US green lights F-16 sale to the Philippines

US State Department approval has been given for a possible Foreign Military Sale (FMS) to the Philippine government of Lockheed Martin F-16 Block 70/72 Fighting Falcon multi-role fighters and related equipment for an estimated cost of US$2.43bn.

The US Defence Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) announced the approval on June 25 and delivered the required certification, notifying the US Congress of this proposed sale on the same day. Congress has 30 days to raise any possible objections to the possible sale, otherwise it is deemed to have given approval for the deal by law.

This proposed sale would involve 12 F-16 Block 70/72 aircraft, comprising ten single-seat F-16Cs and a pair of two-seat F-16Ds. Additionally, the deal includes 15 Northrop Grumman AN/APG-83 advanced electronically scanned array (AESA) Scalable Agile Beam Radars (SABR), six Sniper or Litening advanced targeting pods (ATPs) and a range of other equipment.

F-16 Block 70/72 [Lockheed Martin]
An artist’s concept of the configuration of the F-16 Block 70/72, which is being offered to the Philippine Air Force as a contender for its new multi-role fighter requirement. Lockheed Martin

In terms of munitions, this possible sale includes 24 AIM-120C-7/C-8 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAMs) or equivalent; three KMU-572 Laser Joint Direct Attack Munition (LJDAM) tail kits; six Mk 82 500lb bombs; six Mk 82 500lb inert training bombs and 15 20mm M61A1 Vulcan six-barrel rotary cannons.

On the same day, the DSCA announced that the US State Department had approved two additional weapon sales to the Philippines. The first of these was for 12 AGM-84L-1 Harpoon Block II air-launched anti-ship missiles, two ATM-84L-1 Harpoon Block II exercise missiles and associated equipment, at an estimated cost of US$120m. The second was for 24 AIM-9X Sidewinder Block II short-range air-to-air missiles, 24 AIM-9X Block II Captive Air Training Missiles (CATM) and associated equipment, valued at approximately US$42.4m.

While the Philippine Air Force (PAF) has an urgent requirement for a new multi-role fighter to defend its airspace and the service has been examining options for several years, no selection of a specific type has yet been announced. However, on May 7, 2021, Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana noted that the multi-role fighter acquisition programme was still on track during a visit to Basa Air Base, Pampanga.

In a speech during his visit, he said: “We are pushing for the acquisition of multi-role fighter aircraft as it is [a] critical capability for the defence of our country’s territorial airspace from any form of threat and enforcement of the Philippine Air Defence Identification Zone or ADIZ.” He did not give any additional details of the programme’s current progress.

US State Department approval of a potential F-16 purchase is seen primarily as a sales tactic, making it much easier to proceed quickly to contract signature, should the type be selected for the requirement. Although the Philippine Department of National Defence (DND) has made no public announcement regarding the contenders being assessed for the multi-role fighter requirement, the Philippine News Agency reports that the Saab JAS-39 Gripen is also under consideration.

Lorenzana stated that the DND is fully supportive of the PAF’s strategic goals in developing a credible air defence posture in line with its ‘Flight Plan 2028’ modernisation programme.