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Purchase of S. Korean fighter jets not due to China row — PHL Air Force

The deal to purchase 12 units of FA-50 fighters from South Korea is mainly to upgrade the country's air defense capability and not due to the rising tension in the South China Sea, the Philippine Air Force said Saturday.

PAF spokesman Col. Miguel Okol on Saturday told GMA News Online in a text message: "It is for your defense as a whole not only because of a situation. Our defense department and we in the Air Force match up our capability upgrade on shortfalls and needs."

"In this case we are moving towards beefing up our external defense capabilities having prioritized internal security operations over the last 12 years," he added.

For his part, Defense spokesman Peter Paul Galvez said, "Plans to buy jets [had been done] and programmed way before territorial issues cropped up."

Brand new

Galvez said the jet fighters to be bought from South Korea are "brand new units."

"Aside from being lead in fighter trainers, the FA-50 jets can also perform close air support mission, maritime air patrol, combat air patrol and limited air intercept missions with ground control intercept radars which we are acquiring," Okol said, when asked about the capabilities of these jet fighters.

According to an earlier Reuters report, the Philippine government has reached an agreement with Korean Aerospace Industries Ltd. for 12 of the aircraft and would sign a contract before March 15.

"This is a very important project together with the frigate of the Navy because of our objective of building a minimum credible defense," Fernando Manalo, undersecretary of defense for finance, munitions, installations and materiel, told Reuters.

For her part, Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte on Saturday said the country is one step closer to beefing up its air defense capability following Malacañang's approval of the payment mode for them.

Valte said the Palace's approval usually means President Benigno Aquino III's questions about the transaction had been addressed.

"Usually po ‘pag ganyan that means na-iron out na po ‘yung mga kinks or at least the President's questions had been sufficiently answered by the department," Valte said on government-run dzRB radio.

The Philippines had been trying to improve its military capability in the wake of territorial disputes in parts of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

In past months, Philippine forces had figured in tense moments with Chinese vessels in some of the disputed areas.

Manila has sought arbitration and a rules-based approach to settle the row. — LBG, GMA News