The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is finally getting much needed attention in recent years. Despite the threat of COVID-19, there have been some small but steady strides made to upgrade our military capabilities. What are the recent updates regarding the decades-old AFP Modernization Program, and why is it relevant during a pandemic?
Recent military-related news have not been favorable. Just this week, a C-130 transport aircraft crashed in Jolo, Sulu. At least 45 people were killed – 3 civilians on the ground, and 42 of our soldiers on board the aircraft. The military said that there was no sign of any attack on the plane. As of this writing, investigations have been sparse, as efforts are still focused on rescue and treatment.
This unfortunate event comes after another tragic crash in Tarlac. One of our newly-acquired S-70i Black Hawk utility helicopters saw the loss of six of our best and brightest soldiers. A senate probe is sought to find out the root of the accident. It’s truly unfortunate, as the point of having these new helicopters was to replace our aircraft, which has been long-overdue.
Despite news like this, there have actually been notable upgrades to the AFP since last year. Yes, we may be far from being an actual military powerhouse in our region, but that’s not the point. A modern military means having more and more confidence in our capability to protect our people and uphold our sovereignty. In that regard, we have made some significant progress in our AFP Modernization Program.
Increased Logistical Capabilities
The Black Hawk utility helicopters are a result of a $241 million deal with Poland in 2019. Six were delivered in November 2020, and five more were delivered just last June.
Philippine Air Force (PAF) Spokesperson Lt. Col. Maynard Mariano explains that these utility helicopters can be “applied with suitable equipment to meet a variety of missions.”
“The recent arrival of the five Black Hawks will further boost the heli-lift capability of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and will help the government deliver more services in more areas in less time. In the past few months, the Black Hawks transported vaccines and PPE (personal protective equipment) sets to the remotest areas of Batanes, Bicol, and other parts of the country,” said Mariano.
That’s where the value of these new equipment lie. As early as March, these Black Hawks have been utilized in the government’s distribution of vaccines. They carry more weight and are more reliable than the Vietnam-era “Hueys” that we currently have. This contributes to our COVID-19 plan, and are a huge help to all Filipinos. Do not let the Tarlac crash distract you from the value of these choppers.
Augmenting Counterterrorism and Maritime Security Efforts
There are also recent updates on the AFP Modernization that are directly tied to increasing our military capabilities.
We recently received weapons and equipment from the United States amounting to ₱183 million. It included nine M3P .50 caliber heavy machine guns, 10 mortar tubes, and other equipment. It was a mixture of purchases from our national funds, as well as grant assistance from the U.S. This greatly enhanced the AFP’s capability in their ongoing counterterrorism and maritime security efforts.
We have actually entered more deals with other countries, like Israel. We are actually waiting for an order for Israeli-made ground-based air defense systems, as well as missile-capable gunboats at the end of the year. This gives us our first ever “umbrella cover” slightly similar to the Israel’s “iron dome” which protects from aerial attacks. Despite their ongoing conflict with Hamas, Israel has not given notice that our current shipment will be affected.
This is a big deal because with this purchase, we add to our capability to defend ourselves in times of war. This is the first time in our history that we will have access to such technology.
A State-of-the-art Naval Force
In addition to the deals with Israel, the Department of National Defense (DND) has already conducted a bilateral discussion with South Korea. This is for the purchase of more patrol vessels and submarines for the Philippine Navy. It comes at a perfect time, as it aligns with our recent drive to actively assert our claims over the West Philippine Sea.
Naval capabilities are important especially for an archipelago like the Philippines. These new orders further augment the Philippine Navy, which has seen significant improvement despite the pandemic.
We now actually have two state-of-the-art missile frigates – the BRP Jose Rizal and the BRP Antonio Luna. These are a huge boost to our arsenal. These are fully-commissioned frigates, and are currently engaged in missions in Palawan. This greatly enhances our capability to protect our sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea including the Kalayaan Island Group.
It doesn’t end there. The Philippine Navy also recently acquired an advanced fixed-wing unmanned aerial system (UAS). It is essentially a unmanned reconnaissance drone, which greatly enhances our capability to patrol our territories using the latest technology.
Enhanced Capability to Serve and Protect
Despite all these amazing updates, we do have to acknowledge one thing. The AFP Modernization Program, specifically it’s second stage called Horizon 2, will not be able to meet its target completion date. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana admitted it during last year’s budget hearing, explaining that Horizon 2 is only 25% complete.
It was a mixture of diversion of funds for COVID-19 response, as well as budget cuts to allocate more budget for pandemic relief in 2021. This is completely understandable, as public health is more important than direct increases in military might.
However, much like the Black Hawks which play an integral part in vaccine distribution, all the new ships and vessels contribute to the AFP’s capability to serve the Filipino people.
Remember, in times of peace, the AFP has always been involved in disaster relief operations, or search and rescue missions. State-of-the-art equipment means they will be able to perform these duties even better.
Hopefully these improvements continue after the Duterte Administration. Our country should have the capability to protect our own, using our own. As long as we continue along the path that has been laid before us, we will definitely be able to achieve a #BetterPhilippines.