The Philippine Air Force (PAF) has shortlisted the Lockheed Martin F-16 and the Saab JAS-39 Gripen in its multi-role fighter jet (MRF) tender.
“(The) two last contenders, (for the PAF MRF project are the) F-16V Block 50/52 Variant and the JAS-39 Gripen C/D+ Version,” PAF spokesperson, Col. Maynard Mariano, is quoted as saying by the Philippine News Agency in a press release published on July 6, 2022.
This means that other candidates, including India’s HAL Tejas, have now been excluded from the tender.
However, the press release does not specify why the two entrants were chosen or if the country had received other offers besides the three from the US, Sweden and India.
In May 2022, India’s HAL and Philippine Aerospace Development Corporation (PADC) signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) regarding the purchase of various Indian-made aircraft, including fighter jets and helicopters.
However, in June the PAF said it had received just two proposals – from the US and Sweden – but noted that there were “other nations interested to join” the tender.
It should be noted that the two remaining entrants, the F-16 Block 50/52 and the Gripen C/D, are not-up-to-date variants of the aircraft.
The latest F-16 Block 70/72, presented in 2012, offers an upgraded radar, avionics and airframe compared to the Block 50/52, which entered production in 1991. The Gripen E/F, which began deliveries in 2021, is presented as an all-round upgrade of the Gripen C/D, manufactured since 2002.
According to the manufacturers, both the F-16 Block 50/52 and the Gripen C/D can be upgraded to their latest configuration.
The Philippines’ decision to opt for an older variant could reflect issues within the country’s budget. The MRF program faced a delay in 2021 when funds intended to modernize the Philippine military were diverted to soften the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The government of the Philippines directly referred to the high cost of the latest F-16 variant as its main problem, stating that in this regard the Swedish offer is far more attractive. The choice to purchase older variants of the jets is likely to have been seen as an acceptable compromise.
The Philippines initiated the MRF tender in 2018 as a part of its Horizon Two of the Armed Forces modernization program. 12 “fourth generation or higher” multirole fighter jets are to be purchased and will become the PAF’s first true fighter jets since 2005 when its Northrop F-5 Tigers were retired.
The PAF currently operates a fleet of KAI FA-50, a combat version of Korean-made T-50 advanced jet trainers, as well as several models of turboprop light attack aircraft.