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Strengthening the Philippine Air Force as custodian of the nation’s skies

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At the Philippine Air Force’s 76th anniversary celebration on July 3, 2023, President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. spelled out in clear terms the significance of its continuing mission.

He urged the men and women of the PAF to uphold the values of integrity, excellence and patriotism “as the custodians of our skies, entrusted with the task of upholding our national interests, protecting our people, and defending our territory.” He said that “the PAF’s maritime air patrol missions are essential in upholding our territorial integrity and safeguarding Philippine maritime zones.”

The Commander-in-Chief’s message was unqualified and unequivocal. The evolving security architecture in Southeast Asia — specifically the prevailing tensions in the South China Sea — compels the Philippines to adapt by modernizing and strengthening its armed forces’ overall capability.

Recent geopolitical events — as well as the escalating challenges posed by global warming and climate change — have set off moves by the Philippine government to respond on various fronts.

Only recently, four more sites were added to the military bases covered by the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the Philippines and the United States. There are now a total of nine locations at which both countries’ armed forces could “train together, respond to natural and humanitarian crises, and achieve (defense) modernization goals.” Four of the nine sites are air force bases and airports: Basa Air Base in Floridablanca, Pampanga; Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu, Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro City; and Lal-lo Airport in Cagayan.

Over the past decade, the PAF’s air assets have been beefed up considerably. From 2015 to 2017, a squadron of 12 FA-50 jets, dubbed as the Fighting Eagles, were acquired from Korea Aerospace Industries at a cost of ₱18.9 billion or approximately $402 million. These were trainer jets that were converted to serve as multi-role combat aircraft. There are also light attack aircraft acquired from the US and Brazil, as well as multi-role aircraft deployed to support disaster support operations and for territorial defense. Utility, attack and transport helicopters are used for combat search and rescue, disaster response, medical evacuation, and troop transport.

Moving forward, it is imperative to improve the PAF’s air defense systems by augmenting its long-range air defense assets and radar coverage capability.

In his speech, President Marcos recalled PAF’s rich history that stemmed from the stormy days of the First World War when military aviation was first introduced in the country. He recognized “the outstanding PAF officers, members, and units who have shown exemplary dedication to securing our nation and defending our skies.”

He emphasized the PAF’s vital role: “The days ahead will not be easy and will demand every ounce of your strength and resilience. The winds of change signal geopolitical changes around our region and other parts of the world that as yet affect us.”

Indeed, the theme for its celebration serves as a beacon light to its auspicious future: “PAF@76: Accelerating with excellence toward a more capable, credible, and sustainable force.”

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