Naval Air: Italian Trainers Over The South China Sea


March 24, 2020: In early 2020 the Philippines Air Force again assigned Italian made S211 jet trainers to maritime patrol duty. Only three of these elderly aircraft are still flyable and they will remain assigned to maritime patrol until they are no longer able to fly at all. This is not the first time these S211s were assigned to maritime patrol.

In 2005, after the Philippines retired the last of its eight F-5 jet fighters, the S211s filled in. The1960s era F-5s were not much of a match for more recent warplanes and were expensive to maintain but were useful for ground attack. As a temporary substitute, the Philippines used armed S211 trainer aircraft for airstrikes against Moslem and communist rebels. The S211 also performed maritime patrol. In 2008 even that was halted. The rising price of oil forced sharp cutbacks in maritime patrol flights by its five S211 jet trainers. These five aircraft also served as the only fighter aircraft the Philippines had. The Philippines bought more helicopters, which were very useful in fighting Moslem and communist rebels.

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 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 lacked search radar and depended on the eyes of the two pilots to spot anything. Prop-driven SF-260 Italian-made basic trainers then replaced the remaining S211s.

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 100-150 kg (220-330 pounds) of weapons and be used as a light attack aircraft. The Philippines had previously bought 64 SF-260s and has been using them for decades. In 2008 the Philippines Air Force bought another 18 SF-260, for about $812,000 each. Back then, because of operational losses and wear-and-tear, few of these were still in service. With the arrival of the 18 new ones that changed and as of 2020 twenty SF-260s are still flying. These can also be used for maritime patrol but, because they are slower than the S211s, they are not as effective. The S211 can get to an area where Filipino commercial or naval ships have reported a suspicious, usually Chinese, ship operating where it should not be.

To replace the S211s in 2015 the Philippines ordered twelve South Korean jet powered TA-50 armed trainers for $49 million each. The price includes training, spare parts, and some tech support. The single-engine, two-seat aircraft is intended to restore jet combat aircraft capability in the Philippines Air Force. The TA-50 were all delivered by 2017 and have been used as light attack aircraft as well as trainers.

The TA-50 is the combat version of the South Korean designed and manufactured T-50 trainer. This aircraft was developed over the last decade, at a cost of over two billion dollars. The first test flight of the T-50 took place in 2002. The 13 ton aircraft is actually a light fighter and can fly at supersonic speeds. With some added equipment (radars and fire control) the T-50 becomes the TA-50, a combat aircraft. This version carries a 20mm auto-cannon and up to 4.5 tons of smart bombs and missiles. The T-50 can stay in the air for about four hours per sortie and has a service life of 8,000 flight hours.




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