Warplanes: Jet Trainers Do It All


March 27, 2010:  Two years ago, the Philippines Air Force bought another 18 Italian SF-260 trainers, for about $812,000 each. They were supposed to have arrived by now, but there were contract problems. Those problems have been solved and the aircraft are being assembled in the Philippines, using some components manufactured in the Philippines. Delivery is set for this year, with first four entering service in July.

The SF-260 has been around for over 40 years, and about a thousand have been produced. This is a 1.1 ton, two seat aircraft, with a max speed of 347 kilometers an hour and an endurance of about six hours. It can be equipped to carry a few hundred pounds of weapons, and used as a light attack aircraft.

The Philippines had previously bought 64 SF-260s, and has been using them for decades. Because of operational losses and wear-and-tear, few are still in service. The new aircraft will all be in service within 18 months.

Two years ago, things were pretty desperate for the air force. The rising price of oil has forced sharp cutbacks in maritime patrol flights by its five Italian made S211 jet trainers. These five aircraft also served as the only fighter aircraft the Philippines had. Five years ago, the Philippines removed from service its eight F-5 fighters. These 1960s era aircraft were not much of a match for more recent warplanes, and were expensive to maintain. The Philippines bought more helicopters, which were very useful in fighting Moslem and communist rebels. The Philippines also kept in service five S211 jet trainers, which can be used for ground attack, or air-to-air operations (like against terrorists who have hijacked an aircraft.) The Philippines originally bought 25 S211s in the 1980s, but due to accidents and lack of maintenance, only about five were  available for service most of the time.

The Philippines really has no practical need for a jet fighter force. While this is dicey, because of possible clashes with China, the Filipinos are being practical. They could never afford to buy and maintain warplanes sufficient to deal with a Chinese air threat. The Philippines depends on its friendship with the United States for protection. American warplanes provide better protection than any jet fighters the Philippines could put in the air.

The 2.7 ton S211s have a max speed of 665 kilometers an hour, and can stay in the air for about five hours per sortie. The S211s were not really doing much with the maritime reconnaissance flights, as the aircraft lacks a search radar, and must depend on the eyes of the two pilots to spot anything. The SF-260s will replace the remaining S211s.


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