Philippine Air Base Gets U.S.-Funded Upgrade Under China Deterrence Plan

January 29, 2024 5:14 PM
A Philippine Air Force FA-50s fly alongside two U.S. Air Force F-15C Eagles over the South China Sea, Nov. 21, 2023. US Air Force Photo

An air base in the Philippines is set to receive a major upgrade to accommodate U.S. aircraft under a plan to strengthen deterrence against China.

Already the site of many U.S.-funded improvements through the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the United States and the Philippines, the Philippine Air Force’s Basa Air Base’s latest project will be a 625,000-square-foot transient parking apron.

According to budgetary documents, the apron at Basa will be built on the base but away from the Philippine Air Force’s facilities. Plans for the apron include parking spots for 20 aircraft – 18 small and two large – as well as a drainage and fire-control system. Based on preliminary design graphics, the new addition will be located in front of the air base’s U.S.-funded warehouse, which stores equipment and supplies for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations.

While this construction is permitted under EDCA, it is funded under the Pentagon’s Pacific Deterrence Initiative (PDI). With China identified as the pacing threat, the PDI aims to strengthen “regional deterrence” through investments in capabilities, concepts and infrastructure. For fiscal year 2024, the Pentagon requested $9.1 billion for PDI.

Aside from investments into Indo-Pacific Command, the plan provides funds for partners and allies in the western Pacific. Bases and airfields in Australia and the Northern Mariana Islands are also receiving PDI funds.

For Basa’s improvements, the U.S. Air Force claims that these investments are necessary to sustain efforts to help train and modernize their Philippine counterparts. And while budgetary documents state the Philippine Air Force is currently conducting modernization efforts at Basa, it does not have “ aircraft parking apron space sufficient for United States aircraft.”

Image from Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command Pacific RFP

Constructed shortly before World War II and used by U.S. and Imperial Japanese forces throughout its history, Basa today is home to the Philippines’ only fighter squadron of 12 Korean-made FA-50PH Fighting Eagles. These fighters form the core of the country’s limited air-defense capability and train with their U.S. counterparts every year. In 2023, these jets trained for the first time with F-22 Raptors, marking the first time a U.S. Air Force fifth-generation fighter arrived in the country.

With Manila moving into its next phase of military modernization, the Philippine Air Force is expected to finally select a jet for its Multi-Role Fighter program. While the government has indicated its choice for the Swedish JAS-39 Grippen, the American F-16 Fighting Falcon remains a top pick for many Philippine officials. When procured, these fighters likely will be based at Basa and other EDCA sites throughout the country.

Last year, the Philippines increased the number of bases the U.S. could access under EDCA from five to nine. The Philippines’ Department of National Defense has stated these future sites will aid in the country’s military modernization program, specifically through U.S.-funded facilities such as runway, communication, fueling and other infrastructure.

In November, the two countries officially completed a runway renovation and extension at Basa. As a result of the project, larger logistical aircraft can now operate from the EDCA site. Basa has received the most PDI funds to date – approximately $66 million of the $82 million earmarked for EDCA investments. However, the U.S. has planned to increase EDCA investment to more than $100 million going forward.

Aaron-Matthew Lariosa

Aaron-Matthew Lariosa

Aaron-Matthew Lariosa is a freelance defense journalist based in Washington, D.C.

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