MELBOURNE, Australia — The U.S. State Department has paved the way for the Philippines to potentially acquire Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon multirole fighter jets and associated weapons, as the U.S. ally moves toward a decision for a key component of its military modernization program.
The Defense Security Cooperation Agency, or DSCA, notification released Thursday afternoon cleared the Southeast Asian nation to buy:
- 10 F-16C Block 70/72 aircraft.
- Two two-seat F-16D Block 70/72 aircraft.
- 15 Northrop Grumman AN/APG-83 scalable agile beam radars.
- 24 Raytheon AIM-120 advanced, medium-range, air-to-air missiles in the C-7 or C-8 variant.
- GPS/laser guidance kits.
- Associated and support equipment.
The package is worth an estimated $2.43 billion.
DSCA notifications do not serve as guarantees that sales will happen. Once the sale is also approved by Congress, the foreign customer can negotiate on price and quantity, both of which can change.
In two other separate notifications released around the same time, DSCA cleared the Philippines to buy 24 Raytheon Technologies AIM-9X Block II Sidewinder air-to-air missiles and 12 Boeing AGM-84L-1 Harpoon Block II anti-ship missiles, worth about $42.4 million and $120 million, respectively.
The proposed sale of Harpoon missiles is also noteworthy given that the Philippines’ involvement with several standoffs against China over disputed islands in the South China Sea. The Chinese Coast Guard and maritime militias have previously harassed Philippine civilian vessels in the area.
The Block 70/72 version of the F-16 being offered to the Philippines is the latest version of the mainstay fighter of many Western or Western-aligned countries. The key improvement of the aircraft over earlier versions is the AN/APG-83 active electronically scanned radar, which is also being retrofitted to the existing F-16 fleets of several Asia-Pacific users, including Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan.
However, the F-16 will see competition from Saab’s JAS 39C/D Gripen under the Philippines’ multirole fighter acquisition effort that is part of the country’s Horizon 2 modernization program. The Philippine Air Force’s current front line combat aircraft is the Korea Aerospace Industries FA-50PH, which is a light attack jet based on the T-50 Golden Eagle advanced trainer.
In addition to the challenge posed by China’s rapid military modernization, the Philippines also has to contend with a number of insurgencies throughout the 7,000-plus islands that make up its territory. These include battling communist guerrillas as well as dealing with separatist movements in its southernmost islands.
Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News. He wrote his first defense-related magazine article in 1998 before pursuing an aerospace engineering degree at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia. Following a stint in engineering, he became a freelance defense reporter in 2013 and has written for several media outlets.