MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines is looking at arming itself for the first time with dedicated fighter jets made outside of the United States, President Benigno Aquino said May 16 amid a territorial dispute with China.
The Philippines last month requested aircraft, patrol boats and radar systems from its U.S. military ally to help it achieve what the government said would be a “minimum credible defense.”
Aquino said that his government had asked to buy second-hand F-16s from the U.S., but the jets’ maintenance costs could end up being too high because of their age.
“We might end up spending $400 million or $800 million per squadron, and we were thinking of getting two squadrons,” he said in an interview with Manila’s Bombo Radio.
“We do have an alternative, and — this is a surprise — it seems we have the capacity to buy brand-new, but not from America,” Aquino said, without mentioning the aircraft model. “These are manufactured by another progressive country that I won’t name at this point.”
Aquino noted that Manila had retired its last fighter jet, a Korean War-vintage F-5, in 2005.
It does continue to fly Italian firm Marchetti’s S211 trainer jets, which are sometimes used as ground attack aircraft against various insurgencies.
But along with the F-5, the Philippines had previously relied on obsolete U.S. hand-me-downs, including the T-33 and the P-51 Mustang as dedicated attack fighters. The country now has no effective air defenses.
It is engaged in a tense maritime standoff with China over the disputed Scarborough Shoal and surrounding waters in the South China Sea. Both nations have stationed vessels there for more than a month to assert their sovereignty.