The Philippines’ acquisition of fighter jets for its air force continues to advance but the procurement of essential air surveillance radars cannot commence because the government has yet to approve it, a defense official said Wednesday.

Fernando Manalo, defense undersecretary for finance, munitions, and materiel, said construction of the 12 FA-50 fighter jets being bought from South Korea are now in “different stages of completion.”

“I think it is fair to say that the construction is within the target milestone. Baka nga mapaaga pa ang delivery ng dalawa,” Manalo said in a text message.

South Korean manufacturer Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) may deliver two of the jets as early as the third quarter of 2015, Manalo said in an interview on December 18.

Manalo, however, said Wednesday that the project to buy aerial surveillance radars that are much needed in deploying fighter jets has not yet started because the government has not yet approved the AFP Modernization Program.

The Department of National Defense had announced plans to buy three air surveillance radars for P2.68 billion.

Israel Aerospace Industries is reportedly being eyed as the supplier of the radars, but Manalo declined to reveal the prospective contractor until a notice of award is issued.

“It should follow a process. First is the approval of the AFP Modernization Program. Without the approval, we cannot proceed with the procurement,” he said, when asked when the contract is expected to be awarded.

Having fighter jets on hand without radars telling them where to go could prove dangerous for the country’s just-recovering military prowess, especially in the face of China’s continuous force buildup in the disputed Spratly Islands.

In a recent interview with reporters, Armed Forces chief Gen. Gregorio Catapang said China’s reclamation on one feature at the Spratly Islands is “about 50 percent complete” and Beijing was setting up what looks like an air field.

The Philippines currently has one air surveillance radar left at the Wallace Air Station in La Union province which defense officials admit has a “very limited” scope.

Recently, the Air Force admitted to relying on the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines’ radar when it enforced a 3-nautical mile “no-fly zone” during Pope Francis’ visit from January 15 to 19.

“Fighter jets will not be effective without radar systems,” Manalo, a former Air Force official, said when asked how important the radars are when using fighter jets.

“Radars are early detection instruments to aid fighters where to intercept unidentified air traffic,” Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. Enrico Canaya explained.

The modernization program is still awaiting the approval of President Benigno Aquino III after it was submitted to Malacañang last February 2013 for review.

Under the revised Armed Forces modernization law, the President, upon recommendation of the defense and budget secretaries, shall submit the upgrade program to Congress within 60 days since the law took effect.

Manalo clarified that the pending approval will not affect the fighter jet acquisition, which had been approved separately. (John Roson)

– end –