The Mystery of Marcos’ Rocket Program

The Bongbong Rocket. Photo courtesy of mitch romero thru Youtube.
The Bongbong Rocket. Photo courtesy of mitch romero thru Youtube.

I think that every kid who grew up in the 70s and 80s knew that the Philippines under the then President Ferdinand Marcos had an indigenous Rocket Program. However, that program was some sort of an “Urban Legend” because while people talked about it every now and then, there weren’t really a lot of solid news reports about them. I personally, for example, have never seen it on newspaper or TV reports, it was something that somebody else just said via word of mouth. The strange thing is that even now, almost half a century later, in the age of internet and easy information, there is still very little information about the program.

Worst of all is the fact that there are very few surviving samples of the actual rockets and launchers themselves. You would think that with such large rockets and launchers, at least a couple would’ve survived, especially since it was such an important achievement by our country. Hence these rockets are some sort of a “mystery”. Now below are the information I was able to gather together from mostly reputable sources, but some of them may not be entirely correct because there just aren’t a lot of good information to go around with.

’The Bongbong Rocket’
What we know about the Marcos Administration’s indigenous rocket program is that first, it was started in 1972 by Alejandro Melchor Jr. who served as Ferdinand Marcos’ Executive Secretary from 1970-1974.[1] Melchor, a graduate of the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, said that he realized that the Liquid Fuel being locally developed to power Windmills could also be used to power Rockets, so he formed a team to develop one within a month. It reportedly took the team only 21 days to produce what I assume would be the first prototype of the “Bongbong Rocket (BR)”,[2] named after the second child and first son of President Marcos.

The BR prototypes were developed further so that by March 12 of the same year, an improved version, the “Bongbong Two (B2)” was launched successfully[3] in Caballo Island near Corregidor. The launch was supposedly witnessed by no less than President Marcos himself. Other details of the B2 are as follows:
– Diameter is 152 mm and length is around 2.4 m;
– The cost of each rocket was estimated to be only USD 3.25k in 1972, which, if adjusted for inflation would be equivalent to around USD 18k today.

’Project Santa Barbara’
The program continued such that starting December of 1972, 37 additional tests were made to test different configurations including Long and Short versions; With Fixed or Folding Fin versions; And with Pressure Assisted Take Off (PATO) where the rocket is propelled a certain distance using some other force before it ignites its motor. Different Launcher configurations were also tested, including those mounted on Trucks and Submarines. At this time the diameter of the BR seems to have been increased to 180 mm, and the project given the name of “Project Santa Barbara (PSB)”.[4]

The tests showed that a rocket with fixed fins and using conventional take-off had the best results, and that a truck-mounted system was the most suitable launch platform to be used. From there the truck launcher was further refined into the version called the “Bukang Liwayway (BL)” (Filipino for “Dawn” or “Break of day”), with the name indicated on the markings on the units as shown in pictures. The system consists of a six-tube launcher mounted on a ten-wheeler truck that fires the BRs. Two Damper Spades are lowered to the ground for added support before the rockets are fired.[5]

The next year, the BL was featured during the 1973 Independence Day Parade at the Luneta Grandstand. Take note that this is the ONLY known video we have of the BL/BR system:

The next information that we have about the BR and the BL was two years later in September of 1975 when a BR was launched from a BL-type of a vehicle to off the coast of Luzon. The BR was said to have flown a distance of around 12 km.[6] At this point we don’t know what version of the BR was used in this test, I assume that since the diameter was changed and that years have passed, it was a much later version.

A source[7] says that the PSB program was headed by Commodore Alfredo Protacio who was aided by Engineers from the University of the Philippines (UP), from Germany, and from the then National Science Development Board (NSDB). The project’s headquarters was supposedly at the Sangley Point Naval Base in Cavite. This source says that the rockets used Solid Propellant recycled from the World War Two era Hedgehog Anti-Submarine Projectors that we used to have, so I assume that a switch had been made at some point from liquid to solid propellant.

It is possible that all these other developments happened from 1972 to 1975. However, the project was eventually said to have been abandoned for some unstated reason, with the propellants converted to Cleaning Agents and sold to the National Power Corporation (NAPOCOR) to clean their boilers.

‘The SB110’
At least two other rocket systems were reportedly developed, the first of which is a smaller rocket called the “SB110”. Unlike the BR, no photograph of this system is available that I know of. The specifications of this system are reportedly as follows:[8]
– Length, overall: 871 mm
– Span: 277 mm
– Caliber (Outer dia.): 110 mm
– Weight: 15.1 kg
– Warhead Weight: 6.8 kg

This rocket’s range is not given, and figuring it out by comparing it to other rockets with the same weight and diameter is a bit tricky because it has a higher weight ratio for its warhead compared to similar rockets, so I guess this will have to left open for now.

‘The Sumpak’[9]
The last rocket system that we know of initially had the shamelessly pandering name of “Mk 40 Mobile Assault Rocket Combat Operational System (MARCOS)” (gee, I wonder who they named it for), but this was later changed to the more sane name of “Sumpak” (Filipino for “Blowgun” in the olden days, or “Improvised Gun” these days). Among the systems that was generated by the PSB program, this is the best documented and one that has an official surviving sample of. If you want to see this in person, just head on over to the Philippine Air Force (PhAF) Aerospace Museum in Pasay and it’s there for everyone to see. Unlike the other PSB programs, though, the only local component here is the LAUNCHER, and not the rockets. The launcher was designed to use existing foreign made rockets.

The Sumpak is a rectangular box launcher holding twelve rounds of standard 2.75” or 70 mm Folding Fin Aerial Rockets (FFAR) with ranges of up to 10 km.[10] Traverse (i.e. side to side movement) and elevation is done by manually rotating wheels connected to gears, and sighting was done thru a simple scope. The surviving sample is mounted on a towable platform, but some picture evidence show it being mounted directly on the back of a Jeep. It was made by the local company Dayton Metals Corp. in 1983. Among the PSB projects, this seems to be the most promising, and would be a good candidate for revival by our Self Reliant Defense Programs in the future should we decide to do so.

‘Rocket Artillery’
No mention has been made on any sort of a Guidance System being used on the PSB weapons, hence they can be classified as “Rockets”, meaning unguided weapons using Rocket motors. One of its main use is as “Artillery”, think of them as like a “Howitzer” except that instead of cannon rounds, rockets are used in its place. The main advantages of rockets compared to cannons as artillery is SIZE and WEIGHT. Rockets produce much LESS recoil forces than cannons do, hence their launchers can be made less robust and therefore are SMALLER, LIGHTER and CHEAPER.

To illustrate this, let’s take a look at a cannon and rocket with similar characteristics, like the World War Two rocket launcher the “Nebelwerfer 42 (N42)[11] and its contemporary, the “M114” Howitzer.[12] Despite having a larger caliber of 210 mm versus the M114’s 155 mm, the N42 launcher weighs only 550 kg as compared to the M114’s 5,600 kg, a difference of around 918%. Being smaller and lighter, rocket artillery can also be produced faster since they are less complex.

Front view of the locally made Sumpak Rocket Launcher. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Front view of the locally made Sumpak Rocket Launcher. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

On the other hand, the main disadvantage of rockets is one of ACCURACY. Cannons in general tend to be more accurate than unguided rockets, and one of the main reasons for this is that rocket propellants don’t burn as evenly and consistently as they should. Another is that rockets are larger in size than cannon shells, so outside atmospheric forces will have more area to act against with rockets. A Guidance System can be added into each rocket, like an Inertial Navigation System (INS) and/or a Global Positioning System (GPS), but it will make the rocket more complicated and more expensive.

’Lack of Transparency’
One big problem I see with the PSB program is its LACK OF TRANSPARENCY. One would think that since it was such an achievement, then it would’ve been better documented, but it’s not. The evidences available to us right now are very few, consisting of the following:
– Less than a handful of newspaper reports and articles;
– Around a dozen or so picture evidences, most of them in black in white;
– No videos of the rockets being launched, only one video of the system being shown during a parade;
– As stated previously, the only known surviving sample of the program is the Sumpak.

It is strange that none of the launches had ever been shown on video, despite the fact that video recording technology was already very much in use in those days. When the BR was reportedly tested over the ocean in 1975 for example, there was no video of it, just a Press Release that said, “A Bongbong Rocket was launched and it flew 12 km into the ocean”. Nor are there any other evidences like telemetry data for example to support that, they just said so.

Because of this lack of transparency, I think that something was very wrong with the program and why information about it had to be highly regulated, it’s almost as if they were trying to hide something. If so, then what exactly is it that they wanted to hide? Some would say that since it was Martial Law where ALL information was regulated, then it was natural for something like this to be regulated also. But Martial Law is long gone now, and since then one program was revealed, the Sumpak. So if one program was revealed, why not the others, then?

Another reason could be that the military wanted to keep our achievements a secret for some sort of “Tactical” or “Strategic” reason, but I don’t buy this. The PSB program are for Rockets similar to what most developed countries have been using since World War Two, and the range of the rockets developed were measured in a dozen or so kilometers only, likely even less. It wasn’t a true “Ballistic Missile” system that could hit targets hundreds or thousands of kilometers away. It was an important achievement for us, but its technology was not important enough that other countries would want to steal it from us. In fact the opposite would be true, WE would want to get the technology from more advanced countries to make it work.

’A Failed Project?’
The only VALID reason I could think of for all these “secrecy” or lack of transparency is that the program itself was NOT successful, and there are a number of ways that it could have failed. For one, the FAILURE or SUCCESS RATE of the launches were never published, and it’s possible that there were just too many launch failures, like the rockets exploding or veering off course at their launch pad or after launch, or even rockets not taking off at all. And even if the launches were successful, there is the issue of how accurate the rocket was in terms of hitting its target. If it ends up several hundreds or thousands of meters from its intended target, then it’s not very useful. And just like the Launch Rate, the Accuracy of the rockets were also never published.

If the program was a failure, it would explain the lack of video recording or other evidences of the launches. Sure, we have a couple of still picture evidences of the launches, but those are misleading as they do not really show if the launch had been successful. A picture shows you a launch, but it doesn’t show what happened to the rocket after that picture was taken. Did it explode or veer off course after the picture was taken? A video would’ve shown that, but a picture not.

The failure would also explain why the PSB Rockets were NEVER mass produced and only reached up to the Prototype stage. Remember that the last known test firing of a BR was in 1975, and Ferdinand Marcos was not ousted from power up until eleven years later in 1986 during the EDSA People Power Revolution. That’s certainly enough time for the development and mass production of a rocket system IF it had been really successful. But as we can see, there was no mass production even after all that time.

Lastly, this could be the reason why no surviving sample of the BR has been officially acknowledged as they could be scrutinized by Rocket experts and determined once and for all how successful or not the program really was.

’Propaganda and Corruption?’
So IF the program had not been as successful, then what happened to it? Well it definitely was used for PROPAGANDA purposes by the Marcos Regime to show how supposedly progressive the country already was with such a Rocket Program. As propaganda they certainly wouldn’t want to go out later and say it wasn’t so successful, they would’ve wanted to just keep things quiet and hope the people will just forget about the latter part of the program.

There is the possibility also that the program was used to milk money for corruption. By saying that there is an existing rocket program, BUDGET could be diverted to it and skimmed off. With no video or public demonstration of the rocket system to prove otherwise, they could continue to claim that the program was successful and that money could be continually diverted to it on an annual basis. And if people start questioning the program, they could just say, “oh, it’s a ‘secret’, that’s why we’re not showing it to you”. This is just speculation, of course, but the lack of transparency of the program does allow such a scenario to THRIVE since nobody would know about the real situation except the perpetrators.

’Parting Shot’
To summarize:
– Project Santa Barbara was the local Rocket Program initiated under the Marcos Administration in the 1970s;
– It was a Rocket program used as artillery with no guidance system involved, a technology that has long been in use around the world way before the 1970s;
– Among the its notable products are the Bongbong and SB110 Rockets, and the Bukang Liwayway and Sumpak Rocket Launchers;
– Evidences for these are found only on a few news articles and still pictures. Only one video is known to have exist and only one public demonstration is known to have been made.
– No videos of the launches are known to exist.
– It is very possible that the program was not successful, this could be the reason why news about it was regulated to reflect only its good aspects, and why it was never mass produced.
– The program was used mainly for Propaganda purposes and possibly to skim off money from the budget;
– No surviving samples of the Bongbong and SB110 rockets nor of the Bukang Liwayway Rocket Launchers are known to exist.
– The only surviving sample of the program is the Sumpak launcher, and take note that it does NOT use locally made rockets.

Now I am not going to totally write off the PSB program of course. If BETTER evidences surfaces, like videos of the launches and/or actual samples, then very good, I am willing to write up another blog to consider that. But for now I am writing based on the available evidences. The PSB would’ve been a great achievement in our history, if it were successful. If not, then too bad, maybe we can learn from it, move on and have a better documented and hopefully more successful rocket program.

’Epilogue’
A couple of months ago, I was able to visit the Naval Station Pascual Ledesma in Cavite. While walking around, I noticed two large and long rockets being displayed outdoors outside of the walls of one of the buildings. They were really eye-catching because of their size, they were pretty large, larger than the usual 2.75” rocket or any other rocket that I have personally seen before. I wanted to take a picture of them, but there were large signs next to the rockets that said picture taking was strictly prohibited. I didn’t want to be to be detained and interrogated at a Military Base, so I just complied and looked at the rockets without taking pictures.

Later at home, after searching the internet and studying existing pictures and video of the BRs, I determined that what I saw were no other than the Bongbong Rockets themselves, based on the shape of the Fins and Nose, and the size of the rockets. The only difference is that they were painted black instead of the silver shown on the video. The black paint seems to serve as a preservative to keep moisture out of the body of the rockets. This jibes with what a source said above about the project having been headquartered in Cavite, that could be the main reason why they are there, because they were made there.

But of course, we really can’t be 100% sure unless the Military confirms it. At any rate, if they really were BRs, I think they should be transferred to a Museum where the public can appreciate them, and maybe even for experts to analyze. They are an important part of our history and should be preserved. If anybody wants to see them, they are probably still there, just go on over if you have the proper authorization to enter a military base …

The Bukang Liwayway Rocket Launcher. Photo courtesy of mitch romero thru Youtube.
The Bukang Liwayway Rocket Launcher. Photo courtesy of mitch romero thru Youtube.

SOURCES:

^[1] FAST FACTS: The Marcos Cabinet,
http://web.archive.org/web/20160602143235/http://www.rappler.com/newsbreak/51-fast-facts/39562-fast-facts-marcos-cabinet

^[2] LA Times Archive, “Filipinos Try for Windmill, Get Rocket”,
http://goo.gl/uKGlLk

^[3] Astronautics and Aeronautics 1972,
http://web.archive.org/web/20160602143402/http://history.nasa.gov/AAchronologies/1972.pdf

^[4] Philippine-made Rockets, http://web.archive.org/web/20150608000035/http://starcrosser.blogspot.com/2010/07/philippine-made-rockets.html

^[5] Bukang Liwayway and Sumpak Launchers, https://www.facebook.com/westphilippinesea.scarborough.sabah.watch/posts/498159150301933

^[6] Rockets test fired from the Philippines,
https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=bwU1AAAAIBAJ&sjid=Lk8KAAAAIBAJ&pg=3605,2256367&dq=philippines+missile+test+marcos&hl=en

^[7] SANBA aka “Bongbong” SSM,
http://web.archive.org/web/20150413211653/http://kalasagnglahi.angelfire.com/content09.html

^[8] Missile Systems, http://kalasagnglahi.angelfire.com/content09.html#SB110

^[9] Sumpak Rocket Launcher Description Plaque,
https://web.archive.org/web/20160603014835/https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sumpak_Rocket_Launcher_Description.jpg

^[10] 2.75-Inch Rockets,
https://web.archive.org/web/20160317103040/http://fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/missile/hydra-70.htm

^[11] Nebelwerfer 41,
https://web.archive.org/web/20150603034907/http://www.dday-overlord.com/eng/nebelwerfer.htm

^[12] M114,
https://web.archive.org/web/20160603015115/http://weaponsystems.net/weaponsystem/DD03%20-%20M114.html

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25 thoughts on “The Mystery of Marcos’ Rocket Program”

  1. hi rhk, successful or not, at least we have something to start with for our srdp. our government should start to plan if they want to have locally produced rockets or missiles for our aircraft, warships, shore-based or even towed. para hindi tayo tipid sa testing if we have many rockets or missiles in our inventory.

    1. For our SRDP, we should start with Firearm/Cannon ammunition first, like all ammo used by the AFP we should be able to produce on our own. Once we have done that, then we move to the next level which will be Short-Ranged Rockets.

      It is going to have to be a long term project stretched across a decade or two. Then after that we move on to more sophisticated guided missiles and then to larger misssiles …

      1. yeah, i also believe that it will take longer time and maybe not in my lifetime.
        i think GA is now doing good but modernization should be pushed.
        and their plan to make their area a hub for manufacturers.

        i’m already 47 yrs old, at least for the future of my children and future grandchildren.

    2. Recounting what my late father had told me, the program then can be considered a successful one as the BRs were already being used then by our helicopters gunships.

      I believe it is true as two years ago, I came across an officer in the active service who was surprised to witness/discover of a stock pile of said rockets that based on his accounts “were already leaking” when found.

      Unfortunately, this program, together with other notable undertakings such as alternative energy, arms development programs, etc. during the administration of Marcos were abandoned by the succeeding dispensations.

      1. Thanks for sharing your personal account of the issue, Ben-Hur. If you could share something that is documented, like a Picture, Video, Reports, etc., that would be even better. As long of course, as they are declassified.

  2. if marcos started with the rockets in the 70’s. if it was consistently sustained we could have a guided missile today. again with some brilliant filipino scientist and engineers it can be done in a near future. we could be self reliant in our defense industry just like israel, taiwan, korea and etc. it is now with our government how it can gather all our bright boys in the country here and abroad create this ambitious project to have the rockets first then a guided missile for our defense in the future.

    1. I was a young lad then when I came to know of this. My father, during summer vacations, would bring me to Sangley Point and spend summer there. There were instances that my father would be gone for a week for the Caballo Islands to test fire these rockets. What I understand was that we have reach a certain level of success on this such that the latest prototype I have seen was a much bigger version as compared to the specs mentioned in the article.

      1. its a leak from a “military source” that is from a secret project. dont think a credible news organization would blow it

        but if it’s true, its a good thing.

        next step would be, like taiwan, build an indigenous fighter aircraft

      2. If it’s from Manila Livewire, it’s not true. I don’t usually diss other webstes first, but ML’s track record speaks for itself. Look at their past aricles, and you’ll see …

  3. I saw this rockets at naval research and development center, it’s there in
    Sangley point, it’s against the agreement for granting of Independence (read bilateral agreement between US and Philippines before signing of Philippine Independence) to design those rockets, United states intervened not to mass produced it, now that agreement expired I think in 1974,Philippines can built it rockets again.

    1. Can you share any reference that says it was against our Bilateral Agreement with the US to mass produce those rockets? I would appreciate it if you could …

  4. i think the source of information is not reliable. if its a mere rocket launcher i dont think US will control us. but if it is a guided missile or nuclear surely US will put its finger in the development. in the martial law years i’m already aware in the news…the rocket launch during marcos time is a news. i did not hear any US protest and intervention.

  5. I’ve read somewhere years ago that Marcos had asked Cory to continue what he started but obviously ignored by Aquino administration. This rocket and the so called storm busters (rocket), the nuclear power, healthcare infrastructure, trains (maybe this one is a bit ok) and etc. What happened was most government properties were sold and privatized.

    1. Why put the blame on Cory? Marcos had been testing the Bongbong Rockets since 1972, he wasn’t kicked out of the power until 1986. How come within that period of 14 years, he never was able to put those rockets into Mass Production?

  6. but since there are already proliferation of rocket and missile launchers in the world, i think it is more economical and speedy if we will just acquire the latest rocket and missile launchers and revive our rocket and missile program so we can be self reliant. next step, missile gun boats or corvettes and lastly attack and fighter jets.

    we must do it one at a time based on our economic condition.

    1. I would think one of the major problems after the fact of making such equipment are the sales/marketing part of it. Don’t forget that making all this equipment are not just for defending but majority of it was for making Money out of it.

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