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The Philippine Army Needs Light Howitzer Rounds

March 14, 2017

The Philippine Army needs 7,381 high explosive 105mm rounds for its towed artillery pieces and is accepting bids from potential suppliers. The procurement effort is being undertaken by the Department of National Defense (DND) through its Bids and Awards Committee.

For the DND to actively solicit interested parties is par for the course. Without a large domestic arms industry, except for a small collection of government-owned enterprises, the DND must look to the private sector for its material needs. But this comes with very stringent guidelines.

The DND’s Bids and Awards Committee page offers links to 10 documents that cover the minutiae of applying for the 105mm howitzer round contract worth Php 221,430,000 or $4.4 million at the current exchange rate. The funds for this contract were previously set aside in 2016. Bidding for the contract officially began on February 23 and bids can only be submitted at Camp Aguinaldo, where the DND is located.

Should a company’s bid succeed and meet the DND’s criteria, complete delivery of the order must be fulfilled within 240 days.

The Philippine Army is believed to possess an unspecified number of 105mm towed artillery pieces. These are US-made M101 howitzers and Italian OTO Melara Mod 56. They are often used in the south of the country, such as Mindanao’s Muslim provinces, during anti-terrorist operations. 2016 was an intense year of combat in Mindanao as the military battled a homegrown Islamic State franchise and foiled Abu Sayyaf terrorists on multiple occasions.

The M101 howitzer entered service with the US Army in 1940 and thousands were manufactured and exported to American allies during World War 2. Weighing  a little over two tons the M101 has a maximum range of 14 kilometers and is operated by a crew of eight; it’s usually transported by truck. Long considered obsolete by NATO militaries, US allies in East and Southeast Asia still maintain stocks of M101’s.

Even if Manila can afford new howitzers, allocations in the current defense budget haven’t been made for these at a time when the country’s neighbors are expanding their artillery assets. The national budget that was approved in December 2016 didn’t prioritize the DND whose 2017 budget totaled Php 137.2 billion. At the current exchange rate of Php 50 = $1 this equals to $2.73 billion.

The amount places the Philippines’ among the region’s lowest defense spenders just when the armed forces faces multiple security threats. Using open sources, the Philippines’ military spending this decade reveals an erratic pattern of peaks and valleys:

2011:  $2.7 billion

2012: $2.8 billion

2013: $3.2 billion

2014: $2.6 billion

2015: $2.5 billion

2016: $3.8 billion

 2017: $2.7 billion

But given the Duterte administration’s focus on domestic security and improving ties with China, the DND’s modernization plans for the armed forces no longer commands the same urgency as it did during the Aquino years from 2010 until 2016. Supplying the army’s precious artillery assets with ordnance is business as usual rather than a long-term program.