Just when I thought that the acquisition of the P-3C was final, Japan turns around and offers the simpler TC-90 aircraft to us in its place. Japan is reportedly concerned about our Armed Forces’ ability to operate effectively the P-3C and is thus offering these TC-90s as a way for us to slowly gain experience in using more sophisticated Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) first. Although the plans to provide these TC-90s are not solid yet, let’s take a quick look at it and at the same time see how it fits into the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) inventory of MPAs.
The TC-90 is based on the commercial, twin-turboprop engine, straight wing C90 utility aircraft made by the American company Beechcraft. The C90 belongs to the Model 90 Series of aircraft with an official name of King Air. It first flew in 1963, and since then over 3,000 of it and its derivatives has been produced and served with various Air Forces and Airlines all over the world. The TC-90 is the designation given to the Training Aircraft used by the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSF) with unique locally made avionics.
Below is the performance characteristics of the TC-90 compared to the MPA that our Philippine Navy operates, the Britten Norman BN-2T Islander aircraft. I have also included in the comparison table the MPA that our Air Force operates, the Fokker 27 Friendship, and also the P-3C for further reference.
As we can see, the F-27 and the TC-90 have very similar Performances, and both have around 50% faster Cruising Speed and have twice the range of the BN-2. The faster Cruising Speed allows the TC-90 and F-27 to reach Patrol areas faster and also cover more search area for the same amount of time, while their longer range allows a longer search time or reach further areas as necessary. But of course, the P-3C is way out there when it comes to Speed and Range performance compared to the other three aircraft.
’Cost Per Flight Hour Issues’
One good thing about the TC-90 though is that while it has around the same Speed and Range as the F-27, it is a smaller and lighter aircraft using less powerful engines which translates to lower Operating Cost, which I think is very important to our Armed Forces as it is probably one of the main reasons why the BN-2 is still very active up to now while the F-27 is not. The BN-2 has been very visible, whether it is dropping supplies to our troops in Ayungin Shoal, or participating in Naval War Exercises. On the other hand, the F-27 is a lot less visible, reportedly only very few are still in service, with the last report about it was when the nose gear of one aircraft collapsed during landing a couple of months ago.
The “Conklin and de Decker (CdD)” website does not provide direct information on the Cost Per Flight Hour (CPFH) for the F-27, but they does so for its successor and improved version, the F-50 which they put at USD 2.56k. The same website cites the CPFH for the BN-2 at only USD 849, and assuming that the CPFH of the F-27 is the same as that of the F-50 then this means that it costs only a THIRD to operate the BN-2 compared to that of the F-27. This low CPFH is probably why we are able to keep our BN-2s flying but not so much our F-27s.
The CPFH of the TC-90 is estimated by the CdD website to be at USD 1.38k, which puts it roughly in between the F-27 and the BN-2. With the TC-90, we get the performance of the F-27, but at a much reduced Operating Cost which hopefully means we will be able to do a better job of keeping them in the air than we did with the F-27s.
This does however, pose an important question for us: If we really had trouble maintaining the F-27 because of its cost, then how much more a bigger and more sophisticated aircraft like the P-3C whose operating cost is estimated to be at least THREE times that of the F-27 at USD 8k per hour?
While the TC-90 has a relatively low Operating Cost, unfortunately the downside is that it also has a much LOWER capability than the P-3C. For one, the TC-90 is not armed, so we won’t be able to conduct any sort of warfare with it. It may be possible to arm the TC-90, but it will have to go thru a lengthy and expensive process of Evaluation, Testing and Qualifications, and even then it won’t be able to carry anywhere near as much weapons as the P-3C.
The JMSDF only talked about putting Air and Surveillance Radars on it, so meaning practically NO Submarine detection capability and it will just be able to surveil Aircraft and Surface Ships. No news also of which specific models of radars they are going to put into them, so we won’t be able to estimate their capability for now. Hopefully they will have a respectable detection range, like, say, at least 100 km for a mid-sized ship with a Radar Cross Section of 30,000 m^2.
The good news though is that with less sophisticated sensors, Japan will be able to provide their own designed and manufactured equipment instead of relying on American made equipment, hence there will be no need for the additional complicated process of getting approval from the US Congress for the transfer of equipment. This means we should be able to get these aircraft very fast, much faster and easier than getting the P-3Cs with all of their American designed and/or manufactured equipment intact.
A good compromise would probably be just to get the TC-90s while at the same time proceed with the P-3C acquisition (if we still want to get them) knowing that the transfer will take some time. That way we will have better Surveillance capability while the P-3C transfer is taking place, and by the time the transfer is complete, then we will have enough training and experience to operate them effectively.
The TC-90s will give us a more affordable aircraft to use than the P-3Cs, but also at much less capability and less performance. Compared to the P-3C, it is slower and has less range, and we won’t be able to conduct warfare with it, we would only be reduced to monitoring Ships and Aircraft but not Submarines. HOWEVER, they are still better than what we have right now wherein we are using a lower performance aircraft like the BN-2 with only the Mark 1 Eyeball as Sensors, hence I think we should go for it. Hopefully with its lower operating cost compared to the F-27s we will be able to keep these TC-90 flying in the air like we did with our BN-2 Islanders …
^ Japan may give planes to Manila for South China Sea patrols: sources,
^ Islander, The World’s Most Versatile Aircraft,
^ PH Navy airdrops supplies for Ayungin troops,
^ Japan, Philippines hail second day of joint drills in South China Sea,
^ Air Force light plane nosedives in Legazpi Airport; no one hurt,
^ Aircraft Cost Evaluator,
^ Review of Maritime Patrol Requirements,