US to give Philippines 'eyes' on S. China Sea

A prototype of the US Navy's Large Displacement Unmanned Underwater Vehicle.
A prototype of the US Navy's Large Displacement Unmanned Underwater Vehicle.PHOTO: OFFICE OF NAVAL RESEARCH

MANILA • The United States will transfer an observation blimp to the Philippines to help it track maritime activity and guard its borders amid rising tensions in the South China Sea, a US diplomat said yesterday.

Mr Philip Goldberg, the US Ambassador to the Philippines, said Washington would give Manila, its oldest Asia-Pacific security ally, sensors, radar and communications equipment worth US$42 million (S$57 million).

"We will add to its capability to put sensors on ships and put an aerostat blimp in the air to see into the maritime space," Mr Goldberg said in an interview with CNN Philippines. The blimp is a balloon-borne radar that will detect movements at sea, a Philippine military official told Reuters.

US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter visited the Philippines last week to highlight the two countries' growing military ties. During a trip to a US aircraft carrier in the South China Sea on Friday, Mr Carter mentioned the potential use of submarine drones in the disputed waters.

He said the Pentagon's investment in subs "includes new undersea drones in multiple sizes and diverse payloads that can, importantly, operate in shallow water, where manned submarines cannot". The South China Sea has large areas of shallow water.

The Financial Times reported yesterday that the US military is investing in the new technology to help retain its edge and to deter China from trying to dominate the region.

Mr Shawn Brimley, a former White House and Pentagon official now at the Centre for a New American Security, said: "The idea is that if we were ever to get into a bust-up in the South China Sea, the Chinese would not know for sure what sort of capabilities the US might have."

Remotely operated submarines have been used for search and rescue. The new investment is in more autonomous vessels that could be used in surveillance and eventually carry weapons, the Financial Times report said.

Last year, the US Navy unveiled a semi-autonomous submarine drone known as a Large Displacement Unmanned Underwater Vehicle. If tests go well, officials plan to deploy a squadron of these vessels within the next four years.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 19, 2016, with the headline 'US to give Philippines 'eyes' on S. China Sea'. Print Edition | Subscribe