RP EXTERNAL DEFENSE CAPABILITY COMPROMISED?.
By Manny S.D. Lopez
The AFP Modernization Program with a budget allocation of P 75-Billion has been compromised, due to a series of questionable acquisitions by the DND-AFP group. The "commercially-driven" acquisition strategy has led to high-priced and low performance defense systems being procured, often against modern military doctrine, technical and management principles. Consequently, the practice is undermining the optimal development of the nation’s external defense capability, which will have serious repercussions in the course of defending Philippine sovereignty and territory. Among the questionable deals entered into by the DND-AFP acquisition group under DND Secretary Voltaire Gazmin includes the purchase of two light cargo aircraft worth P 814 million from PT Dirgantara Indonesia.
The USAF is currently decommissioning hundreds of slightly-used C-27 Spartan light cargo aircrafts, which could be acquired through US Foreign Military Sales on government-to-government mode at minimal cost through proper representation. Recently, the US offered to transfer 116 units of tracked M-113 Armored Personnel Carriers to the AFP at no cost to the Philippine government. With the scheduled transfer of US-made APC's, this will be more than sufficient to support the armored vehicle requirements of the Philippine Army and Marines. Regardless, the DND-AFP acquisition group insisted on acquiring 28 units of wheeled light armored APC's at a steep price of P 840-million. The contract was won by an Israeli firm supposedly on "commercial bidding" process. It’s a waste of public funds when there are many personnel requirements that are not being adequately addressed in the military establishment. A few years back, the Italian government offered two Maestrale-class missile frigates and the US was ready to grant two more units of Hamilton-class cutters at minimal cost of US$ 10-milion. The DND-AFP acquisition group rejected both offers, instead actively pursued to acquire two new frigates ( most probably from South Korea ) on commercial bidding mode with a budget allocation of P 18-billion, citing economic reasons as rationale. The Philipppine Navy lost the opportunity to avail ex-USN Oliver Hazard Perry class frigates, six of which are now scheduled for transfer to foreign navies at give-away price of US$ 20 to $ 40-million, simply because no concerted effort was undertaken to acquire such ships through US foreign military sales and grants. Amazingly, government-to-government concessional offers of usable military aircraft and naval equipment including grants are either being scrapped, delayed or not actively pursued by the DND based on flimsy economic reasoning as justification.
12 Jet Trainers For P 18.9-Billion
Among the most highly questionable transactions being pushed by the DND-AFP acquisition group involves the purchase of 12 units of Korean Aerospace Industries ( KAI ) F/A-50 Golden Eagle Jet Trainers at a whooping cost of P 18.9-Billion ( reportedly "reduced" to US$ 415.7-million from US$ 464-million ), or about US$ 34.6 to 38.8-million per aircraft without munitions. The unproven KAI aircraft model is being positioned as multi-role aircraft for the PAF: as air superiority fighter, ground attack and jet trainer platforms. However, the F/A-50 is deficient to be an effective fighter aircraft in modern air-sea battle scenario dominated by 4.5 and 5.0 generation MRFs of potential adversaries. The F/A-50 is basically a jet trainer developed from the failed F-20 Tigershark project adopted by South Korea in the early 1990's under auspicious circumstances. A number of design and technical limitations, particularly the lack of Beyond Visual Range ( BVR ) radar and fire control, medium range air-to-air missiles and robust ECM capabilities will make the FA-50's "sitting ducks" against formidable adversaries such as SU-27s/30s. It also suffers from relatively slow maximum speed of mach 1.5 and short range. The small size ( 3/4 the size of F-16 ) limits weapons payload and lacks an integrated ground attack targeting system to carry long range air-to-ship missiles like the Exocet or air-launched Harpoon to be an effective anti-ship platform. Overall the F/A-50 lacks essential capabilities for the mission envelope required in air-sea battle and interdiction roles in the West Philippine Sea, where fully refurbished MRFs can perform the mission far better at much lower cost i.e. US$ 5-miillion per aircraft. Accordingly, increased number of MRF aircrafts will ensure credible deterence and survivebility. On the other hand, priced at more than US$ 38.8-milion per aircraft, the F/A-50 is too expensive to be operated as a jet trainer, when basic jet trainers can be acquired and operated at a fraction of the cost. As a matter of comparison, the USAF and other leading air forces continue to use low-end and older jet trainers like the T-38 Talon for the purpose of training jet pilots. The so called "lead-in fighter" training concept is not universally acccepted by leading air force academies in their programs, but more of a sales pitch invented by jet trainer aircraft manufacturers to expand their market reach. For the jet trainer role, refurbishing the S-211 jet trainers acquired by the PAF in the 1990's and supplementing these with other refurbished models that usually cost around US$ 500,000 per aircraft is more cost-effective option. In practice, two seat training variants of the Multi Role Fighter ( MRF ) fleet are used to train the certified jet pilots in air tactics, avionics and weaponry inherent to the MRF aircraft model.
Notably, there is not a single KAI F/A-50 model flying in any air force in the world today, to serve as reference for performance evaluation and operational sustainability. Considering KAI's lack of extensive aerospace manufacturing experience, technical and logistical limitations, these critical factors should be seriously considered in the decision making process. KAI does not manufacture the key aircraft components, except the air frame. KAI buys the F404 jet engine from GE (USA ), ELTA EL/M-2032 fire control radar from Israel and other sub-systems, These are integrated into the air frame based on Lockheed "indigenous-design" concept derived from the ill-fated Northrop F-20 Tigershark project ( acquired by Lockheed ). Many of the key components are regulated by the governments of the source countries. The Republic of Korea Air Force ( ROKAF ) announced it will acquire 20 units of KAI F/A-50 aircraft model for US$ 600-million, or US$ 30-million per aircraft. The contested decision was premised on their need to replace the ROKAF ageing F-5 ad F-4 aircraft fleet and support South Korea's indigenous aerospace industry. The two recent crashes of similar T-50 jet trainer variants is another cause of serious concern, given the statistical inference that such aircraft model is in very limited production. Less than 85 samples of all KAI T-50 variants have been produced todate. The KAI participated in several international biddings for jet trainers in Israel, Singapore and other countries, but lost out to proven models proposed by experienced aircraft manufacturers. The technical evaluation and findings of these respected air forces can help guide our decision makers. Given the budgeted amount of P 18.9-billion for 12 lightweight jet trainers, a complete air power solution could already be developed, given more intelligent acquisition strategy and principled procurement practices.
Breach of Procurement Law
The apparent work around to satisfy KAI’s requirement for 52% down payment is legally untenable, this being lopsided at the very least, and criminally stupendous at worst. The DND-AFP group’s proposal for an outright 15% down payment with staggered payment scheme based on progress billing is reportedly supported by Malacanang. The question that comes to mind is will the aircraft fly and deemed usable for PAF's intended purposes at 25%, 50% or 75% completion rate? Extending a 15% down payment towards the contract price is accommodating enough, to work around the nation’s procurement law in order to satisfy KAI requirement for 52% down payment carries potential criminal liability and deemed unconstitutional. The unusual degree of accommodation extended by the DND-AFP acquisition group to KAI gives an impression of irregularity. Should this be pursued, it exposes the new Aquino administration to potential loss of public trust once understood by the body politic, taxpayers and concerned citizenry. What comes to mind is there a justifiable reason behind the price difference of US$ 4.64 to $ 8.66-million per aircraft in the 12-plane package compared to ROKAF and Indonesian Air Force purchases? The costing is based on the original contract price of US$ 464-million, which was reportedly reduced to US$ 415.7-million. Interestingly, an off-contract cost factor of US$ 5.99-million is being passed off as Buyer Furnished Equipment ( BFE ). In comparison, ROKAF ordered the same KAI F/A-50 aircraft model at US$ 30-million per aircraft, while the Indonesian Air Force ordered the T/A-50 variant at US$ 25-million per unit as reported by leading international aerospace research institutions. The breach of Philippine procurement law is apparent and substantial, and will surely lead to criminal prosecution once the veil of technical jargon is understood by the body politic, concerned citizens and taxpayers.
No Way DND-KAI
The 18-months delivery schedule is way too long for the intended purposes of the Philippine Air Force ( PAF ) in delivering its mandate of protecting Philippine skies. Moreover, the 60-days delivery period for spare parts required during the warranty period is a clear indication of problems to come, given the mean time between failures of aircraft components and regulatory issues of imported aircraft components and technologies. The level of after sales technical support is specially demanding for unproven and limited production aircraft models like the KAI F/A-50. The multi-billion peso investment of the Filipino taxpayers for 12 KAI F/A-50 jet trainers being pushed by the DND-AFP group is unjustifiable and should be scrapped for better alternatives. The taxpayers and concerned citizens walked the streets to protest the P 10-billion pork barrel scam and been successful, what should we do to stop the shenanigans in the course of implementing the P 75-billion AFP modernization program? Filipino pilots, sailors and soldiers will be at the forefront of the battle in defense of our national sovereignty and territory against formidable odds, will they have to satisfy themselves with inferior, high-priced equipment and allow incompetence, poor and unprincipled decision making to compromise the development of the nation’s external defense capability? Let's say NO WAY DND-KAI !!! We should stand up, engage the culprits and make known our displeasure, and help ensure the wise and efficient use of public funds for national defense. Certainly, there are better air power solutions and alternatives available from allied nations including new and refurbished MRF and jet trainer aircrafts that can be acquired on government-to-government basis at minimum cost.
Defend the national interest, reform and support the Armed Forces of the Philippines! Fight graft and corruption in the defense-military establishment! Let us organize and take action now!