Philippines signs $667m military aircraft contracts amid territorial dispute

MANILA - The Philippines on Friday signed agreements to buy US$528 million (S$667 million) worth of military aircraft from South Korea and Canada amid ongoing territorial disputes with China.

"After more than four decades of stagnancy in its dream of improving its capability, our air force has found a promise of new life with the realisation of our (military) modernisation programme," Philippine Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said.

Korea Aerospace Industries will deliver 12 FA-50 jets worth 18.9 billion pesos (S$530 million) in just over three years under a contract agreed by Philippine defence officials and South Korean government representatives.

The South-east Asian country also completed a 4.8 billion-peso contract with Canadian Commercial Corp. and Canada's Bell Helicopters to build eight helicopters for the military.

The twin deals are part of the Philippines' 75-billion-peso effort to upgrade its armed forces, particularly units tasked with patrolling disputed territory in the South China Sea.

These units are dwarfed by those of neighbouring China, which claims most of the area, including waters and islets much closer to the Philippines.

China said its coastguard on March 9 blocked two Philippine-flagged vessels approaching Second Thomas Shoal, which is guarded by a small group of Filipino marines but is also claimed by Beijing, the latest in a string of such confrontations.

Under the military upgrade programme, President Benigno Aquino's government has also acquired two refurbished frigates from the US coastguard.