MELBOURNE, Australia ― The Philippine government has confirmed that the second phase of its military modernization plan has been approved by President Rodrigo Duterte, clearing the way for the southeast Asian nation to replace some of its elderly and obsolete equipment.
The confirmation by Philippine Department of National Defense spokesman Arsenio Andolong on Wednesday will now allow the country to implement sorely needed recapitalization of some of its equipment, the oldest of which dates back to World War II.
Andolong also confirmed that the budget for the five-year Horizon 2 modernization program, which will run from 2018-2022, has been set at some 300 billion Philippine pesos (U.S. $5.6 billion).
According to sources in the Philippines, this amount will be split into $890 million for the Army, $1.44 billion for the Navy and $2.61 billion for the Air Force, with the rest of the budget going to the military’s General Headquarters and the government’s arsenal.
The list of equipment the Philippines is seeking to acquire under the Horizon 2 program includes multirole fighters, airlifters, maritime patrol aircraft and heavy lift helicopters for the Air Force, while the Army is seeking more artillery, light tanks and multiple rocket launchers.
The budget for the Air Force includes an amount set aside for combat utility helicopters. A contract signed in February with the Canadian government for Bell 412 helicopters was canceled after Canadian politicians raised concerns about the Duterte administration’s human rights record in its ongoing war on drugs.
The Philippines is reportedly now seeking to acquire the helicopters through a commercial sale, while an alternative option of buying the South Korean Korea Aerospace Industires Surion helicopter has also been floated.
The Navy’s priority will be the acquisition of two corvettes and a similar number of multirole offshore patrol vessels. Other items on its wish list include more anti-submarine helicopters and amphibious assault vehicles, the latter for the country’s Marine Corps.
Andolong also confirmed that the Navy wants to acquire an unspecified number of submarines under Horizon 2. However, this could prove difficult under a limited budget and because the country’s has no experience operating and sustaining a submarine capability.
The Philippines, which is an archipelagic nation made up of more than 7,600 islands, faces a myriad security challenges ranging from disputes with China and other southeast Asian countries over the ownership of islands and features in the South China Sea, to ongoing insurgencies with communist guerrillas and Muslim separatists that includes Islamic State-linked militants.
In May 2017, the latter seized control of the city of Marawi in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, leading to a five-month siege by government forces, which resulted in large parts of the city being badly damaged during operations to recapture it.
During the operation, the United States, which has a mutual defense treaty with the Philippines, provided intelligence and surveillance assistance to government forces with its manned and unmanned aircraft.
Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News.