It is no secret that the strength of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) is no strength at all. An infamous joke is that the PAF is all air and no force; a laughing matter for our regional neighbours but a source of humiliation for the country. It is known to all that the PAF is one of the weakest air forces in the world, with our squadron of aircraft still bearing hand-me-downs from various allies such as the United States and Korea Republic among others.
A Commission on Audit (COA) Aircraft Accident Report covering the last two decades defined the true state of the air force recently. According to the report, a total of 305 pilots have been killed in various types of accidents involving military aircraft over the past 20 years. The number is indeed alarming, the casualties involved are not even from the battlefield. Equipment and hardware is supposed to give soldiers protection and adequate firepower to perform their tasks to the best of their abilities, the opposite however, happens in the Philippines.
The report further states that the main culprit was ‘wear and tear’. The aircrafts the pilots were flying were barely airworthy or flyable, these led to mechanical and engine problems. The figure of casualties only cover the pilots and do not include soldiers or civilians who were also in the aircraft. The number of pilots killed would have been enough to form six US standard squadrons which is 16 fighter aircrafts per squadron. In other words, for every aircraft accident three pilots are killed.
Calls for modernization are abundant, the sad thing is that nothing ever comes to fruition. This is no surprise though since the Department of National Defense (DND) has been cited as one of the most corrupt departments in the country. Much-needed funds that are allocated for modernization are siphoned off into the pockets of generals and other high-ranking officials in the military. These officials take a non-combat role and are based in the capital but enjoy a lavish lifestyle, while front-line soldiers have to deal with a meagre salary, worn-out combat gear and misfiring weapons.
The air force is also in need of trainer jets, which are essential to train new pilots or to up the skills of existing airmen. The PAF hold dozens in its inventory but are ageing and are likely to add to the statistics of fallen pilots. In fact, the trainer jets have been dubbed the “widow makers of the air force”.
It has been fifteen years since the passage of the “Armed Forces of the Philippines Modernization Program” or Republic Act 7898. If everything went according to plan, the air force is due of its’ “Horizon II” phase where acquisition of equipment for external defense is mandated. Horizon II is targeted to begin in 2010, a year after the intended timeframe the air force still does not have a multi-role fighter jet. The only major recent acquisition made by the PAF is the purchase of eight W-3 Sokol helicopters for combat utility in 2009, the final year of “Horizon I” or the internal security acquisition phase of the air force.
Drastic reforms are truly needed by the air force. Pilots are getting tired of the lousy handling of the government to improve their equipment and it will be no surprise if the trend of air force pilots leaving the service to take up higher-paying jobs in the private sector or abroad will continue to increase. This will cause further deterioration of the PAF’s abilities and the nation’s capability to defend itself will continue to weaken. This is called self-destruction.
If the PNoy administration is serious of its mantra of taking the “straight path”, it should prove itself by taking a serious approach to meet the needs of national security before it self-destructs. Modernization is badly needed, it may not be long before we see another pilot go down with his aircraft.