighting Falcon and Saab JAS 39C/D+ Gripen for its Multi-Role Fighter (MRF) procurement project, adding that it is in the process of choosing between the two.
A part of Horizon Two of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Modernization Program, the MRF project seeks to acquire at least 12 fourth-generation (or higher) multi-role fighters that are capable of patrolling the nation’s airspace and protected waters, as well as for external defence activities. The selected platform will be acquired to augment the PAF’s existing fleet of 12 Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI) FA-50PH light combat aircraft, which were acquired from 2015 to 2017.
While the MRF project has been approved and the PAF has narrowed down its decision to either the F-16V Block 50/52 or the JAS 39C/D+, the Philippine government has yet to allocate the necessary funds required for any prospective purchase. The PAF hopes to be able to sign an acquisition contract for its desired platform before the end of this year, according to Lt Gen Connor Anthony Canlas Sr, chief of the Philippine air arm.
Commenting on the MRF project to the Philippine News Agency (the Philippine government’s official news agency), Col Maynard Mariano – a PAF spokesperson – confirmed that the F-16V Block 50/52 and the JAS-39C/D+ were the two remaining contenders of the MRF project. “For the MRF, the project is approved with the issued Acquisition Memorandum Decision, the government will still find a way to fund the said project,” he added.
According to the Philippine News Agency, the MRF project calls for a solution that is able to integrate “with existing radar systems that have a range of about 250nm.” It adds that the PAF, “with the help of these radar systems, can be deployed to determine whether the aircraft flying over the country’s airspace is friendly or hostile.”
The US-built F-16V (known as the ‘Viper’) is the latest and most advanced variant of the Fighting Falcon family to date. It features enhanced systems, such as the AN/APG-83 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar that caters for greater detection and tracking capabilities, along with a variety of air-to-air/ground munitions. Given that the F-16 is operated by a number of air arms in the Asia-Pacific region, selecting the F-16V would also give the PAF an ability to integrate with other regional allied air forces, enabling greater commonality and cooperation.
On the other hand, Sweden’s JAS 39C/D+ Gripen is well-suited for dispersed operations, as it requires minimal personnel and ground support equipment to be operated effectively. While it is not in widespread use in the Asia-Pacific region – like the F-16 – the fighter can be employed from small, unprepared roads and highways. It is also fitted with a sophisticated AESA radar system and comes with an advanced sensor/weapons package.