Philippines will buy 12 F-16 Fighter Jets from USA

December 21, 2011: The Philippines has asked the United States, its closest security partner, to give it at least a squadron of F-16 fighters to help upgrade its territorial defenses and two more military ships amid increasing tensions with China in the disputed islands in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), the foreign secretary said on Wednesday.

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said he will meet with US Secretary of States Hillary Clinton and high officials of Pentagon in his visit to Washington, D.C., early next year  2012 to discuss the need to increase the Philippines's military presence in the area.

The Philippines has no air power to speak of, with its 40-year-old F-5A/Bs fighter jets retired from service several years ago. It has no bombers or surveillance aircraft and still flies Vietnam War-era UH-1H helicopters.

"We are just trying to restore our capability as it was before," Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario told reporters.

He said he hoped the fighters would be acquired through excess defense articles, a U.S. military aid program.

"I think we are actually behind the curve ... we have been far more advanced many years ago in terms of military capability," he said.

The request for US military assistance was first discussed during the visit of Clinton in the Philippines in November.

"We're trying to get assistance from several countries [to strengthen military capability] and the US has expressed willingness to assist us as we work on a minimum, credible defense posture [in the disputed islands in West Philippine Sea]," said del Rosario in a press luncheon briefing on Wednesday at a hotel in Pasay City.

USAF F-16C block 30 #88-0152 of the 63rd TFTS is parked in the static display at an air show. [Photo by Mike Kopack]

Del Rosario said acquisition of the F-16 fighters would be among issues to be discussed in strategic talks in Washington in the first quarter of 2012, when Del Rosario and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin meet their U.S. counterparts.

He said Washington has agreed to give Manila larger ships and faster aircraft to patrol disputed areas in the West Philippines Sea, as well as assist in setting up surveillance stations to improve the military's "maritime domain awareness".

Earlier this year, Manila accused Beijing of intruding into its territorial waters and attempting to plant markers on uninhabited islands in the Reed Bank, an area the Philippines claims to be within its exclusive economic zone.

Last August, Washington delivered a Hamilton-class coast guard cutter, the largest ship in the Philippine Navy's fleet.

A similar vessel is due to arrive in the third quarter of next year and a third might also be acquired.

As was the case with the Hamilton-class cutter, del Rosario said he hoped the transfer of F-16s would be free of charge under the aid program.

Manila would pick up the cost of refurbishment and repairs, he said.

The Philippines has said it will spend 40 billion pesos ($941 million) over the next five years to upgrade its military, buying new helicopters, ships and surveillance equipment.

He said the Philippines will request two more Hamilton class cutters with the first one delivered mid this year and a squadron or 12 units of fighter jets to be deployed on the disputed islands that are believed to be rich in natural gas and marine resources.

Moves to strengthen the country's military capability came amid Chinese deployment of more navy ships in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. "We need to stand up and defend our territorial claims on what we think is ours," said del Rosario.

He also believes that the US foreign policy is to re-engage Asia to a greater extent as it believes that the region has taken the role as key driver of economic growth.

USAF F-16C block 42 #90-0767 of the 63rd FS from Luke AFB is spotted landing at NAS Fort Worth on July 28th, 2005. [Photo by Keith Robinson]

He said the US is also planning to station Marines in Australia and Singapore amid increasing tensions in the disputed Spratly Islands.

At the diplomatic front, del Rosario said the Philippines remains hopeful that the government's proposal to establish a Zone of Peace, Freedom, Friendship and Cooperation that seeks to segregate disputed from nondisputed parts of the South China Sea will be integrated in the binding Code of Conduct in the South China Sea which China and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have agreed to adopt during the last ASEAN meeting in Bali.

He said the Philippines's proposal submitted for adoption by consensus of the 10 member-countries during the Asean Regional Forum was apparently not considered after two members—Laos and Cambodia—boycotted the maritime legal experts meeting in Manila that was intended to consider the adoption of the Philippine proposal.

Four ASEAN members—Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia—are claimants to parts of Spratly Islands, along with Taipei. China is claiming the entire Spratlys.

Other Asean members include Indonesia, Laos, Cambodia, Singapore, Burma/Myanmar and Thailand.

US ready to arm Philippines amid China tension

The United States said it was ready to provide hardware to modernize the military of the Philippines, which vowed to "stand up to any aggressive action" at the West Philippines Sea (South China Sea) with China.

Tensions in the strategic and resource-rich West Philippines Sea have escalated  with the Philippines and Vietnam alarmed at what they say are increasingly aggressive actions by Beijing in the disputed waters.

"We are concerned that recent incidents in the South China Sea could undermine peace and stability," Clinton told reporters, urging "all sides to exercise self-restraint."

USAF F-16C block 30 #85-1467 from the 457th FS releases a GBU-24 2,000-pound laser guided bomb over a target range near Eglin AFB during exercise Combat Hammer, hosted by the 86th FWS on November 7th, 2002. [USAF photo by SSgt. Sheila Salas]

Del Rosario, with Clinton at his side, said: "While we are a small country, we are prepared to do what is necessary to stand up to any aggressive action in our backyard."

The Philippines has historically bought second-hand hardware, but del Rosario said that President Benigno Aquino has allocated 11 billion pesos ($252 million) to upgrade the navy.

"We need to have the resources to be able to stand and defend ourselves and, I think, to the extent that we can do that, we become a stronger ally for you," del Rosario said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The United States signed a defense treaty with the Philippines in 1951, five years after the archipelago's independence from US colonial rule which was renewed recently in November 2011 during the visit of Secretary Clinton to the Philippines.

The United States has been providing military aid to the Philippines primarily to fight Islamic militants in the wake the September 11, 2001 attacks.

The United States gave the Philippines $15 million in military assistance in the 2011 fiscal year, with much larger sums devoted to development, according to official US data..

"The Philippines' relative success in counter-insurgency coupled with pressures in the regional environment compel a reorientation of focus and resources," he said.

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