Philippine Air Force chief Lt. Gen. Connor Anthony Canlas Sr. (Screengrab from Laging Handa briefing)

MANILA – Philippine Air Force (PAF) chief Lt. Gen. Connor Anthony Canlas Sr. on Monday said the service's multi-role fighter (MRF) project has been approved by President Rodrigo R. Duterte.

"Ang MRF acquisition natin ay na-approve na ng ating Presidente subalit ang pagpili kung anu mismo ang model, type ay nasa pipeline pa kasi madaming pong proponents na nag-ooffer sa atin subalit dadaan po ito sa matinding screening process. So sa ngayon iyong na lang po ang pagkukulang (Our MRF acquisition project has already been approved by the President but the selection process for the particular fighter model or type are still in the pipeline as a lot of proponents are offering us their products, all of these will have to undergo a strict screening process. For now, that is the only thing lacking)," he said in a media interview.

Canlas added that the contract for the MRF project may be signed this year.

He said the United States is interested in supplying Lockheed Martin's latest F-16 MRF while Sweden is offering its Saab JAS 39 "Gripen" MRF aircraft.

"The choice is between the (US) F-16s and the Gripen of Sweden. Pero may mga gusto pa pong sumali subalit wala pa silang proposal (There are other nations interested to join but they are still submit or forward their proposal). So ngayon, dalawa pa lang (For now, we only have two proposals)," he added.

Canlas said the PAF's requirement for its MRF project stipulates that the offered aircraft must be "fourth generation or higher".

The project also requires 12 MRFs at least capable of patrolling the country's protected waters and airspace.

The Swedish-made "Gripen" is a light single-engine MRF capable of speeds up to Mach 2.0. It is armed with a 20mm automatic cannon and is capable of carrying a variety of rockets, bombs, missiles, and surveillance equipment.

Meanwhile, the American F-16s has a top speed of Mach 2.0, can also carry an assortment of bombs and missiles and sensors, and is armed with a 20mm cannon.

The MRF is part of Horizon Two of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Modernization Program slated for 2018 to 2022, which aims to acquire more equipment for external defense.

Any aircraft that will be selected must be able to integrate with existing radar systems that have a range of around 250 nautical miles.

Once these MRFs are acquired, the PAF, with the help of these radar systems, can be deployed to determine whether the aircraft flying over the country's airspace is friendly or hostile.

These proposed MRFs are expected to augment the existing fleet of 12 South Korean-made Mach 1.5 capable FA-50PH jet aircraft acquired from 2015 to 2017 by the PAF as its first supersonic aircraft after the decommissioning of its Northrop F-5 "Tiger" jet fighters in 2005. (PNA)