Saturday, June 20, 2015

Philippine Air Force Flight Plan 2028 - A Mid-Year 2015 Progress Update on the PAF's Horizon 1 & 2 Asset Acquisition and Bases Development

Previously, MaxDefense discussed the Philippine Air Force's (PAF) medium term goal (2015-2022) under their organization plan titled PAF Flight Plan 2028. Most of the entry was devoted to the PAF's equipment acquisition and organizational changes until 2022 that will allow the establishment to achieve their goals to build a capability to detect, identify, intercept, and neutralize intrusions in the Philippine Air Defense Identification Zone from Area Readiness 4 to 3 by 2022. For those who weren't able to follow, you may read our earlier blog entry by clicking the links below:

The Philippine Air Force's Medium Term "Flight Plan" for an Effective Air Defense Capability

and

Other Acquisition Plans of the Philippine Air Force for its Medium Term "Flight Plan"


The advancement of the flight plan as of mid-2015 has produced modest results so far, with the program still in the early stages and is still about to gain traction.

This blog entry is a mid-year 2015 update on the progress made by the PAF in accordance to its Flight Plan 2028's acquisition of assets and bases development. Other factors of the Flight Plan like doctrines, training, human resources, and others are not discussed here.




KAI FA-50 and Munitions Acquisitions:


The PAF ordered 12 FA-50 from KAI, with the 1st 2 units expected to arrive either December 2015 or January 2016.


The PAF initially reported in the past that the first 2 units of the FA-50 lead-in fighter trainers it ordered from South Korea's KAI will be delivered by early December 2015, but it will depend on the capability of KAI to meet the schedule. Recent PAF information releases shows that there might be some changes in this, which could see the first 2 FA-50 delivered as late as the end of January 2016. The rest of the 10 units will be delivered by batches from 2016 until 2017.

Pilot training was provided for 3 PAF pilots with high flying time and experience with the PAF's AS-211 Warrior light jet aircraft. Pilot training was done at KAI's facility in Sacheon City, and in ROKAF's 1st Fighter Wing at Gwangju Air Base and 16th Fighter Wing at Yecheon Air Base. Ground crew training for maintenance will also be provided to existing Air Defense Wing personnel, which is scheduled from June to November 2015 in South Korea.


Officials from the Philippines led by President Benigno Aquino III (center) during the group's visit to view the KAI FA-50 at an airbase in Busan, South Korea in December 2014.


The DND and PAF is also expecting to award the contracts with a combined worth of around Php 4.5 billion ($99 million) to supply air launched munitions for the FA-50 by September 2015, if all issues regarding budget and procurement can be cleared by Malacanang and the DND before August 2015. Among those in the acquisition are short range air-to-air missiles on the same category or better than the Sidewinder AIM-9L/I-1 that was originally planned, air-to-ground missiles like the AGM-65 Maverick, 20mm cannon ammo, and countermeasures including chaffs and flares. No confirmation yet though if the air-to-air munitions will include medium-range beyond visual range (BVR) missiles similar to the Derby missile.


The AIM-9L/I-1 Sidewinder (above) is the so-called natural choice of the PAF for the FA-50's requirement for short range air-to-air missile, although it is still unclear if the PAF is open to award a contract to other missile systems like the Israeli Python missile.
Photo taken from Wikicommons.




Air Defense Surveillance Radar System Acquisition:

The DND has already awarded the contract for 3 air defense surveillance radar systems to IAI-Elta of Israel for the Elta ELM-2288 AD-STAR system. It is not expected for the radars to be in the country within the year, but the first system could be delivered and online by 2nd quarter of 2016. As part of the deal, a gap filler radar is expected to be fielded by the PAF using a radar system provided by IAI-Elta as part of the deal. Originally MaxDefense posted that this radar system will be used to help secure the airspace as part of the APEC Summit in November, so it is expected that the system will be activated before November 2015.



The IAI-Elta ELM-2288 AD-STAR air defense surveillance radar system.
Photo taken from IAI-Elta website.



Long Range Patrol Aircraft Acquisition:


Currently, the re-bidding for the acquisition of 2 units Long Range Patrol Aircraft (LRPA) has not yet started as of this writing, without formal confirmation from the PAF on the reason why. But recent agreements between the Philippine government and the US and Japanese governments might have an impact on this project. Previous press reports indicated that the both the US and Japanese governments may provide the Philippines of used and refurbished Lockheed P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft, either by grant or sale. There was previous information indicating the possibility of the Americans providing between 1 or 2 units, while Japan may provide somewhere between 2 to 4 units. If traced back to the PAF's Flight Plan 2028, the PAF is planning to acquire 4 LRPA in 2 batches, targetted to arrive by 2016 and 2020, respectively.


Should the plan to acquire P-3C Orion from either the US and/or Japan comes to fruition, it is expected that the PAF and DND may totally cancel the acquisition of new platforms, subject to the performance and longetivity of the P-3s and availability of additional funds after 2020.


Japan and the US are being touted to provide the Philippines with the Lockheed P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft, either by sale or grant, to improve the maritime surveillance and domain awareness capability of the country.





Repair of PAF Air Bases and Air Stations:


Several existing facilities of the PAF are slated, or are currently undergoing repair and rehabilitation as part of the Flight Plan, to enable them to accept the upcoming new PAF assets.

Among those already in the advance stages are the basing facilities for Search and Rescue (SAR) units of the PAF at Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan and the Sanga-Sanga Air Station in Tawi-Tawi which were awarded last year.

Also being prepared is the new base for the 15th Strike Wing, which is scheduled to vacate their home base at Antonio Bautista Air Base (Sangley Point) in Cavite to give way to civilian development. The unit will be transfering to the Lumbia Airport in Cagayan de Oro, which was transfered to PAF after civilian traffic was permanently transfered to the new Laguindingan Airport.

Other basing projects are being prepared to accommodate several new upcoming assets:

1. Antonio Bautista Air Base (Palawan), Basa Air Base (Pampanga), and Subic International Airport (Zambales) will be prepared and refitted to accomodate air defense aviation assets, which will include the AS-211, the FA-50, the future MRF. It is also expected that all 3 air bases will also benefit from construction work related to the PH-US Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) which is still waiting for approval with the Supreme Court, and possibly the Philippine Senate.


Subic Intenational Airport is expected to be turned-over to the Philippine Air Force to host air defense and territorial defense assets due to its close proximity to the West Philippine Sea conflict areas.
Photo taken from Philippine Airspace blogsite.


2. The facilities at the Paredes Air Station in Ilocos Norte, Gozar Air Station in Lubang Island, and Salakot Air Station in Palawan were chosen to accept the first batch of Air Defense Surveillance Radar systems from Israel. It was reported previously that these air stations will be undergoing repair and rehabilitation works to enable the acceptance of new radar systems, as well as other support systems related to its function.

This is how Gozar Air Station looks like in the late 1960s when the Americans were helping the Philippine Air Force maintain the facility. Today it is in poor shape and requires rehabilitation work.
Photo taken from delahyde.com.


3. Fernando Air Base (Batangas), Antonio Bautista Air Base (Palawan), and Edwin Andrews Air Base (Zamboanga) are scheduled for improvements to accomodate Long Range Patrol Aircraft / Maritime Patrol Aircraft assets, which includes erection of additional hangar and support facilities. The bases are expected to be partially ready by 2016.



4. Ground Based Missile Air Defense assets will also be requiring their own facilities, and the initial bases to receive these assets are the Paredes Air Station (Ilocos Norte), Gozar Air Station (Lubang Island), and Basa Air Base (Pampanga). The missile systems will be working hand-in-hand with the Air Defense Surveillance Radar, while at the same time are expected to defend these radar and air defense facilities from air attacks.


The PAF's upcoming 780th Ground Base Air Defense Group is scheduled to receive guided missile air defense systems to defend air bases and radar sites from air attacks. 



5. Command and Control Facilities will be erected at the PAF Headquarters in Villamor Air Base, and will probably connected to the C4ISTAR system being developed for the entire Armed Forces of the Philippines.

6. Basing support systems will be improved together with the improvement of the airstrip and facilities at the Rancudo Air Station in Pag-asa Island, Kalayaan Group of Islands in the West Philippine Sea. Currently the runway is in poor condition, and plans to repair it has not been moving forward due to the government policy in relation to its case with the United Nations against China.

7. The use of Crow Valley Gunnery Range in Tarlac for aerial gunnery and bombing practice will be reimplemented, aside from the use of the range for ground military training and testing purposes. The Flight Plan includes a program on rehabilitating the facility for air force use.


Crow Valley Gunnery Range in Tarlac, as seen during the 1980s before the Mt. Pinatubo eruption. The facility will be rehabilitated by the PAF for aerial gunnery and target bombing training purposes.
Photo taken from Wikipedia.






Reactivation of the 105th Fighter Training Squadron and 5th Fighter Wing:

The PAF is scheduled to reactivate the 105th Fighter Training Squadron (105th FTS), which is the primary unit tasked to train pilots that are to be assigned to fly air defense aircraft like the AS-211 and FA-50. The unit previously operated T-33 Shooting Star and S-211 trainer jets in the past to prepare pilots to fly the F-5A/B Freedom Fighter and other PAF fighter aircraft in the past. It was expected that the activiation could be made by May 2015, although there is no confirmation yet if this was realized by now.

To consolidate its air defense aircraft assets, the PAF is also on its way to reactivate the 5th Fighter Wing (5th FW), its foremost air defense unit since the PAF's inception, to replace the current Air Defense Wing. This could become a reality by 2016. The 7th Tactical Fighter Squadron will return back to the 5th FW, and is expected to be the unit to receive the FA-50s. Like before, the 5th FW will be based in Basa Air Base in Floridablanca, Pampanga, although they would also be expected to operate from other bases including the Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan, and the Subic International Airport in Zambales, which is expected to be converted to a PAF air base with emphasis on territorial defense.


The PAF will revive the defunct 5th Fighter Wing to replace the Air Defense Wing. The 6th Tactical Fighter Squadron will be returned back to the unit, together with the reactivation of the 105th Fighter Training Squadron



Horizon 2 Asset Acquisitions:

The PAF has already started the acquisition planning for several assets that will be acquired as part of the Flight Plan's Horizon 2 phase, which is from 2017-2022. The PAF expects the acquisition planning for at least 6 systems to be completed by end of June 2015, and the procurement stage to proceed afterwards. Procurement for these systems may depend, and could either be by negotiated procurement or by public tender.




1. Ground Based Air Defense System:

With the formation of the 780th Ground Based Air Defense Group (780th GBADG) and the basing facilities in several PAF facilities to house the unit's assets, it is now expected that the PAF will be acquiring missile-based air defense systems. Previous press releases by the DND, AFP, and PAF pointed out to at least two systems: the SPYDER (Surface-to-Air PYthon & DERby) system from Rafael and IAI of Israel, and the Hawk XXI from US company Raytheon. Other systems were reportedly offered but official confirmations were not made as to what models were among those considered by the PAF or DND. There is no confirmed choice yet as of this writing, and anything can happen even after previous reports of interest from the DND, AFP, or PAF existed. MaxDefense previously covered the possibility of acquiring the SPYDER in a blog entry dated June 18, 2013.

3 systems are planned for acquisition by 2016, and another 3 systems are to be acquired by 2020. Each system will be based on one of the PAF's air bases or air stations, and are assigned to defend PAF facilities and nearby areas from air attacks.




2. Heavy Lift Helicopters:

To improve the helilift capability of the PAF, the 205th Tactical Helicopter Wing will be diversifying their fleet aside from its light combat utility helicopters by adding heavy lift helicopters into its inventory. Much empahsis was given by the PAF's lack of large helicopters that could carry huge amounts of cargo and personnel to areas without airfields as shown during the rescue and relief operations after the Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda in 2013. The PAF relied on US Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey to carry heavier load on affected areas, releagating the PAF's small UH-1H Huey and the Canadian Armed Forces CH-146 Griffon (similar to what the PAF's upcoming Bell 412EP) to lighter duties.

Great consideration will be on the helicopter's ability to load and unload cargo and men from a rear ramp, a feature present on two choices being eyed by the PAF if they decide to go brand new: the Boeing CH-47 Chinook of the US, and the AgustaWestland AW-101 from the UK. 2 units are eyed for procurement by 2019, and another 2 by 2022, although MaxDefense believes that the numbers and the schedule could change depending on funding and future decisions by the PAF to prioritize this project in anticipation of more HADR missions from natual disasters. It is also still unclear if the PAF will consider acquiring refurbished units due to the greater numbers it could acquire as compared to new ones using the same budget. 

Previously, Boeing announced a global offer to sell refurbished and modernized CH-47 Chinooks to friendly countries at a considerably lower price than their new CH-47F. The PAF could be among the possible buyers.


The Boeing CH-47F Chinook could be among those being eyed by the PAF for its heavy lift helicopter requirement should they consider new builds. If they prefer refurbished, Boeing could also offer refurbished ex-US Army CH-47Ds as a cheaper alternative.
Photo taken from Boeing's website.


3. Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft Acquisition:

As the FA-50 comes into service and prepare PAF's pilots into flying more advanced combat aircraft, the PAF has also started the acquisition planning to acquire multi-role fighters (MRF). Originally the PAF Flight Plan 2028 indicated a requirement to order an additional 12 SAA/LIFT aircraft, possibly more FA-50 from KAI, to beef up the PAF's requirements. But that could change due to the FA-50's limited capability compared to contemporary fighter aircraft fielded by its neighbors, particularly China. 

The FA-50, as discussed in several forums including in MaxDefense, is considered a bridge for the PAF from its existing aircraft and technology to modern fighter aircraft. Its size has affected a lot of performance factors, limiting the aircraft to light combat aircraft capable of air policing, point interception, and ground attack roles. Even South Korea will only be using the FA-50 to replace the F-5E/F Tiger II, while replacement for the F-4 Phantoms will be of a more capable type. 

The FA-50 has a limited range, limited carrying capacity, limited weapons compatibility, limited radar range and technology, and can be considered as totally substandard compared to larger, more expensive, and more capable fighter aircraft. This could become a deciding factor in the PAF's decision to skip acquiring more SAA/LIFT and instead start investing in acquiring multi-role fighters.

As reported by the PAF, they are about to finish the acquisition planning by the end of June 2015 and will be deciding soon on how the DND could implement the acquisition by either negotiated bid or through public tender. If the PAF will replace more SAA/LIFTs with the MRF, then they expect the PAF to have its new fighters by 2019. Should this happen, it is expected that the PAF may initially acquire 12 units, and may order another 12 units a few years later as part of its Horizon 2 (2017-2022) phase. 

Recently, Saab reported that the PAF has asked questions regarding their JAS-39 Gripen, but admitted that no formal process has started yet. Saab has been active in pushing their Gripen, and has been present in several of the PAF's annual Air Power Sympotiums and at ADAS 2014. 


Saab eyes the Philippines as a possible JAS-39 Gripen user, boasting of its low acquisition, maintenance, and operating costs,  STOL, quick turn-around rate, and ease of maintenance as its main points.


MaxDefense also expects American companies to push hard for their wares should the DND and PAF confirm an existing MRF acqusition project, with Boeing expected to bring their F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, and Lockheed Martin their F-16C/D Blk. 52 or F-16V. 

Due to pricing, MaxDefense believes that other European offers like the Eurofighter and the Dassault Rafale will probably pass on this project. This could change, however, if easy payment schemes, counter-trade, or alternative payments sponsored by the manufacturer's government could be offered and is acceptable to the Philippine government, similar to what France offered to Egypt when they accepted to acquire Rafales, its munitions, and FREMM frigates for the Egyptian Air Force and Navy. A Russian offer might be possible from either MAPO-MiG and Sukhoi, but MaxDefense highly doubts the PAF's interests on such.


Lockheed Martin is expected to offer their F-16C/D Blk. 52 or F-16V Viper should the PAF open a MRF acquisition project.
Photo taken from Lockheed Martin.



4. Aerial Early Warning and Control System Acquisition:

Another important project to fill in the gaps of the air defense capabilities of the PAF is for the acquisition of Aerial Early Warning and Control System (AEWACS) system. This is expected to be operated by the 300th Air Intelligence and Security Group (300th AISG)


The Northrop Grumman E-2D Advanced Hawkeye.
Photo from Kevin Whitehead - Jetwash Images c/o Airliners.net.


MaxDefense received information that among the strongest offers were those made by Saab for its Erieye AEWC system, which Saab is offering together with its JAS-39 Gripen. Should Saab captures the MRF project, it is expected that a counter-offer involving the Erieye AEWC system could be provided by Saab, similar to what they provided to Thailand. 

Also a possible strong contender due to its recent wins in the Philippine military is IAI-Elta, which recently also have agreements with Airbus to supply the AEWC AESA radar systems for the C-295AEWC variant. With the PAF already a C-295 operator, its not far fetched for them to choose the Airbus-Elta offer.

An American offer could also be possible, with the Northrop Grumman E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, which was recently sold to Japan and is being actively marketed in the Asia Pacific region. 

Another possible offer could come from India, with their newly developed AEWC by India's Defence Research & Develpment Organization, which it recently showed-off using an Embraer ERJ-145 business jet platform.  

The PAF could have the choice of aircraft platform it wishes to use, and MaxDefense believes that Airbus' C-295 and Embraer's R-99 (EMJ-145) could be strong platform contenders, given Embraer's strong position to bag the pending Close Air Support Aircraft (CASA) project of the PAF. 



India has developed a new indigenous AEWC system, installed on an Embraer ERJ-145 business jet designated as a R-99 replacing the Saab Erieye.
Photo taken from AIN Online website.



5. Unmanned Aerial System and C2 Center:

The PAF has also released information on the impending completion of the acquisition planning for an Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) and Command and Control (C2) Center. The PAF also expects the acqusition planning to be completed by June 2015, although no definite deadline was announced on when they expect these assets to be in service.

The UAS could supplement the different surveillance systems presently available or being acquired by the PAF and the AFP as a whole. Being a maritime country with no land borders, it is expected that any UAS system will take maritime surveillance as its main role, assisting the LRPA/MPA assets of both the PAF and PN (yes, the PN are still expected to use their BN-2 Islander limited MPA) in detecting surface targets. 

Previously Elbit Systems of Israel presented the PAF with an offer to use its Maritime Hermes 900 UAS as maritime patrol assets, gaining positive response from PAF and PN representatives. 


Elbit previously presented the Hermess 900 Maritime Patrol UAS to the Philippine Air Force and Philippine Navy for their maritime patrol requirements, either as a stand-alone asset, or to complement other maritime patrol aircraft assets.
Photo taken from Elbit System's website.



The C2 Center will be used to closely coordinate and control all PAF aerial assets, radar systems, airbases and air stations from its headquarters in Villamor Air Base. It is also expected to be interconnected with the AFP's C4ISTAR system which the AFP intends to acquire very soon. This enables the AFP to have total control of all its units and assets during operations.



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Being a mid-2015 report, this analysis is still subject to change, still being in the early part of the entire Flight Plan. But it is expected that the PAF will be using this to chart their course of action in the near future in a similar fashion as the Philippine Navy's Sail Plan 2020. So MaxDefense advices its readers to take this interpretation of the PAF Flight Plan 2028's mid-2015 report as dependent on the PAF and may not be 100% accurate.

Although the plan looks good, the PAF should also consider the threat at hand, with China already banging its feet inside Philippine EEZ and interests in the West Philippine Sea. Instead of being too reliant on this Flight Plan, MaxDefense believes that the PAF should also consider an alternative option emphasizing on a faster phased modernization dependent on the DND and AFP high command's ability to push its goals to the National Government (Executive and Legislative). Although it is already unexpected for the Aquino administrtion to do something better than what is already laid beforehand, the PAF should push harder for more funding and support to hasten its modernization and strengthening in the face of Chinese aggression.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Empowering the Philippine claims in the West Philippine Sea - An Analysis from a WPS Expert

MaxDefense is borrowing an analysis made by one of the Philippines' foremost defense and security analyst, Prof. Jose Antonio Custodio, who has extensive knowledge on the dispute of the Philippines with China in the West Philippine Sea and along the so-called "10-dash line". This analysis was earlier posted as a special with TV5's Interaksyon.com last week (May 25 to 27, 2015). As this analysis would be better kept for re-reading and record for a longer period of time, it was decided to post the entire article (3 part series) in the MaxDefense blogs rather than just posted on the MaxDefense @ Facebook page.

This discusses the current situation in the West Philippine Sea, debunks the assumption made by Philippine politicians and policymakers, and provide an attainable and practical solution for the Philippine government without being too much dependent on a singular proposal in nature. Many, including those with military and political experience and knowledge, think that China, a military and economic powerhouse, is an invincible force that would be impossible to counter or stop from doing whatever it wants in the West Philippine Sea, including stumping without regard on the historical and lawful backgrounds of its fellow claimants, and the emphasis on peace, stability, and rule of law by the world's major powers. MaxDefense and Prof. Custodio thinks otherwise, and here is the full script of the entire post.

(Special thanks to Prof. Jose Antonio Custodio for allowing MaxDefense to make this possible. Photos, and the words underneath them, are provided by MaxDefense, and does not in any way represent Prof. Custodio's own views.
)


Photos taken by a Philippine Air Force patrol aircraft as of February 19, 2015 shows the reclamation works done by the Chinese in the Spratlys.
Photo taken from Inquirer.net.



PART 1 -  WHAT'S NEXT IN DISPUTE WITH CHINA? Let's start with assessment of current situation:

The massive construction and reclamation activities being done by the People’s Republic of China at the West Philippine Sea have caused widespread concern in the international community.

The Philippine government has seen fit to elevate the threat of Chinese territorial ambitions as the most serious one affecting the country which is a clear break of the nearly half a century prioritization of internal security concerns by the Philippine defense establishment. There has been a slow but steady move to refocus the Armed Forces of the Philippines away from internal security towards external defense in the past few years. It is hoped that eventually this will provide the Philippines the capability to deal with external threats much more effectively.

Although the Philippine government has filed a case against the Chinese government, it is obviously not enough to prevent Beijing from continuing its expansion into the West Philippine Sea and complementary actions have to be done by Manila to defend its territorial claims in the area and its Western Exclusive Economic Zone.

A look at the maps provides a clearer picture as to the threat posed by China’s reclamation and base building activities in the West Philippine Sea. 



Reclamation not only directed at PH
Although there has been much debate in the Philippines about the reason for the construction and reclamation of the Chinese with one side stating that it is Beijing’s retaliation for the arbitration case and the other side contesting that assertion, the scope of their activities reveals that it is not only directed against the Philippines but at the much more comprehensive installations established by the Vietnamese in the same area.

Hence once these Chinese bases become fully operational, it will not just make life more difficult for the Philippines but also pose a clear threat to Vietnam’s own garrisons.

In fact, in comparison to Vietnam’s installations, those of the Philippines have remained rudimentary in nature and will not require excessive pressure from the Chinese to dislodge and would not seem to justify Beijing’s expenditure of resources.

Once China neutralizes the installations of its rivals at the West Philippine Sea, what role in area denial will these new bases of theirs play?

These then raises the question as to who else are these reclamation activities by Beijing directed against and obviously the ultimate target is not just the Philippines, nor Vietnam but eventually the United States of America.


Chinese reclamation at South Johnson Reef, also known as Mabini Reef, which is part of the Kalayaan Group of Islands in the West Philippine Sea.
Photo from the Armed Forces of the Philippines.



PH garrisons for dropping of international case?
For the Philippines, it will be hard-pressed to deal with the increased operational tempo of Chinese vessels and aircraft operating from the new installations and if it does not improve on its capability soon then a nightmare scenario will ensue.

This may in the future, result in the elimination of most of the Philippine installations from the West Philippine Sea either through Chinese actions or voluntarily by Manila itself or the Chinese may allow the Filipino garrisons to stay in exchange for onerous terms advantageous to Beijing such as the exploitation of our EEZ, the dropping of all cases filed in international courts and even unrestricted passage of Chinese military vessels through our internal waters and airspace towards the Pacific Ocean to challenge the Americans.



Threat at Scarborough Shoal
While focus has been maintained on the Chinese reclamation at the West Philippine Sea, Beijing reactivated another front against Manila by undertaking aggressive actions against Filipino fishermen at Scarborough Shoal which had been seized from the Philippines in 2012.

What is disturbing about Scarborough Shoal is that it lies 138 miles from Zambales, Luzon and it is very near Philippine centers of gravity such as the capital city of Manila and the political and economic complex of Central Luzon, National Capital Region, and the Southern Luzon and the major ports and airports at Manila, Subic, and Clark.

From there, the Chinese can easily interdict and harass Philippine lines of communication and movement.

Although China denies that it will develop the shoal as a military installation, given Beijing’s penchant for doublespeak, it would be foolish to not consider such a possibility in the near future because the shoal provides the Chinese the best possible opportunity to bottle up not just Philippine air and maritime assets but also to monitor, contain and restrict United States military movements.


Philippine lawmakers and soldiers placing a Philippine flag on the exposed portion of the Scarborough Shoal years before the Chinese Coast Guard took permanent position around it since 2012.




PART 2IS CHINA INVINCIBLE? Debunking Philippine assumptions on the territorial dispute:
Manila has consistently resorted to diplomatic protests against Beijing’s unilateral actions and frequently shies away from direct confrontation with Chinese maritime vessels at the West Philippine Sea.

Oftentimes, Filipino fishermen are left to their own devices in confrontations with Chinese maritime vessels as there is no escort provided by the Philippine Coast Guard.

The question then is why is the Philippine response conducted in such a manner? The following Philippine assumptions in the territorial dispute are the reasons that explain that response:


1. China is strong and US is weak:
It is a widespread belief in the Philippines that China is a rising power and the tendency is to overstate the capabilities of China either due to ignorance or to pro-Beijing advocacies. 
China's economic strength is trumpeted as a sign that it will overtake the United States which because of prolonged economic troubles is then automatically designated a weakening power.

The fact that the Chinese government strives to provide positive data to project its strength while taking steps to cover up or suppress not so flattering data that some economists have pointed out as serious flaws in China’s economy is frequently overlooked in the Philippines.

Meanwhile, the economic problems of the United States has been added to a litany of perceived grievances by Filipinos on American reliability as an ally thus making the Philippines question the military alliance that it has with the US instead of figuring out ways to derive opportunities for the Philippines. Unfortunately, the Philippines in general has a very black and white appreciation of the alliance it has with the US.

An example of this is the recent US willingness to deploy ships to monitor the establishment of Chinese bases at the West Philippine Sea has boosted the morale of the Philippines however it must be determined as to what exactly will be the mission of these American vessels.

It would not be wise to assume that the United States suddenly took up the cudgels for the Philippines as it is not expected that the US will accost Chinese ships or physically prevent the continuation of construction at the reefs.

They are there to remind the Chinese not to threaten the flow of global commerce and not to establish an Air Defense Identification Zone or ADIZ at the WPS. It is doubtful that they are there to protect the EEZ of the Philippines nor to escort Filipino fishermen.


Filipino fishermen and the EEZ will continue to remain vulnerable to Chinese depredation. The danger is that it is raising expectations so high in the Philippines and if the US fails to deliver from the point of view of what Filipinos expect, a new round of recriminations will ensue.


Chinese naval destroyers during a military exercise. Although China has become stronger than ever, it does not necessarily mean the US has become weak just because of their delayed movement and decisions in the WPS issue.


Overstreched Chinese military capabilities:
In the case of China, the Philippines does have a tendency to excessively exaggerate Chinese capabilities without a realistic assessment and an understanding of the environment. Filipinos tend to bean-count when it comes to Chinese capabilities and strength and look at it from a strict Philippines against China framework. The fact that China is facing multiple opponents is seldom taken into consideration or if ever is quickly dismissed with the statement that “Beijing will buy them off eventually.”

Aside from the Philippines, China has territorial disputes with three major regional powers and these are Japan, India, and Vietnam. The navies and maritime capabilities of both Japan and India are individually superior in many aspects to that of the Chinese.

Although China did make much noise about the launch of its aircraft carrier, in contrast, the Indian Navy has been operating carriers for half a century while the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force has commissioned at least three ships they euphemistically call destroyers but are almost similar to light aircraft carriers.

In fact the most recent ship to be commissioned, the Izumo is as big as the carriers of the Second World War Imperial Japanese Navy.

Furthermore, the important thing to remember is China’s military modernization is in transition and in absorption of new military hardware whereas its rivals are already advanced not just in the possession of equipment but also in the operational uses of such.

Also, China’s aggressive moves has resulted in its assets experiencing overstretch as it has to deal with neighbors who have been angered by Beijing’s brazen activities.

In the case of Vietnam, the Philippines seems to fail to recognize that despite the Vietnamese being very confrontational with China and figuring in many incidents since the 1970s and most importantly having no tangible military alliance with a superpower, Beijing cannot impose its will with finality on Hanoi’s scattered outposts in the West Philippine Sea.

That then is an indication of Beijing’s weakness which should be clear for all to see but unfortunately the Philippines has become accustomed to the habit of scaring itself witless in the face of China and is averse to taking on the Chinese physically in defense of its territorial integrity.

The Philippines is not the only country China is in a disagreement with, there are bigger and powerful regional countries like Japan (above) and India who are also in the game, that are probably bent in containing China's aggressiveness in the region.




2. China is too powerful while the Philippines is too weak:
There are other limitations to the Philippine’s appreciation of China’s ambitions despite overwhelming evidence that points to a much grander geopolitical objective. One of the fallacies entertained by the Philippine side is that the Chinese are only after economic resources in the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea and nothing else.

The First and Second Island Chain strategy of China, the establishment of obviously military installations at the West Philippine Sea by Beijing, and even the blatant implementation of an Air Defense Identification Zone at the area in all aspects but in name only as seen in the harassment of a Philippine Air Force airplane and recently a US Navy reconnaissance aircraft by Chinese installations and vessels all cannot seem to convince quite a number of public figures and even academics that the objective is more than just fishes and energy resources.

It is true that aside from the hundreds of warships in the Chinese Navy, there are also approximately more than 400 China Marine Surveillance vessels that implement Beijing’s territorial ambitions in the West Philippine Sea and elsewhere.

Against this huge Chinese armada, the Philippines can only commit several dozen ships of varying capabilities and hence the belief that the country is weak and can never overtake or even face off against China is firmly engrained in the minds of many Filipinos.

What again Filipinos fail to realize is that these Chinese assets are also deployed elsewhere especially against the formidable Japanese and redoubtable Vietnamese and not even mentioning the goliath that is the United States Navy.

China has obviously bit off more than it can chew and is obviously trying to bluff its way into a de facto situation favorable to it in the West Philippine Sea which no other nation is buying into except unfortunately the Philippines which remains consistently mortified of Beijing.


The Philippine military might be weak, but with proper decisions, support, and commitments by the government to improve its condition and provide what it needs, it would still be possible to make it a force to be reckoned with even by a regional power like China.
Photo by the US Navy, taken from Wikipedia.




3. A fixation on the military solution when coast guard can be used instead
There seems to be an overemphasis by the Philippines on facing the challenge posed by China through a military solution and because of the sorry state of the Armed Forces of the Philippines it results in two situations.

The first is that the modernization of the armed forces especially the navy and the air force will take at least 10 years and even then it is not a guarantee that modern military capabilities will be used in a confrontation with China because the political leadership can just decide not to provoke the Chinese out of fear.

The second is because the military is taking too long to modernize and the belief is that it is the crucial lynchpin upon which all else lies, the tendency then is not to actively engage the Chinese because the country is defenseless.

It really has not sunk it that one of the most effective ways of frustrating the Chinese is through the use of the coast guard as the primary instrument. Just looking at the way Vietnam and Japan block Chinese incursions through the use of low-tech coast guard vessels that given their nature do not raise the ante to high as to warrant the use of military force should provide a guide as to how to deal with China in the WPS.

Furthermore, not unless the Philippine defense establishment has modified its defense strategy for the Philippines, the concept of defense in depth at the West Philippine Sea that first appeared during the modernization discussions in the 1990s and sometimes appears in current discussions on strategy has always been rendered moot and academic by the insertion of Chinese installations behind and in between Philippine installations.


The Philippine government must make use of its Coast Guard to avoid giving the Chinese a reason to use their navy against our forces. All the coast guard needs is more attention and funding for it to be able to acquire the skills, men, structure, and equipment that it needs.




PART 3 - BEYONG DIPLOMATIC PROTESTS: A proposed approach on territorial dispute with China

Scarborough Shoal more than Ayungin should have been the line in the sand for the Philippines vis a vis China. Now that it is gone, great effort must be taken that the Philippines should not take one more step backward as it has been prone to do in the past. To do that, the Philippines must undertake a combination of actions that will aim to stop China in its tracks in the West Philippine Sea aside from the arbitration case and the diplomatic offensive.

Aside from the raising international awareness through its current diplomatic offensive, the Philippines should ensure that appropriate steps are done to take advantage of China's territorial disputes with many of its neighbors by establishing coordination and support among the maritime and naval agencies of countries such as Japan, Vietnam, India, and Indonesia - aside from the United States.

This will then not just be the task of diplomats but also of the entire Philippine government including Congress, the Department of National Defense, and the AFP.

There is a need to project to China the message that other countries are not just committed but also coordinating in a multilateral effort to squash Beijing's ambitions. As it is Beijing's desire to drive a wedge between countries in the region either through bribery or intimidation then it is important not just to establish a multilateral diplomatic effort but more importantly a working multilateral maritime effort that does not necessarily have to be within existing frameworks of multilateral engagements such as ASEAN and the ASEAN Regional Forum.


Overstretch China

Multinational patrols and coordinated actions are one sure way of overstretching China's maritime and naval assets to the point that Beijing will run the risk of suffering the fate of the Soviet Union (when Moscow wasted its resources in catching up militarily to the United States in the 1980s) if it decides to try to pour additional funds to increase capabilities.

China can be frustrated through such an effort which is why this early it has already been trying to bluff its neighbors to deal with it bilaterally so it can divide and conquer.

Also for the Philippines, calling out allies for mobilizing support against China divides Beijing's attention and buys time for capability buildup whether in the Philippine Coast Guard or the Philippine Navy.

There must be added emphasis on the buildup of capabilities for the Philippine Coast Guard. Compared to the Philippine Navy and Philippine Air Force which have to go by modern military and technological standards in hardware acquisition, vessels for the PCG do not necessarily have to be state of the art.

All they need to be is be robustly constructed, have good communication equipment, equipped with non-lethal capabilities (i.e. water cannons), and large and strong enough to withstand being rammed by Chinese maritime vessels.


Above shows Japan Coast Guard and Philippine Coast Guard ships in a joint maritime exercises recently. If improved and combined in coordinated action with other friendly coast guards in the region, the PCG can become a major role player in maintaing peace and stability, and enforcing the Philippines' sovereign rights and laws over its territories and interests in the WPS.


PH ships, Filipino sailors
It is very much within the capabilities of Philippine shipyards to churn out several dozen of such low tech vessels within a year and there are enough personnel graduating from maritime schools looking for jobs who can man those ships.

The personnel advantage of the Philippines as a major supplier of seamen for international shipping and as a builder of sea vessels are being overlooked. Costs will be significantly lower compared to the modernization of the AFP and this will allow the Philippines to establish a presence in its EEZ (exclusive economic zone) quickly and cheaply.

Just as important is that not only will these vessels protect Filipino fishermen but they will also particiapte in the efforts to break through expected Chinese blockades of Philippine garrisons at the West Philippine Sea.

Alhough much effort is being put increating a monitoring capability for the Philippines but knowing is useless if there is no capability to challenge.

The role of the PCG is to cover the gaps and buy time as the Philippine military undergoes its protracted modernization that is has been trying to do so for the past 25 years since the Philippine Senate kicked out the US bases.

In this regard, it may be advisable to remove the PCG from the Department of Transportation and Communication that already has its hands full in the traffic and transportation situation of Metro Manila alone and turn it over to the Coastwatch Council which itself may be transformed into a Department for better focus in lieu of the heightened role of the PCG in the preservation of the country's territorial integrity.


The Philippines is a natural seafaring nation, a potential maritime power, with the men and knowledge as a backbone to support and attain this goal. All it needs to reach this is the support of the Filipino people and the government.


Turning the KIG installations into hedgehogs
The garrisons of the Philippines must be strengthened and their capacity to withstand protracted periods of Chinese blockades and harassment. Provisions must be stockpiled especially that of water and food.

If need be, defenses must also be improved. The issue of the survivability of Ayungin must be addressed and decisions must be made and carried out to improve the outpost there.

Most important of all is to look at Philippine garrisons as a threat to China and not to look at China’s garrisons as a threat to the Philippines.

In that manner, there will be ways upon which the strengthening of the capabilities and survivability of the garrisons can be done.

From turning them into monitoring posts with equipment sourced from friendly nations and to turning Pagasa with its Rancudo airfield and the other smaller installations into power projection bases for the PCG, PN, and PAF.

As China wants to cut the KIG garrisons off from the Philippines, these very garrisons which are in between Hainan and Beijing’s WPS installations can threaten China’s overextended links that stretch much longer and are more vulnerable to disruption.

The Philippine should improve its facilities, structures and defenses in the Kalayaan Group of Islands, and maintain them in top condition. This is the only way to keep its foothold on the remaining islands it holds.



A shift in Philippine attitude
Although the Philippines will and should commit great effort to win over more and more allies and take advantage of its defense alliance with the United States the primary responsibility for the defense of Philippine territory rests with the Philippines itself.

In the current pivot to Asia that the United States has announced, the Philippines must not raise its expectations too high as to what the Americans will do for the Philippines.

Even with Japan declaring that it will study the issue of using its forces abroad in situations that they will consider as a threat to their national security and the Indians also echoing the same thing, none of these nations will physically assist the Philippines if the Chinese continue to harass Filipino fishermen.

That responsibility rests with the Philippines alone and it is expected that the Chinese will continue to deny the Philippines the use of its own EEZ.

Hence, multinational efforts may derail China’s strategic ambitions for the 9-dash line and the 1st and 2nd island Chains but it will not prevent them from committing acts of mischief against Philippine interests in the WPS.

Furthermore, as the Philippines has for whatever reason, chosen to always remain doubtful of American reliability in the mutual defense treaty, the same guessing game also pervades the Chinese and they too have no idea what the US will do if China attempts to use military force against the Philippines and this can be used by Manila against Beijing.

Hence the Philippine side should not blink at China in its run-ins with that country at the West Philippine Sea. It must understand that China is still in no position to wage war and is bound to lose one given the strength just of the United States alone not to mention Japan and others deeply suspicious of Beijing.



China’s hubris

China is trying to bluff its way into the greatest theft of territory since the 1940s and Manila should call Beijing’s bluff.

Some years back, a senior Chinese officer boasted of a so called “cabbage strategy” that saw to the strengthening and gradual improvement of China’s garrisons in the WPS and the effective isolation and neutralization of those of the Philippines.

With regard to that, once the Philippines decides to call China’s bluff and takes a more active role in defending its territory and EEZ both unilaterally and in coordination with allies, Beijing will see its cabbages simmered and boiled in a stew of its own hubris.