Philippine Military Focuses On Territorial Defence

During the Philippine Army’s Artillery Regiment’s 125th Anniversary Ceremony on 1 July Army Chief Romeo Brawner made the announcement that as the “forefront of the Philippine Army’s military modernization the regiment “new equipment will be coming soon”.

His statement reflects Horizon 3, the Philippine’s 15-year modernization final phase emphasis on territorial defence. Brawner stated ““We [will] have anti-ship missiles, we will have air-defence artillery, we will have HIMARS coming in the next years.”

Specifically, the military is moving forward in acquiring both the US M142 HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System) manufactured by Lockheed Martin and the Indian BrahMos Mobile Autonomous Launched super-sonic anti-ship missile systems. These two weapon systems are intended to provide a previously lacking capability to exert control of the waters surrounding the island country.

The Philippine Navy had previously ordered three batteries of BrahMos which use a truck mounted launcher. First systems were delivered in 2022 for the Philippine Marine Corps Coastal Defense Regiment. BrahMos is a proven ramjet cruise missile system in use with the Indian military. It has a 290 km range traveling a top speed of Mach 2.8-3 only 3-4 meters above the sea surface. It is a fire and forget system with terminal active radar homing and 200 kg warhead optimized for ship targets. The Army plans two batteries of BrahMos to be introduced between 2023 and 2027.

The Army also envisions fielding HIMARS (or a comparable multiple rocket system). Philippine artillery are familiar with HIMARS since the U.S. Marine Corps and US Army have trained with the system in the Philippines in many combined exercises. Philippine soldiers have thus been exposed to the weapon in these exercises.

During the recent Balikatan 2023 exercise HIMARS demonstrated its ability to be redeployed across the Philippine Islands by both C-130 and by landing craft. This included moving systems to the Batanes islands in the Luzon Strait south of Taiwan. The effectiveness of the approach in responding to seaward threats was recognized by participants and may be influencing the push for a HIMARS capability.

Unfortunately, as demonstrated in a recent SINKEX, current HIMARS rockets are not efficient anti-ship effectors. In fact, one of the development goals for HIMARS is development of anti-ship capability in the PrSM missile. The Republic of Korea K239 Chunmoo or Israeli Lynx multiple rocket launchers have also been considered.

However, a May 2023 bilateral defence agreement saw the US and Philippines “prioritize the procurement of interoperable defence platforms” with the US committing to offer its weapons through favourable military sales programs. As a result, the acquisition of HIMARS is considered the most likely. The Philippine Army has organized two batteries that would be equipped with multiple launched rockets when received.

The fielding of both BrahMos and HIMARS will provide the Philippine military with long range target engagement capabilities previously lacking. It also offers the opportunity to cover much of the countries surrounding coastal areas and sea approaches of the South China, Sulu and Philippine Seas from land sites. This includes several disputed areas which previously were relatively undefended. The military will thus possess its own significantly more credible deterrent to potential intrusions into its internationally recognized territorial waters.

by Stephen W. Miller