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PAF: The Widow-Maker

January 29, 2010

The fatal crash in Cotabato City of that Air Force Nomad-22 plane bearing 9 officers an enlisted men, including the major general heading the air division covering Mindanao, is a widow- making tragedy that has happened all too often in the history of the Philippine Air Force.

Information culled by culled by ABS-CBN News shows that “at least 163 have died from aviation-related accidents involving the Philippine Air Force and Philippine Navy since 1947. (

What’s particularly startling is the PAF’s safety record:

22 crashes during that period with 4 Nomads going down, along with five bigger C-45 aircraft, three Fokker F-27’s and at least 3 Huey troop helicopters and 1 C-130 Hercules plane, the biggest aircraft in the PAF inventory that’s critical for transporting troops and cargo for both military and civilian relief efforts.

Air Force authorities have not been remiss is drawing up ambitious plans to upgrade the capabilities of the PAF.

Monies have continually been allocated and prospective air assets reviewed:


Over 10 years after passage of the AFP Modernization Act (Republic Act 7898)[4], the Philippine Air Force remains in dire need of modernization. The current incarnation of the AFP modernization program is the Capability Upgrade Program (CUP) which defers PAF-related modernization efforts to the second and third phases of a three-phase program.

Much to the consternation of PAF observers and personnel, the first phase, dubbed “Back to Basics” focuses on improving the AFP’s ability to conduct Internal Security Operations (ISO).

What little funding the PAF receives in this phase revolves around the PAF’s role in supporting  ground operations.

More advanced aircraft are expected in Phases 2 and 3 of the CUP, which is when genuine modernization is expected to start. PAF-related components of these phases are grouped into what it calls “Horizon programs”, with Horizon 2 expected to begin in the 2010 to 2012 time frame.

Multi-role fighter acquisition programs

During the 1990s PAF also had planned to purchase modern fighter aircraft, when the modernization law was enacted, and in 1992 received offers for both the IAI Kfir and the F-16 Fighting Falcon.

According to a 1996 article in Flight International magazine, PAF was also offered embargoed Pakistani Lockheed Martin F-16A/Bs and new-build F-18C/Ds, and considered the Dassault Mirage 2000, the JF-17 Thunder and the MAPO-MiG MiG-29.

The article also reports that earlier offers of second-hand French Dassault Mirage F-1s and Denel Cheetahs from South Africa appeared to have been rejected.[8] However, these modernization programs were put on hold after the Philippines’ economy was impacted by the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis.

As the service focuses on the current Internal Security Operations (ISO) of the AFP, current efforts are concentrated on the acquisition of aircraft for counter-insurgency (COIN) operations, in particular, more helicopter gunships and transport aircraft.

Helicopter acquisition & upgrade programs

The Department of National Defense, on behalf of the PAF, is currently pursuing the following acquisition projects: eight (8) Combat Utility Helicopters (CUH), 14 attack helicopters (AH), and 10 additional UH-1H helicopters[11].

An older acquisition project, the Night Capable Attack Helicopter (NCAH), was abandoned due to procedural irregularities. The Office of the Ombudsman is currently investigating this project.

Engines of 20 MD-520 attack helicopters are currently being overhauled. The PAF elected to pursue this project via FMS.

On December 2009, the Department of National Defense (DND) issued a notice of award worth PhP 2.8 billion to PZL Swidnik S.A. of Poland, as the winner of the Combat Utility Helicopter (CUH) program for eight (8) helicopters, probably armed version of the PZL W-3 Sokol.

But most of these plans are just in the pipelines with procurement activities invariably bogged down in red tape, and suspicions of irregularities within the civilian defense department organization.

The highly professional men and women of the Air Force, who’ve lost so many comrades in arms in aircraft crashes through the years, will have to wait till after the May 10 elections torekindle their hopes for a safe, and better equipped PAF.

For now we are left with events like this:

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