Philippines may buy fighters other than US

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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