Air crafts as ‘flying coffins’?

PAF aircrafts ‘widow-makers or flying coffins’?

It escapes comprehension why, after a C-130 aircraft crashed, no other C-130 is available in the Philippine Air Force to carry out various operational commitments. It shall take a few more weeks before the next C-130 would be flight-ready, undergoing as it does, an uncharacteristically long period of repair. Does it really take almost a year to repair a C-130? Does the PAF have to ‘cannibalize’ from three other C-130s given the alleged prohibitive costs of repair or more so of having to acquire a new one that costs $80 million? Would the defense secretary be right in claiming that there are no available funds intended for the repair of any or all of the five C-130s in its air base?

Lt. Gen. Pedrito Cadungog of the Air Force was heard to have challenged to a fist fight anyone who can tell him straight to his face that the aircrafts at the PAF arsenal are “widow-makers or flying coffins”. Fact is, he calls those who say this as – ‘brainless, heartless, ruthless, and reckless’. Bottomline, the AFP does not have to acquire aircrafts or naval vessels that are already considered military surplus of another country since logically they are more expensive to maintain than brand new airplanes. And if there is such a word as depreciation, x number of hours of flying and x period of time of use will naturally not give higher guarantees of safety. So can the good general really blame those who think that not too few instances of crashes of PAF aircrafts can readily lead one to think that the aircrafts of the PAF have become less reliable?

The lesson of this C-130 crash is the expressed resolve that the government would then insure acquiring brand new aircrafts for the Philippine Air Force no matter the cost. Likewise, the government should realize by now that over the long term, it could have been more expensive to have maintained old-aged aircrafts. Certainly, it is sound military norm that any branch of the AFP should acquire only brand new aircrafts, vessels, vehicles, armory, firearms, ordnance and materiel – not those that are merely handed down by a military power such as the US. Let there be a state policy banning the use of second-hand aircrafts or vessels for the AFP since national security should never be compromised.

RP has probably trained the best pilots in the world. We are probably the only army who cannibalize from other aircrafts to fly one or two of its kind given a viciously chronic claim of budgetary constraints. So perhaps, not just for the C-130s, the Air Force does cannibalize from the other types of planes in use – helicopters, tora-toras, fighting jets, whatever. And when it does so, does it not become close to possibility that our planes are reduced to become unreliable aircrafts? The same is true with the Philippine Navy which still uses very old naval vessels from the US, such that maintaining them to a near point they become scraps of metal proves to be very disadvantageous to the government.

There ought to be an expressed state policy that from hereon – with the fatal crash of that C-130 – AFP will only acquire brand new aircrafts and vessels, nothing less. A package of reforms for the Air Force as it is with the Navy shall now be initiated. Let us cease to be the junkyard of US military surplus under the guise of RP-US Military Bases Agreement or whatever euphemistic claims of RP-US alliance. We should not even begin to accept anything of economic assistance that comes in the form of military hardware and in truth, are largely surplus, second-hand, handed-down. The AFP, the last institution to crumble in any given society, deserves no less than the best.

It pains us to think that in the past, RP has shown itself too interested to acquire a fleet of probably over-used, second-hand M151 Kennedy jeeps for use in the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines. Truth is, their engines have to be replaced with locally available Toyota surplus engines. They have to be reconditioned and rebuilt to be of any use to any unit in the AFP until it proved to be useless that we see no more of these M151 Kennedy jeeps an entirely useless period of time after acquisition. In the end, the AFP has spent more for these virtual pieces of junk. They proved to be of no use.

By its own official admission, PAF authorities say that aircrafts retire after x number of flying hours. So for us to continue to fly 40-year old vintage aircrafts must come with certain valid suspicion as to its worthiness and integrity. There is no doubt that C-130s in particular, have served the public very well because it is through these cargo planes that goods, medicines are being transported from one point to another; that troops or people are transported due to wars, disasters, emergencies; and whose availability are ready upon the request of our politicians regardless if such request carries with it any related value for the military.

So the next time the PAF flies the C-130 or any other such aircraft for that matter, it shall be a brand new one – not “widow makers or flying coffins” – as some quarters tend to rather believe. With no one having to call the aircrafts of the PAF flying coffins, no one has to engage the good general into a fist fight. What is disturbing a bit is the room for abuse in the way C-130s are being scheduled for political reasons when they should be used for purely military purposes. They should be made less accessible for use of congressmen, senators, and other cabinet officials as they tend to interfere with the true mission of the AFP in general. Truly, it costs so much in taxpayers’ money to have to ferry a congressman or senator from one province to another – free of charge.