MANILA — Fresh from a three-state European trip, President Benigno S. Aquino III on Saturday led the formal turnover and blessing of newly acquired air assets at the Villamor Air Base in Pasay City.

President Aquino witnessed the turnover of aircraft documents by the respective manufacturers to Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and to Philippine Air Force commanding general, Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Delgado.

During the turnover and blessing ceremony, President Aquino poured champagne on the nose of the new air assets, which include two FA-50PH lead-in fighter jets, one C-295 medium lift aircraft, and six AgustaWestland AW-109E attack helicopters.

In his message, PAF chief Lt. General Delgado said the new acquisitions are part of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) modernization program.

The two FA-50PH lead-in fighter jets are the first of the 12 fighter jets bought from the Korea Aerospace Industries Ltd. The two aircrafts arrived from South Korea last week. The 10 fighter jets are expected to be delivered by 2017.

The FA-50PH lead-in fighter jets, Delgado said, shall be employed to secure our land, airspace, and maritime territory, including the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Philippines.

“It can also be used for surveillance and reconnaissance missions, as well as air interdiction and close air support missions,” the PAF chief said.

The latest C-295 medium lift aircraft is the second delivery from Airbus Defence and Space. The first aircraft arrived last March while the third delivery is expected to arrive before the year ends.

“With the acquisition of three MLA, the airlift requirement of the AFP could be addressed by having an additional aircraft dedicated to operate in any combat support, territorial defense and disaster response missions of the AFP as well as providing support to national development,” he said.

Meanwhile, the six AW-109E attack helicopters complete the eight-helicopter deal with AgustaWestland of Italy. The first two AW-109E attack choppers were delivered and accepted last August.

Lt. Gen. Delgado said these AW-109E attack choppers are projected to augment the dwindling number of MD-520MG, the primary attack helicopter of the Philippine Air Force.

“All these are good indications that we are steady on our course towards realizing our vision of a professional and competent Air Force responsive to national security and development as embodied in our Flight Plan 2028,” he said.

President Aquino, together with the Philippine delegation, arrived in Manila on Saturday afternoon following his successful visit to France, Italy and the Vatican City. PNA