Philippines to get frigates, gunboats, helicopters as tension simmers

Philippine Marines take their positions next to an amphibious assault vehicle (AAV) of the US marines 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit based in Okinawa Japan, as part of the 12-day US and Philippine annual joint naval exercise dubbed "Phiblex" along th
Philippine Marines take their positions next to an amphibious assault vehicle (AAV) of the US marines 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit based in Okinawa Japan, as part of the 12-day US and Philippine annual joint naval exercise dubbed "Phiblex" along the coast in San Antonio town, Zambales province on Oct 5, 2014. The Philippines aims to buy two frigates, two helicopters and three gunboats for deployment in the South China Sea where a territorial dispute with China has lent urgency to the need to bolster forces, a Philippine navy officer said on Wednesday. -- PHOTO: AFP

MANILA (REUTERS) - The Philippines aims to buy two frigates, two helicopters and three gunboats for deployment in the South China Sea where a territorial dispute with China has lent urgency to the need to bolster forces, a Philippine navy officer said on Wednesday.

China claims nearly the entire South China Sea, rejecting claims to parts of it by the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan.

The confrontation between the Philippines and China has been particularly tense since June 2012 when China seized a rocky outcrop known as the Scarborough Shoal which is believed to be rich in oil and natural gas as well as fisheries resources. "The events in the West Philippine Sea actually gave some urgency on the acquisition," Rear Admiral Caesar Taccad, head of the Philippine Navy's weapons system, told reporters.

The Philippines has embarked on a 15-year, 90 billion peso (S$2.6 billion) modernisation programme to improve its capability to defend its maritime borders.

The procurement list announced on Wednesday will be bought with 39 billon pesos from that budget.

The government aimed to sign contracts early next year for the new warships, Taccad said on board the navy's most powerful warship, BRP Gregorio del Pilar, a former US coastguard cutter.

China has been reclaiming land in various parts of the Spratlys islands and appear to be constructing airstrips and ports in five reefs to gain full control of them.

The Philippines, a close U.S. ally, has brought an international arbitration case against China, seeking clarification on its entitlements under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. China has refused to take part in the arbitration. A ruling is expected late next year.

Vietnam recently submitted its position to the arbitration tribunal, drawing an angry response from China.

South Korea, Spain and France had submitted tenders for two stealth, missile-guided frigates worth 18 billion pesos while Italy and Indonesia are bidding for two anti-submarine warfare helicopters, Taccad said.

Indonesia won contracts for two strategic sealift vessels and will deliver the first ship in early 2016. Taiwan and five other shipyards are competing for three missile-capable multi-purpose attack craft.

Coastal radars will be supplied by the United States.