June 22, 2012: The Philippines has ordered twelve South Korean 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 first TA-50 will be delivered next year and the last of them the year after that.
The TA-50 is the combat version of the South Korean designed and manufactured T-50 jet 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 about four hours per sortie and has a service life of 8,000 flight hours.
Seven years ago the Philippines removed from service its eight F-5 fighters. These 1960s era aircraft were not much of a match for more recent warplanes and were expensive to maintain. In the meantime, the Philippines used armed trainer aircraft for strikes against Moslem and communist rebels.
Four years ago the Philippines Air Force bought another 18 Italian SF-260 trainers, for about $812,000 each. 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. Because of operational losses and wear-and-tear few are still in service.
Back then things were pretty desperate, or at least more desperate than usual, for the air force. The rising price of oil has forced sharp cutbacks in maritime patrol flights by its five Italian made 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. The SF-260s replaced the remaining S211s.