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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Modernizing our Navy

“The Navy plans to acquire more modern warships, including Acero-class gunboats, new construction landing docks, new-generation corvettes and offshore patrol vessels in the next five years…”

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The Philippines renounces war as an instrument of national policy. That’s a key principle enshrined in our Constitution, but that does not mean we cannot modernize our military to defend our territory.

With the Philippines consisting of around 7,640 islands, but only 2,000 big and small ones habitable in the three main island groups of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, it makes eminent sense to have enough hardware—ships and aircraft—in addition to trained personnel, to protect our territorial integrity.

For too long, particularly in the post-WWII era, we relied on the United States for hand-me-down ships and aircraft for national defense as we concentrated on economic development.

But that began to change starting in the 1990s after the Senate junked the Military Bases Agreement with the US and we started to modernize our military in earnest.

The goal has been to maintain a credible defense posture. That means having enough personnel and materiel to defend against any encroachment on our territory or bullying by other countries with superior firepower and huge armed forces.

Our military modernization program has been gaining ground in recent years. And it’s well in evidence in the way we have been beefing up the Philippine Navy to defend our territorial waters with brand-new ships and aircraft.

The Philippine Navy wants to be comparable and even better than our maritime neighbors in five years.

That’s according to PN acting flag-officer in command Rear Adm. Caesar Bernard Valencia.

How will they do this?

The Navy plans to acquire more modern warships, including Acero-class gunboats, new construction landing docks, new-generation corvettes and offshore patrol vessels in the next five years to give its seagoing platforms an average age of 10 years or comparable to the navies of some of our neighboring countries.

At present, the Navy has been equipped with two brand-new missile-armed frigates, two landing docks, two anti-submarine helicopters, and 12 multi-purpose attack craft, six of which are now equipped with the Israeli-made surface-to-surface missiles.

In fact, ample proof that our Navy is getting better is the participation of the BRP Antonio Luna, in the recently concluded Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise in Hawaii.

The vessel won third place in the Naval Surface Fire Support “Rodeo,” prevailing over 16 other warship participants.

Conducted amid rising maritime tensions with China, the US-led RIMPAC involved 25,000 personnel, 38 ships, four submarines, nine national land forces and more than 170 aircraft from 26 countries.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Marine Corps will also take full delivery of its BrahMos anti-ship missile systems within the next three years. This is part and parcel of the PN’s archipelagic coastal defense strategy.

But the icing on the cake for the Navy, so to speak, is when it finally gets its first-ever submarine.

Submarines are believed to provide credible deterrence against foreign intrusions, especially by China which claims almost whole of the South China Sea through what it calls the “nine-dash line.”

The plan was for the Navy to conclude a P70-billion submarine contract, with the first to be delivered by 2027. But the planned acquisition in 2019 had to be shelved because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The government was forced to realign funds from several agencies for its COVID-19 response. These included the defense department’s meager budget for military upgrade, which meant some key projects had to be pushed back.

COVID-19, therefore, dealt the “biggest blow” to the Philippine military’s modernization efforts.

To prepare for the acquisition of submarines, the Navy had already sent as early as December 2018 a group of its personnel to France for training, so that they would be ready to operate a submarine once delivery is made.

The Philippines, an archipelago of 7,640 islands, is one of the few remaining countries in the region without a submarine force. The military’s modernization program calls for the acquisition of two diesel-electric attack submarines for a total price tag of P70 billion.

Another pending item in the modernization plan is the procurement of Tactical Data Link (TDL) 16, currently the standard communications system used by the US military and its top allies.

Once the Philippines gets to acquire submarines, it will be a “game-changer” for the military.

The government’s marching order to the Navy leadership is for the institution to be “a reliable partner in nation-building, (to) sustain its transformation into a modern and multi-capable force, (and) a dependable protector not only of our seas but also of our nation’s future.”

Can it deliver? We really hope so.



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