Revised January 3, 2014. See bottom of the page for the complete revision history
The Philippine Air Force (PAF) posted an update on the status of their modernization program on their website recently, and there are a lot of “goodies” there, among them are the procurement of Short Range Air to Air Missiles (SRAAM) for a “Fighter/Surface Attack Aircraft/Lead-in Fighter Trainer (F/SAA/LIFT) Aircraft”, which we can safely assume to be for the FA-50 Fighting Eagle (no, I’m not going to call it the “Feagle”) as it is the only such aircraft we are procuring as of now, and the fact that the status specifically mentioned that they have consulted with the manufacturer Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI) with regards to the official certification of weapons of the aircraft, and KAI also just happens to be the manufacturer of the FA-50.1
‘Bidding Details and Significance’
The procurement called for 312 SRAAMs for a total cost of P 2,636,637,612 which at the exchange rate of USD 1 = P 45 (used in the FA-50 transaction) would be equivalent to USD 58,591,947. Unit price will be at P 8,450,761 or USD 187,795. The transaction will be made thru direct contracting, and a note for October 2013 read, “… reviewed lot one (1) (Aim 9L/I-1) that focused on conditions of the contract …”. So it seems that the procured SRAAM will be for the AIM-9L/I-1 Sidewinder.
This procurement is very significant for the PAF it will be the first time in FIFTY-ONE YEARS that the PAF will be buying SRAAMs. The last time that our country bought such missiles was way, way back in 1962 when the PAF acquired 150 AIM-9B Sidewinder missiles for our F-86 Sabre and F-5A Freedom Fighter aircraft back then.2 It is almost unimaginable to think that it took us more than five decades to buy new SRAAMs for our fighter aircraft.
The quantity of 312 pieces being procured seems to be a bit on the high side as as we will only have twelve FA-50s that I know we will be buying, and if you arm them with the maximum of six missiles per aircraft you would only need 72.
Even if you factor in some of the other aircraft in our inventory that could carry the Sidewinders like the three AS-211 (can carry a maximum of four each) that are in flyable condition; The five F-5A Freedom Fighters (can carry a maximum of six each) that are in storage; Or the six Close Air Support (probably can carry a maximum of two each) Aircraft that will be bought, and factor in an additional 50% spares for all aircraft, the quantity needed will only be 189, way below the 312 we are buying.
I suspect, though, that the PAF is simply stocking up on weapons as they don’t know when the next SRAAM procurement will be as military procurements do vary greatly depending on who is the President in Malacanang. When Gloria Arroyo was President, very little major military procurements were made during her ten years in office, and it is only under President Noynoy Aquino’s term that the AFP Modernization is taking off and so many procurements are being made.
Since we don’t know who the next President will be and how he or she will handle the AFP Modernization Program, then perhaps it is a good policy to buy whatever we can right now when we can. Remember that the last SRAAM acquisition was over 50 years ago, and I just hope that the next SRAAM buy will not be in another 50 years.
The AIM-9 Sidewinder missile is made by the American company “Raytheon” and first entered service with the United States Armed Forces in 1956. It is described as a SRAAM and is one of the most commercially successful missiles of all time, with an estimated 110,000 built and served in over 52 countries worldwide in over a dozen different versions. The Sidewinder is a combat-proven design with an estimated 270 kills throughout its history of use.3
The version that the PAF seems to be planning to acquire is the “AIM-9L” or affectionately known as the “Lima” version, alluding to the fact that it is the “L” version and that the phonetic alphabet name for “L” is “Lima”. It first entered service in 1977, and is the first “all-aspect” version of the Sidewinder, with “all-aspect” meaning it could home in on targets from all angles due to its more sensitive Infra Red Seeker, unlike previous Sidewinder versions which could only be launched from behind enemy aircraft.
The Lima has seen a lot of combat action and has proven to be very, very deadly over the years, scoring lots of kills in various places like the Gulf of Sidra in Libya, the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon and in the Falklands Islands.
The specific AIM-9L/I-1 version is the improved version of the Lima with upgraded Infra Red Counter-Counter Measures (IRCCM),4 making it more resistant to decoys and reportedly making it the rough equivalent of the AIM-9M (or “Mike“). This means that the AIM-9L/I-1 is approximately the next version just after the latest Sidewinder version which is the AIM-9X.
Despite the fact that the AIM-9L/I-1 has been superseded by the AIM-9X, it and other previous versions of the Sidewinder family are still in service in many countries around the world mainly because their existing inventories are still in the process of replacement by the newer and more capable SRAAMs, which will probably take them around a decade or so to complete. Here are the approximate technical specifications for the AIM-9L/I-1:5
Diameter = 0.13 m
Span = 0.63 m
Length = 2.85 m
Total Weight = 85.3 kg
Warhead Weight = 9.4 kg
Speed = Mach 2.5
Range = 17.7 km
Guidance = Solid-state, infrared homing system
‘Non High Off-Boresight Missile’
My main reservation about this possible Lima Sidewinder acquisition is the fact that it is NOT a High Off-Boresight Missile (HOBM) which is the latest standard nowadays for SRAAMs. An HOBM means a missile that can lock on to a target at a high angle away from the direction of travel of the launching aircraft, and then home in on the enemy using extremely high maneuverability.
This offers a SIGNIFICANT advantage during Within Visual Range (WVR) combat as it enables the missile to lock on to a target at an earlier opportunity than it otherwise would have. A good technical discussion of this can be found at the “Air Power Australia” website under an article titled, “Fourth Generation AAMs – The Rafael Python 4“.
To help illustrate this, here is a picture showing the difference in acquisition coverage between HOBMs like the AIM-9X Sidewinder and the AA-11 Archer against a non-HOBM like the AIM-9M Sidewinder (the AIM-9M has the same boresight angle coverage as the AIM-9L):
As can be seen above, there is an approximately 60-120 degree advantage in target acquisition area for the HOBMs over the AIM-9L/M. The next picture shows how such an advantage can be used during WVR combat:
And here is a video an HOBM in action, the AIM-9X Sidewinder highlighting its high acquisition angles and extreme maneuverability:
The Chinese are using the Vympel R-73 or AA-11 Archer HOBM on their SU-30MKK aircraft and that would give them a significant advantage against our FA-50s with its non-HOBM AIM-9Ls, and would negate the FA-50s projected advantage in maneuverability in WVR combat as discussed in my previous blog, “The FA-50 Golden Eagle versus the SU-30MKK/MK2 Flanker-G“.
However, it turns out that the biggest stumbling block for the FA-50’s use of HOBMs is one of COMPATIBILITY as the FA-50 are NOT yet qualified for use of these types of missiles. There has been many, many claims in the internet about what type of weapons the Fighting Eagle can use that turned out to be false, some of them coming from the manufacturer KAI itself, and thus causing a lot of confusion. An example is this promo video from them that shows the FA-50 carrying the AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missile (AMRAAM):
But the most DEFINITIVE information on which weapons the FA-50 is certified right now is shown by this picture taken from a news item released the middle of this year6 from KAI’s OFFICIAL website:
The information is clear, no AMRAAMs for now, and choices for air to air missiles for the FA-50 is LIMITED only to the Sidewinder versions BEFORE the AIM-9X. More weapons could be integrated into the Fighting Eagle in time, but that could take YEARS to be completed and the PAF could not wait that long before buying missiles for it to use, hence probably the decision to try and buy these Limas.
‘Bargain Price and Availability’
A blessing in disguise in all of this is that we are getting these AIM-9L/I-1s at a relatively cheap price of “only” USD 188,000 per missile as per our budget. Remember that the L/I-1 is a version behind the latest version of the Sidewinder family, and thus can be sold at a cheaper price. Just for the sake of comparison, below are the latest examples of package deal buys for the AIM-9X to show how much more expensive these latest HOBMs can be:
– Belgium in September 2013, 40 AIM-9X for USD 1,700,000 each.7
– Singapore in April 2013, 20 AIM-9X for USD 1,800,000 each.8
– Turkey in December 2012, 117 AIM-9X for USD 1,196,581 each.9
Diehl-Raytheon is the provider of these AIM-9L/I-1s, which are taken from stocks of older versions of the Sidewinder which are refurbished and then upgraded to meet the “L/I-1” standard.10
Ideally, we should be arming the FA-50s and their pilots with HOBMs, but the issue of compatibility is hampering the PAF’s efforts to do so. Despite their shortcomings, these Limas are what the FA-50s can use at the moment, and while they are a “little bit” behind in the latest SRAAM technology, they can still offer the Fighting Eagle some sort of a somewhat credible self-defense capability.
I just hope that as time goes by the issues of compatibility will be fixed and that our economy will improve enough to enable us to buy better weapons for these aircraft, and that our next President will take care of the AFP Modernization just as PNoy had.
I can’t help but reflect over the fact that when we bought the AIM-9B in 1962, it was a state of the art weapon back then, at the cutting edge of technology, being the first operational version of the Sidewinder. Now we are hard-pressed to buy its latest version, the AIM-9X, due to one reason or the other. In an indirect way it shows how far our economic stature has gone down during the last five decades.
On a side note, the Philippine Army (PA) had expressed interest in buying the SPyDer Surface to Air Missile (SAM)11 system which uses the HOBM Python 5 and medium range Derby air to air missile modified for ground use. If the PA does push thru with buying the SPyDer while the PAF goes along with the AIM-9L/I-1, then we would have an amusing situation wherein our ground forces will have better anti-aircraft missiles than our air force just because of that compatibility issue.
(1) November 24, 2013: Originally posted
(2) January 3, 2014: Purged the names “Golden Eagle” and “Geagle” from the blog as KAI recently come up with the official name for the FA-50 which is the “Fighting Eagle”; Updated information on AIM-9L/I-1 to reflect it as the rough equivalent to the AIM-9M; Updated Footnotes to the latest standard.
Status of Ongoing PAF Modernization Projects,
SIPRI data on Arms Transfers to the Philippines from 1965 to 2012,
Diehl-Raytheon Missile Systeme GmbH captures $30 million international Sidewinder missile sale,
AIM-9 Sidewinder – Short Range Air to Air Missile,
KAI contracts for serial production of the FA-50,
Belgium – AIM-9X-2 SIDEWINDER MISSILES,
Singapore – AIM-9X SIDEWINDER Missiles,
Turkey – AIM-9X-2 SIDEWINDER Missiles,
PH plans to tap Israel for missile launchers,