Although the USA exercised a strict control of the Philippines because of the strategic importance of this huge archipelago ever since the defeat of Spain, in the war fought at the end of the 19th Century, the country was practically independent by 1941, when the Japanese attacked. By the spring of 1942 the US and Philippine Army were defeated but scattered remnants of different units remained on a number of islands and later during the war the Americans strove to goad the local population on again and again against Japanese.
After the liberation of the Philippines, in 1944 and 1945, Washington and Manila agreed the USA to continue using their bases, foremost Clark AB and Subic Bay, with the USA compensating for the right to use these bases in the form of money and equipment for the Philippine military. In September 1945, for example, the first two Douglas C-47 transports were supplied to the Philippine Army (PhA) – at the time there still being no air force yet – and 20 additional C-47s followed by January 1946. After a number of training and liaison aircraft was supplied from the USA, the Philippine Air Force (PhAF) stood up as a separate command and a branch on 1 July 1947, and in the following months the USA also started delivering the first North American P-51D Mustang fighters. The Mustang was highly regarded by the Philippinos, and entered service with the 6th and 7th Fighter Squadrons, that formed the 5th Figther Wing. By 1951 also the 8th Fighter Squadron was formed after additional P-51s were delivered. For most of the early years of the PhAF, understandably, there were more aircraft than pilots within the PhAF, but the Philippinos proved willing and fast to learn, and by the mid-1950s the air force was actually independent from direct US support, having a considerable number of highly-respected fliers and technicians.
The main base of the PhAF at the time was in Manila, but the PhAF operated also from a number of other airfields: there were no less but 200 runways of one type or the other left behind from the WWII, so that the new force experienced hardly any problems in finding suitable airfields to operate around the country.
Part of the US efforts to undermine the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, in the 194s, was also the setting up of the so-called People's Army (Hukbalahap), briefly Huk, led by Luis Taruc. For their active participation in the war against Japan the Huks were promised to get six places in the post-war government of the Philippines. However, as soon as the country was liberated from the Japanese, the situation changed as the new government in Manila and the USA were not interested in the power-sharing. Eventually, as the differences increased, Taruc and his fighters were forced back into the mountains.
It took not much longer until there were first clashes between the Philippine Army (PhA) and the Huks, and by the late 1946 also the newly-acquired C-47s began pariticipating in the fighting. However, the first serious engagements broke only after the Philippine Republic was proclaimed, in March 1947. The Philippine military was already at the time suffering from corruption and inability in its higher echelons, so that the Huks – also highly experienced in guerrilla warfare – had no particular problems to bring a sizeable area in central Luzon – the main Philippine island – under their control. Even when the PhAF time and again managed to put parts of the Huk force under pressure, like when a unit of 2.000 Huks was encircled at the Mt. Arayat, the rebels were frequently left to escape unmolested. Consequently, Taruc had little problems to establish many bases inside the area held by his fighters. By the year 1950 the Huks numbered some 15.000 fighters and around 150.000 collaborators.
Once the Korean War broke out it became a vital interest of the USA to reinforce the Philippine armed forces, and support the government in Manila against any kind of insurrection. This effort came in the last moment, then in March 1950 the Huks started a large offensive against San Mateo, San Simon, Los Banos and Montalban, whereby the local PhA units were taken by surprise, and swiftly outmanoeuvred and outfought. In August, after re-naming their movement into “People’s Liberation Army”, the rebels attacked Santa Cruz.
Under heavy pressure, the government appointed Gen. Magsaysay as the Secretary of Defense. Magsaysay was foremost concerned to establish better relations between the armed forces and the local population, and his efforts were soon to result with the betrayal of 105 of important Huk-supporters. In November 1950 the Americans also formed a Military Advisory Group (LIKES) on the Philippines, with the task of training the Philippine military and coordinating the distribution of arms and supplies that were arriving from the USA. The PhA was at the time reformed into 26 battalions, each of which had its organic artillery and mortar detachment. The PhAF was meanwhile reinforced by additional aircraft, foremost lighter observation types, like North American T-6 Texan, but also L-4s and L-5s, which saw extensive use in pursuing of the guerrilla.
During the fighting in early 1951 the PhAF flew as many as 2.600 combat sorties, using all aircraft at hand. The (meanwhile re-designated) F-51Ds and AT-6s were mainly equipped with 50kg bombs and 12.7mm machine-guns, but with the time also larger bombs, calibre 250 and 500kg were supplied from the USA, and the Mustang-equipped units then started an extensive interdiction campaign against rebel bases. From late 1951 the PhAF began to use napalm the USA had provided for the official reason of crop destruction. Ever larger formations of F-51Ds were deployed in combat, and eventually a system of “forward air controllers” (FAC) was introduced, using liaison officers assigned to ground units, but also observation aircraft to designate targets for their strikes, but in turn also lessen the risk of civilian targets being hit.
The true workhorse of the PhAF became the Piper L-5, however. This was used for observation and as a FAC-aircraft, but also for reconnaissance (especially for searching farms used by Huks to feed their forces), re-supplying long-range patrols with food and ammunition, dropping small incendiary bombs filled with gasonline on possible Huk hideouts, as well as carriers for captured guerrillas that were given loudspeakers and forced to call their comrades to surrender. The L-5s became instrumental in finding a number of rebel bases, each of which was then attacked by the PhA troops in a series of massive sweeps, for which it was hopped would cut-off the flow of supplies for the rebels. The Huks swiftly learned to hide at the sight of an L-5, then they knew that the aircraft meant a lots of trouble for them.
By 1954 the rebellion was completely broken: the few connections the rebels had to the outside world – in part to China – were all cut-off, and the rebels left without supplies and ammunition. Consequently, on 17 September Taruc was forced to surrender, together with 15.866 of his fighters. By the time, the rebels suffered a loss of 9.695 killed, 1.635 injured, and 4.269 captured; the PhA and PhAF losses were reported with 1.578 dead and 1.416 injured. Some remnants of the NPA survived, however, and remained active – albeit at a negligible scale, compared to earlier times.
In the mid-1960s, the USA were reinforcing the PhAF in order to bolster its capabilities. The first jet planes supplied to the Philippines were Lockheed T-33A trainers, based on the F-80 fighter, supplied already in 1954. The purpose of the T-33s was to act as lead-in trainers for North American F-86F Sabre fighters, which were to replace F-51Ds. The Sabres, most of which came from the stocks of the Nationalist Chinese Air Force, were equipped with AIM-9B Sidewinder missiles, and at the time some of the most advanced fighter-bombers in the World. Most of the F-86Fs were later upgraded to the F-86F-4 model. In addition in 1960 also the first batch of F-86D Sabre-Dogs, all-weather interceptors, ws supplied, which also entered service with the 5th Fighter Wing. The Sabre-Dogs were especially important for intercepting nocturnal flights of Chinese transport aircraft used to drop supplies to guerrilla in the different parts of the Philippines. Due to only a small number of such missions being flown by the Chinese and more pressing needs for close-air-support of the PhA operations on the ground, however, they were foremost used as fighter-bombers.
The old C-47s remained in service, and were to prove more valuable than fighter jets: they enabled swift deployment of Army troops around the country. The aircraft were heavily used and – also because of the permanent weaknesses of the Philippine economy – had to be maintained with US assistance: in fact, even pilot-helmets of the PhAF were paid-for by the Americans. Eventually the PhAF achieved good mission-ready rates, and pilots were excellently trained – also to fight a war on a much larger scale. In fact, the quality of Philippino pilots was such that through the 1960s they were repeatedly recruited to support different US clandestine operations in Indonesia and Indochina. The USA have also aided in upgrading a number of available bases in order to make them capable of handling modern fighter jets. However, this was neither exactly what the PhAF actually needed, nor the threat that was about to ace the government in Manila.
- 6th FS, F-86F, Basa AB, 16 fighters
- 7th FS, F-86F, Basa AB, 16 fighters
- 8th FS, F-86F, Basa AB, 16 fighters
- 9th FS, F-86D, Basa AB, 14 fighters
? COIN Wing
- ? COIN Sqn, L-5, Manila
- ? COIN Sqn, L-5, Manila
? Transport Wing
- 21st TS, C-47, Mactan AB, 15 transports
- 22nd TS, C-47 & F.27, Mactan AB, 20 transports
- ? TTS, T-6G, T-28A & T-34A, Manila, ~45 trainers
- ? TTS, T-33A, Manila, ~20 trainers
- ? HS, H-19A, Manila, ~20 helicopters
While the Huk rebellion was successfully put down – even if in blood – ten years later the Philippine government found itself confronted with a new internal enemy. As first, the Muslims living in the Sulu archipelago and on the island of Mindanao – most of which had their roots in Indonesia – felt so much threatened by the Christian population, that they launched an armed revolt. The government deployed the 1st Company of Special Forces (airborne), trained especially for such purposes by the US advisors, to quell the uprising. Just as the situation was calmed to a degree, however, the Muslims on Mindanao formed the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). The MNLF brought a new quality of insurgency on the Philippines, then the Muslim rebels proved far more fanaticised – even if less effective - than the Huks, and ever since there is no peace any more in the southern Philippines
For reasons described in the previous chapter the Philippine armed forces reacted quite slowly to the rebellion of the MNLF. For several years only the special forces and police were involved in the counter-insurgency (COIN) war, and the operations they have undertaken were very limited in scope.
In 1969, however, the Maoist-communist party militia became active in the Tarlac province, where the Huks fought so successfully years before, and the Philippino government suddenly found itself confronted with a major insurgency and dreadful difficulties. One of the priority targets of the communist rebels were aircraft of the PhAF and different airlines: already on 8 March 1968 an AirManila Fokker F.27 was sabotaged and crashed on the island of Panay, killing all 18 crew and passengers onboard. On 21 April a Philippine AirLines (PAL) HS.748 met a similar fate, and six months later a bomb exploded aboard an F.27 of the same company.
By 1971 the MNLF had already 2.000 active fighters and – despite being under permanent attack by the PhA, especially in the Isabella Province – the insurgency was spreading, in turn forcing the regime in Manila to react in force. Under such circumstances the PhAF was generally reorganized once again, this time getting better prepared for fighting a COIN-war. At Sangley Point AB two new units were formed, the 16th and 17th Fighter Squadrons, both equipped with Douglas T-28D Trojans, and entering service with the 15th Strike Wing. The 5th Fighter Squadron was re-equipped with Northrop F-5A/B fighters. Surprisingly, however, neither the T-28Ds nor the F-5A/Bs were equipped with radios that would enable their pilots to communicate directly with ground forces, and the consequence was that the PhAF and the PhA usually fought separated from each other, even if the Army was increasingly dependent on air support.
Meanwhile, the PhA was relying heavily on services of the PhAF F.27s and C-123s, as well as Bell UH-1H Huey helicopters, the first of which arrived on the Philippines in 1969, for bringing troops into the combat zone. Especially the UH-1Hs of the Vietnam War fame proved their versatility beyond any doubt, being used by the PhAF as a gunship for CAS, for troop transport, casualty- and medical-evacuation (CASEVAC and MEDEVAC), and re-supplying the troops in the combat zone. One of the largest successes the PhAF scored in the following years occurred in June 1972, when a merchant was detected approaching the Philippines with a load of arms for the remnants of the NPA. The ship was immediately put under attacks by T-34 trainers, UH-1H helicopter gunships and H-17s, which were then widened to the positions of the NPA groups waiting for it on the nearby beaches. With such and similar actions the PhAF also successfully interdicted most of the supplies sent by the Chinese to the communist rebels, and in the following months was even more intensivel tasked with supporting ground troops during different operations about most of which, however, not many details are known.
Despite large American assistance and enormous efforts of the armed forces, the rebellion of the communists could not be brought under control, however, and by the autumn 1972 the situation worsened to a degree where the government had to proclaim the state of war, on 21 September. The MNLF boasted meanwhile no less but 58.000 fighters, supported by Libya and China, and in control of the Cotabato Province as well as the better part of the Sulu archipelago.
The power of the air force was clearly demonstrated during the battle of Sibula Hill, on the island of Sulu, in November 1972, when a battalion of elite Philippine Marines was trapped by the MNLF guerrillas and would very likely have been wiped out. The PhAF moved over 60 fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft to the area and launched a series of devastating day- and night-air strikes, while simultaneously dropping supplies to the besieged Marines, which meanwhile dug in. The F-5As, F-86Fs, AT-33s, T-34s, C-47s and UH-1Hs attacked time and again, firing at anything that moved in a display of excellent accuracy, buying time until the following night, when UH-1Hs were used to extricate the surrounded troops. The PhAF was again deployed in force when the City of Cotabato was put under a siege, in 1973. The MNLF surrounded the city, planning to take it by force, but the PhAF deployed a number of AC-47s, U-17s and UH-1Hs to break the siege and launch a counter attack. The planes provided close air support for the local Army and Marine units, while helicopters deployed reinforcements and flew in supplies. In the same year also the town of Maganoy was retaken in a daring airmobile assault using UH-1H helicopter transports.
From March until August 1973 the PhAF was tasked with supporting counteroffensive on MNLF strongholds as well as attacking ships smuggling weapons and reinforcements for communist and Muslim insurgents. Especially the UH-1-fleet became vital in enabling the PhA to respond quickly by moving troops to developing battlefields. Also the U-17 observation planes were instrumental in controlling strikes by faster aircraft. Overall, the PhAF was deployed for all types of operations, including reconnaissance, close air support, supply, air mobility, and strike. Ist aircraft repeatedly attacked suspected even rebel supply depots with rockets, dumb bombs and napalm attempting to destroy the ammunition stocks, while simultaneously actively searching and attacking supply ships in order to interdict supplies. The first large communist offensive, launched in February 1974, saw the PhA garrison in the City of Jolo overrun. The Philippine military had to work very hard and cooperate with both the PhAF and the Navy in order to make regain some ground in response.
Overall, the losses of the PhAF were light. Sometimes, however, the situation was different. During a mission near the City of Parang, which was besieged by the rebels, sometimes in the mid-1970, Commander of the 9th Fighter Squadron, Lt.Col. Antonio Bautista, was shot down after making seven bombing- and strafing-passes over exposed MNLF fighters as these were charging local PhA positions. Bautista ejected successfully from his aircraft but landed in the middle of the MNLF force, and was killed during a short gun-battle.
Actions of single PhAF pilots but also whole units and the whole force were frequently the only mean of saving besieged units, the air force eventually becoming vital in breaking most of rebel attacks. The MNLF obviously attempted to prevent this, then thee are reports about it purchasing SA-7 MANPADs from an unknown source, in the mid1970s. Other than a rumour about an PhAF F-86F being shot down by SA-7s, however, there is no confirmation for this.
Eventually, all the efforts were in vain and the the corrupt Philippine dictator Marcos saw no other way out but to enter negotiations with the communists, resulting in an armistice. This was broken, however, in the early 1976, when the rebels killed 36 members of security forces in Jolo. The response from the Philippine military was fierce, the special forces taking revenge on the local population and mining all the local roads, while the PhAF bombed all suspected rebel bases in the area. In December 1977 the air force finally located the MNLF headquarters in Zamboanga, and destroyed it in a devastating air raid. This seems to have been influential in bringing the Muslims back to the negotiating table, then subsequently the MNLF decided to lay down its weapons.
With the end of the MNLF uprising, the Philippine military was finally able to concentrate solely on fighting the communists, which by 1978 have lost support from China. In the same year the PhAF was reinforced by the addition of LTV F-8H Crusader interceptors. On the paper, this was a significant addition, then these fighters were capable of carrying even 1.000kg heavy Mk.84 bombs. However, the Crusaders entered service with the 7th Fighter Squadron and were used exclusively as interceptors, and thus their purchase was completely useless for the PhAF’s capability to continue the COIN-war. Eventually, the F-8Hs indeed sat out the war in the south, instead intercepting the Soviet Tupolev Tu-95 bombers and reconnaissance aircraft that patrolled between the Philippines and Vietnam, in the 1980s, something approaching very closely to Luzon. While these missions were rather mundane in character, they nevertheless proved that the regime in Manila was taking the issue of air defence very seriously.
Far more important, therefore, was the purchase of the Lockheed C-130 Hercules transports from the USA, in 1977, used to replace worn-out C-123 Providers, many of which saw extremely heavy use already during the Vietnam War, before being supplied to the PhAF. Meanwhile, the equipment of the two COIN-squadrons based at Sangley Point AB was diversified by the addition of SF.260WPs, which were particularly suitable for fighting under Philippine conditions. Additionally, several units based at Nichols Field AB were equipped with a mix of AC-47 Gunships and transport aircraft like C-47s, Nomads, and C-130 Hercules, so to ease the rotation of the crews, as well as enable more direct communication between transport aircraft deploying troops and gunships that were to support them. Except for transports and light training fighters the Philippinos also continued purchasing helicopters, foremost US-built Bell UH-1s, but also German-Spanish Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm Bo.105s, which were assigned to Navy and foremost used to fly patrol missions along the coast. The PhAF, namely, was ever heavier involved in attempting to prevent the flow of supplies for the communists, and in order to detect and interdict these dozens of reconnaissance missions were flown each day. On 15 January 1982, for example, the T-28s attacked a Japanese tanker approaching Mindanao, because it was suspected of smuggling weapons for the rebels. The ship was bombed and strafed, and had her cook killed. Since single-engined fighters were almost useless for long-range patrol operations, however, the PhAF purchased three Fokker F.27MP aircraft, equipped as maritime patrol aircraft to do the job.
5th FW, Basa AB
- 6th FS, F-5A/B
- 7th FS, F-86F
- 8th FS, F-86F
- 9th FS, T-34A
15th Strike Wing, Sangley Point
- 16th AS, T-28D
- 17th AS, SF.260WP
- 25th AS, T-28D
- 27th SARS, HU-16B
205th CW, Nichols AB
- 204th TS, F.27
- 206th TS, C-47
- 207th TS, C-47
- 505th ARS, UH-1H, Bo.105C
222nd HAW, Mactan AB
- 221st HAS, C-123B/K
- 222nd HAS, C-130H & L-100-20
- 223rd HAS, Nomad
- 291st SAMS, Beaver, Sangley Point
- 303rd ARS, AC-47, Nichols AB
- 601st LS, U-17A/B, Sangley Point
- 901st WS, Cessna 210, Sangley Point
- 702nd SMS, F.27, UH-1H, Boeing 707, Nichols AB
In the summer of 1982 the Philippine armed forces launched a massive offensive against the communists, attacking a force of some 100 rebels near Agusan del Norte by the means of helicopters and special forces. In February 1983 a similar operation was undertaken against a concentration of 600 communists on northern Mindanao, however these events were overshadowed by the assassination of the leader of Philippine opposition, Benigno Aquino, on 21 August of the same year, on the airfield of Manila. In the early 1980s the F-8Hs were finally armed with air to air missiles in the form of the AIM-9Bs which were taken from the F-5A/Bs. This gave the F-8Hs an ability to engage enemy targets at better ranges, but there were no enemy planes flying around and the AIM-9B were completely obsolete by this point. Consequently, the overall situation in the COIN-war against the communists changed relatively little in the 1980s: in fact the condition of the Philippine armed forces was meanwhile detoriating as the declining US-support and increasingly massive corruption within the top Philippine leadership resulted with the lack of funding for the military. By the late 1980s the surviving F-8Hs were mothballed; the nation was not under a threat from the outside and the Crusaders became costly to keep airborne due to their age and increasing costs of fuel. Few F-5As and T-28Ds have got new radios in order to enable their crews to communicate with ground troops, but this was of little use because the PhA lacked the money to launch any kind of significant COIN-operations. The remaining three C-130Hs were no longer airworthy, the last few C-123 retired, and remaining AC-47s as well as C-47s slowly phased out when the prospects of them being re-engined disappeared due to the lack of money. The helicopters were barely used either, the T-28Ds instead flying most of the ground-attacks. Out of some 17 Sikorsky S-76/AUH-76 helicopter gunships and transports by 1988 only ten remained intact: most of the times they were used for VIP-transport, even if they saw some action as gunships in cooperation with T-28s of the 15th Strike Wing.
Being simple and cheap to operate, however, the helicopters were to play a much more important role for the fate of the nation in the following years. Namely, in early 1986 the regime of dictator Marcos started to crumble in the face of massive protests. Although large sections of the Army, Navy and the Air Force remained loyal to him, many soldiers joined the protesters. As the protests increased and several important government installations and prisons were under a kind of siege. On 12 March 1986 a battalion of Marines at Camp Crane, supported by two AUH-76s, came under pressure and was about to be taken over by the protesters. The commander of the camp was ordered to punch through the “human-wall” of the civilians outside, but refused to do so. Consequently, Gen. Ver ordered the commander of the 15th Strike Wing, Col. Antonio Sotelo, to prepare a mission that would knock out both of the helicopters at Camp Crane. Due to increasing problems with the morale within the military, none of the pilots in this unit wanted to fly that mission. Consequently, Sotelo decided to switch sides and join the protesters: instead of an attack, he ordered the pilots to fly reconnaissance missions over the area
The defection of the 15th Strike Wing during this uprising is thought to have been a main nail in the coffin of Marcos’ regime: it forced the dictator to resign and opened a way for the Philippines to become a democratic nation. It was, of course, not the only similar defection, but definitely the most important one: while some other units were also ordered to attack civilians, the refusal of the 15th Strike Wing to do so caused the commanders of other units to join it and thus the rebellion spread within the whole army. With the loss of the 15th Strike Wing and Col. Sotelo, Marco’s regime lost the mean of suppressing revolts of this size, and could not survive.
What made matters worse for Marcos yet, however, was that the 15th Wing then turned their AUH-76s against the dictator: two helicopters attacked the Malacanang Palace, the presidential compound, and fired rockets even into the room of Imelda Marcos, dictator’s wife, before turning to attack the guards and destroy the car of Marcos’ son in law. The crews of the AUH-76s were then ordered to attack the UH-1Hs at Villamor AB, which they did, crippling several machines on the ground. The locally based C-130s and F.27s were left intact, however. Eventually, the USA became involved on the side of their ally and finally evacuated Marcos and his family aboard four HH-3E helicopters to the safety. Marcos was granted asylum on the Hawaii, but died only few years after. The USA have also never released all the money he has stolen from his country.
Problems with internal stability and resentment within the military remained in the subsequent years, despite the democratic development of the country. In August 1987 Col. Honasan led a coup, deploying 2.000 troops of the 14th and 62nd Battalions, led by the scouts of the 6th and 7th Ranger Companies and supported by the Light Armoured Brigade, to occupy different installations in Manila. In the face of spirited resistance by the Police, the Marines and Special forces the rebels failed to take the Malacanang Palace, however, instead pulling back and seizing Camp Aquinaldo, which fell quickly as the local troops joined the coup.
The rebels then moved to capture the Villamor AB in an attempt to prevent any PhAF aircraft or helicopters from taking off and supporting the government. This aim was not completed, however, they took positions around the perimeter. The 15th Strike Wing was then ordered to support the loyal forces, and eventually the coup collapsed, Col. Honasan escaping aboard a helicopter, while the remaining rebels surrendered.
- 6th TFS, F-5A/B, Basa AB, 16 fighters
- 9th TTS, T-33A/RT-33A, Basa AB, 14 fighters
- 105th CCTS, S.211, Basa AB
- 16th AS, S-76/AUH-76, Sangley Point
- 17th AS, MD.500 & MD.520, Sangley Point
- 18th AS, T-28D, SF.260WP, Sangley Point
- 27th SARS, F.27MP, F.27 & F.28, Sangley Point
- 601st LS, U-17A/B, Sangley Point
- 702nd SMS, F.27, UH-1H, Boeing 707, Nichols AB
Other Known Units
- 101st TS, Cessna T-41D, Fernando AB
- 102nd TS, SF.260M, S.211, Fernando AB
- 204th ATS, C-47, AC-47, Nichols AB
- 208th TS, F.27, Villamor AB
- 210th HS, UH-1H, Nichols AB
- 211th HS, S-76/AUH-76, Nichols AB
- 222nd HAS, L-100-20, Mactan AB
- 223rd HAS, Nomad, Mactan AB
Additional military coup attempts threatened to tore up the Philippino nation, but none came as close to achieving this aim as the coup from 1 December 1989. It was started by an attack of the 4th Marine Battalion: the troops used LTVP-5 and LTVP-6 APCs as well as Commando V-150 armoured cars to smash their way into the Villamor AB, quickly bringing it under control, and seizing a dozen of UH-1Hs on the ground intact. Camp Aquinaldo and Bonifacio were captured as well as several domestic and international airports, including the Benito Ebuen AB, where a number of UH-1Hs, C-130s, and a large detachment of F-5A/Bs were captured, as well as the government-run TV-stations of Channel 2 and Channel 4. Fortunately for the government, most of the pilots of the captured aircraft managed to escape, leaving them completely useless for the rebels. But now the government was left with only operational 4 F-5A/Bs to defend the air space.
This time the 15th Strike Wing joined the anti-government side and a number of T-28s and AUH-76s were launched into attacks against Camp Crane and the two AUH-76s permanently based there, as well as the Malacanang Palace, using unguided rockets and machine-guns. The armoured vehicles defending these sites fire back with their 25mm cannons, but failed to hit any of the attacking fighters. The defection of the 15th Wing took the rest of the PhAF and the whole nation off guard. The government ordered the T-33As of the 9th Training Squadron to fly combat air patrols (CAPs) over the capital. By the time these arrived, however, the rebel-T-28s were already away. Subsequently the F-5As were also ordered in the air, and they established a CAP-station almost directly over the Malacanang Palace and Basa AFB. The F-5A/Bs closed in a rebel AT-28s but failed to shoot them down as there was to high a risk of the wreckage killing civilians on the ground.
In the afternoon, two USAF 3rd TFW McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom IIs from Clark AFB, did a high-speed pass over Manila in the show of support for the government of President Aquino, but took no part in the fighting bellow. Nevertheless, they were useful for keeping rebel T-28s from the skies. In turn, the 5th Fighter Wing was ordered to launch an air strike against the Sangley AB. The first F-5A strike was unsuccessful, as the F-5As did not fire. When the planes landed they were ordered to go up again and attack the rebel T-28s. This time they fired off rockets but completely missed the planes, on purpose. Finally the commander was able to convince them to take out the T-28s on the ground. Three F-5As took off, led by Maj. Atienza, armed only with 20mm canons so to damage but – if possible – not destroy the planes there. Eventually, their strikes knocked out seven T-28s and one AUH-76, and destroyed the local fuel depot. Major Atienza was subsequently awarded a Medal of Valour for his bravery during this attack.
By the end of the day the government managed to re-establish air supremacy over the rebels: in fact, one of the rebel-pilots, Lt. Gregor Mendel Panelo defected with his AUH-76, flying to a field outside the capital where he laded and then fled on foot.
On the morning of 2 December 1989 the 5th Fighter Wing was ordered to strike rebel troops and APCs near Camp Aguinaldo. The mission was executed by F-5As that deployed unguided rockets, hitting their objective, but injuring also several loyal troops. Meanwhile, the PhAF deployed the AUH-76s to attack rebels. As the government retook ground the Scout Rangers vacated the Camp Bonifacio and re-deployed into the Makati – a financial district of Manila – where they were to make their last stand. The Marines simultaneously pulled out of Villamor AB – but not before they smashed the windshields of the captured UH-1Hs in order to make the useless for the government. Finally, at the Sangley AB the rebels destroyed two BN-2 patrol aircraft before leaving.
On the following day, the Marines in Camp Aguinlado were forced to surrender. The coup was subsequently declared for over, but the Rangers were still holding out and there was sporadic sniper-fire inside Manila – also well into the night. During the following three days the government entered negotiations with the remaining rebels, both sides also giving several press-conferences in order to explain their points to the public. With no hope for a victory, however, on 7 December the Rangers finally gave up and negotiated the right to return back to their barracks. Overall, however, the coup-plotters had come very close to winning.
The 1990s brought no significant change of the situation, and new rebellions followed. In 1990 Col. Alexander Noble, the former leader of the Presidential Security Guard, defected to Northern Mindanao aboard an AUH-76, joining the local rebels. The helicopter was subsequently used to fly missions against the government. The PhAF dispatched two T-28Ds to attack the rebels in support of government forces. The AUH-76 was taken out on the ground by rockets fired by T-28s on 4 October, but one of the T-28s crashed on the way back to base the same day. Two UH-1Hs that went to the rebel side were found intact. And finally Noble was captured when his group of rebels was smashed by the Philippine special forces: he spent several years in the jail.
Despite such losses and problems in April 1992 the Philippine armed forces launched a new offensive against the rebels on Luzon.. The Special Forces were used to smoke out several communist bases in the Cagayan area, but the PhAF suffered quite some losses during the fighting there, having several helicopters shot down. On 8 May an AUH-76 was hit directly over its base in Camp Adduro, and a second helicopter of the same type was lost on 5 November 1992, near Cagayan, together with an OV-10A that operated out of Cava Yan AB, and two OV-10s destroyed on the ground by the sappers of the NPA.
With the PhAF fleet permanently decreasing already since 1980s, even such minor reinforcement like a delivery of a dozen Siai-Marchetti S.211 jet trainers in the early 199s was a significant development. In the following years also a some 20 McDonnell MD.520 light attack helicopters and some old Rockwell OV-10 Broncos were supplied by the USA, but the fate of all these aircraft was not especially nice. While the OV-10s replaced the older AT-28s and took the role of providing fixed wing support for the ground troops, three S.211s were lost within only a few months in a series of incidents, in which four Philippine fliers died and two were severely injured. In 1992 the PhAF therefore had to purchase six additional S.211s, even if there was barely enough money to pay for them.
5th FW, Basa AB
- 6th TFS, F-5A/B
- 105th CCTS, S.211
15th SW, Sangley Point
- 16th AS, OV-10A
- 18th TASS, MD.520MG
- 20th ACS, AUH-76
100th TW, Fernando AB
- 101st PTS, T-41D
- 102nd PTS, SF.260MP/TP
- 103rd PTS, S.211
205th HW, Villamor AB
- 210th HS, UH-1H
- 211th HS, UH-1H, Bell 205A-1
- 505th ARS, Bell 214, Bo.105C, S-76, UH-1H
220th HAW, Villamor AB
- 222nd HAS, C-130B & L-100-20
- 223rd TAS, BN-2A, N.22B, Missionmaster & Searchmaster
250th AW, Villamor AB
- 221st AS, F.27 & F.27MP
- 252nd HS, Bell 212, Bo.105C, SA.330L, S-76, S-70A-5
- 702nd PAS, F.27-200, F.28
- 901st WS, Cessna T.210G
With the new government of Fidel Ramos, the situation changed in so far, that during the mid-1990s government forces triumphed on all fronts. The NPA was almost completely taken apart and neutralized (although still active, the Philippine Army intelligence considers it not as a threat any more), while MNLF also suffered considerable losses. At this time, however, the kind of MNLF-operations changed, with several smaller - but more extremist - organizations splitting from it, some of which were obviously based on extremist Islamic ideas imported to Philippines by the Pakistani – and Pakistani-trained – terrorist, some of which would leave even the Taliban in shade for being merciless. As it seems, there was a kind of a major plan in developing the Philippines into a main base for international terrorism, on the part with what al-Qaida did in Afghanistan.
The most ferocious new group that appeared at around this time was the so-called “Abu-Sayyaf” cell. Abu-Sayyaf was originally supported by Pakistan and Syria, but it is unclear to which degree this happened officially or unofficially. Certainly the Philippines Army intelligence intercepted a letter from Syria, in which a man claiming to be the "Hizbollah chief of staff" wanted to inform Abu-Sayyaf that President Hafez Assad was willing to provide money to buy arms. Abu-Sayyaf became "famous" for their raid on the town of Ipil, in April 1995. At first, a diversionary attack against local gold mines was started, which drew the attention of the 102nd PhA Brigade: the commander of this unit reinforced the site, but, on the next day, 300 Abu-Sayyaf terrorists - dressed in Philippine Army fatigues - marched into the city of Ipil, executed 53 men, women and children, robbed all the banks and larger shops, and seized 13 people as hostages. Within a few hours after the attack about 100 rebels were pursued by nearly two battalions of the PhA, including some 2.000 troops, through the forests of the province Zamboanga Del Norte. The second part of the terrorist fled sea to the neighboring island, where they were placed under heavy attacks of two OV-10A Broncos. The hunt was not easy and the had to mobilize also four warships, two additional OV-10As, and nine MD.520s.
The deployed forces became involved in a 26-days-long running battle with the terrorists, that caused quite some losses on both sides. Eventually, on 26 April the government reported that 52 out of 56 involved Islamists were killed in Zamboanga, including their Pakistani-trained leader, Janjalani, while the MD.520s managed to surprise an additional isolated group of terrorists and kill 20 of them. Since Ipil incident the Philippine Army stationed stronger forces in the areas under the terrorist threat. There is no true fighting any more even in "guerrilla" means, however, as Abu-Sayyaf ever since specialized in hijacking civilians and extracting money for them, essentially becoming bandits that only officially “fight” for the freedom of the Muslims in the Philippines. Much more often than not, they execute their hostages, however.
The Philippine Army and - what is actually left of - Air Force are usually underway in smaller operations, hunting different groups of terrorists along numerous islands, or - sometimes - also attacking their bases, when these are recognized as such.
In August 1995 the 15th Strike Wing was ordered to support of the Army 401st Infantry Brigade in Northern Mindanao: three OV-10s and two MD.520s were deployed for this purpose and they flew a number of combat sorties, hitting targets together with Army 105mm howitzers. Tragically, several civilians were killed by errant bombs and rockets, and the exact flow as well as the outcome of this operation remain murky until these days, then the commander of the 401st Brigade actually explained to a local major that his unit was engaged in a training exercise, and then changed the story, explaining he’s fighting the NPA.
In 1996 a peace treaty with the MNLF was signed and the organization laid down its weapons. By the time the USA became very concerned about the condition of the PhAF, especially in the light of the permanent tensions with China because of the Spratly Islands, and some efforts were undertaken to improve the situation. The surviving C-130s were all refurbished in South Korea, while also a number of additional UH-1hs and AUH-76s were supplied from the USA. These now represent the main COIN-assets of the PhAF, but are also used for reconnaissance and in the search-and-rescue (SAR) role. Due to budget problems many early warning radar stations were meanwhile given up, leaving the radar-less and days-time only F-5AB/b reliant on a small number of short-range mobile radars and pilot-eyes to care about the defence of the Philippine airspace. As if that would not be enough, most of the surviving F-5As are in such a poor shape that the pilots were advised not to fly any sharp turn with them. Already in the early 1990s only about two F-5As were operational on average, even these could only be considered as marginally capable. Coupled with the fact that they were still armed only with AIM-9B Sidewinders, their effectiveness in the air defence was actually zero. In fact, in 1997 an F-5A crashed while performing aerobatics killing not only the pilot but also a farmer on the ground.
With the poor shape of the planes and the less the modern systems it became apparent that if the PhAF was to patrol their skies and seas – something badly needed in the face of the fact that the terrorists in the south of the Philippines continued getting supplies from overseas – the air force would need to be completely revamped. A 36-plane tender for a multi-role fighter was issued in the late 1990s, with Lockheed pushing the F-16, Boeing the F/A-18, Saab offering its JAS-39 Gripen, IAI the Kfir, Dassault the Mirage 2000E/D, and MiG and Sukhoi pushing for the MiG-29 and Su-27 families, respectively. However, the bid was soon cut-down to only 18 aircraft and then the Dassault dropped the Mirage 2000E/D offer, instead suggesting a sale of 18 refurbished Mirage F.1CTs to the Philippines. Eventually, no decision was taken. Already since the late 1994 there are rumours about the possibility of the PhAF purchasing 18 IAI Kfir C.2s: while the price offered for these aircraft was very low, no deal was signed. In the late 1990s there were rumours that the PhAF was considering a purchase of the RNZAF Douglas A-4K Skyhawks, but like so often none were bought either. In the most recent times the Philippines considered also a purchase of the 28 F-16A/B Block 15 OCUs originally built for Pakistan but embargoed and held back since 1990; at one point in the 1990 even China offered to sell a number of J-7s to the Philippines. No such proposals or ideas became a reality, even if the PhAF officers showed as great favourites of the McDonnell (now Boeing) F/A-18 Hornet, in part also because of its compatibility with the AGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missile. The PhAF, however, lacked the money to purchase even surplus Hornets from the USN. In fact, the economic collapse in 1998 hit the country even harder, and all the “new” fighter jets acquired recently were five surplus F-5As from South Korea, purchased for a price of $100 each!
Eventually, after additional rumours regarding a possible purchase of CF-5A/Ds from Canada, or A-4Ms from the USN, the economic collapse of the late 1990s forced the air force to re-consider its options and it seems that the current “to get” list includes an interim fleet of 18-24 Northrop F-5E//Fs and/or A-4K/Ms. It is interesting in this sense that the USA have so far not showed ready to grant the Philippines any kind of favourable loans it grants to a number of other countries. During the 199s the USA have time and again supplied light weapons – foremost rifles, machineguns and even few light guns – the PhA, but nothing else. The Philippine government, meanwhile foremost concerned with the reconstruction of the country and improvement of living standards for the civilians, was therefore not able to acquire any more complex and expensive systems.
The Spratly Islands are a group of disputed islands in the South China Sea. They are claimed in part or as a whole by China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei. Since the 1970s the PhAF has patrolled the area using F-8Hs, T-28s, C-130s and C-47s, along with the F-27s. Especially the T-28s several times buzzed the Vietnamese-held islands, in the late 1970s and 1980s, while the F-8Hs were called to escort away Russian Tu-95 bombers operating in the area from Vietnamese airbases. For awhile it was planned to build a small ramp with a catapult and arrestor wire system on the Pegasa Island, in order to allow a basing of the F-8H fighters there. This plan was scrapped, however, the realities of the Philippine economy forced the PhAF also to retire its remaining Crusaders, but also cut down the patrolling over the Spratleys. In fact, several early-warning radar stations based on the Spratleys were also removed, for cost reasons, in turn hampering the control of the area. .
The Spratly Island area heated up in the 1990s with competing claims for the territory. The PhAF was sent several times to monitor the actions of rival claimants. In July 1994 the Navy, Marines and Air Force went on a large-scale exercise, including over 40 warships, 15 airplanes and a full battalion of Marines. Later that year in September a second drill with around 30 ships, eight planes and four helicopters was undertaken to “show the flag”. While these drills did not scare the rival claimants they showed that the AFP could deploy need be. Chinese, Vietnamese and Taiwanese warships have been on constant patrols in the area, however, in order to show that they are not deterred by the PhAF.
The OV-10 saw much use over the Islands in an attempt to show the flag and to take pictures of new structures being built by other nations. In 1995 the OV-10s also rocketed several Chinese markers on disputed islands in a show of force, because if the markers were not challenged and taken down quickly the Chinese would then build a structure there, claiming the rock of themselves. At one instance two OV-10s of the 15th Strike Wing were chased away by a RMAF Hawk 208 that had been on a training mission and had no weapons. Pairs of F-5As were deployed with the Western Command PhAF in the mid-1990s on an almost permanent basis in order to monitor the situation in the Spratleys, but this did not help much, so that it was foremost the Philippine Navy that was kept busy shadowing foreign warships and intercepting foreign fishermen that fished in the waters considered as belonging to the Philippines. In 1995 the LST-512-1152 – Benguet - was used to deploy some Marines on several rocks, and the ship was supported by a corvette Auk of the Philippine Navy, two S.211s, as well as several helicopters. Benguet could also take two UH-1Hs on its deck and these were used for overflights of the Chinese-claimed rockets. The situation eventually became very tense due to the appearance of a Chinese Navy warship nearby, so that the two S.211s were held in permanent readiness for reconnaissance and strike missions, should the need arise. In another case, in 1996, a gun-battle developed between a Philippine Navy corvette and three Chinese “fishing boats”, lasting for some 90 minutes.
In 1998 the PhAF flew around 1.000 patrol sorties over the area, and in December 1998 the US Congressman Dana Rohrabacher took a flight in a PhAF C-130 to survey the extent of Chinese movement in the area. He went back to the US Congress urging the US government to do something about this, but eventually nothing specific happened. On the contrary, the Chinese added a helicopter landing platform on Fiery Cross reef during 1990s which severed to heighten tensions. A new airfield was built by the Chinese on the Woody Island in the Paracel Island group, from which even J-8D can operate, and these were observed over the area, in-flight refuelled from re-built H-6 bombers. Finally, in 1998 the Vietnamese fired on a Filipino fishing boat.
Encounters between fishing boats and warships have been tense. The BRP Rizal, a Philippine Navy Corvette, rammed a Chinese fishing boat in 1999 a sunk it in what was claimed to have been an accident that was caused by rough weather. True or not, this added to the tensions. In 1999 the Philippine Navy landing ship Sierra Madre run aground on a Chinese claimed island: a Chinese Navy frigate approached the area and trained ist guns on the ships, so the PhAF fighters was forced to fly CAPs in order to have fighters at hand should the situation culminate into an outright battle. Since then the Philippinos have improved the Pagasa Island airfield to become able of supporting C-130-operations, and in 201 China condemned Philippines for boarding four “unarmed” fishing boats. Onboard the boats, however, the Philippinos found cyanide, dynamite, and blasting caps.
In 2002 two OV-10s were fired at while flying low over the Vietnamese-claimed Pugad Island. Nevertheless, the planes made several passes before returning to base. While no damage was done it caused an exchange of diplomatic protests. Ever since, the PhAF is deploying even C-130 transport planes for patrolling the area and taking pictures of Chinese and Vietnamese-occupied islands. These pictures are then used to lodge complaints. The weakness of the PhAF, however, is rather evident as it lacks the planes and weapons to actually deter the other nations. The war in the south takes away needed assets to patrol the area as well.
In 2000 new fighting broke out between the Philippine security forces, the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and the MNLF also broke a peace treaty with the government and went back to launching attacks. The PhAF was not only tasked with providing air support for ground units but also in maritime patrol operations hunting for ASG fast boats. The Army and Marines took control of the Narciso Ramos highway with help from the PhAF, which allowed the offensive to roll on. During the 39th Marine Company’s attack on Camp Sarmiento the PhAF sent in OV-10s to drop 250lb and 500lb and even some 750lb bombs on MNLF machine gun and mortar positions. In spite of heavy machine gun fire no OV-10s were hit and the camp fell. With the fall of that camp the main ASG-base, Abu Bakar, was open to assault. The 15th Strike Wing was tasked with supporting this attack as well, deploying OV-10s and MD-520s to drop bombs, fire rockets and strafe the camp, softening it up in advance of the Marine drive. Apo Hill, which was a small MNLF base, was pounded for a day by MD-520s and UH-1Hs: the loss of the site was a heavy blow for the rebels and it caused their forces to spread into a number of smaller bases across the area. Many PhA troops and Marines injured in the offensive were evacuated directly to Manila on board the few C-130 transports that remained airworthy.
During the offensive against the ASG in Sulu, in 2000, the PhAF F-5As were seen on the runway being loaded with 20mm ammunition and two external wing-tip tanks as well as two external tanks under the wings, but no bombs. While at least four F-5As could be seen on television next to OV-10s, they reportedly flew only a few offensive actions. The OV-10s and MD-520s of the 15th strike wing did the real work in this offensive, which President Estrada used as opportunity to declare an “all out” war on the MMLF and ASG. The PhAF attacked suspected rebel strong points and offered air support for the Army and Marine units, the MD-520s and OV-10s being rushed into combat more often than ever before, in teams of two each to provide mutual support. It is since a standard tactic of the 15th Wing to have helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft working in team to provide CAS for ground units.
Similar operations were continued in 2001 as well, when UH-1Hs and S.211s were thrown into the fry in support of the Navy patrol boats. In spite of not being in a particularly good shape the PhAF continued operations taking part in all the major combat actions. Accidents were unavoidable due to the age of aircraft and their heavy use, and in March of the same year an OV-10 crashed near Pampanga killing the pilot and co-pilot, Lt. Mary Grace Baloyo, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Valor for her actions in the support of the attack on Camp Abu Bakar. In July 2002 an S.211 crashed in the northern Philippines, killing three people on the ground. By this point most of the surviving S.211s were grounded for lack of spares: in fact only five were left intact! The situation with F-5A/Bs is not much better, then most are not airworthy any more. After the loss of the S.211 the government launched an investigation into why was the type purchased in the first place.
On 12 December 2002 a SF.260TP crashed killing both pilots and one person on the ground. That was the fourth aircraft of this type since 1994. The fleet of Philippino SF260s was actually grounded until February 2001, when a crash-program was initiated to bring them all into flying condition. These small aircraft, operated by the 100th Training Wing PhAF, are well-liked by pilots and capable of carrying rocket pods, machine-guns, and even light cluster bombs. Although lacking armour, self-sealing fuel tanks and ejection seats, they proved successful in the role of flying artillery, and even as dive-bombers, and were eventually pressed into service with the 15th Strike Wing. The decision was brought mainly because of the problems with keeping remaining OV-10s in operational condition.
The following period of the anti-terror warfare was characterised by dozens of small-scale fire fights, with the terrorists repeatedly taking new hostages and escaping with them into the jungle. In June 2001 operation to capture Camp Ednu Harris the 15th Strike Wing dropped over ten tons of bombs and launched several dozens of unguided rockets in support of the effort. The MD.520s took part as well, armed with unguided rockets and machine-guns while the OV-10s used their 7.62mm machine guns, iron bombs, unguided rockets and – occasionally – cluster bombs. During this period several UH-1Hs were armed with forward firing machine guns to support the ground operations. Eventually, the Philippino Marines rescued the US hostage Jeffery Schilling in April, but in response the ASG killed an American hostage by chopping off his head. Meanwhile, the Marines captured the brother of Abu Sabaya, a top leader of the ASG, on September 8th in Jolo during a raid against the local camp.
After the September 11th terrorist attack, the USA decided to become directly involved in the fighting against the Islamic extremists on the Philippines, and Manila granted permission for temporary deployment – permanent stationing of US troops would be against the local laws – of up to 1.000 US “advisors” to the Philippines. The ASG, namely, had certainly links of some kind to Osama Ibn Lade and his al-Qaida network, then already in 1992 the Philippino security services have arrested several Pakistani-trained terrorists that planned to execute exactly the type of attack as done on 9/11. During the 1990s the MNLF reportedly received 3 million dollars from Bin Laden.
The US support for the Philippines came in the form of money, cascaded-down equipment and training. The US Special Forces advisors in the Philippines are not allowed to attack the ASG but are allowed to return fire if fired upon, and are supported by US Army and Air Force MH-60s, MH-47s and C-130s, while the Americans also provided the Philippine armed forces around $100 million worth in equipment, including eight UH-1Hs, a C-130B, night-vision goggles (NVGs), small arms, mortars, and communication equipment. Much of the joint training between American and Filipino forces has taken place in the actual combat zones. The US support definitely rejuvenated the PhAF and PhA’s capabilities to track-down and combat the ASG, as well as other Moro rebel factions. Already during a clash with the ASG in October 2001 the Marines claimed to have killed 38 terrorists, while suffering one killed and nine injured.
As described above, 19 November 2001 marked the new start of the fighting against the MNLF. This force is now under command of Nur Misuari, who was under investigation for graft and stealing public funds. The outbreak of the fighting was caused by Misuari’s fighters ambushing and killing 20 PhA troops. The rebels reportedly have lost a dozen of fighters in the same clash, and this new uprising failed to gain any widespread support. Quite on the contrary, the MNLF was soon to find itself on the receiving end of a series of strikes flown by all available PhAF assets starting in the late 2001. The then commander of the PhA Southern Comman reported that even the F-5As would be participating in these missions, but only the OV-10s, MD-520s and SF-260s were eventually used. Nevertheless, the uprising was broken and Misuari captured in Malaysia, while attempting to reach Sabah. He was turned over to the Philippino government in January 2002.
By February 2002 there were first reports about the US Army MH-47E helicopters undertaking night patrols over the war zone in assistance of the Philippino armed forces. Tragically, on 22 February one MH-47 crashed into the sea, killing ten. In March two US Army MH-60s rescued an ambushed patrol of PhA troops and took defensive actions after being fired on by the ASG. There were also reports that USN P-3 maritime patrol planes flew in support of PhAF and PN operations. On 22 March American medics flew in on PhAF UH-1Hs to pull-out seven Philippino Scout Rangers wounded in a firelight.
In September 2002 MD-520s were called in to support the 1st Marine Battalion during a pursuit of an ASG band that took hostages. During the ensuing fighting nine Marines and 17 terrorists were killed. But, the Army and Marines destroyed one camp after the other, keeping the ASG permanently on the run with the help of C-130s that were used to keep the flow of supplies. The tempo of operations is permanently increasing ever since. During joint exercises with the US military, in May 2002, two F-5As, a single S-211, UH-1H and C-130 each flew alongside three MH-47s and two US F/A-18Ds. Tragedy struck, however, when one of the F-5As crashed into a school killing the pilot Captain Daniel Policarpio and injuring five civilians on the ground. After this accident the PhAF was down to eight surviving F-5A/Bs and grounded them all. Recently the USA should have supplied spare parts for them and started refresher training for PhAF pilots, as well as to train them in the techniques of night-combat.
The cooperation with the USA paid off immensely. The newly formed Light Reaction Company (LRC) of the PhA, created to free hostages and hunt the ASG terrorists down, began to have successes. The unit received training from American Special Forces along with top of the line night vision equipment, new rifles and machine guns as well as body armour. During the operations in 2002 to rescue the Burnham family and Mrs. Yap helicopters were used to track the rebels and the LRC was flown into the theatre by a C-130 transport to replace the Marines who established the initial track on the ASF. The UH-1Hs, covered by MD-520s, then dropped several LRC-teams and these began the hot-pursuit, supported by USAF MH-47Es that deployed fresh troops into the area, which helped keep the terrorists permanently on the run. The all-weather operational capability MH-47Es was important for evacuating injured as the weather got bad and the UH-1Hs could not operate safely.
The LRC had a rough start however as during the operation to free the Burnham family they could not take part: there were no helicopters available to support them, and they were a several-days-march away. That left the Scout Rangers to try and pull off the rescue. In the resulting firefight two hostages were killed and one wounded. Despite the bad weather an PhAF UH-1H then evacuated the wounded Mrs. Burnham out of the area: seven ASG terrorists survived the clash and were on the run, but the LRC was on their trail. Indeed, a revenge on the ASG was not long in coming: on 21 June 2002 Abu Sabaya was caught by an USN P-3C while underway with a speedboat. The Americans instantly called in the Philippine naval special warfare unit and this cached the terrorists in the Sibuco Bay. During the ensuing fire-fight his boat was rammed by the speedboats of the Philippine Navy: Sabaya was killed and four terrorists captured. Regardless how successful, this operation showed once again the weaknesses of the PhAF: there were not even enough helicopters to cover the huge area in the south of the country, not to talk about the fact that it had to be a USN patrol aircraft that detected and tracked the terrorist speedboat: the PhAF has no similar capability like that of the USN P-3C Orions. Thanks to the US support, however, the pursuit of the terrorist was continued relentlessly.
Deploying more Marines, Scout Rangers and the LRC, the Philippinos put the remnants of the ASG under even more pressure. The MD.520s flew strikes against suspected camps in the Patikul area, and by August it was claimed that the LRC alone had no less but 50 fire fights with the ASG in the recent months, suffering only two troops injured in exchange for several killed terrorists. The unit raided even a house in Sulu, suspected of housing the new ASG-leader, “Commander Robot”, in early September. Already on 12 September the RLC was again on a pursuit, intercepting a band of ASG terrorists that were holding several Indonesia and Philippino hostages: during the first firelight one Philippino soldier and two terrorists were killed. Meanwhile, the Marines – supported by two MD.520s – attempted to set up an ambush, but run into a group of 100 terrorists: nine soldiers and 17 bandits were killed. During additional battles in October seven PhA troops were killed, but the Philippinos and their US advisors kept the pressure, striking the ASG at every opportunity, also with PhAF helicopters and artillery. By the end of 2002 the 15th Strike Wing PhAF had a total of 18 MD.520s, eight OV-10s and seven SF.260s in service, as well as approximately up to 60 UH-1Hs, which were used extensively for transporting troops and supporting them with machine-gun fire, even if the later role was meanwhile foremost taken over by the MD.520s.
The year 2003 began with a big battle between the PhA and the MNLF, when the later took 40 civilians as hostages and the 6th Infantry Division was deployed to counterattack, supported by OV-10s, SF.260s, and UH-1. Some 178 terrorists were killed but the exact outcome remains unclear. In May 2003 the PhAF launched air strikes on MNLF bases using two OV-10s and four MD-520s, dropping a total of 121 bombs calibre 175kg in the process. Bombing of the Camp Bushra caused some damage but did not cause the MNLF to abandon it. The attack on Camp Gumander, however, was hailed as a huge success in preventing it from being turned into a fortress. Also attacked were the towns of Poona Piagapo, Pontoa Ragat and Munai; rockets and bombs caliber 175kg destroyed also one of ASG-camps, and the PhAF reported to have killed as many as 60 terrorists. As the planes and helicopters finished their work ground troops moved in and finished off the scattered opposition: town after town began to fall to the Army and Marines as they inflicted big losses on the MNLF. During this time the PhAF admitted that none of its F-5A/Bs were combat ready, but also that all the others could not fly and were grounded. Meanwhile, problems with acquisition of spare parts started plaguing the entire remaining fleet of combat aircraft and helicopters, and many OV-10s, SF-260s, UH-1Hs, and C-130s were grounded. Of some 60 UH-1Hs only 50% remained airworthy. Of all the machines the newer MD-520 was in the best shape and the type continues to bear the brunt of providing armed support for ground units. In the recent years the PhAF received three additional surplus F-5As from South Korea, ten surplus OV-10s from Thailand, and is going to receive additional 20 surplus UH-1Hs from Singapore, as well as 30 from the USA. At least eight additional F-5A/Bs were received in the last few years from an unnamed source, but all were meanwhile grounded for lack of spares and trained crews to maintain and fly them. The Blue Horizon UAV was also acquired from Singapore and Israel in 2001, and a PhAF officer already visited the Korean Aircraft Industry (KAI) plant to look at the KT-1 trainer. Deals for surplus F-5E/Fs from Taiwan, Switzerland and Jordan have fallen through for one reason or another leaving the air force still in need of new equipment. There is still a requirement for a multi-role fighter, the front runner in which is meanwhile the F-16, but with lack of finances and corruption in the government it seem to prevent any possibility of such acquisitions, and even some vitally important programs of the Navy appear to be in doubt. The air force is slowly trying to rebuild, but lack of funds, corruption, and a costly war in the south continue to have a negative impact.
In July 2003 during the hunt for Ghadaffy Janjalani, one of ASG’s local commanders, the PhAF deployed two OV-10s, three MD.520s, and two UH-1Hs to aid in the effort. Janjalani gathered some 71 terrorists in the Butril area when these were attacked: one OV-10 dropped eight bombs calibre 175kg on his suspected hideout while three MD-520s flew then strafed the fleeing rebels. Although Janjalani survived, his forces broke and fled with the army on their heels. In October of the same year the Philippines were declared a major non-NATO ally by the USA and are thus due to receive more military equipment in the coming years – especially for fighting against the ASG and the MNLF. The USA are now providing plenty of financial support and surplus equipment to aid the PhA and the Philippino Navy, while the Lockheed offered a barter deal for a dozen of F-16A/B Block 15s to the PhAF – even if it is very unlikely that anything might come out of this. With American support flowing in the Philippine Armed Forces have been able to keep constant and relentless pressure on the rebels, overrunning one camp after the other. The same is likely to continue happening this year as well.
On 27 January 2004 the Marines suffered a loss of one killed and 12 injured when they stumbled into a ASG ambush, and a PhAF UH-1H injured the crew when crashing on 5 March. Newest reported battles followed on 4 April, when four ASG terrorists were captured by the Marines, and four days later, when six terrorists were killed during a fire-fight in Basilan.
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