This week, reports once again surfaced about how the Philippines intended to arm its attack craft that had been added to its arsenal last year. The ongoing attention to this development reflects the broader concerns around the expansion of the Philippines’ still limited military capabilities under President Rodrigo Duterte.
As I have noted before in these pages, as the Philippines seeks partners to realize some key line items in its ongoing military modernization, the Philippines and Israel have been making inroads in the defense realm over the past few years, including through several procurement deals (See: “What’s Next for Philippine Military Modernization Under Duterte?“). Over the years, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has placed orders for a range of equipment, including missile systems, armored personnel carriers, and radars, from several Israeli firms.
In just the past few weeks alone, the Israel-Philippine relationship has been in the headlines. Beyond the commemoration of the bilateral relationship more generally, on the defense side, there have also been deliveries of Israeli-made weapons, including to the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the Philippine Navy (PN). One of these was the Spike extended range missile systems from Israeli weapons weapon manufacturer Rafael Advanced Defense Systems to be installed on the PN’s multiple-purpose attack craft (MPACs), which had officially been added to the 3rd Boat Attack Division of the PN’s Littoral Combat Force (LCF) in May 2017 in accordance with Philippine defense modernization plans (See: “Philippines Gets New Israel Missile System for its Attack Craft”).
The delayed arrival of the missile system, which had been expected late last year, was followed by its integration onto the MPACs, after which there would be technical inspections before official acceptance and use. The MPACs were initially cited as being intended for use for a variety of purposes, including patrols, search and rescue, ship boarding, and surface warfare operations related to missions ranging from counterterrorism to maritime law enforcement.
As that has begun to take shape, questions have also begun to surface on how the arming of the MPACs might proceed more generally as well. Though the initial plan had been to equip three of the existing MPACs with the missile systems, the Philippines currently has nine MPACs with plans for more coming online as well.
On Friday, according to the Philippine News Agency, Arsenio Andolong, a spokesperson at the Department of National Defense (DND), said that the idea of arming all operational MPACs with missiles was an idea “still under consideration.”
Andolong unsurprisingly did not offer much more in the way of specifics. Though the idea of equipping all MPACs with missile systems is no doubt an improvement on them in terms of capability, whether such plans can be realized has been contingent on a range of factors including what else is in Manila’s arsenal and to what extent various priorities will eventually be funded. It is worth noting, for instance, that even though arming the few MPACs had been something already included as part of the Philippine military modernization budget, it was initially unclear whether or not the money would actually be allocated until this was subsequently confirmed.