The Philippine military on Friday signed a pact with the U.S. Navy to buy two secondhand C-130 transport planes to boost its capability to fan out quickly for territorial defence and humanitarian operations.
Washington has been helping develop the military capability of its former colony in the face of serious security challenges in the South China Sea, known in Vietnam as the East Sea, as China steps up its presence in disputed areas.
China claims almost all of the sea, believed to be rich in mineral and oil-and-gas deposits. Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines also have claims on the waters, traversed by about $5 trillion of ship-borne trade each year.
"The United States is helping us pay for these two aircraft," Colonel Restituto Padilla, a spokesman for the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said, adding that the U.S. State Department would provide about $20 million in foreign military financing.
"We have requested some 1.6 billion pesos to complete the purchase of the transport planes," he added, referring to a sum equivalent to $35.61 million.
The transport planes, to be delivered early next year, will take to five the number of mission-ready C-130s, for a boost in the number and capacity of existing medium-lift aircraft.
In 2014, Washington allocated military assistance funds of $50 million to the Philippines. Besides the C-130s, the funds were used to install weapons on two frigates, also acquired from the U.S. coast guard.
Padilla said the transport planes would be used to rapidly deploy troops in the fight against Muslim and Maoist-led rebels and carry relief to disaster-hit areas.
The purchase is part of a 90-billion-peso ($2-billion), five-year upgrade plan to catch up with Southeast Asian neighbours.