Philippines to sign $525 Million Canada and Korea aircraft contracts this March 28, 2014

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The Department of National Defense and Armed Forces of the Philippines chose to acquire 12 FA-50 jet fighters made by the Korean Aerospace Industries Ltd. Photo from Korean Aerospace Industries Ltd.

The Philippines will award aircraft contracts to South Korean and Canadian companies worth $525.62 million (P23.7 billion), a senior defense official said on Friday, boosting its capability as tension simmers in the South China Sea.

The Philippines has embarked on a five-year, 75-billion-peso modernization program to boost its capability to defend its maritime borders against the creeping expansion of China in the South China Sea.

"This is significant because we need to give our armed forces the minimum capability to perform its mission and responsibility," Manalo told reporters after completing negotiations with the two companies.

Korean Aerospace Industries Ltd. got the contract for the fighter-trainers worth 18.9 billion pesos while Canadian Commercial Corporation, which is licensed to market Bell helicopters, promised to deliver its first craft next year.

Last week, China prevented two civilian ships from delivering supplies to troops stationed in the shipwreck in the Second Thomas Shoal.

China claims 90 percent of the South China Sea's 3.5 million sq. km. (1.35 sq miles) of waters. The sea provides 10 percent of the global fish catch and carries $5 trillion in ship-borne trade each year.

Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan also have claims to the sea.

The Philippines' ill-equipped armed forces are no match for those of China, despite receiving two cutters and coastal radar stations from the United States. The military lost its fighter capability when it mothballed all its F-5A/Bs in the early 2000s.

Manalo said the Philippines was also spending 26 billion pesos within the year to acquire two frigates, two strategic sealift and three anti-submarine helicopters.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario on Friday warned that China was determined to change the status quo in the disputed waters, taking control of the Scarborough Shoal and forcing Manila to remove a transport ship that ran aground in the Second Thomas Shoal.

Fernando Manalo, undersecretary of defense for finance, munitions, installations and materiel, said the Philippines would acquire 12 brand-new FA-50 fighter-trainers and eight Bell 412 helicopters under a government-to-government deal.

The contracts to be signed on March 28 will include the purchase of 12 FA-50 fighter jets from state-run Korea Aerospace Industries for 18.9 billion pesos ($417.95 million), Defense Undersecretary Fernando Manalo told reporters.

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The Bell 412 is a development of the Bell 212 Twin Huey, the main difference being the 412 has a four-blade main rotor. Photo from www.bellhelicopter.com

State-owned Canadian Commercial Corp. will meanwhile be contracted to supply eight Bell 412 combat utility helicopters worth 4.8 billion pesos, with the first three helicopters expected to be delivered next year, he added.

"This is significant because it will give our armed forces the minimum capability to demonstrate their ability to perform their responsibilities," he added.

The Philippines has embarked on a 75-billion-peso effort to upgrade its armed forces, particularly units tasked with patrolling disputed territory in the South China Sea.

These units are dwarfed by those of neighboring China, which claims most of the area, including waters and islets much closer to the Philippines.

The Philippines has already acquired two refurbished frigates from the US coastguard as part of its military modernization program .

China said its coastguard on March 9 blocked two Philippine-flagged vessels approaching Second Thomas Shoal, which is guarded by a small group of Filipino marines but is also claimed by Beijing.
The shoal is part of the Spratlys, a chain of islets and reefs that sit near key shipping lanes, are surrounded by rich fishing grounds and are also believed to lie atop huge oil and gas reserves.

The Philippines has also accused the Chinese coastguard of firing water cannon blasts on January 27 at two Filipino fishing vessels off Scarborough Shoal, a rocky outcrop lies just 220 kilometers off the main Philippine island of Luzon. GMA news/ Reuters

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