After a long, long period of silence, news about the Philippine Army’s (PhA) Shore-based Anti-Ship Missile (AShM) program finally broke out in a big, big way recently thru an article of the Manila Standard. A couple of days later, other news organizations added more details, but it was Interaksyon that released the most accurate and detailed report. To summarize what was written in the articles: The budget for the missile system (now known officially as the “Shore-Based Missile System” or “SBMS”) was already approved and the supplier and the system to be bought were already chosen thru a Government to Government (G2G) negotiation with the Israeli government.
However, the Commanding General of the PhA then, Lt. Gen. Hernando Iriberri wrote a letter to the then Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Catapang requesting for a RE-ALIGNMENT of the project to buy Individual Equipment for the soldiers instead. Iriberri cited “issues” on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) and other internal security issues as the reasons for the request. The re-alignment was subsequently approved by Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and President Aquino himself.
The “BBL Issue” that Iriberri was referring to is the delay of the passage of the BBL into law due to some very strong and persistent opposition of some sectors against it. Its non-passage could result in resurgence of armed conflict with the largest, most well-armed and well-funded group in Mindanao, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Iriberri also cites the continuing security operations against the Abu Sayyaf and Bangsamoron Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) groups as additional reasons for the re-alignment. Note that Iriberri did NOT seek to CANCEL the SBMS program outright, just to DELAY it to be bought by the next Administration instead of the current one.
It seems that the government and military is divided into two groups when it comes to this issue: Those for the SBMS, and those who are for the re-alignment. The military and government higher ups like Iriberri, Catapang, Gazmin and Aquino obviously are the ones for the re-alignment, while the “Pro-SBMS” are a shadowy group of military officers who asked to remain anonymous when they talked to the media.
The SBMS program was announced in December of 2013, during the term of the previous Commanding General of the PhA, Lt. Gen. Noel Cobales. Not sure if the SBMS was his “baby”, but he definitely approved of it under his term since he endorsed it to the DND. Iriberri only assumed office in February 2014, and under his term he just did not see the SBMS as a priority unlike Cobales, hence his request for re-alignment.
’The Chosen System’
The Manila Standard and subsequent reports never mentioned the actual system chosen for the SBMS, but they did mention the supplier as “Israel Military Industries (IMI)”. Now, if you head on over to their official website, you will see that they are offering only ONE shore-based AShM, and that is the Lynx Autonomous Multi-Purpose Rocket System. The Lynx is a truck-mounted missile system that started out as the LAR-160 firing rockets with a diameter of 160 mm, first adopted by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) in 1983. Since then the LAR-160 has been adopted by the armies of at least eight countries with a total of around 200 units produced.
Sub-versions of the LAR-160 include the LAROM (a domestically built version of the LAR-160 by Romania) and the TAC-VLC (a domestically built version of the LAR-160 by Argentina but mounted on a tank chassis). IMI has since expanded the missiles the Lynx can carry to five different types, most of which are designed to hit static targets or hit specific areas, not moving targets, except for the Delilah-GL, a Ground-Launched version of the Delilah Anti-Ship Missile (hence the “GL” designation added to its name) of which the Lynx can carry a maximum of two missiles per truck.
The Delilah-GL is has a very long range of 180 km for its given weight of only 250 kg, but it does have a relatively light warhead also of only 30 kg. It can be programmed for autonomous navigation with the operator guiding it only when the target is near using the Charged Couple Device (CCD, for daylight) or Imaging Infra Red (IIR, for low-light or nighttime) Image Sensors. Except for its relatively light warhead, it is a pretty decent Anti-Ship Missile (AshM).
Note that the Lynx comes with its own Meteorological Systems (which helps the accuracy of its rocket systems) and its own Forward Observation Equipment like Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). Here is the official video from IMI about it:
The Lynx is a wonderful, wonderful, WONDERFUL, wonderful (did I say it was wonderful?) system which would’ve been a significant addition to our inventory, and despite the fact that I would like to see it very much as part of the AFP … I have to agree IN PRINCIPLE with Iriberri on the re-alignment, for a number of reasons.
First is that despite the relatively long range of the Lynx/Delilah missile system, it is still not enough to protect our assets in the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) from Palawan as the KIG is at least 480 km away (as measured using Google Map’s “Distance Measure” feature). It would then only be useful to protect our maritime areas nearer to the mainland Philippines, which is not a bad thing, of course, except that most of our disagreement with China is at the KIG. True, the Lynx could be stationed at Pag-Asa Island, but my concern there is that Pag-Asa is such a small piece of real estate that there wouldn’t be much place for it to hide and would thus be relatively vulnerable.
In fact right now the only WESTERN missile with the range to reach the KIG from Palawan would be the Brahmos, but as I had blogged about earlier, there are issues related with it like the fact that it is jointly made with Russia, who is pretty buddy-buddy with the China at the moment. There is the US-made Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) with its 1,000 km range, but it won’t enter service until around 2020, and we’re not sure if Uncle Sam will sell such a new, frontline weapon to us.
The next issue for me is one of PRIORITY. Since our conflict with China is in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), our Army rarely gets to come across the Chinese forces, and it is actually our Navy and Air Force who end up regularly having contact with them. If so, then why are we giving missiles first to the Army when they don’t need it as much ahead of the Navy who are forced to confront often the Chinese armed only with CANNONS on their boats?
On the other hand, on the issue of INSURGENCY, the roles are reversed between the Army and the Navy/Air Force. More often than not, it is the Army who end up facing the rebels, and rarely the Air Force and Navy. This is clearly illustrated in the number of CASUALTIES in the battle against the insurgents. The Air Force does a lot of KILLING with their MG-520 Defender Helicopters and SF-260TP Jaguar Light Attack Aircraft, but rarely any casualties of their own. In fact, I can’t remember a time when any of the Air Force aircraft have been shot down. On the other hand, it is the Army who end up losing men in encounters with the rebels.
Hence, to me there is a clear division of labor among our Armed Forces: The Army leads in Internal Conflict, while the Navy and Air Force leads in any External Conflict. This division has not been predetermined, it is something that just evolved naturally on its own due to the nature of the internal and external conflicts that we are involved in. If so, I think it is more critical to give missiles first to both the Navy and the Air Force than the Army.
Next reason for me is the picture below, which captured the current state of some our soldiers. It was taken during the “Zamboanga Crisis” in September of 2013:
Now, this picture would have been comical if it were not so tragic. These are PhA REGULAR soldiers, there are ten of them composing a typical SQUAD. Of the ten, nine did NOT have HELMETS. The only helmet the squad had, which looks worn out and with what seemed like rust at its top, they gave to the one with the Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) since he was the most exposed to enemy fire. Not all seemed to have Load Bearing Vests, and definitely none had Body Armor. And remember folks, this was not a drill, this was an actual WAR where some of these guys could have gotten REALLY KILLED.
As far as I can tell, our Special Forces (i.e, the Marines, Scout Rangers, etc.) are decently equipped, complete with Helmets, sometimes Body Armor, Weapons, etc. Some units have even adopted the 4-man Fire Team concept, with the correct distribution of Grenadiers, SAW Gunner and even Designated Marksman. But our REGULAR ARMY soldiers so far have not been as lucky when it comes to equipment and weapons. Note that our SF comprise only a MINORITY when it comes to our Infantry Units, composed only of a Marine Corps and a handful of other SF Regiments totaling around 15,000 men.
On the other hand, our Regular Army soldiers comprise the MAJORITY of our Infantry with TEN Infantry Divisions of approximately 74,000 men, all active frontline soldiers EXCLUDING Armored Cavalry, Combat Support (i.e. Engineering, Artillery, Civic-Military Operations, etc.) and Service Support (i.e., Training, Medical, etc.) units. And from the look of things, those Army Regulars simply lack the proper equipment and gear.
’Re-Alignment Specific Items’
“InterAksyon” published the supposed specific items that the PhA wanted to buy for the re-alignment. Assuming that the standard Squad size is ten men and that the standard Platoon size is four Squads in the PhA, then there are approximately 7,400 Squads and 1,850 Platoons in the 74,000 strong ten Infantry Divisions that we have.
* 832 pieces of Designated Marksman Rifles (DMR) worth P149.76 million at P180k each – These DMRs are usually issued at least one per Squad, and the quantity is a good start, but clearly not enough as will equip only around 11% of the Squads we have, or at least one Division.
* 32 Long Range Sniper Weapon Systems worth P17.280 million at P540k each – I suspect these will be issued not to our regular troops, but to the SF units since they are too few.
* 11,000 Night Fighting Systems worth P2.75 billion at P250k each – Now we’re talking. Enough to equip 75% of the Squads with two units. Note that there were previous acquisition plans also of Night Fighting Systems which may or may not have materialized.
* 39,889 Body Armors worth P1.356 billion at P34k each – Enough to equip 53% of our regular units. Note that there were previous acquisition plans also of Body Armor which have not materialized yet.
* 81,449 Helmets worth P1.221 billion at P15k each – These mean each and every Regular Army soldier will now have a helmet. The excess will cover the support groups.
* 2 Lots of CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear) Equipment worth P103.402 million with at P51.701 each – Exact quantity not noted, not sure how many regulars will get to have these.
* 150 Radio, 20W HF (Man Pack) worth P233.536 million at P1.490 million each – Too few, even if issued at Company level. Note that there may have been previous acquisitions for these.
* 3,185 Radio, 2-5W VHF (Handheld) worth P678.060 million at P213k each – This means that almost all Platoons will get to have at least two units.
In summary: The re-alignment (if successful) will ensure that each and every Regular Army soldier will get a Helmet, and that at least half will get Body Armors. Each Squad will get at least one NVG with ¾ of them having two, and almost all Platoons will get two Radio sets. At least one Division (or the equivalent of one Division) will be issued a DMR at Squad level.
However, after reading and blogging about the “saga” that is the PhA Body Procurement the last couple of years, I do have some doubts about the re-alignment. Seeing how the previous Body Armor procurements have failed so far, the new Chief of Staff now goes out and gets more of them, using more or less the same procurement system?
Another issue is TIME. There are only around eleven months left in the PNoy Administration, and the previous Body Armor procurement projects certainly took more than that, so I am not sure if that will be enough time for all these seven different line items for re-alignment to be completed. Add to the fact that these procurement are not the only thing that Iriberri will be looking after, his focus will also be divided by his main task of ensuring a SUCCESSFUL and PEACEFUL ELECTION next year
The anonymous military officers did point out that the SBMS went thru a G2G transaction unlike the proposed re-alignment which will go thru the tumultuous Public Bidding system. G2G transactions are not only seen to have less corruption, they also have been more SUCCESSFUL in ensuring that the parts are delivered on time, and at the desired quality level. Examples of successful G2G transactions so far are the two Gregorio Del Pilar Frigates from the US, eight Bell 412 Helicopters from Canada, twelve FA-50PH Advanced Jet Trainers from South Korea, and 30 HUMVEE Ambulances from the US.
I think that if Iriberri insists on the re-alignment, he may want to consider going thru the G2G route instead of the Public Bidding process this time around. If he insist on going thru the same bidding process again, then he better ensure that the problems encountered before will not be encountered again, because if it does, then we risk of losing NOT ONLY the SBMS, but also the re-alignment items.
One additional benefit of G2G transactions is that it would likely be easier to seek technical advice also from the armed forces of the country where the items are being bought, considering that their government is involved in the transaction. Hence for items that we are not very familiar with, we have a credible body that can help in the technical evaluations, like if this or that is okay, or do we need this, or do we need that.
I think the INTENTION of the re-alignment is correct, I agree with it in principle. If they can pull it off effectively, then well and good, our Regular soldiers will definitely benefit from it. But given the stormy history of some items like the Body Armor procurement, the limited time in which to accomplish them, and that more important matters like the coming elections will need to be looked after also, I have doubts on whether the re-alignment can be completed successfully and on time.
I think that Iriberri only has two main options right now, and that is to either:
– Just push thru with the G2G purchase of the Lynx SBMS since the negotiations have already been completed anyway. Leave the procurement of the Individual Gear and Weapons to the next government;
– Or go thru with the re-alignment for Individual Gear and Weapons, but course these thru G2G, and hope everything will be done in within the next eleven months.
Despite the reasons against it, I think a successful SBMS purchase will be better than a failed re-alignment. The Delilah-GL armed Lynx won’t be able to protect our territories in the KIG, but it will be able to do so for assets nearer to our shores, like the Malampaya Gas Field for example, which, at its nearest point, is only around 70 km off the coast of Palawan. Our soldiers will then just have to wait a little while longer to get the Individual Equipment that they need.
A G2G procurement of the re-aligned equipment hopefully will be faster and with none of the drama associated with the previous bidding projects. If Iriberri insists on pushing thru with the re-alignment using Public Bidding, then I am not very optimistic of the results. The best scenario I see in that case would be that only SOME of the line items will be successful, but MOST will NOT. If so, then the soldiers end up suffering in the end, and we will also end up losing not only the first Shore-based AShM system in the history of the country (which everybody loves), but most of the other projects as well that the missiles were supposed to have been re-aligned to.
In parting, let me leave you with this video of a battery of LAR-160 missile launchers firing their rockets, it’s like watching stars climbing up to the heavens. If Iriberri sacrifices something like this for something that will fail, then I don’t think people will remember him very fondly, to say the least …
^ In face of China threat, DND seeks to realign P6.5-B missile program back to internal security,
^ PHL to acquire shore-based missile system,
^ Lynx Autonomous Multi-Purpose Rocket System,
^ Delilah-Ground Launched,
^ Brahmos Missiles for the Philippines?,
^ The Saga of the Philippine Army Body Armor Procurement,