Philippines acquires fighter jets amid China feud

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THE Philippines has beefed up its maritime security by taking on its first fighter jets in more than a decade amid an escalating territorial feud with China.

Cheers greeted the arrival of two Korean-made fighter jets – the country’s first supersonic combat aircraft in a decade – yesterday as the nation strengthens its underfunded military.

The FA-50 jets touched down at Clark Freeport, a former US Air Force base north of Manila, as Philippine defence officials applauded and fire trucks sprayed water as a traditional welcome salute for the aircraft.

The country has bought a dozen FA-50s, which are primarily trainer jets that the military has converted to also serve as multi-role combat aircraft, from Korea Aerospace Industries at a cost of £267 million.

The other jets will be delivered in batches through 2017. Weapons for the FA-50s, including bombs and rockets, will be purchased later.

Defence secretary Voltaire Gazmin said: “We’re glad we’re finally back to the supersonic age.”

The Philippine military decommissioned its last fleet of supersonic combat aircraft, the F-5, in 2005.

A military modernisation programme that included plans for the purchase of at least a squadron of fighter jets and naval frigates failed to get under way for several years due to a lack of funds.

Over the years, the Philippine military has deteriorated to become one of Asia’s weakest.

Territorial spats with China over islands in the South China Sea have escalated under current president Benigno Aquino III, and resulted in the Chinese seizure of a disputed shoal in 2012.

This action prompted the Philippine military to scramble to acquire new navy ships and air force planes with the help of the United States, the Philippines’ longtime defence treaty ally.

President Aquino authorised his defence secretary Gazmin to enter into major contracts last week to acquire £622m worth of military hardware.

The list includes two frigates, anti-submarine helicopters and amphibious assault vehicles for the navy, and long-range patrol aircraft, munitions for the FA-50s and surveillance radar for the air force, according to defence undersecretary Fernando Manalo.

The new ships, aircraft and military equipment were expected to be purchased from this year up to 2018, according to Manalo.

Lieutenant Colonel Rolando Condrad Pena III, one of three Filipino air force pilots who received training in Korea to fly the FA-50 aircraft, said that the jets could be used in both air-to-air and air-to-ground combat.

“Now that we have a supersonic aircraft, our reaction time will be faster,” Pena told reporters.

However, the Philippines has ruled out a military solution to the territorial conflicts with its limited defence capabilities.

In January 2013, the Philippines brought its territorial disputes with China to international arbitration, but Beijing refused to participate and instead pressed for one-on-one negotiations.

An international tribunal in The Hague dismissed China’s legal arguments last month and subsequently ruled that it has the authority to hear the Philippines’ case.

The tribune has said it expects to hand down a decision next year on several issues raised by the Philippines, including the validity of China’s sweeping territorial claims under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.