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The Philippine Military Is Still Looking For SAMs

October 7, 2018

Via Wikimedia Commons.

As the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) ramps up its modernization there’s ample proof its laborious search for a mobile air defense system is far from over. During the recent ADAS 2018 arms show held in Manila from September 26 until 28 at least a handful of prospective suppliers displayed their surface to air missiles (SAMs) but nothing was decided. Even one of the more persistent big companies jostling for the lingering SAM contract, Israel’s Elbit Systems, couldn’t close a deal for its bestselling SPYDER.

The AFP wanted a shore-based SAM since at least 2012 and the tender was quickly snapped up by a local company on behalf of Israel’s largest military contractors. But the order for SAMs was never finalized and a decades old capability gap remained.

Two other exhibitors at ADAS 2018 displayed SAMs in small scale. These were France’s MBDA and the pavilion occupied by Russia’s arms exporting agency Rosoboronexport. But Russia’s well-known selection of mobile SAMs are unlikely choices for the AFP as it can be pressured by the US to reject these weapon systems. Likewise the SAMs found at the pavilion occupied by the arms exporting agency of Belarus, Beltechexport. Another problem with Soviet vintage air defenses, unless these are anti-aircraft guns, is they’re often mounted on a tracked vehicle unsuitable to the geography of the Philippines.

MBDA, on the other hand, arranged scale models of its short, medium, and long-range SAMs in their wheeled carrier vehicles on a shelf for perusal. This included the Common Anti-Air Modular Missile (CAMM) that’s mounted on a 4×4 flatbed truck. The widespread use of French SAMs among NATO countries and even staunch US allies puts them in good stead. But the ambiguity surrounding the AFP’s requirement for SAMs means potential suppliers are starved of useful details. Another factor is cost. The two potential operators of mobile SAMs are either the Philippine Army (PA) or the Philippine Air Force (PAF). To the latter’s credit, their annual budget is supplemented by $2.6 billion for procurement until 2023. The amount reserved for SAMs is unknown and the priority in the next few years are drones and a medium transport.

But Elbit Systems remains well positioned as a supplier for two reasons. First, it’s already serving multiple contracts with each branch of the AFP, be it remote weapon stations and mortars on the army’s APCs or Spike NLOS missiles for the navy’s fast attack craft. Second, President Rodrigo Duterte has ingratiated his administration with Tel Aviv and this newfound warmth can lead to more arms deals. It seemed fitting how Elbit Systems commanded a large booth at ADAS 2018 where it had scale models of its SPYDER-ER and BARAK 8 long-range SAMs. The latter is the ideal choice if the PAF wishes to defend its far-flung and remote installations.

Readers might be wondering if the Philippines’ enduring alliance with the US can expedite the search for new air defenses. If the AFP’s requirements specify a protective umbrella over whole cities or its major bases, perhaps outlying islands too, the Patriot PAC-3 immediately comes to mind but its exorbitant price tag is unacceptable. US financial assistance for the Philippine military is meager and won’t suffice to cover at least a single Patriot battery and its missiles. In comparison, Taiwan seems to have the best of both worlds. Its armed forces operate legacy US-made SAMs and is augmenting these with its own locally developed anti-ballistic missile shield.

Meanwhile, the Philippines is trying to decide what it needs.

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