Asia Defense

What’s in the Philippine Navy’s New Missile Test?

A closer look at the broader significance of a successful test of a new missile system.

What’s in the Philippine Navy’s New Missile Test?
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Last week, the Philippine Navy (PN) conducted a successful test of a new missile system. The success represents a significant, albeit limited, boost for the Southeast Asian state’s military modernization but significant challenges still lie ahead.

As I have noted before in these pages, one of the key developments within Philippine military modernization under President Rodrigo Duterte has been the finalization of procurement of 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) (See: “What’s Next for Philippine Military Modernization Under Duterte?”).

Three MPACs 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, and they were made available for use for a variety of purposes including patrols, search and rescue, ship boarding, and surface warfare operations. After some delays, Philippine defense officials confirmed subsequently that the missile system had finally arrived in late April 2018.

The next step that observers were looking to, following technical inspections and other preliminary steps, was the integration of the missile system into the MPACs, and, subsequently, the actual testing of the missile system. Philippine officials had said shortly after the delivery in April that this would occur in a matter of months, perhaps as early as July. But inclement weather had caused that timeline to be pushed back a few weeks.

Finally, on August 9, the Philippine Navy and representatives from Rafael conducted a successful sea acceptance test of the Spike missile systems off of Bataan. The Spike-ER surface-to-surface missile was fired from one of the PN’s three MPACs and successfully hit a floating target 6 kilometers away. The result was confirmed by Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.

The successful completion of the test means that the PN now is officially equipped with its first-ever anti-surface missile capabilities. Navy spokesperson Jonathan Zata called the step a “milestone” for the PN within its broader modernization. Philippine officials have also noted previously that the missile-equipped MPACs would greatly enhance the PN’s ability to counter threats in littoral areas for missions ranging from counterterrorism to maritime law enforcement operations.

To be sure, this is just one step in the integration of the missiles into the vessels. According to the Philippine News Agency, Zata indicated that the current plan was to schedule another live firing demonstration of the missile that would be attended by Duterte himself as part of ongoing efforts to demonstrate the new, significant capability.

But looking further ahead, the development also has implications for how the Philippines approaches this aspect of its military modernization going forward. Philippine defense officials, including Lorenzana himself, have previously indicated that more of such missile systems might be in the works for PN ships in the future, considering the capabilities it needs and the nature of warfare. This recent advance is no doubt a boost in this respect, even if significant challenges remain to be navigated ahead.