“Having modern weapons is not enough. We also need the best training, organization and the right strategic plans.”
It used to be that when we read about our Navy christening a “new” battleship, that ship is actually a 40-year-old refurbished surplus American navy ship turned over to us. Lately however, the AFP has been trumpeting new military acquisitions as part of our defense modernization program. The latest is the procurement of three batteries of the Indian manufactured land to ship supersonic Brahmos cruise missiles at a cost of about $375 million.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana also just announced the procurement of additional 32 S-70i Black hawk helicopters from Poland to add to the 16 that were already delivered. This new procurement will cost more than $600 million. And, just a couple of weeks ago, Lorenzano also announced the artillery pieces, military trucks and light tanks acquired from Israel. This did not include the contract that the Defense Department signed with Hyundai of South Korea for two navy corvettes to add to the two frigates that were already delivered. If we add the ten-brand new Coast Guard patrol ships acquired from Japan then our sea assets have increased quite a bit. The country seems to be quite in a hurry to modernize. One reason could be because the strategic picture in our neighborhood has changed radically. Traditionally, our Armed Forces has always been inward looking. The priority was in defeating the internal enemies of the state. Today, the national security situation inside the country has also changed. The government has signed a successful peace agreement with the MILF. The threat from the CPP/NPA has also been degraded to a degree that our defense establishment felt confident to shift to external defense. Admittedly, this move is heavily influenced by regional developments particularly in the South China Sea.
As we all know, our giant neighbor China is claiming almost the entirety of the SCS and has occupied part of our exclusive economic zone. The shift however, has exposed our total inadequacy to mount a credible defense in case of military emergency. Since we have to play catchup with our neighbors, we seem to be on a buying binge. Of the so-called ASEAN 5 for instance, we are the only one without submarines. Catching up may not be so hard if we have all the resources but the problem is that we have always been plagued with the lack of it which necessitated careful and prudent allocation of resources so that the other needs of the country will not also suffer like health and education. To us, it has always been a choice between guns or butter that’s why the choices were difficult. But because of external developments near our shores, we simply must address our external defense needs. We can no longer simply rely on the United States to give us their surplus defense equipment. We have to look for other affordable sources.
For example, many of our Air Force helicopters are much older than the pilots flying them. This is the reason for the Black Hawk helicopter acquisition. Credit must be given to this administration and Secretary Lorenzana who worked tirelessly to convince Congress to loosen its purse and appropriate funds to modernize our military establishment to bring it at par with our neighbors. Hopefully, Congress will continue implementing the AFP Modernization Law passed during the term of the late President Noynoy Aquino. The 12 single-engine South Korean F-50 fighter planes now in the inventory of the Air Force were also purchased during his term. But compared to what our neighbors already have, all these acquisitions are still inadequate. Singapore and Thailand for instance are already looking at acquiring the fifth generation American F-35 stealth fighter jets. For us however, we are still studying the SAAB JAS 39 Gripen single engine multirole fighter jets of Sweden and the latest upgraded version of the forty-year-old American F-16 Falcon which is the F-16V.
As usual, the problem is cost as explained by Secretary Lorenzana. Although we prefer American defense equipment, their prices are prohibitive. This is the reason why we buy from cheaper sources like Turkey, from which we got attack helicopters. Ordinarily, countries limit the sources of their military inventories to simplify logistics and maintenance. We however, are maintaining American, British, Turkish, Israeli, Polish, South Korean, Japanese, Chinese and Russian hardware. Our AFP planners are almost certainly aware of the problems brought about by this situation but perhaps decided nonetheless to go ahead, believing that having the hardware outweighs the disadvantages.
We have to remember that having modern weapons is not enough. We also need the best training, organization and the right strategic plans. We cannot for instance continue acquiring expensive air assets only to lose many of them by air accidents before using them in air combat as they are intended.