Philippine Air Force (PAF) is scrambling to catch up amid a tight budget after following a decade of inaction to replace aging defense capabilities. PAF after the retirement of the Northrop Grumman-made F-5A Freedom Fighters in 2005 was without fighter jets for 10 years before it got 12 Korean Aerospace Industries-made FA-50 trainers/light-attack jets in 2015.

PAF is now looking at expanding its fighter fleet and is considering placing orders for 12 more fighter jets for which it was in talks with Lockheed Martin for its F-16 Block-70 Fighting Falcon and Saab’s JAS 39 Gripen-E under its multirole fighter program. However, Philippine National Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the F-16 price tag is too expensive, leading to speculation that the Gripen will be the front-runner for the contract but the recent sale of Gripen-E to Brazil confirms that fly by unit cost hovers around $80 million due to which it is having a relook at other options.

Philippines’ debt has ballooned during the COVID-19 pandemic, while Philippine Air Force urgently needs a new batch of front-line fighter jets stemming from the ongoing territorial disputes in the South China Sea as well as China’s regional dominance. This is when India’s state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited has stepped in and has offered Tejas Mk1A which will likely be followed by a detailed presentation and offer some time in the coming few weeks.

Tejas Mk1A has a fly-by unit cost that hovers around $42 million which could mean instead of spending nearly $2.43 billion for 12 jets quoted from Lockheed Martin and even more from the Saab, Tejas Mk1A fleet of 12 jets could be acquired for just over half of the budget that could be required to execute the deal. Both Tejas Mk1A and FA-50 are powered by the General Electric F404 after-burning turbofan engine and also have ELTA EL/M-2032 fire control radar that will reduce additional expenses required to train the ground crew and graduating pilots from FA-50 to Tejas Mk1A will fit in faster.

The commonality of engine and radar between FA-50 and Tejas Mk1A could make it an attractive deal for the Philippine Air Force and if India steps in with a credit line and provides a local service line for the fleet then Tejas Mk1A has a great chance to crack the deal.

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