In May, two Filipino OV-10 aircraft flying off the west coast of Palawan Island (southwestern Philippines), reported they were buzzed by two "Mig type" fighters that were believed to be Chinese. Both China and the Philippines claim the nearby Spratly Islands. Less than a hundred kilometers northwest of Palawan is Reed Bank, where oil and natural gas has been discovered.
No one admitted that their aircraft had buzzed the OV-10s off Palawan. The Chinese Navy does operate nine ton J-7s, which are based on the Russian MiG-21. But none of these aircraft are stationed within range of Reed Bank. The OV-10 pilots may have mistaken a Chinese Su-27, which is also a Russian design and could be mistaken for a MiG-29 at long distance (the two aircraft share a similar shape and design features). What was most alarming to most Filipinos was that the Philippines has no fighter jets, and nothing that could resist even the older J-7s.
The Spratlys are a group of some 100 islets, atolls, and reefs that total only about 5 square kilometers of land, but sprawl across some 410,000 square kilometers of the South China Sea. Set amid some of the world's most productive fishing grounds, the islands are believed to have enormous oil and gas reserves. Several nations have overlapping claims on the group. About 45 of the islands are currently occupied by small numbers of military personnel. China claims them all, but occupies only 8, Vietnam has occupied or marked 25, the Philippines 8, Malaysia 6, and Taiwan one. China and the Philippines are trying to negotiate a settlement of their overlapping claims in the Spratlys.
Since the 1990s, the Philippines has received 32 used OV-10s from the U.S. and Thailand. The OV-10 is a 6.5 ton, twin prop aircraft that could carry over two tons of weapons and stay in the air for three hours per sortie. Wingspan is 40 feet (12.2 meters), and length is 41.6 feet (12.7 meters). The first one was delivered to the U.S. Air Force, for use in Vietnam, in 1968. The last one was produced (for export to Indonesia) in 1976. The U.S. Air Force and Marines were the primary users of OV-10s, and the last of these was retired, by the marines, in 1994. Over a hundred were exported to Germany, Thailand, Colombia, Venezuela, Philippines and Indonesia. Several dozen of these are still in use out of over 300 manufactured. In Vietnam, the OV-10 was used more for reconnaissance and directing air and artillery strikes, than in using its own firepower.