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Philippine air force in bad shape: spokesman
by Staff Writers
Manila (AFP) Sept 10, 2011

More than three-quarters of Philippine military aircraft are not fit to fly -- hampering the country's ability to protect its airspace and territorial waters, the air force said on Saturday.

Air force spokesman Miguel Ernesto Okol said the military fleet was in dire straits, backing up a 2010 government audit that found only 91 of the 393 aircraft were "full mission capable".

"Our last fighter planes were decommissioned in 2005," Okol told AFP, referring to five 40-year-old F5 jets that were purchased from the United States, a military ally, in 1965.

He said the 17,000-member air force had only one C-5 military transport aircraft, until two more are acquired later this year or in 2012.

Okol said the air force is dependent on ageing, US-made OV-10 planes to patrol the country's vast territorial waters, including disputed South China Sea areas claimed by several other countries.

"Considering this abject state of its air assets, which are mostly ageing, the Philippine Air Force is ill equipped to be operationally responsive to national security," said the report released by the Commission on Audit (COA).

Okol said the air force would use the report to "bolster our request for a capability upgrade."

The Philippines this year acquired one Hamilton class cutter, a decommissioned US coast guard vessel, to boost its South China Sea patrols in areas also claimed by China, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.

On Wednesday, it also announced a 4.95 billion-peso ($118 million) purchase of a navy patrol vessel, six helicopters, and other equipment to defend its South China Sea territories, believed to hold vast oil and gas deposits.

Tensions in the area, for decades considered a military flash point, spiked again this year after the Philippines and Vietnam said that China had become increasingly aggressive in staking its claims to the territories.

During a visit to Beijing last week, Philippine President Benigno Aquino and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao committed themselves to solving the dispute peacefully, but Manila has also insisted it will not back down against Chinese aggression.

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