Philippines Alters Defense Plans to Safeguard Territories From China

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MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines is reevaluating its military modernization program to bolster territorial and coastal defenses in the face of escalating tensions with China. The move comes after recent incidents in the South China Sea, including a collision involving Chinese ships and a Philippine military supply vessel. These developments have prompted the Philippine military to reconsider its approach to modernization.

Philippine Army Chief of Staff Gen. Romeo Brawner revealed that the changes aim to safeguard the nation’s territories in the South China Sea, focusing on Thitu Island, known as Pag-asa Island by the Philippines. Thitu Island is home to more than 400 Filipinos and is one of the disputed islands in the region.

The military’s 15-year modernization plan, known as Horizon 3, originally included acquiring multirole fighter jets, radars, frigates, missile systems, helicopters, and the country’s first submarine fleet. However, budget constraints have slowed progress, with only a portion of the previous phases completed.

Due to recent clashes with China, the Philippines is expediting its acquisition plans. The legislature has allocated 45 billion pesos (approximately $793 million) for defense spending in 2024. Senators also support supplemental budgets for intelligence and materiel acquisitions related to South China Sea operations.

Recent acquisitions include three C-130J-30 Super Hercules tactical airlifters, two BrahMos missile units from India, Acero-class gunboats from Israel, landing dock platforms from Indonesia, corvette boats from South Korea, and offshore patrol vessels also from South Korea.

Horizon 3 is estimated to require 500 billion pesos over the next six years, with potential assistance from other countries. France has proposed providing Scorpene diesel-electric submarines and aiding the development of the Philippines Navy’s base in Zambales. Spain and South Korea have also submitted offers to supply submarines.

While the final plans for Horizon 3 are yet to be released, General Brawner emphasized that the realignment will focus on fewer but more potent assets and platforms. The objective is to deploy assets quickly in response to encounters with Chinese vessels, in line with the country’s forward-defense strategy.

According to the Philippines’ new territorial defense strategy, the nation is prioritizing its claims in the West Philippine Sea, including Thitu Island, Loaita Cay, West York Island, Flat Island, and Nanshan Island.

The Philippines is adapting its military modernization to navigate complex regional dynamics, and the focus remains on safeguarding its territorial interests in the South China Sea.