All Abuzz about the FA-50, Defense and China

A lot of controversy continues to hound the recent acquisition of weapons for the Philippine military, such as the FA-50 Golden Eagle trainer-light fighters for the Philippine Air Force, Hamilton-Class cutters, Tarlac-class landing platform dock and others for national defense. Of course, some call this a positive legacy of then-president BS Aquino III. If Marcos supporters laud Marcos-era projects, then Aquino supporters laud military acquisitions. And the supporters would say that these are needed because of the tensions with China on the West Philippine Sea.


This chapter seems to have ended in the Philippines’ favor, with the United Nations Hague Tribunal having ruled that China’s claim to the disputed islands does not hold. It remains however to be seen whether such a ruling is enforceable and whether China will really exit ( #ChExit ). It’s also argued that the ruling does not require China to exit and it just says no blockades should be done. Well, we’ll see how that turns out later on (abangan ang susunod na kabanata).

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Many are riling at President Rodrigo Duterte’s comment that the purchase of FA-50s is a waste of money. I don’t necessarily agree with this. However, one can look at the bigger picture and see that it still reveals a few other things about Filipino character we need to think about.

The two FA-50s are the first a group of 12 that are supposed to spearhead purchase of more fighters. The idea is, the FA-50s are the stepping stone for our pilots to get used to supersonic jets. So this hints to a plan to get bigger supersonic jets, such as the F/A-18 Hornet or the JAS-39 Gripen. It’s not a bad idea to have a sizable military force. Personally, I’d agree with the idea of getting submarines. As we are a water-locked country, our navy needs priority.

The Cons of having more Bark than Bite

Yet I would say the aggressive stance against China has its cons. It’s not the buildup, but the attitude toward it that’s the problem. Building up our military is not a bad thing; but the eagerness to use it is lunacy.

Critics of Aquino have said, while the issue of contention with China on the West Philippine Sea was up for a long time, the escalation of tensions happened in his term. Aquino, unlike previous presidents, took a more hostile stance against the Chinese government. He brought up the issue to international authorities, so some credit him for that. But one might point out construction by the Chinese on the disputed islands happened one his watch. The moment he took up a more aggressive stance, the Chinese upped their game as well, by building on the islands already. Now why didn’t Filipinos do that instead of just leave a lonely shipwreck with a few poor soldiers manning it?

(Feb 2018: I got reminded that the Philippine Constitution “renounces war as a tool of national policy.” If we go to war, or even just provoke others to attack us, we’re in the wrong.)

Let’s say war with China happens. Some Filipinos might be hoping for a defeat of China as the Vietnamese did in the late 1970s. But that’s a long shot by today with the way China’s built up its forces. Some others would say fighting but losing is still a glorious struggle. Perhaps. But the thing is, if we lose, there’s actually no glory in that. I see this as one problem with the Filipino concept of heroes. Back in the Spanish era, our heroes kept fighting the colonizers, but kept on losing. All thanks to our petty Filipino squabbles. We glorify heroes that keep on losing.

So here’s one thing I forgot to say in my article about heroes; I prefer that heroes always win. Isn’t that how it’s supposed to be? If we lose, the “heroism” is for naught, because what we’re defending would be taken. Ancient military writer Sun Tzu in his famous work The Art of War says, “choose your battles,” don’t fight a battle you can’t win and that the best victory is won without fighting. Perhaps that is the approach that we should take. Perhaps we’ve had one such victory with the Tribunal decision, but there’s a lot more to the issue than that.

I also want to puncture any notion that China wants to invade and take over the Philippines. I find it silly – they already have problems with their citizens, so why would they trouble themselves with 100 million more headaches? Also, if resources are what they are after, they don’t need to seize the nation for this. Reports are around that Chinese parties (not the Chinese-Filipinos you find in Binondo and owning our malls and condos) have already made underground deals with locals in the provinces to allow them to strip mine the place. All the Chinese need do is pay off people. There you go, our resources go to someone else without any invasion.

Make no mistake, if we’re attacked, I agree that we should fight. We indeed should be prepared for war, but we should also by any means avoid it. War is of no good to anyone, as our own experience in World War 2 shows. Our country’s condition today is a direct result of this war. Manila’s former beauty was destroyed by both Japanese occupation and the American reclaiming. In the aftermath, we have overcrowding as a result of unguided rebuilding efforts and “baby-booming” attitudes, squatters having started from displaced people from the war having taken up residence in any space they could see, and warlords having grown in power (some were guerillas in the war who kept their weapons and used them to rule over their local area). And more. I’ll also mention our dependence on American aid, which is the real reason we were ahead in Southeast Asia that time. When that went away, we went to the dumps, the condition being aggravated by our defective culture and habits.

As others might have already said, the new weapons and eagerness to fight with China may constitute another placebo that distracts us from the real problems, the internal ones. Already President Duterte has been addressing drug dealers in the country. But there’s more that concerns our institutions. Our pork barrel has taken up significant money that could have been used for defense. But what’s happening is that the ones who are credited with helping buy a few new weapons for defense likely have complicity in the pork barrel plunder. I have said in another article that despite a politician’s achievements, they should be held to account for the wrong they’ve done. Another internal thing is our insurgency and terrorism with the likes of Abu Sayyaf, who have been kidnapping and killing foreign tourists. That our military needs are also shaped by the need to address insurgencies tells a lot about the state of the country.

A Runt Culture?

I am no military expert, but I just see things about Philippine culture revealed here. There is still this fascination with the country as an underdog that is being picked on by bigger countries in the region. But it looks more to me like a little runt trying to force respect from the world. The runt does so by trying to get two known bullies in the street to fight. But the two bullies look at each other and smile, as they have their own agreement. That’s how it looks to me. And the little runt just keeps on boasting that he’s great, when all he does is make useless noise. As an analogy of us as a people, instead of fixing our own problems, we prefer to show off. That can apply to Filipinos on the individual level too.

The hawkishness some Filipinos have against the world reflects one of the cancers of this society. Some Filipinos still seem to have this tendency to see everything as a contest. So they see as part of being great beating or putting down others; the proverbial compulsion to assert class dominance over others. They tend to apply this to the international level as well as to each other. So some might believe making the Philippines “great” is to become an empire and conquer other countries. I’ve made clear before that I will never support any initiative for a “Philippine empire.” Because simply, if we become the imperialists, we become the bad guys. If this happens, I would likely be part of this country’s version of an anti-Imperialist League.

The best thing for any country to do is be an example and be a good neighbor. A few countries, such as the Scandinavian countries and maybe Singapore, have shown this in being good places to live and where tolerance and respect for others are cultural staples. They don’t have imperialist or “special people” delusions, and the former colonies among them do not in wholesale manner blame colonizers for their problems. The Philippines has a long way to go because it has not dropped its stone age beliefs in greatness being found in conquest of others. Internally, it is an inherently violent culture (partly because of warlords) and respect for others is considered something to be scrooged. Unless we learn to be a better example, it’s more likely that we’ll be made an example of.

28 Replies to “All Abuzz about the FA-50, Defense and China”

  1. A handful of FA-50s will not help anything, Duterte is right. Neither will a couple of ancient obsolete US Hamilton class coast guard ships.

    1. The question is what is in Digong’s mind when he said that about the FA-50? Does he think it’s not enough, or he thinks we don’t need jets?

      1. FA-50 , is like the F16, Falcon fighter, the aircraft defense weapon of NATO countries. It was designed in the U.S., but is manufactured in South Korea.

        1. The FA-50 is a Lead-In Fighter Trainer (LIFT) based on the F-16. It’s primary duty is to train pilots for the actual frontline fighters, like the actual F-16.

        2. it simply means that the purchase is not necessary. instead of buying low grade fighter plane we should have had some other option to solve the problem with china.not to arrogantly make an effort to “intimidate” them? they must be laughing their asses..

  2. The military equipment acquisition is for defense, not for offense.

    We should negotiate for this conflict. But, we do not have to go to the negotiating table, with nothing but our “betlogs” and bravados. The Air Force must be strengthened. The Navy and Coastguard must be strengthened.

    We are a small country. However, we can also know how to defend ourselves. We don’t rely on Uncle Sam, always !

    1. The Chinese have no need to negotiate. They know PH is weak and has no defensive or offensive capabilities and US will likely not help.

      1. The Chinese will choose the negotiation table…strong countries are coming to our aid. Conflict is not good for business…their economy/exports will suffer, if this conflict will continue !

        They should know better that , clinging to that small island, is no good…

  3. Filipinos are so unthinking gung-ho and misguided in machismo, that they believe in “gyerahin yang China na yan!” and “Ang mamatay ng dahil sa yo!” It’s like lemmings who just want to go to the cliffs to jump into the sea and die.

  4. We don’t need jets so much as we need missiles, destroyers, artillery, UGVs, UAV, and all sorts of “unmanned” and/or radar guided defense systems so that we can sink their ships and shoot down their planes. This will serve as our first line of defense.

    We should also invest in hidden bases, tunnel networks and secret weapons caches because our only hope against the Chinese is a guerrilla campaign. This will serve as the second line of defense.

    We should just give up on achieving “offensive” capability, in the first place, its unconstitutional and in the second place, these planes will be the first thing that China will hit in the event of an invasion.

    1. I would agree. If I put on my “armchair general” cap, that’s why I mentioned submarines. That fits with a guerilla style campaign in the water. On land, I would add antiaircraft guns and missiles, lots of light armor, modern bazookas, and explosive ordnance for traps. I see our jets as short range and easily overwhelmed by the number of jets China would have. China even has a stealth fighter, the J-20. But in any case, wanting war would always be stupid.

      1. The biggest drawback of the FA-50 is range. But then again, it’ll NOT be our primary fighter aircraft, lest one politician will say “pwede na yan”.

        China has the numerical advantage. But hypothetically, our strategy should be to hold them long enough until our allies come. That’s why we need both jets and SAMs, to cover the backs of one another.

        The J-20 is still unproven, so I won’t be that sure of its impact.

    2. How do you define “offensive capability”?

      The weapons the AFP wanted can be used defensively and offensively. Of course they don’t want a war. But we need deterrence. The goal here is not to go to wer with China, but to make her think twice before attacking. Heck, China doesn’t want war at this point , not at least until they secure the whole SCS, which is just one of the first steps on their strategic goal which is to be capable to operate in the Pacific, and have their boomers reach Pearl Harbor. Only then that they’ll risk going war.

      Going back, the AFP knows what it wants. The navy has the Desired Force Mix, for example. The Army wants more helis, armor and artillery, and if possible our first main battle tanks in the future. The Air Force already got the FA-50s, but their goal is to get a true MRF, the likes of F-16, Gripen, Rafale and Typhoon. The Gripen is actually a favorite prospect for most of the Air Force, though there are arguments that we should get the Super Hornet instead.

      1. Having been in the air side of a few wars, I can tell you the Super Hornet is amazing. Good systems, very effective weapons, its modular and doesn’t really break, can take allot of battle damage and keep flying, and has lots of gas. The Gripen is a nice aircraft but interoperability isn’t so good…too much proprietary and you better hope the fight is close to home base. Super Hornets would ultimately be cheaper and integrate with the friendly neighbors and the US much better…and the gas is a big deal. Being able to strap on a few drop tanks and get a nice long loiter time is a big deal. Being able to maintain a tactical airspeed into and out of a fight is life. Gripen cannot do that.

        I’m not Filipino but I live here and want to see this place successful and able to credibly defend itself.

        1. This so much. The only reason I can fathom for choosing a Gripen is because it’s “cheap” and we all know how the gov’t loves cutting corners to save for their new villas at the expense of national security.

  5. The FA-50 is obsolete crap, like most of the Yank fighters. Some, even after a trillion tax dollars still can’t fly. Yank military hardware is made for profit by crony capitalists. Get some made for fighting equipment, from Russia.

    1. Haha what an IDIOT! Russian fighters are like their ships…they look good but when pressure is put on pilots and systems they don’t perform as advertised. Weak integration of pilots, systems, and aircraft, poor radars, difficult to maintain aircraft, and a complete lack of support after the initial purchase.

    2. PH aren’t even all that close to Russia and given how mainstream Flips hate Communists so much, I doubt they’d swallow pride to buy Commie tech.

    3. Sigh. Another armchair general who doesn’t know what he’s saying.

      Russia might been producing some awesome weapons (S-300 SAMs comes to mind), but they’ve been notorious for horrible customer support. One notable case is Malaysia grounding its entire MiG-29 fleet for lack of spare parts.

  6. Philippines purchase of the FA-50 was smart. It is a modern aircraft with real capabilities and a good aircraft to build on. I doubt anyone is looking to use this as a regional offensive weapon, I would employ it as a flexible defensive measure.

    The last thing Philippines needs is submarines, they are grossly difficult to maintain and operate safely. Phil needs some ships with real anti-submarine warfare helicopters with dipping sonars and expendable sonobuoys followed up with torpedoes. Philippines can by multiple ships and helos for the cost of one submarine.

    Reality is the Chinese are long term thinkers, unfortunately too many politicians in other countries don’t see past their term in office. The Chinese want the riches in and below the South China Sea and could care less who else wants them…anyone thinking they can negotiate a long term agreement is dreaming. The only way to counter is to have a credible military deterrence to keep them out of Phil waters. Doesn’t mean Philippines needs a plan to invade their neighbors or China.

    1. Philippines needs both to fully secure its waters both over and underwater.

      Yes, subs are expensive and a hassle to maintain, but like you said, think of the long term. The addition of jobs to manage them is just one of them.

    2. Some designs that interest me are the fast frigates the US came out with, the Freedom and Independence classes. Over 300-foot-long warships with good weaponry that can go over 40 knots. Even a ship like that without stealth features would be nice.

      1. I worked with them a little bit…they aren’t work the money. Cracking hulls, not enough space for the number of people really needed to operate the ship. The only reason they got through the US acquisition system is they are big pork barrel projects in many parts of the US. Oliver Hazard Perry class frigates are 10x the ship at 1/2 the cost. Yes you aren’t going to be engaging air targets at 200nm but they are flexible and reliable and can be configured to support Philippines mission needs. That comes from an aviator who is allergic to ships so you know they must really be good for me to say that.

  7. There are many decommissioned OHP class frigates sitting unused in the US that could be had for a cheap price…do a little overhaul, slap on a credible 100+nm surface to air missile and integrate two helos with dipping sonars and torps and you have a winning ship for Philippines to build a real Navy. You’ve got the people…just need to give them a platform to work with to defend this country.

  8. Out of every one hundred men, ten shouldn’t even be there, eighty are just targets, nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle. Ah, but the one, one is a warrior, and he will bring the others back.

  9. Congo/Zaîre also bought some ‘modern military planes’ and if some Pinoys are so proud of the modern jets they got -> look at the tiny Singapour and its armed forces which are much more modern and ready for a fight than the Philippines’s armed forces.

    In the 80’s the Philippines had one of the top military force in Asia, after kicking out the USA it went down the drain.
    The Philippines could (if they ever had the means) buy hundreds of F-22 or F-35, dozens of Zumwalt DD (plus train the pilots and crews and so on…) and would still not be able to even delay a bit the Chinese -> because by the time the Philippines would have reached an acceptable level of power for its armed forces the Chinese would have multiplied by xx their (already huge) own military assets.

    In case of a military conflict with China those dreaming of a repeat of the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese war are in for a painful time:
    – The Chinese war aims were limited.
    – Conflict was on Vietnamese land against a Vietnamese army still full of veterans.
    – China (and Vietnam too) of course did not use its full strength.
    – China military capabilities have grown xx times since then.

    The point is, right now the Philippines military is in such a bad shape that buying a few jets (trainers by the way) will not change anything except make some Pinoys prouds

    This said, as the USA’s power is decreasing the smart move for the Philippines would indeed be to grow back some semblance of armed forces + make friends with other Asian countries who are themselves afraid of China (look Japan, South Korea, Singapour, Vietnam to name a few) and push for a kind of alliance.

    Sidenote: I am European married to a Pinay and not a total idiot when it comes to geopolitics and armed forces, I still like the Philippines though the mentality of some is incredible.

  10. that aircraft shown on the article’s frontispiece are TRAINERS_not front line fighter aircraft
    the kind that aviation students first go into to learn the rudiments of flying
    when a hot, shooting war ensues, that pricey metallic junk is a goner
    switch to multi-role, combat-proven MikoyanGurevich MIG-35s for genuinely pleasing results
    and that is a lot of money-well-spent to pay instead for paper aeroplanes

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