Philippine military parades hardware on 80th anniversary

Philippine Air Force pilots showing off their prowess in a fly-past at the military's 80th anniversary celebration at Clark airbase yesterday. The Philippines has an ambitious military modernisation plan to spend about 998 billion pesos (S$30 billion
Philippine Air Force pilots showing off their prowess in a fly-past at the military's 80th anniversary celebration at Clark airbase yesterday. The Philippines has an ambitious military modernisation plan to spend about 998 billion pesos (S$30 billion) to put the country on a par with its South-east Asian neighbours.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

President Aquino's $30b upgrade of armed forces taking shape

The Philippine military marked its 80th anniversary yesterday by showcasing its latest air and sea assets acquired through a 998 billion peso (S$30 billion) spending plan, amid territorial rows with China.

At a ceremony held at an air base north of the capital Manila, President and Commander-in-chief Benigno Aquino said he is leaving behind a stronger and more capable armed forces when he steps down next year. His government had earmarked some 83.9 billion pesos over five years to acquire new and refurbished equipment to beef up the 125,000-strong military.

Manila figures in testy engagements with Beijing over parts of the South China Sea. China claims nearly all the entire resource-rich and strategic waterway, which is claimed in part by not only the Philippines but also Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

The Philippines occupies a 37ha island and a few shoals and reefs in the South China Sea. But it has been unable to prevent China from expanding deeper into territories it holds.  It lost Mischief reef in 1994 and Scarborough shoal in 2012.

The Philippine military is one of the least-capable in Asia in dealing with external threats: its navy is barely seaworthy and its air force consists mostly of Vietnam-era planes and helicopters.

Through most of his five-year tenure, which ends next June, President Aquino has sought to redress that imbalance.

His government has disbursed around 56.8 billion pesos to procure new fighter jets, transport planes, helicopters, frigates, patrol boats, armoured troop carriers, firearms and radar kits. Orders for more equipment, including a new frigate, patrol boats and long-range reconnaissance planes, have been placed through to 2017.

"We have changed our armed forces' image. From an army neglected through a decade of government lies, deceit and thievery, we now have a modern, better-prepared and more dependable fighting force," Mr Aquino said.

Two new FA-50 lead-in fighters arrived earlier this month, the first of 12 that Manila ordered from a Korean arms manufacturer. Those jets were on display yesterday.

Six armed versions of the Agusta Westlands AW-109 helicopters also took part in a fly-past.

The army, meanwhile, paraded thousands of troops and dozens of US-made M113A2 armoured personnel carriers it received this month.

The navy showcased its assets through a video.  It now has two frigates - repurposed from US Coast Guard cutters - patrolling the outer rims of the South China Sea.

The Philippine military's modernisation programme is set to run long after Mr Aquino steps down.

Last month, US President Barack Obama pledged to hand over a third Coast Guard cutter and a research ship to the Philippines.

Japan, meanwhile, is said to be in talks to supply the Philippines with three Beechcraft TC-90 King Air planes. These might be followed by used Lockheed Martin submarine- hunting P3-C patrol planes.

A strategic sealift vessel, being built in an Indonesian shipyard, will be delivered early next year, and the Israeli-made radar will be completed by 2017, the same time all the fighters from South Korea are delivered.  

The Philippines has an ambitious 15-year military modernisation plan to spend about 998 billion pesos to put the country on a par with its South-east Asian neighbours.

In comparison, China earlier announced a defence budget of about US$140 billion (S$198 billion) for this year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 22, 2015, with the headline 'Philippine military parades hardware on 80th anniversary'. Print Edition | Subscribe