Monday, June 27, 2016

Capabilities of FA-50 and as Part of Air Defense System

A nation with decent air defense system consist of radars, fighter jets, communication stations, and early warning systems. And with that comes FA-50, which capabilities Philippine Air Force has, undermines than that of its neighbors who has fully-fledged Multi role fighter jets.

Philippine Air Force FA-50 jet.
Philippine Air Force is indeed called on its adage as an all-air, no force organization since 2005 where it retired its last of those 1960-era F-5A/B Freedom Fighters. That alone restraints the air force to do air patrols, intercepting aircraft and most of all, implementing the Philippine Air Defense Identification Zone (PADIZ). It was not until late 2015 where the first  two FA-50 jets were arrived from South Korea. 

These jets were developed by Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI) as a replacement of their own F-5 jets. These were developed out from T-50 trainer jets in which KAI also developed for the purpose of training. Its designation in the Philippines can be categorized as Lead-In Fighter Trainer or LIFT. Its primary purpose was to train pilots how to operate a jet which fitted of the latest avionics and gauges which is a far cry from most planes PAF obtains from its inventory. All of which is for the pilots to do flybys, patrols, exercises and other things where the skills were needed when the more sophisticated, highly-capable Multi-role fighter comes in. It also comes with its secondary purpose. Since PAF starts from level one all over again, it is deemed expected that FA-50 jets are interim fighter jets since MRFs were not yet acquired. All of this in which it stirs confusion among common people upon the purpose of the FA-50. Not also to mention that the Flight Plan 2028 comes up with plans for a credible, stronger air force.

The question comes in this way: is FA-50 capable of its mandate alone? How does it play a role in an ideal air defense system? How does its specs come out with its expectations?

From the notes of Tan Tian Cai. [link here]
A screen of an early warning radar.
Among the endless debate over the FA-50PH's roles and capabilities, equipment level and the future MRF, people tend to get so caught up in the argument over what the FA-50PH is capable of doing or not that they often outright ignore the big picture. Alot have been said over how the FA-50PH could serve as an interim interceptor until the future MRF enters service.
People take one look at the FA-50PH's spec sheets and conclude that it's on par with a light MRF as it's already well equipped for multi-role missions. A lot of people like to point to fact that the FA-50PH is equipped Link 16 datalink as a benchmark that it's capable of joint forces operations.
Unfortunately, specs alone don't tell the whole story. To use the much exhausted Link 16 as an example, the data link by itself alone is useless. In simple terms, before you can use the data link to share data, you need assets to collect the data to be shared. If you have no data to share, then the data link is useless.
Herein lies the problem. For the PAF lacks not only fighter jets, they also lack the important force multiplying assets namely proper radar coverage of it's territory. Radar is the eyes of the battlefield. You simply can't hit what you never saw coming no matter how powerful your gun.
Looked at from this angle, the issue is serious. The FA-50PH's Link 16 is useless because the PAF don't have AWACS to gather data over the local airspace and share it with the FA-50PH. It's been discussed both over here as well as on the mother forum that the Philippines ground based radar network has coverage gaps and blind spots.
The situation will remain unchanged even when the PAF's new MRF's arrives. All their advanced sensors are for naught if they lack the rear end support of AEW&C assets. Assets that the PAF lacks.
After all this said, the bottomline is simple. The PAF must NOT neglect the need to invest in force multipliers. At the very least, radar coverage of Philippines airspace must be improved. Because even the best MRF's are blind without radar vectoring to tell them where to go to perform a successful intercept.
What the Philippines urgently needs is not new fighters. It's a radar network to detect intruders and guide friendly aircraft to intercept.

Airbus Military C295 AWACs.
Overall, the capabilities of the whole air force in general is far from being upright, citing the fact that there are many things that are yet to be materialized. The FA-50s are a start, but is insufficient to implement PAF's mandate for a PADIZ. Thus, goals are far from reach as per capability wise is concerned. For now, let there be satisfaction for these LIFT jets, and keep the modernization on-going, if one really wants to have a credible, strong air force.


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