Military rolls out ‘dramatic’ capability upgrade

THE second phase of the capability upgrade program of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is seen to boost its firepower, an area where it has been considered lagging for long years, following the projected arrival and even signing of contracts for land, sea and air assets.

Dubbed the Horizon 2 with a “modest” budget of P300 billion, the program should equip the military’s three branches of service with new and additional weapons, aside from ships, war-fighting helicopters and, possibly, even submarines.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin pours champagne on a Bell-412EP, one of eight brand-new helicopters that were procured by the Philippine Air Force from Bell Helicopter Textron of Canada, as part of its modernization program during a ceremony on August 17, 2015, at Villamor Air Base in Pasay City. At right is Philippine Air Force Commanding Gen. Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Delgado.

Generally, the program’s second phase has drawn unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), a long-range patrol aircraft, attack helicopters, multirole fighter aircraft, two corvettes and six offshore patrol vessels for the military.

More assets coming

But while the paper work is being prepared for these acquisitions, the Air Force, one of the two biggest beneficiaries of the program, is already looking forward to the arrival of six brand-new close-air support aircraft by December next year.

The air assets, manufactured by the Brazil-based Embraer S.A., will replace the military’s aging OV-10 Broncos, which the Air Force still uses for air-to-ground bombing and other missions.

A squadron of FA-50 from South Korea is also set to get their individual air-to-air missiles by July 2019 from Deihl Raytheon of Germany.

The aborted deal that would have seen the delivery of 16 combat utility helicopters from Bell Canada under the first phase of the capability upgrade program has also been moved to Horizon 2, where the Department of National Defense (DND) is already out on a market.

DND Spokesman Arsenio Andolong said the agency is looking at some countries, including South Korea, the United States, Russia, Italy and Turkey, where the helicopters could be sourced.

Andolong said the DND is also studying whether it should revert the procurement of submarines, with Russia originally eyed as the supplier, to Horizon 3, under which it was originally drawn, although the plan sticks for now that it remains under Horizon 2.

Initial procurement stage

Based on documents obtained by the BusinessMirror, several projects under Horizon 2 have already been budgeted and are already in the initial stage of acquisition.

These are the 24 units or two squadrons of attack helicopters, 16 units of combat utility helicopters, six sets of alternative mission equipment for FA-50, one unit of command and control fixed-wing aircraft, a unit of C-295 helicopter, UAVs with support system and ILS and upgrades for the Army’s light armor system and the Navy’s multipurpose attack craft MK III combat system.

The project also included jammers and anti-drone system for the Presidential Security Group, the unit tasked to secure the Commander in Chief.

Awaiting delivery

Combining the procurements under the Horizon 1 and 2, the military is still waiting for the deliveries of several other projects the contracts for which have already been awarded to defense contractors.

Some of these projects include Indian-made force protection equipment, US-manufactured 60mm mortars and sniper rifles, 9mm pistols and the upgrade for the M-113 armored personnel carriers by Israeli Elbit, all for the Army.

For the Air Force, it included air surveillance radars by Elta Systems of Israel; full-motion flight simulators by the US-based Environmental Tectonics, Search and Rescue; base hangars, long- range patrol aircraft basing and radar basing support system.

Likewise, the Air Force, which was originally described by former Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin as an “all air with no force” before he moved for its modernization, is awaiting the delivery of air-to-surface missiles from Raytheon USA and 20mm ammunition.

Gazmin has been described as the “Granddaddy” of Philippine military modernization.

 Sea territory monitoring

For the Navy, it is waiting for the completion of its Coast Watch System project that would give the military the capability to monitor Philippine territory. It is awaiting as well the deliveries of the Marine forces imagery and targeting support system by the UK and US joint venture Triton Communication System; and the two anti-submarine helicopters by UK-based Leonardo Helicopter Ltd.

It is also looking forward to its C4ISTAR equipment from the US and the delivery of eight amphibious assault vehicles from South Korea’s Hanwha Techwin.

Hanwha was the same company whose controversial combat management systems would be installed with the two frigates ordered from Hyundai Heavy Industries, also a Korean firm.

Image Credits: AP/Bullit Marquez

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