02 Juli 2011
T-50 Golden Eagle (photo : Airplane Pictures)
Spratlys arms race heats up; AFP to buy six fighter jets
THE military plans to acquire six jet fighters for interdiction missions against intruders into Philippine waters and air space, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said Friday.
“We’re giving so much priority to our internal security operations, but lately the equation has shifted because we realize we’ve also to assess our external defense capability,” Gazmin told reporters at the sidelines of the Air Force’s 64th anniversary celebrations.
Armed Forces chief Gen. Eduardo Oban Jr. said senior military officials had recommended an initial six multi-role planes to be acquired within the term of President Benigno Aquino III.
He said the Air Force was looking at either Korea’s TA-50 Golden Eagle or Italy’s M-346, and depending on their arms and in-flight instrumentation would cost about P1 billion each.
The Air Force retired its last seven F5 fighter jets in 2005 after having been in service for 40 years.
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, meanwhile, said President Aquino’s planned visit to China did not mean the Philippines was backing down from its assertions Chinese forces had been intruding on Philippine waters.
The Philippines claims that Chinese forces intruded at least nine times into Manila-claimed areas in the Spratly Islands since February, allegations that sparked an exchange of diplomatic protests and verbal jabs. Mr. Aquino has strongly criticized China, saying two weeks ago that his country would not be bullied by China in the disputed region.
M-346 Master (photo : AleniaAermacchi)The presidential trip would likely take place in late August or early September, Del Rosario said.
The Spratlys, a chain of barren, largely uninhabited islands, reefs and banks in the South China Sea, are claimed wholly by China, Taiwan and Vietnam and partly by the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei. The islands are believed to be atop vast oil and gas deposits.
Chinese Ambassador Liu Jianchao has denied his government committed any intrusions, but acknowledged that Chinese vessels were exercising Beijing’s sovereign rights in one incident at the Reed Bank near the Spratlys. Philippine officials complained the Chinese vessels harassed a local oil exploration ship into leaving the Reed Bank in March.
Just before he traveled last week to Washington, Del Rosario said he was told that the military was verifying another foreign intrusion into the Spratlys area.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton gave strong assurances that the US was committed to the defense of the Philippines, and would provide affordable weaponry amid mounting tensions in the Spratlys, Del Rosario said.
He said he separately gave US defense officials a list of equipment the Philippines needed to improve its capability to monitor foreign intrusions in its territorial waters near the Spratlys.
Clinton assured del Rosario that the US would honor its 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty with the Philippines that calls on each country to help defend the other against an external attack by an aggressor in their territories or in the Pacific region, he said.
Del Rosario said he told US officials that if the Philippines received defense equipment, “we become a stronger ally for you.”
(Manila Standard Today)