This article was first published on CIGeography
In February, the U.S. and the Philippines expanded the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) to four additional sites. The agreement was originally pursued at a time when the Philippines struggled to assert its maritime claims in the South China Sea against other claimants, specifically China. Amidst the realization that its military forces could not properly address external security threats. Yet the original EDCA agreement had an uneasy upbringing with a battered US-Philippines relationship from the time of Duterte’s inauguration, the new president was advocating policies threatening both the 1998 Visiting Force Agreement (VFA) and the EDCA. Relations began to improve when the Philippines’ appeasement strategy failed in the face of an increasingly assertive China. By 2019 the EDCA was finally allowed to move ahead following a 5-year freeze and Duterte’s February 2020 letter suspending the VFA was retracted in July 2021 for the third and final time. The new Marcos administration is committed to renewing and deepening defense cooperation ties with the United States. Additionally it has modernized its armed forces through weapons acquisition programs from a diverse range of international partners (Horizon 1, 2, and 3) and coastal defense batteries (BrahMos Anti-ship missile).
During the negotiation phase of the original EDCA, Eight sites were originally requested, with the Philippines allowing access to five, the latest enlargement of the agreement will feature some of the sites rejected in 2014. Five Philippine Air and Army bases made up the core of EDCA and are spread throughout the Philippine archipelago in Palawan, Luzon, and Cebu. The revamped agreement will include four new sites in the Cagayan, Isabella, Zambales, and Palawan provinces. Alongside troop access, the agreement allowed for the construction of infrastructure at selected joint sites. One example of this is Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base, with evidence of recent work seen during the opening ceremony of the recent SamaSama-Lumbas 2022 exercise, the FY2024 Indo-Pacific Command’s Budget Request also includes provisions for the creation of an aircraft ramp at Basa Air Base. Through this new development, the Philippines is realizing its potential role in a Taiwan Contingency, as President Marcos recently highlighted in an interview with Nikkei Asia. The increased level of military cooperation including the new basing agreement presents a dilemma for both Manila and Washington on the potential use of these sites in the event of a Taiwan Contingency, potentially inviting Chinese strikes on Philippine soil.
Increased cooperation with the United States was supplemented by unprecedented weapons and systems acquisitions, Horizon 1, 2 and 3 for radars, and the first export order of the Indo-Russian BrahMos anti-ship missile system.
On January 28th, 2022 the Philippines officially procured India’s BrahMos supersonic anti-ship cruise missile. This system will be the first ground-based anti-ship missile asset of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). The $375 million contract will deliver three batteries to be operated by the Shore-Based Anti-Ship Missile (SBASM) Battalion of the Philippine Marine Corps’ (PMC) Coastal Defense Regiment (CDR), a specialized unit formed around the BrahMos’ system. Their procurement provides a massive capability boost to the Philippines, especially as the country looks to modernize its military in the face of regional tensions in the South China Sea and Luzon Strait.
As of writing, the location for the deployment of the batteries hasn’t been confirmed but Philippine defense commentator Max Montero has identified four possible sites across the archipelago where the batteries could be deployed. From these sites, the BrahMos system will allow the Philippines to threaten any vessels within a 290-300 kilometer engagement range.
The Philippines’ rudimentary yet practicable Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance network of drones and sensors may be enough for the CDR to employ the missiles to their full potential, incorporating lessons from the ongoing Russian Invasion of Ukraine. However, it is more likely that the Philippines will turn to security partners with more advanced ISR networks to maximize the potential of the coastal batteries. The most likely of these partners would be Australia and the United States, as the two have experience operating maritime patrol aircraft in support of the Philippine military and frequently fly out of Philippine bases for operations into the South China Sea. The U.S. Marine Corps is also closely following the PMC’s BrahMos missile developments. Officials from the USMC have been present at every single milestone ceremony of the CDR, from the creation of the SBASM Battalion to the donation of a land parcel in Lubang deemed “vital in supporting the Coastal Defense Strategy.”
In recent years, the Philippine Air Force (PAF) modernized and recapitalized its network of Cold War-era radar stations. These stations were once integrated with the U.S. Air Force helping monitor airspace over the Philippines. These radar stations were connected to various airbases around the nation, and would enable the airbases to quickly vector fighter aircraft to any contacts made by the radars. Right before the end of the Cold War, the U.S. began a drawdown of its forces in the Philippines because of the end of the VFA leading to a transfer of these stations to the Philippine Air Force. Most of the infrastructure in these stations was left to deteriorate before their eventual closure.
Under the Horizon 1 Phase Priority Projects, the PAF initiated the Air Surveillance Radar Acquisition Project to replace its inventory of non-functional radars and settled in 2016 on the Israeli ELM-2288 ER radar, in a deal for three units at a total of $56 million. The PAF selected Gozar, Mount Salakot, Palawan, and Paredes Air Stations as the sites for these new radars. Deliveries began at Gozar in 2017 and were completed by 2019.
Following the successful execution of Phase 1 of the Air Surveillance Radar Acquisition Project, the PAF moved forward with Phase 2 in 2019 and sought to procure three fixed-site radars and two mobile radars; the requirements were later revised down to three fixed and one mobile radar for a total of $101 million. The possible deployment sites for those systems are Balabac Island, Santa Ana, Balut Island, Hill 900B, and Parañal Air Station. In 2020 the PAF selected Mitsubishi Electric as the winner of the Phase 2 Air Surveillance Radar competition. The company received a $103 million contract to provide three J/FPS-3 ME and one J/TPS-P14 radar.
The follow-on Horizon 3 armament program is expected to bring a further two anti-ship batteries to bear with the Army Artillery Regiment’s Land-Based Missile Battalions. Before the BrahMos procurement, the AFP had no such capability and could not properly counter the modern warships operated by its adversaries. With BrahMos, the Philippines will establish a credible baseline for its coastal defense capabilities. Any aggressor in a wartime scenario will have to consider the threat posed by these supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles.
The Phase 1 Air Surveillance Radar Project brought the PAF air surveillance capabilities into the modern era. These new radars bolster the PAF’s ability to monitor the nation’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) and on key features in the South China Sea. Once the Phase 2 radars went online, the PAF established coverage over the entirety of their national airspace. The MANUFACTURER (J/TPS-P14) radar acquired under Phase 2 also provides the PAF a mobile system to meet flexible operational demands. Commentators discussed the possibility of deploying the system on oil platforms off the coast of Palawan in the defunct Matinloc and Nido Gas Fields garrisoned by Philippine forces. First discussed by Max Montero, a data-sharing agreement between the PAF and the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) could see Japanese Radar networks in the Ryukyu Islands Provide valuable information on areas north of the Batanes, while Philippine stations give the JASDF early detection of aircraft flying through the Luzon Strait.
The maps above visualize some of the major developments in the Philippines’ security environment and architecture. We look forward to releasing future projects covering Philippine security issues, especially as the country continues its procurement of new capabilities and enhances its security relationships.
Aaron-Matthew Lariosa (Twitter) is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C. with articles in Naval News and TV appearances on Taiwan Plus. He is studying International Relations at American University, and is interested in U.S. Marine Corps developments in the Pacific and Philippine Naval modernization efforts.
Zach (Twitter) is a writer and analyst based in Helsinki, Finland. He is interested in U.S. diplomatic and military developments in the Pacific as well as U.S. Military modernization efforts.