Rethinking the Philippine Submarine Program – Analysis – Eurasia Review
By Abdul Rahman Yaacob *
Since 2013, the Philippine Navy has sought to replace its obsolete assets with newer platforms as part of a military modernization program initiated by former President Benigno Aquino and continued by the current administration under President Rodrigo Duterte.
The Philippines wishes to include submarines in its naval inventory. The introduction of submarines would expand the capabilities of the Philippine Navy in the submarine domain and allow it to conduct stealth operations and introduce elements of uncertainty into its engagements with hostile naval forces. Difficult to detect, they are also suitable for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.
If the Philippine Navy decides to acquire submarines, it must take into account all the fresh beyond capital expenditures, such as mooring and training facilities, annual operations, training and maintenance. The recent sinking of a Indonesian submarine further stresses the need to invest in submarine rescue capabilities.
Any acquisition related to submarines will consume considerable financial resources, which are already impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has already led the Philippines to shelf several military modernization projects. The Philippine economy is unlikely to recover for the foreseeable future as COVID-19 cases in the country have escalated again since. half-March.
In the face of economic uncertainty in the Philippines, should the submarine acquisition program be reassessed? To answer the question, it is necessary to consider the most pressing security risk facing the Philippines and the current capabilities of the Philippine Navy to manage it.
Arguably the most pressing security risk for the Philippines in the short to medium term is the protection of its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which covers more than 2 million square kilometers. To protect its EEZ, one possible strategy is to maintain a persistent naval presence throughout the contested maritime domain.
A persistent naval presence serves two purposes: deterrence and detection. Unlike a submarine, a surface platform patrolling and maintaining a presence in a specific area would act as a deterrent against hostile foreign powers intending to challenge Philippine control over its EEZ. If deterrence fails, Philippine Navy ships in the region could quickly sound the alarm if there is an immediate threat to Philippine maritime security.
The Philippine Navy’s tactics at Second Thomas Shoal reflect the importance of the continued naval presence in the contested waters. In 1999, the Philippine Navy based a WWII-era ship on the feature to claim ownership, a strategy that arguably worked because China could not exercise complete control over the feature. In contrast, the nearby Mischief Reef has been turned into a Chinese military installation.
Despite its modernization programs, the current fleet of Philippine Navy vessels 64 surfaces and the combatant patrol is insufficient to cover the country’s EEZ. This situation has been exploited by hostile foreign powers to erode Philippine access and control over their own EEZ in the South China Sea, as seen in the recent incidentsat Pentecostal Reef and Scarborough Shoals in 2012. There, the Philippines’ lack of naval presence meant it was caught off guard when China deployed fishing vessels to claim these characteristics.
In terms of capabilities, the Philippine Navy capacity dealing with modern naval threats is questionable. Its current surface fleet has limited missile capacities and is poorly equipped to wage modern naval warfare. The latest inclusion of two missile frigates does not significantly enhance PN capacity. These frigates will not be fully armed with surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles between late 2021 and early 2022.
The goal of any defense procurement program should be to identify affordable equipment or platforms to best respond to a country’s security risks. Faced with challenges of controlling its EEZ and limited budget in the immediate to medium term, Philippine defense planners should consider the following factors when assessing whether a submarine acquisition is useful for the future. better the Philippine navy mission. Are submarines the best option to deter Chinese fishing vessels from swarming and seizing parts of the Philippine EEZ? Would more and less expensive surface platforms serve this purpose? Does the Philippine Navy have the resources to maintain new capabilities over the long term?
In its current state, the Philippine Navy does not have the capacity to maintain a persistent naval presence throughout the disputed maritime domain due to insufficient surface area. platforms. Diversion of limited resources to acquire submarines, instead of building adequate and capable surface platforms, may be against the maritime security interests of the Philippines. A lack of experience with submarines means that it will be several years before they are operationally ready. Given the urgency of threats to its maritime interests and financial constraints in the immediate and medium term, the Philippine Navy should first seek to strengthen its surface fleet, both in number and in capabilities.
* About the author: Abdul Rahman Yaacob is a doctoral student at the National Security College, Australian National University.
Source: This article was published by East Asia Forum