Things are soon to heat up, over the South China Sea.
According to Air Force Magazine, the State Department has approved the potential sale of F-16 Fighting Falcon jets, AGM-84 Harpoon missiles, AIM-9X Sidewinder missiles along with other equipment, to the Philippines, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency announced.
All told, the sales would total up to nearly US$2.9 billion, with the majority of those funds going to the sale of a dozen F-16 aircraft and accompanying weaponry and equipment. Two of the jets will be two-seat F-16Ds, and 10 will be F-16Cs, the report said.
Other weapons potentially being sold to the Philippines include a dozen Harpoon missiles and 24 Sidewinder missiles.
Lockheed Martin will be the primary contractor for the jets, while Boeing will handle the Harpoon missiles, and Raytheon will handle the Sidewinders, the report said.
Eric Sayers, a visiting fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said it appeared to be “a proactive effort by Washington to ensure the United States remains the security partner of choice for Manila.”
The US Department of Defense (DoD) announced that the State Department has cleared the sale on June 24, 2021, Aerotime online reported.
According to the press release, the purchase will enable “the Philippines to deploy fighter aircraft with precision munitions in support of counterterrorism operations in the southern Philippines, increasing effectiveness and minimizing collateral damage.
“The proposed sale of this equipment and support will not alter the basic military balance in the region.”
The Philippine government is locked in a bitter war with Maoist rebels, which has been running since the 1960s and is one of the longest still-ongoing conflicts in the world.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte this week announced his intention to form his own “death squad” that will hunt Maoist rebels and their sympathizers, Arab News reported.
The announcement came during his visit to an army camp in the town of Carmen in Bohol province.
Duterte said government troops remain vulnerable to attacks from the communist New People’s Army (NPA) hit squad, known as the Special Partisan Unit (SPARU) or “sparrow.”
He said he would be satisfied if each member of his proposed death squad would identify one or two NPA rebels for liquidation.
“I’m trying to make peace with them. They refuse, then they kill our policemen and soldiers,” he added.
“What I lack is a sparrow unit… so I’ll create a sparrow — Duterte Death Squad – against the sparrow. There’s no problem because they’re our enemy. Why should we hide?”
The country has also found itself clashing with Chinese interests over the South China Sea.
Since March 2021 Philippine Air Force has been sending its FA-50 light fighter jets to monitor Chinese vessels that have been building military installations in what Philippines claims as its exclusive economic zone.
The sale of F-16s, if concluded, would almost double the combat potential of the Philippine Air Force, whose main combat aircraft is the South Korean KAI T-50 Golden Eagle advanced trainer, employed as a fighter jet.
The country also possesses several North American Rockwell OV-10 Bronco and Embraer EMB 314 Super Tucano light attack aircraft.
In December 2020, Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Gen. Gilbert Gapay told reporters in a press briefing that he planned to add a multirole fighter to the fleet before Duterte’s term ended in 2022, according to the Inquirer.
The F-16 will be the Philippines’ first multirole fighter, Air Force Magazine reported.
Lockheed Martin has a backlog of more than 100 F-16s for foreign military sales to five countries, including Bahrain, Bulgaria, Slovakia, and Taiwan and a fifth Lockheed Martin has declined to name, potentially putting the aircraft’s sunset years into the 2070s or even later.
To support the growing demand for new F-16from partner nations, the US Air Force teamed with Lockheed Martin to open a new production line to build the F-16 Block 70/72 fighter aircraft at the company’s facility in Greenville, South Carolina.
“F-16s are operational across the globe and are a key capability fortifying the security of our international partners,” said Brig. Gen. Dale White, Fighters and Advanced Aircraft program executive officer.
“Every F-16 we equip our foreign partners with improves their ability to defend their interests and support our mutual security interests. The caliber and talent of our foreign military sales program office teams is top-notch, and their impact is felt globally.
“The F-16 is an enduring, highly capable compact fighter that will have a large role in many partner nations’ security for years to come.”
Sources: Aerotime, Air Force Magazine, US Department of Defense, Defense Security Cooperation Agency, The Inquirer, Arab News, Al Jazeera, USAF, Defense Here