RIGHT at the onset of Covid-19, the military had accepted the fact that its modernization procurements, especially those involving big-ticket items, would have to be put on hold, if not delayed, as the funds would have to be reallocated for the country’s pandemic response.
Three of these projects, as Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana later admitted, were the acquisition of six offshore patrol vessels and two corvettes for the Navy, and multirole aircraft for the Air Force, which should complement the FA-50s and two frigates in the military arsenal.
However, as it turned out, none of the big procurements would be dropped. Months into the end of the administration, President Duterte allotted P30 billion for the six patrol vessels and another fund of more than P3 billion as downpayment for the two corvettes.
THE Commander in Chief also approved the funding for 32 Black Hawk helicopters in the amount of P32 billion, as the military moved to add to its inventory of 15 S-70i utility helicopters that were previously delivered by the same Polish company.
The decision of Duterte to pursue the three big-ticket items would leave him the legacy of being the President who modernized the least equipped army in the region, albeit the level achieved was still under the military’s capability upgrade program that runs up to 2028.
When Duterte decided to improve the capability of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), he did not only bestow it with assets and equipment, but made sure it would pack with force and power. On the morale and welfare side, he doubled the salary of soldiers and even policemen.
Duterte rolled out his program in the military by acquiring two brand-new frigates from South Korea, which ushered the birth of a multidimensional warfare capability not only for the Philippine Navy, but also even for the whole AFP. While the capability for surface, air, land, submarine and electronic warfare is already the norm for years in today’s modern navies, even for most of the armies in Southeast Asia, the Navy’s capability is still drawn to World War II until the arrival of the frigates.
1st missile weapon system
TWO months ago, the Navy took its delivery of French-made Mistral 3 surface-to-air missiles for its two frigates, marking the first time the military would get hold of such a weapon. The two ships would also be equipped with South Korean-made C-Star missiles.
The Philippine Air Force is also slated to take deliveries of three batteries of Spyder ground-to-air defense system from Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense System. The Spyder system is designed to take down aircraft, including fighter planes, drones and missiles.
Israel has previously supplied Spike-ER missiles for the Navy’s multipurpose attack craft and unmanned aerial systems for the Air Force, including the two types of Hermes drones. It has also previously improved the capabilities of FA-50 fighter jets.
More modern weapons
DUTERTE has procured Brazilian-made Super Tucano close-support aircraft, 16 units of Black Hawk helicopters; C-130 and C-295 planes and even US ScanEagle unmanned aerial systems for the Air Force. Some of these assets showed their capabilities during the exercise “AJEX-Dagit.”
The Commander in Chief also acquired more than $18 million worth of weapon systems by way of a donation from the United States, which officials said would be used in the counterterrorism campaign in Mindanao, although these weapons have the ability to be used as defense against the fortified bases of China in the West Philippine Sea.
The armaments included MK-82 bombs, tube-launched bunker-busting missiles, target-acquisition systems and support equipment.
In July this year, and months before Lorenzana admitted that the procurement contracts for the six offshore patrol vessels, corvettes and multi-role fighter aircraft would be delayed by pandemic-induced budgetary constraints, the defense chief declared that Duterte is already 90 percent complete in accomplishing his modernization goals under his six-year term.
But with the decision to pursue the additional warships and Black Hawk projects, Duterte may have realized the six-year goal for the military, which is also choosing between US F-16 fighter jets and Swedish-made Gripen for its multi-role aircraft.
The Air Force is already awaiting delivery of its six T-129 ATAK Helicopters manufactured by Turkey, giving the military more teeth in its ongoing internal security operations, as the aircraft is well within the category of a “full-blooded” attack helicopter.
In early December, Lorenzana said the Air Force is also acquiring the Russian-made Mi-17 heavy-lift helicopter, with the procurement money expected to be released soon.
On the side, the Navy is also speeding up the acquisition of a pair of submarines, possibly the French-made Scorpene class, but which may already fall in the third part of the modernization program.
Next year, and before Duterte leaves office, the Army will have its new artilleries and 155 howitzers, as disclosed by Armed Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Andres Centino.
Its Armor Division will also have its first new light tanks from Israel.
The Army was eyed earlier to also have the first batteries of the Indian-made supersonic Brahmos Missile, though this may have been deferred to the third and last phase of the modernization program.