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Japanese-made radar bolsters Philippines’ surveillance capabilities amid South China Sea tensions


A mobile radar system delivered to the Philippines by Japan in April 2024 will strengthen Manila’s domain awareness as tensions simmer with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in the South China Sea.

The Japanese-made air-surveillance radar “adds eyes” for Manila, particularly in the aerial domain, Philippine Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. said during a handover ceremony at Camp Aguinaldo, according to the Philippine News Agency (PNA).

Japan presents an air surveillance radar system to the Philippines in December 2023. The system, which can detect fighter jets and missiles, was the first of four the Philippines will receive under Tokyo’s defense equipment and technology transfer deal.

The TPS-P14ME system provides high-resolution images of air and surface targets, such as aircraft, drones and maritime vessels, the PNA stated. It also allows Manila to quickly enhance surveillance capabilities in remote or strategic areas, according to Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Col. Maria Consuelo Castillo.

The radar system “significantly enhances the AFP’s operational capabilities by providing real-time situational awareness, early warning detection, and precise target tracking capabilities,” she said in a statement.

The radar is one of four surveillance systems the AFP will receive under a $103 million deal with Japan’s Mitsubishi Electric Corp., signed in 2020.

Japan delivered the first radar system in October 2023 and handed over control to the Philippine Air Force in December. Providing long-range detection of jet fighters and missiles, the fixed unit is at Wallace Air Stations, a former United States military base about 270 kilometers north of Manila that faces the South China Sea.

The two remaining systems will be delivered by 2026.

The mobile radar system arrived during the annual Balikatan — or shoulder to shoulder — military exercise in the Philippines, conducted by more than 16,000 troops from Australia, France, the Philippines and the U.S., and observers from 14 nations, including Japan, which has been invited to participate in Balikatan’s 2025 iteration.

Meanwhile, the People’s Republic of China is continuing its campaign of aggression in the part of the South China Sea that includes the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Beijing claims most of the South China Sea despite a 2016 international tribunal ruling that the assertion has no legal basis.

Chinese coast guard ships in late April 2024 blocked, rammed and fired water cannons at Philippine vessels en route to provide humanitarian assistance to Filipino fishing crews near Scarborough Shoal, according to the PNA. Two Philippine vessels were damaged but completed their mission.

Beijing has escalated such gray-zone coercion in the Philippines’ EEZ in the past year. Chinese coast guard ships have used the same dangerous tactics against resupply vessels at Second Thomas Shoal, where the Philippine Navy maintains an outpost.

Tokyo has also reported similar activities by the Chinese coast guard near the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, including intrusions by armed vessels and harassment of fishing crews.

Japanese State Minister for Defense Makoto Oniki, who attended the recent radar system handover, said Tokyo and Manila can increase deterrence by strengthening surveillance capabilities, the Japanese news organization NHK World reported.

Japan’s ambassador to the Philippines, Kazuya Endo, called the nations’ latest collaboration a “major win for defense cooperation.”

“The TPS-P14ME Mobile Air Surveillance Radar System is a significant boost to peace and stability in the Philippines and the broader Indo-Pacific region,” he posted on social media.

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