Manila (dpa) – Philippines defence officials cheered as the first two of 12 fighter jets purchased from South Korea touched down at an airport outside the capital Saturday.
The Philippine air force has not had fighter jets for a decade, but the government has been building up the military’s capability amid increasing tensions with Beijing over territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
“We’re glad we’re finally back to supersonic age,” Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said.
The two jets are part of a squadron of FA-50 fighter aircraft that the Philippines acquired from South Korea Aerospace Industries through a deal amounting to about 400 million dollars.
Filipino pilot Lieutenant Colonel Rolando Pena III, who trained in South Korea to fly the jets, called the aircraft a “very significant” boost to the military’s ability to defend its territory.
“Now that we have a supersonic aircraft, our reaction time will be faster and we are more capable with this type of aircraft,” he said.
The Philippines has been locked in a row with China over disputed territories in the South China Sea, which Beijing claims almost entirely.
Manila has filed an arbitration case questioning China’s claim before a United Nations tribunal, but Beijing has refused to participate in the proceedings.
Aside from China and the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam also has overlapping claims to the South China Sea, a key shipping lane believed to be rich in mineral and marine resources.