By Priam Nepomuceno

OFFER FOR PAF MODERNIZATION. Sweden Ambassador to the Philippines, Annika Thunborg (left) and Department of National Defense Secretary Gilberto C. Teodoro Jr. (right) during their meeting at DND headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City on Aug. 14, 2023. During their meeting, Thunborg offered the Saab JAS-39 “Gripen” to the Philippine Air Force for its modernization needs. (Photo courtesy of DND)

MANILA – Sweden has again offered its Saab JAS 39 “Gripen” multi-role fighter aircraft for the modernization needs of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) which is looking to beef up its fleet.

This developed following Monday’s courtesy call of Sweden Ambassador to Manila Annika Thunborg to Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. at the DND headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

“On modernizing the Armed Forces of the Philippines to more effectively protect the country’s territorial integrity and interests in its EEZ (exclusive economic zone), Secretary Teodoro emphasized that whatever defense acquisition the Philippines will pursue must be sustainable, interoperable, and supportable. Recognizing the Philippines’ need for a modern PAF, Ambassador Thunborg highlighted Sweden’s offer of its flagship multi-role fighter aircraft, the Saab JAS-39 ‘Gripen’,” DND spokesperson Arsenio Andolong said in a statement Wednesday.

The JAS-39 is considered one of the top two contenders for the PAF multirole fighter (MRF) acquisition project with the other jet fighter being the US Lockheed Martin F-16V “Viper”, the latest version of the American-made aircraft now being supplied in quantities in many air forces in the world.

The JAS-39 is classified as the most reliable “swing-role combat aircraft” available in the world.

The Swedish-made fighter requires minimal personnel and ground support equipment for dispersed operations and can operate from small unprepared roads. It is also equipped with sophisticated radar and sensors and weapons.

The MRFs are expected to backstop the military’s existing fleet of 12 South Korean-made Mach 1.5 capable FA-50PH light jet fighters.

The requirements for the MRF project stipulate that the offered aircraft must be “fourth generation or higher.”

The project also requires 12 MRFs at least capable of patrolling the country’s protected waters and airspace.

The MRF project is supposed to be part of Horizon 2 of the AFP Modernization Program slated for 2018 to 2022, which aims to acquire more equipment for external defense, but was pushed back for implementation due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Previously, Sweden discussed the JAS-39 to Teodoro’s predecessors, then DND officer-in-charge Senior Undersecretary Carlito Galvez Jr. this March 24 and then Defense chief Senior Undersecretary Jose Faustino Jr. on Dec. 21, 2022.

“Exchanging regional security situation updates, Ambassador Thunborg noted the developments in the South China Sea (SCS)/West Philippine Sea (WPS) and conveyed Sweden’s support for the Philippines’ position and upholding the rules-based international order,” Andolong said.

“Welcoming the support from Sweden and other like-minded partners, Secretary Teodoro hoped for a global consensus on the 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruling on the SCS and underscored the importance of the Philippines’ enforcement of its sovereign rights over its EEZ,” the DND spokesperson said.

He added that both sides looked forward to the ratification and implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding concerning Cooperation in the Acquisition of Defense Materiel, which was signed between the Philippines and Sweden last June 3 in Singapore.

“In anticipation of possible projects in the future, the Swedish Ambassador proposed to facilitate the exchange of information on the two countries’ differing financial systems and financing packages that Sweden could offer,” Andolong stressed.

Both countries are also looking at possible cooperation or capacity-building on disaster resilience and management. (PNA)