Joke no more

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    IT WAS one of those Balikatan or Cope Thunder Exercises and we were viewing F-16s screaming off the runways to the blue beyond.

    Ah, to have such state-of-the art aircraft, sighed us – mediamen – in collective awe.

    But we do have F-16, said Maj. Allan Ballesteros, then-Clark Air Base Wing information officer.

    Where?

    Right there on the tarmac. He pointed to two Vietnam War vintage aircraft already long decommissioned.

    Those aren’t F-16s, they’re F-8s.

    So what do you make of one F-8 plus one F-8?

    Yeah, right. Not just the butt of, but the joke itself is the Philippine Air Force.

    “All air, no force” as some wag put it most aptly.

    To put some force in the air, PAF ordered a fleet of Aermachii S-211, primarily a trainer aircraft configured into fighter plane. Nowhere near the F-16 but could do – PAF said then – for guarding the archipelago.

    The joke that is PAF turned tragic with the S-211 readily dubbed “the widowmaker” for the plane’s propensity to crash.

    Internet fact check now:

    January 14, 2002. PAF S-211 #017 crashed into houses inside the National Food Authority compound in Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija, due to mechanical problems after making several low passes over the city in a “contact proficiency” flight from Basa Air Base. Both pilots and three civilians on the ground were killed.

    November 26, 2007. PAF S-211 #804 went missing after it failed to return to its Palawan base after a security patrol and search mission over the disputed Kalayaan Islands in the South China Sea, both pilots still missing and their fate remains unknown.

    July 18, 2010. PAF S-211 #024 crashed in Tarlac just seven miles short from the threshold of Clark International Airport Runway 20L due to fuel starvation. Investigators later found out that a defective hydraulic pump caused an unusual vibration that loosened the fuel lines that dumped considerable amount of fuel for the return trip of the pilots who went to Ilocos Norte for a cross country navigation training flight. Both pilots safely ejected and minimal damage was incurred at the crash site and no loss of life was reported.

    April 28, 2011. PAF S-211 #020 crashed in Bagac, Bataan after making several aerobatic maneuvers over the shoreline during a “contact proficiency” flight from Clark Air Base.

    Investigators later found out that the aircraft entered into a high-G recovery maneuver from a loop that caused the engine to go into a high-G stall and crashed less than a hundred meters from the shoreline. Both pilots died instantly.

    Of PAF’s 25 S-211, the report noted, “13 remain in inventory, 5 in service but only 2 are airworthy, as of July 2011.”

    And more than enough crashes – and scores killed too – of the PAF’s Huey helicopters – again Vietnam War vintage – to merit the moniker “flying coffins.”

    A farce of a force, PAF has been for too long. The joke has to stop.

    Two or three months back, we got some pleasant surprise with the arrival in Clark of four new combat utility helicopters from Augusta PZL Swidnik of Italy and Poland, half of a batch of eight PAF ordered back in February 2010 yet for P2.8 billion.

    Aside from the eight “Sokol” – falcon in Polish – choppers, the price tag covered the pilots’ training as well as maintenance and technical support.

    PAF said the Sokol is night vision gogglecapable, equipped with autopilot equipment, fitted with gun mounts on both sides and can accommodate 10.

    Far superior to the Huey, in short.

    Then only last week, at the 51st anniversary of PAF Air Defense Wing in Clark, PAF chief Lt. Gen. Lauro Catalino de la Cruz announced the “looming acquisition” of 12 TA-50 light attack jets from South Korea.

    Built by Korea Aerospace Industries and Lockheed Martin of the USA, the TA-50 “is largely derived from the F-16 Fighting Falcon,” in terms of “use of a single engine, speed, size, cost, and the range of weapons.”

    It has the standard M-197 20mm threebarrel cannon and a fire control radar system and can accommodate the AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missile and a variety of additional weapons can be mounted to its underwing hardpoints. Reports claimed.

    “Compatible air-to-surface weapons with the TA-50 include the AGM-65 Maverick airto- ground missile, Hydra 70 rocket launchers, CBU-58 and Mk-20 cluster bombs, and Mk-82, -83, and -84 general purpose bombs.”

    So much firepower promised in the TA-50 there.

    “This is a realization of the dream we have dreamt a long, long time ago,” De la Cruz said.

    More than that, may this be the end of PAF as a joke.

    * * *


    THAT, WE wrote here on Sept. 17, 2012 under the headline A farce of a force.

    Last Saturday, Nov. 28, the dream hast started coming into being. The first two of a dozen F-50 Golden Eagle fighter jets the Philippines ordered from South Korea touched down at Clark.

    “We’re glad we’re finally back to supersonic age,” exclaimed Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin at the welcome rites.

    While still a long way from a respectable minimum air defense capability, the country’s acquisition of the new fighter jets is enough to minimize, if not stop, all those jokes about the PAF.

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