Philippine Navy modernizing to address maritime threats, humanitarian needs

Philippine Navy modernizing to address maritime threats, humanitarian needs

Felix Kim

A modernization of the Philippine Navy is ushering in new tools to generate a better response to maritime threats in territorial waters and to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. The Navy is adding a pair of anti-submarine helicopters and four amphibious assault vehicles (AAVs) to address these needs.

The four KAAV-7A1 AAVs and the two AW159 Wildcat helicopters were commissioned in June 2019. The twin-engine, multirole, multimission AW159s, capable of detecting and engaging submarine threats, are intended to boost the anti-submarine warfare capabilities of the Philippines Navy, Capt. Jonathan Zata, a spokesman for the Philippine Navy, told FORUM. The AAVs, meanwhile, will help the Philippine Marine Corps launch amphibious assaults on contested beaches.

“These capabilities are likewise intended to respond to illegal maritime activities such as terrorism, piracy, human, drugs and firearms trafficking, illegal fishing and other maritime security threats, including humanitarian and disaster response operations across the vastness of the country’s territories as well as within its sea lines of communication,” Zata added.

The Philippines loses nearly U.S. $100 billion each year to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in its territorial waters, according to the country’s Department of Agriculture. Moreover, Philippine fishermen are frequent kidnapping targets of the Abu Sayyaf Group, a violent extremist organization. As recently as June 2019, Abu Sayyaf was suspected of ambushing a pair of Philippine fishing boats and taking 10 crew members hostage, reported PNA, the official news agency of the Philippine government.

The country also is at high risk from cyclones, earthquakes, floods, landslides, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and wildfires. The Philippines has experienced 565 natural disasters since 1990 that have claimed nearly 70,000 lives and caused U.S. $23 billion in damage, according to the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery.

The anti-submarine warfare helicopter, pictured, can “engage both surface and subsurface targets either independently or in conjunction with the frigate and allied elements it is attached to,” Zata said. “The capabilities of the Wildcat will enable the Navy to conduct resource protection, maritime interdiction operations, security of sea lines of communication and maritime search and rescue.”

The helicopters can also be armed with rockets, machine guns, missiles, torpedoes and depth charges.

The AAVs, he explained, will be positioned on two Tarlac-class landing dock ships and will enable Marines to conduct amphibious operations swiftly and effectively as well as supply the needed firepower to engage targets and support troops once a beach landing has been made. The AAVs are equipped with .50-caliber machine guns, 40 mm grenade launchers and smoke launchers.

The ability to address conventional and nonconventional threats is an important element of the Navy’s modernization plan, Zata said.

The strategic location of the archipelagic nation situates it near spaces shared by other nations for international shipping and trade routes as well as abundant marine resources, he added. While this exposes the Philippines to maritime threats, it also brings benefits.

The Philippine Navy “recognizes the region’s shared similar opportunities and responsibilities and is continuously expressing its support toward maritime cooperation, peace and stability,” he concluded. The recent acquisitions reflect the Navy’s “efforts to fulfill its role in managing the country’s marine and maritime resources thereby contributing to address the region’s security challenges.”

Felix Kim is a FORUM contributor reporting from Seoul, South Korea.