PHL explores paths to modern defense

Part Two

THE previous administration has endowed the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) with more than P65 billion worth of equipment, and allowed the AFP to make a giant leap from its decrepit and vintage assets. However, the country’s modernization spending still pales
in comparison with its military neighbors in Southeast Asia.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri) and the United States-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), while the military has been given its biggest budget yet during the past administration, the AFP still sits near the bottom in terms of acquisition when compared with the other Asean members.

It even occupied the last spot when compared with regional military powerhouse, such as China, Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand.

According to an earlier assessment of the CSIS, the country’s defense spending in 2014—the year that the Department of National Defense was on a procurement binge for the military—was at $3.3 billion. This amount was only slightly higher by 2 percent from 2013.

The year 2014 was historic for the military, as it was during this period when the AFP got hold of the biggest modernization funds in its entire history.

The country’s defense spending that year represented about 9 percent of the total defense spending in the region. The amount also represented about  1.1 percent of the country’s GDP and about 6  percent of the total government spending. However, this was still below the Asean average of 8.8 percent.

The CSIS, a think tank, said that between 2010 and 2014, Manila’s defense spending skyrocketed by about 35 percent, which was near the regional average of 37.6 percent during that period.

Stale spending

FROM the time of the administration of Fidel V. Ramos up to the term of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, modernization spending  was stale. Even the paltry funds were used for the repair of the military’s World War II vintage assets, instead of being spent for acquisition, as originally earmarked.

The failure, or more appropriately the neglect of the three previous administrations—including the aborted term of former actor and President Joseph E. Estrada—to allocate funds and pursue the modernization of the military as mandated by law, led to the degeneration of the AFP as the least developed among the militaries in the region.

It was different during the martial law years, when the AFP was the object of envy not only by its Asean neighbors, but even by the top militaries in Asia because of its advanced assets and equipment, making it an Asian military power.

The Philippines even beat Japan by becoming the first country outside the US at that time to have F-5 fighter planes. Incidentally, it is now Tokyo that is among the list of countries helping Manila in its modest capability upgrade program.

The country was so powerful under the administration of the late-dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos that when it declared ownership of the Pag-asa Island, not a word of protest was heard from China. In fact, Scarborough Shoal, which is now under the de-facto control of Beijing, used to be only a target range for the Philippine military.

Indonesia rolls

THE years between 2010 and 2014 were considered a “golden period” for military spending in Southeast Asia as it showed a steady increase in military expenditures.

The CSIS said the Asean spent a total of $38.2 billion on defense in 2014. For the years 2013 and 2014, the biggest increase in defense spending was registered by Brunei with 28.2 percent, followed by Cambodia and Vietnam at 14.4 percent and 14.1 percent, respectively.

But overall, and from 2010 up to 2014, Vietnam led the pack of the biggest defense spenders with 59.1 percent, although all Asean countries posted increases in their defense budgets. Hanoi was followed by Indonesia at 50.6 percent.

Vietnam, a claimant in the South China Sea, is giving much emphasis to the capability of its military with the end goal of having a powerful and independent armed forces as it sticks to the three “No’s”.  The latter refer to “No to foreign military bases”, “No to military alliance” and “No to military reliance with other countries”.

The CSIS said the average military expenditure in Southeast Asia as a percentage of GDP in 2014 was at 2.2 percent, ranging from 0.8 percent  (Indonesia) to 4.3 percent
(Myanmar). The American think tank said Indonesia has posted the largest increase in military spending from 2001 up to 2014 in Southeast Asia, with disbursements spiking from under $1 billion to over $7 billion.

Thai funds

THE Washington, D.C.-headquartered group noted that the sharpest increase occurred after former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono came into office in October 2004, wherein Jakarta’s military spending rose 290 percent in between 2005 and 2013. The spending, however, decreased by nearly 5 percent in 2013 and 2014.

“In 2014 Indonesia accounted for 18 percent of all of Asean defense spending,” a CSIS report said. “Military spending accounted for 4.1 percent of total government spending in 2014, less than half of the regional average of
8.8 percent.”

The center founded in 1962 by Admiral Arleigh Burke added that Indonesian defense spending as a percentage of GDP was the lowest in the region at 0.8 percent, “well below the average of 2.2 percent.”

However, the CSIS noted that the Indonesian parliament has announced a plan to increase Indonesia’s defense spending to $15 billion by 2020, which is twice its 2015 level.

Meanwhile, Thailand occupied the list of having the third-highest defense budget in Southeast Asia in 2014, with the amount pegged at $5.73 billion, representing a 15.5- percent increase in defense spending between 2010 and 2014.

The CSIS said in April 2015, the Thai government proposed a $6.3- billion defense budget for 2016, or about 8 percent of the country’s total state expenditures.

In January this year Jane’s by IHS Markit Ltd. reported that Thailand’s military government has agreed to appropriate $383 million to support its Navy’s plan to acquire the first of its three S26T submarines from China.

To be continued

 

Image Credits: Nonoy Lacza

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