New planes for the Air Force

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    THE Philippine Air Force (PAF), for so long at the receiving end of nasty jokes such as “all air and no force,” can now stand tall and proudly say that their air assets are increasing.

    The news this weekend said six new turboprop warplanes will soon provide close air support for the security forces’ counterinsurgency missions. The 15th Strike Wing, the unit of the PAF responsible for supporting ground attack operations, is expected to bolster its fighting capability.

    The need for a modern Air Force was most felt by Filipinos, particularly the Armed Forces of the Philippines and its commander-in-chief, President Duterte, during the five bloody months in 2017 when Islamic State-allied militants thought they could establish a base in the southern Philippines and seized Marawi City from the republic.

    “…the Marawi debacle could not have been that devastating for the government and its population had the military and the police come prepared with the right equipment and personnel, as well as operational plans.’

    The “Marawi Siege,” as it is now known, displaced 369,196 individuals, mostly Muslim and Christian residents of the city; their jobs, businesses and livelihood were destroyed, their houses and lives were left in shambles. The Philippine police and military had to make do with whatever guns and rifles they could muster against the jihadists’ modern Barretts, US-made assault and sniper rifles. The Air Force defended the city with their aging fixed-wing aircraft in the fleet — the North American Rockwell OV-10 Bronco, Aermacchi SF-260TP, and the FA-50. The sorry state of the Philippine military prodded President Duterte to look to the direction of Russia and China for help, aside from whatever the Americans can offer with the usual strings attached.

    In hindsight, the Marawi debacle could not have been that devastating for the government and its population had the military and the police come prepared with the right equipment and personnel, as well as operational plans. The Amnesty International’s initial human rights analysis of the catastrophe said, “The IS-linked militants’ bloody, months-long siege of Marawi took a heavy toll on civilians, with Christians in particular singled out for brutal attacks, including grisly extrajudicial killings.”

    Duterte promised himself that Marawi will never again happen, at least not under his watch. On Oct. 6, 2017, a few days before the five-month siege ended, the Department of National Defense picked Embraer to manufacture 6 light attack and advanced training aircraft for P4.698 billion. Now, exactly 3 years to the day when that purchase decision was made, the Air Force has accepted delivery of the six planes, flown by Brazilian pilots to the Clark Air Base in Pampanga. The 20-day journey of the first four deliveries started in Sao Paolo, Brazil in late August, and made several refueling stops in the Canary Islands, Portugal, Malta, Spain, Egypt, Bangladesh, United Arab Emirates, India, Thailand, and Vietnam before they landed in Pampanga.

    Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has high hopes for the Air Force: “The Super Tucanos are crucial because the OV-10s are for decommissioning. It will complement the FA-50 which we used in Marawi City. Meaning, we can have support planes in different parts of the country at any one time.”

    It is encouraging to note that the Duterte administration is succeeding in modernizing the military within the limits that the nation can financially afford, forestalling the social and economic losses that both the Muslim and communist insurgencies are foisting on the people.

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