Philippines may buy fighters other than US

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The Philippines is looking at arming itself for the first time with dedicated fighter jets made outside of the United States, President Benigno Aquino said Wednesday amid a territorial dispute with China.

The Philippines last month requested aircraft, patrol boats and radar systems from its US military ally to help it achieve what the government said would be a "minimum credible defence".

Aquino said that his government had asked to buy second-hand F-16s from the United States, but their maintenance costs could end up being too high because of their age.

"We might end up spending $400 million or $800 million per squadron, and we were thinking of getting two squadrons," he said in an interview with Manila's Bombo Radio.

"We do have an alternative, and -- this is a surprise -- it seems we have the capacity to buy brand-new, but not from America," Aquino said, without mentioning the aircraft model.

"These are manufactured by another progressive country that I won't name at this point."

Aquino noted that Manila had retired its last fighter jet, a Korean War-vintage F-5, in 2005. It does continue to fly S211 trainer jets made by the Italian firm Marchetti, which are sometimes used as ground attack aircraft against various insurgencies.

But along with the F-5, the Philippines had previously relied on obsolete US hand-me-downs including the T-33 and the P-51 Mustang as dedicated attack fighters, and the country now has no effective air defences.

It is engaged in a tense maritime standoff with China over the disputed Scarborough Shoal and surrounding waters in the South China Sea. Both nations have stationed vessels there for over a month to assert their sovereignty.

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