In recent decades, the Philippines has been targeted by the world's major aerospace industries as Manila is very focused on purchasing new combat aircraft.
The growing internal and external challenges that the country has been facing have led the Philippine government to initiate a gradual modernization of the armed forces. The defense procurement plan was divided into three phases over a period of approximately 10 years. It began in 2017 when Manila signed orders for six A-29 Super Tucano light attack/trainer aircraft and 12 FA-50 light fighter jets.
However, Filipino officials said FA-50 jets were introduced as an interim solution pending raising funds to purchase superior-class fighter aircraft, deemed indispensable for the defense of the national airspace.
Filipino Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said about a year ago that the two aircraft being evaluated under the Multi-Role Fighter (MRF) program are the Swedish Saab Gripen and the American Lockheed Martin F-16V. After an evaluation of multiple types of aircraft, which also included the Super Hornet, MiG-35, and Sukhoi 35, the F-16V and Gripen are the ones that have met the preference of the Technical Working Group (TWG) of the Philippine Air Force (PAF).
Lorenzana also added that the defense department leans towards Gripen as it believes the Swedish fighter is the cheapest and easiest to maintain, as well as proving to be an excellent fighter.
The PAF has been looking for a replacement for the F-5A/B interceptor fighters for about 30 years, which were withdrawn from service in 2005 due to old age and lack of spare parts. In the past, the PAF has tried to acquire F-16 and F-18 combat aircraft from the United States, but the financial crisis that hit Asia in 1997 thwarted those plans.
Lorenzana said the U.S. government has also more recently offered them F-16 fighters. The proposal was made by former US Defense Secretary James Mattis when the DND secretary visited Washington in September 2018. However, he said the F-16 is too expensive, while the Gripen costs less and has the same capabilities.
According to local media, the United States gave the F-16 a further boost in the Philippines during U.S. Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett's visit to Manila in November 2020.
The agreement for the new fighter aircraft could be signed before President Rodrigo Duterte resigns in 2022, according to a statement last December by the Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff General Gilbert Gapay.