MANILA- The United States government is set to hand over Thursday two new surveillance aircraft to the Philippines seen to improve the country's maritime security capabilities.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana is scheduled to receive two Cessna 208B Caravan aircraft from US Ambassador Sung Kim in rites to be held at the Philippine Air Force (PAF) headquarters in Villamor Air Base, Pasay City.
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said the aircraft were being donated by the US government under its Maritime Security Initiative. He said the Americans offered to donate the aircraft in 2016.
The US, a long-standing defense ally of the Philippines, has continued to provide defense support to the country despite vitriol from President Rodrigo Duterte, who has scoffed at US officials' criticism of his drug war.
The officials said the aircraft would be deployed for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance in critical areas, including the disputed South China Sea.
"These are actually long range patrol planes that we can use in Sulu Sea. We can use within our West Philippine Sea, and also in Benham Rise to get photos of the area," Lorenzana said.
The West Philippine Sea is the country's exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea.
"They are also equipped to guard our southern backdoor, intensify our (monitoring) operations there so that it won't be porous. They will be used for maritime security," Padilla said.
Padilla said the aircraft would give the AFP added capability to monitor its vast maritime territory.
"These will give us more capability to guard our seas, and other areas where we are in need of information, like the coastal areas, and in the open seas guarding against intruding ships," he said.
PAF spokesperson Maj. Aristides Galang said the aircraft already arrived in the country and would be blessed after their formal turnover to Philippine military.