On June 24 the U.S. State Department approved the potential sale of 12 F-16 Block 70/72 fighters to the Philippines, following a request from the government in Manila as its searches for a Multi-Role Fighter (MRF) to defend the nation's airspace and surrounding seas. However, a day later the Philippine defense secretary, Delfin Lorenzano, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that the F-16 package was too expensive, and that the Philippine Air Force (PAF) was examining other options. The front-runners for the MRF requirement are the F-16 and Sweden's Saab Gripen.
Valued at an estimated $2.43 billion, the potential sale covers 10 single-seat F-16Cs and two F-16D two-seaters, along with related equipment, spares, and training. The aircraft will include systems such as the Northrop Grumman APG-83 Scalable Agile Beam Radar (SABR) AESA radar and MIDS-JTRS datalink. The approval covers the choice of either the General Electric F110-GE-129D (Block 70) or Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-229EEP (or Block 72) engines. Similarly, there is provision for selecting either Elbit JHMCS II or Thales Scorpion helmet-mounted displays, and either Northrop Grumman/Rafael Litening or Lockheed Martin Sniper advanced targeting pods.
In terms of weaponry the approval includes AIM-120C-7/8 AMRAAM medium-range air-to-air missiles and Laser Joint Direct Attack Munition guidance kits for Mk 82 bombs. Separate State Department approvals issued on the same day cover the potential sale of AIM-9X short-range air-to-air missiles and AGM-84L-1 Harpoon Block II anti-ship weapons.
The PAF has a considerable need of an MRF capable of defending the Philippines’ airspace and surrounding waters, especially in the light of increased tensions in the South China Sea. The service’s last supersonic fighter was the Northrop F-5A/B, which was retired in 2005.
Currently, the most advanced combat aircraft available to the PAF are 12 Korean Aerospace Industries FA-50PHs that were delivered between November 2015 and May 2017. Based on the T-50 advanced fighter lead-in trainer, the FA-50PH can carry a range of weapons, including AIM-9 Sidewinder and AGM-65 Maverick missiles, and has been employed on a number of counter-terrorist operations. The PAF has also recently received Embraer A-29 Super Tucanos, which have joined an attack force primarily tasked with close air support and counter-insurgency missions.