The Philippine Air Force (PAF)

The Philippine Air Force (PAF) is the aerial warfare service branch of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Established on July 1, 1947, it plays a crucial role in the defense and security of the Philippines, ensuring the sovereignty and integrity of the country’s airspace.

At its core, the PAF is driven by a mission to safeguard Philippine airspace. This dedication is not just about military defense; it’s about safeguarding our nation’s sovereignty and coming to the aid of our people in times of crisis or conflict, whether at home or abroad.

In moments of disaster, the PAF extends its reach beyond military operations to actively participate in various humanitarian and disaster relief efforts. This is where we truly see the heart of the PAF, demonstrating its unwavering commitment to the safety, well-being, and resilience of the Filipino people.

The roots of the Philippine Air Force run deep, with a history dating back to the early 20th century when Filipino aviators like Felix Apolinario achieved recognition.

The PAF’s official establishment as a separate military branch in 1947, following the hardships of World War II, marked a significant milestone in our history, solidifying our commitment to protecting and serving our nation.

Philippine Air Force History and Founding:

Philippine Air Force

Photo: Philippine Air Force Helicopter

The Philippine Air Force (2010-2016):

During the period from 2010 to 2016, the Philippine Air Force (PAF) underwent significant developments and operational changes in response to various challenges and opportunities.

This timeframe marked a pivotal era for the PAF as it sought to enhance its capabilities, fulfill its mission, and respond to a range of crises and demands.

Here are some key highlights of the PAF’s activities and transformations during this period:

Transformation Effort:
The Philippine Air force embarked on a transformation effort aimed at revitalizing its territorial defense capabilities.

Simultaneously, it aimed to retain the ability to support internal security operations, contribute to national development efforts, and respond to natural calamities.

This dual approach reflected the multifaceted nature of the Philippine Air force responsibilities.

Internal Security Operations:
A significant portion of the Philippine Air force efforts during this period was dedicated to internal security operations.

Notable instances include the Philippine Air force crucial role in the swift government response to the 2013 Zamboanga City crisis.

The Philippine Air force provided airlift support for reinforcements, supplies, and equipment, including armored vehicles, to help regain control of the city.

The Air Force also conducted intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance (ISR) operations and air strikes as needed during the crisis.

Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR):
The Philippine Air force proved its worth as a first responder during calamities.

It played a vital role in transporting aid teams and relief goods to areas affected by natural disasters, such as the powerful earthquake that struck Bohol in 2013 and the devastating Super Typhoon Yolanda that hit Tacloban City and other parts of the Central Philippines.

The Philippine Air force also facilitated the evacuation of refugees from affected areas.

International Engagement and Peacekeeping:
The Philippine Air force fulfilled its international commitments under the United Nations Charter by contributing to Peacekeeping Operations (PKO) in various regions, including East Timor, Golan Heights, Haiti, Liberia, the Ivory Coast, India, and Pakistan.

However, contingent deployments were adjusted due to crisis alerts and security reasons in specific locations.

Capability Development and Modernization:
The Philippine Air force made significant strides in capability development during this period. It acquired new aircraft, including SF-260 trainers, PZL-Swidnik W-3A “Sokol” helicopters, CASA C-295 medium lift transports, Bell 412EP combat utility helicopters, Agusta-Westland AW-109E attack helicopters, and refurbished UH-1D helicopters.

The most significant acquisition was the FA-50PH Lead-in Fighter Trainer/ Surface Attack Aircraft, marking the country’s first new supersonic jets in five decades.

Interoperability and Disaster Response Units (DRU):
The Philippine Air force, in collaboration with the Philippine Navy, improved its interoperability through exercises like “Dagat Langit” (DAGIT). These exercises tested joint planning, procedures, and communications.

Additionally, the Philippine Air force established and trained Disaster Response Units (DRUs), learning valuable lessons from its response to Super Typhoon Yolanda.

Future Plans and Upgrades:
The PAF continued to acquire new capabilities, including more FA-50PH LIFT/SAA aircraft, C-130T and NC212i transports. The Air Defense Wing (ADW) initiated reorganization efforts towards upgrading to the Air Defense Command (ADC). Plans included reactivating the 5th Fighter Wing and upgrading the 580th Aircraft Control and Warning Group (ACWG) to the 580th Aircraft Control and Warning Wing (ACWW).

These developments and activities demonstrate the PAF’s commitment to enhancing its capabilities and fulfilling its various roles, from territorial defense to disaster response and international peacekeeping, during the period from 2010 to 2016.

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The First Decade of 2000s:

The first decade of the 2000s brought about significant changes and achievements in the Philippine Air Force (PAF).

The PAF boldly reinvented itself, evaluating its air assets and adopting new strategies to meet the evolving demands of its mission.

Here are key developments and initiatives during this period:

Assessment and Asset Management:
During this decade, the PAF assessed its air assets, recognizing the need for cost-effective maintenance and resource management.

The downgrading and merging of units became necessary to decommission aging or costly assets. Notably, the decommissioning of the last F-5 fighter jets marked the beginning of a new era for the PAF.

One pivotal initiative was the highly successful Aircraft Recovery Program of 2002, which significantly improved the operational rates and mission capability of the Air Force.

Human Resource and Infrastructure:
The PAF focused on maintaining a competent pool of pilots and investing in professional and skilled maintenance personnel.

In 2007, the PAF Personnel Management Center (PAFPMC) was established to enhance human resource allocation for existing units.

The 3-story Airmen’s Mall was constructed in Villamor Air Base (VAB), and the PAF Library was rebuilt, reflecting the commitment to improve the well-being and resources for its personnel.

Counterinsurgency Operations:
PAF ground forces (SPOW) continued to play a crucial role in countering the New People’s Army (NPA) in Southern Luzon, demonstrating the Air Force’s commitment to national security and peacekeeping efforts.

4th ASEAN Air Chiefs Conference (2007):
The PAF hosted the 4th ASEAN Air Chiefs Conference in 2007, where the theme was “Community of ASEAN Air Forces for Enhanced Cooperation Against Terrorism.”

The event brought together ASEAN Air Chiefs to exchange professional views and collaborate in efforts to combat terrorism.

The conference highlighted the importance of teamwork and mutual aid in safeguarding the ASEAN region from threats of violence and intimidation.

Operation Lightning Sword (2008):
In 2008, the PAF intensified its efforts in countering rebel groups, particularly in the context of Operation Lightning Sword.

The Air Force played a pivotal role in providing air support and conducting air strikes to address security challenges.

Humanitarian Missions and Community Development:
The PAF engaged in humanitarian missions and community development projects. It extended a helping hand to cyclone-affected areas, such as Myanmar, by sending medical and relief missions.

The PAF also participated in the government’s Kalayaan sa Barangay Program, focusing on building schools, facilities, and water systems to promote development in marginalized regions.

After the devastation caused by typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng, the PAF actively participated in rescue, relief, and rehabilitation efforts to support affected communities.

Training and Professionalization:
In 2009, the PAF acquired fifteen T-41B primary trainer aircraft from South Korea to enhance Basic Military Pilot Training at the PAF Flying School.

While awaiting modernization, the PAF concentrated on professionalization, emphasizing core values such as Integrity, Service above Self, Teamwork, Excellence, and Professionalism (IN-STEP).

The leadership prioritized human resource development and strived to enhance core competencies and values within the organization.

During this decade, the Philippine Air Force exhibited resilience, adaptability, and dedication as it evolved to meet new challenges, contribute to regional security, and enhance the well-being of its personnel and the communities it served.

It set the stage for further modernization and development in the years to come.

Into the Second Millennium (1990’s):

The Philippine Air Force (PAF) embarked on a transformative journey in the 1990s, as it acquired new aircraft and expanded its cooperation with other nations. Here are the key developments and milestones during this period:

Aircraft Acquisition:
During the 1990s, the PAF began accumulating various aircraft to bolster its airpower potential.

It acquired additional F-5As, newly acquired S-211s, OV-10 Broncos, MD520 MGs, and SF-260 TPs between 1991 and 1998. T

hese acquisitions were in response to the Modernization Program, which became law on February 23, 1995, under Republic Act 7898.

This modernization effort aimed to enhance the PAF’s capabilities to meet contemporary defense challenges.

International Partnerships:
The PAF strengthened its international partnerships during this period. Memoranda of understanding were signed with various countries from 1994 to 1995 to promote military training and cooperation.

Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, France, and Australia pledged support in areas such as logistics, defense industry, joint training exercises, and cooperative defense activities.

Humanitarian Missions:
The PAF played a vital role in humanitarian missions, exemplified by its efforts in ferrying relief teams from Yemen to Malaysia in 1994.

These missions assisted stranded overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), ensuring their safe return to the Philippines.

Air Force Evolution:
As the PAF grew in strength, its modernization program continued to receive assistance. Agreements for military and defense cooperation were signed with Thailand, the UK, Spain, and Indonesia in 1996-1997.

These collaborations helped the PAF enhance its capabilities and prepared it for the challenges of the new millennium.

Air Education and Training Command:
In 1999, the PAF took significant steps to evolve and modernize. The Air Education and Training Command was organized, reorganizing the 100th Training Wing in Fernando Air Base, Lipa City.

This move aimed to improve training and educational programs for PAF personnel.

Air Base Modernization:
Mactan Air Base was modernized and transformed into a complex civil-military air facility, renamed as BGen Benito Ebuen Air Base (MBEAB).

This modernization initiative aimed to improve air base facilities and support infrastructure.

Revolutionizing the PAF:
The onset of the new millennium marked a commitment to total quality management within the PAF.

Air Force City in Clark Air Base, Pampanga, was established, and Tactical Operations Wing (TOW) was activated in 2001, with the 560th and 530th Composite Tactical Wings designated as the 2nd and 3rd TOW, respectively.

The 205th Tactical Helicopter Wing was transferred from Villamor Air Base (VAB) to MBEAB. These changes represented a significant administrative shift as the PAF sought to modernize and enhance its command structure.

Military Operations:
The PAF’s transformation was accompanied by successful military operations, including the capture of MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) camps and its final stronghold in Camp Abubakar in 2001.

These victories demonstrated the PAF’s improved capabilities and effectiveness in addressing security challenges.

Response to Global Terrorism:
The events of September 11, 2001, in the United States led to a global response to terrorism.

The PAF organized the 740th Combat Group under the 710th Special Operations Wing to address the menace of terrorism and extremism.

This unit was tasked with combat reconnaissance patrols, mobile patrols, security operations, checkpoint and clearing operations, and foot patrols in areas threatened by terrorists and extremists.

The 1990s marked a period of transformation and evolution for the Philippine Air Force, as it modernized its capabilities, expanded international partnerships, and responded to emerging security challenges.

These developments set the stage for the PAF’s continued growth and adaptation in the years to come.

The 1970’s and 1980’s Period:

The 1970s and 1980s were marked by significant events and challenges for the Philippine Air Force (PAF). Here are key developments during this period:

Campaign in Central Mindanao (1973):
From the first quarter through the third quarter of 1973, the PAF, primarily through the Composite Air Support Force Cotabato, played a pivotal role in the campaign to liberate Central Mindanao from the MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front).

The PAF provided vital air support by airlifting troops from Manila and Cebu to the war zone. Composite Air Support Force Cotabato (CASFCOT) deployed UH-1H choppers, L-20 “Beaver” rocket-bearing aircraft, and C-47 gunships.

These aircraft were instrumental in aiding government forces as they recaptured towns from rebel control. Continuous air strikes conducted by the PAF significantly weakened the enemy’s logistics base in Lebak.

Self-Reliance Development Group (1974):
In 1974, the PAF established the Self-Reliance Development Group, which would later evolve into the Air Force Research and Development Center (AFRDC).

This center aimed to enhance the PAF’s self-reliance by locally producing as many of its requirements as possible.

The AFRDC collaborated with the private sector and developed prototype aircraft, equipment, and supplies.

EDSA Revolution (1986):
On February 24, 1986, during the height of the EDSA Revolution, the 15th Strike Wing made a historic decision to defect to the Ramos-Enrile camp.

They took their squadron’s S-76 “Sikorsky” helicopters, which played a crucial role in facilitating a bloodless revolution at EDSA.

This revolution not only ushered in a new order led by a female president, Corazon Aquino, but also garnered global respect and admiration for the Philippines.

Change of Anniversary Date (1989):
In 1989, three years after the People Power Revolution, the PAF underwent a significant change.

Following proclamation No. 389 by President Corazon Aquino, the PAF shifted its anniversary date from May 2 to July 1.

The original date commemorated the 1936 maiden flight of American officer Lt. Lee, while July 1 marked the date when the Philippine Army Air Corps (PAAC) was renamed the Philippine Air Force, elevating it to a major branch of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

Integration of Female Pilots (1991):
In response to evolving societal norms and opportunities for women, the PAF admitted its first female pilots in 1991.

This historic decision was made in accordance with Republic Act 7192, also known as the Women in Development and Nation Building Act, signed on December 11, 1991.

The act aimed to promote the integration of women as full and equal partners with men in development and nation building.

The 1970s and 1980s were marked by both internal and external challenges for the Philippine Air Force. Despite these challenges, the PAF continued to evolve and adapt, contributing to national security and responding to significant historical events like the EDSA Revolution.

These developments and transformations paved the way for the PAF’s continued growth and modernization in the years to come.

Birth and Development of the PAF (1947-1960’s):

The period from 1947 to the 1960s witnessed the birth and early development of the Philippine Air Force (PAF), marked by significant milestones and historical events. Here are the key developments during this time:

Post-World War II Reconstitution:
After World War II, the Philippine Army Air Corps (PAAC) was swiftly reconstituted, and pilot training was intensified.

On July 1, 1947, the PAAC was officially renamed the Philippine Air Force (PAF) and elevated to a major service command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

The PAF received additional units and enhanced its organizational structure with the support of equipment and air assets provided through U.S. Military Aid.

Anti-HUK and Anti-Kamlon Campaigns:
In the early years of the PAF, it played a crucial role in anti-HUK (Hukbalahap) and anti-Kamlon insurgency campaigns. The PAF established the Sulu Air Task Group (SATAG), equipped with P-51 “Mustangs,” PBY “Catalina” amphibian planes, and L-5 “Sentinel” liaison aircraft.

These aircraft were used to intensify the campaign against Hadji Kamlon, who eventually surrendered in 1955.

Formation of the Blue Diamonds (1953):
In November 1953, 1Lt Jose Gonzales and other pilots from the 6th Tactical Fighter Squadron (6th TFS) of the 5th Fighter Wing formed the Blue Diamonds, a four-man PAF Aerial Precision Team.

This group of pilots excelled in precision aerobatic flying during the Philippine Aviation Week, impressively outclassing a team of Taiwanese F-84 Thunderjets in an acrobatic demonstration.

Entry into the Jet Age (1955):
In 1955, the PAF entered the jet age, marking the Philippines as a regional superpower. An initial batch of T-33A “T-Bird” jet trainer aircraft arrived, flown by Col Godofredo Jullano, Majors Pestaña and Rancudo, and Capt Jose Gil from Japan.

These jets were first based at Clark Air Base due to the airstrip at Basa Air Base not yet being capable of handling jet aircraft landings.

The T-33A jets were subsequently used by the 5th Fighter Wing until their phase-out in 1996.

Acquisition of F-86F Sabres (1956):
In 1956, the PAF acquired several squadrons of F-86F Sabres. These aircraft became combat-ready after numerous proficiency flights and were used by the 6th TFS and the Blue Diamonds aerobatics team.

The Blue Diamonds performed with F-86F aircraft in 1957 and developed into a formation of up to 16 planes from 1958 to 1962.

International Peacekeeping Missions:
The PAF actively engaged in international peacekeeping missions. In 1962, the United Nations Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold requested the Philippine government to send a tactical air squadron to neutralize secessionists in the Congo.

The “Limbas” Squadron, later known as the 9th Tactical Fighter Squadron (9th TFS), led by Lt Col Jose Rancudo, joined the UN peacekeeping forces in the Congo.

The squadron, along with fighter units from Sweden, Iran, and Ethiopia, played a vital role in securing the airspace over the Congo and ending the civil war.

This mission earned the “Limbas” Squadron the United Nations Service Medal.

Contributions to Socio-Economic Development:
The PAF made distinct contributions to socio-economic development and played a crucial role in AFP internal security operations against communist rebels and Moro insurgents.

Martial Law Declaration (1972):
In a controversial move on September 21, 1972, then-President Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law due to the escalating communist insurgency led by the New People’s Army (NPA) and secessionist rebellion led by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

The PAF played a significant role in responding to these challenges, including staging massive air assaults to free a marine battalion trapped in Sibalu Hill, Sulu.

These actions highlighted the crucial role of air power in suppressing insurgencies and demonstrated that the Air Force was a vital asset to the military during this critical period.

The Early Philippine Military Aviation (1917-1945):

The early history of military aviation in the Philippines is marked by significant events and developments that laid the foundation for the establishment of the Philippine Air Force (PAF).

Here are the key highlights from this period:

Creation of the Philippine Militia (1917):
Military aviation in the Philippines had its roots in the approval of Senate President Manuel L. Quezon’s bill for the creation of the Philippine Militia, also known as the Philippine National Guard (PNG), on March 17, 1917.

This legislation mandated the establishment of an aviation unit within the militia, composed of 15 officers and 135 enlisted men.

The enactment of the Militia Act 2715 was in anticipation of potential hostilities between the United States and Germany.

U.S. Assistance and Flight Training:
Following World War I, the U.S. Army and Navy exchanged aircraft and equipment with the Philippine Militia Commission.

However, at that time, the Philippines had no pilots or aircraft maintenance personnel. Despite this setback, the commission accepted the U.S. offer and seized the opportunity to begin building a Filipino air unit.

The Curtiss School of Aviation was contracted to provide flight training to 33 Filipino students at Camp Claudio in Paranaque. Lt Leoncio Malinao became the first Filipino Military Pilot to fly solo on April 20, 1920.

In December 1920, 25 of the original 33 Constabulary and PNG volunteers graduated from flight training. Six of these graduates were selected to form the core of the short-lived Philippine Air Service on January 1, 1921.

This early aviation unit primarily focused on air transport and airmail flights from Manila to three other ports but was eventually dissolved due to equipment limitations.

Reactivation of Philippine Military Aviation (1935):
After a hiatus of 13 years, Philippine Military Aviation was reactivated on January 2, 1935, following the passage of Commonwealth Act 1494 by the 10th Congress.

This act provided for the establishment of the Philippine Constabulary Air Corps (PCAC), which was initially composed of two companies: the tactical company and the service company.

The PCAC was later redesignated as the Philippine Army Air Corps (PAAC) on January 11, 1936, when it came under the control of the newly established Philippine Army.

The PAAC began with three “Stearman” 73L-3 trainer planes, forming the core of its air assets. By mid-1941, the PAAC had a total of 54 aircraft in its inventory, including pursuit (fighters), light bombers, reconnaissance aircraft, light transport planes, and trainers.

World War II and PAAC’s Role:
At the outbreak of World War II, after being inducted into the United States Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) in August 1941, the PAAC found itself unprepared for combat.

When Japanese forces simultaneously attacked Pearl Harbor and the Philippines, PAAC officers and men fought valiantly against the superior enemy raids, despite using outdated Curtiss P-26A “Peashooters.”

On December 10, 1941, Japanese forces conducted a raid on Zablan Field at Camp Murphy (now Camp Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo), marking the PAAC’s baptism of fire against the invading forces.

Notable pilots like Capt Jesus Villamor led courageous efforts, and on December 12, 1941, PAAC pilots engaged in a dogfight over Batangas Field, where Lt Cesar Basa was killed.

Capt Villamor’s actions earned him two Distinguished Conduct Star awards.

Ultimately, the Philippines and the RP-US forces succumbed to Japanese occupation, but some PAAC officers, including Capt Villamor, continued to fight as part of guerrilla movements.

Capt Villamor’s contributions to the RP-US forces and his courage during delicate missions played a significant role in liberating the country and earned him the Medal for Valor.

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