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The Philippine Military In 2020

May 12, 2014

Call of Duty: Black Ops

With the signing of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) on April 28–a day before President Obama’s visit to Manila–the Philippines has preserved itself from further Chinese encroachment.

But even if the EDCA allows US warships and troops to use its bases, the struggling Philippine military is still left with its meager resources. Since its inception, the Armed Forces of The Philippines (AFP) was built on the largesse of US surplus. Worse, the current EDCA doesn’t have a provision for equipping the AFP with US-made weapons.

This time around the Philippine government needs to buy the deadly stuff that flies, floats, and moves, on its own.

Almost 20 years after the aborted AFP Modernization Act of 1995, various plans are being carried out to improve the military as an institution and a genuine defense force…including a new AFP Modernization Act. (Or Republic Act 10349.)

Sometimes called the Revised AFP Modernization Program, it calls for a long-term $195 million investment from 2013-2017 based on a Department of National Defense (DND) timeline. A crucial difference from its predecessor is the Philippines is approaching various countries for its needs rather than the US.

If successfully pursued, the AFP of the coming tomorrow will be very different from the AFP of today.

What they need

The most obvious changes are in the Air Force and the Navy, who share the burden of policing the archipelago’s vast maritime borders.

Of the three branches, it’s the Philippine Air Force (PAF) that requires the most attention. It possesses a colorful, if obsolete, selection of aircraft lacking spare parts. It’s not surprising to learn the lion’s share of the modernization program is earmarked for the PAF. A contract for  South Korean FA-50’s as well as a tender for medium lift transports underscores its intent on restoring its long-range capabilities.

There is also an ongoing refurbishment of its Bell helicopters, whose operational numbers could reach 40 or 50. It’s possible the PAF adds a contingent of scout helicopters armed for close air support to its shopping list. In a nutshell, in the next six years the improved PAF gets jets, C-130s, and Hueys.

The Philippine Navy (PN), on the other hand, is setting its sights on modern frigates equipped for anti-submarine missions provided by AW109 helicopters. This is critical since the current fleet of aging vessels and riverine transports only provide marginal usefulness as warships. Should the navy get its frigates and perhaps combat support craft then it finally has a fighting chance, even if just a small one.

There is a new focus as well on amphibious transports, although the type and manufacturer is unknown.

Meanwhile, the Army is making significant strides in improving itself. Aside from an effort to promote its better values called the Army Transformation Roadmap, the modernization program has endowed it with hundreds of new trucks and APCs. By 2020, the Filipino infantryman can be expected to serve in a mechanized unit, equipped with a standard M4 carbine, and deploying with C4ISR support.

The AFP is unique from its neighbors because it plans for natural disasters, territorial defense, and counter-insurgency. Owing to its parlous and underfunded state, it manages to confront these problems on a very limited scale. The takeaway from the AFP’s current goals is it remains focused on minimal gains rather than upgrading its lethality and firepower. Should a real crisis overwhelm it, the US security umbrella is always there.