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RP to have 1st surveillance aircraft soon

CLARK FREEPORT, Pampanga , Philippines  – The Philippines will soon have a Big Brother in the sky when its first surveillance aircraft is delivered sometime this year.

“We will have surveillance aircraft that they call ‘eye in the sky’,” Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales told reporters here Friday when he led an inspection tour of 18 SF-260 trainer aircraft being assembled by Italian firm Alenia Aermacchi and its local partner, Aerotech Phils.

The new trainer jets would be delivered to the Philippine Air Force (PAF) at a cost of $13.1 million.

Gonzales also said the surveillance aircraft would be delivered within 100 days.

He said there would be a similar aircraft for civilian purposes.

“(There will be an aircraft for) civilian applications like tracking down those cutting trees and also smugglers who crisscross our borders,” he said.

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Civil rights groups have expressed concern that the aircraft might violate privacy rights of individuals.

Gonzales said the surveillance aircraft formed part of the attack helicopters and medium lift airplanes that will be delivered within the year.

He said the purchase of the aircraft was authorized and funded by the government.

“We have to thank Congress which has finally allowed the Armed Forces to go into multi-year obligational contracts, meaning that the money we expect on a year-to-year basis we can already spend today. So we can contract big acquisitions,” Gonzalez said.

He said Aermacchi is transferring its aircraft assembly and parts manufacturing to Aerotech, which is expected to complete the assembly of the jets within the year.

The jets would be used for training of PAF pilots, Gonzales said.

The Department of National Defense (DND) said the contract also provided for integrated logistics package, including pilot training, technical and maintenance training and after-sales support for equipment and spare parts.

The DND has secured a multi-year obligation authority (MYOA) from Malacañang and Congress to fast track the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

The authority will allow the DND to enter into multi-year contracts for its projects, including the procurement of military equipment.

Without the MYOA, the defense department can only spend up to P5 billion per year from the modernization funds.

Gonzales said the initial phase of modernization, which would involve defense capability upgrade, could be done within the next two years. 

He said full modernization, wherein the military would be able to acquire the latest available equipment, could be pursued after 10 years as the country generates enough funds.   – With Alexis Romero

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