A Philippine submarine force

THE CORNER ORACLE - Andrew J. Masigan - The Philippine Star

As the Marcos administration contemplates its defense strategy, it will do well to recognize these indisputable facts:

• We are a country in the middle of a region with ever increasing tensions of war. With the militarization of the West Philippine Sea, our heated territorial dispute with China and the threat of Chinese invasion of Taiwan, war in our backyard cannot be ruled out.

• Government cannot scrimp on our defense assets if the armed forces are to capably defend our borders. The bravery and a fighting spirit of our soldiers, without equipment, will prove insufficient in a time of armed conflict.

• As an archipelagic country, battles must be fought and won at sea, not on land. Government must insulate our people from the ravages of war. Thus, the lion’s share of defense spending must be channeled to our navy.

• A navy that is outnumbered, outclassed and out-skilled in battle is a recipe for defeat and death sentence.

• A small and ill-equipped navy must be able to strike and imperil hostile forces at sea. Otherwise, it will have no choice but to simply react to attacks, putting it at the mercy of the enemy.

• A small navy must be able to take advantage of the enemy’s weaknesses and exploit its vulnerabilities. It must balance its lack of assets with the ability to strike in a strategic manner so as to dictate the tempo of battle. The ability to inflict damage to the enemy, no matter how superior they may be, is essential in developing a credible defense force.

At a recent forum organized by the Stratbase Institute and the French embassy, Rear Admiral Jose Renan Suarez (ret) presented his recommendations on how the Philippines can establish a credible defense posture despite limited resources. For those who do not recognize him, Admiral Suarez is firmament in the Philippine Navy. A graduate of the PMA class of 82, he earned his advanced studies in warfare management in the US, France and at the Asian Institute of Management.

Admiral Suarez stressed that surface warships are not enough for the Philippines. To invest our scarce resources purely on warships is a mistake. The number of surveillance assets of the enemy renders our warships vulnerable. With their long-range missiles, the enemy can easily wipe out our warships in a matter of hours.

A submarine force is necessary to gain credible deterrence and striking power. Not to recognize the value of a submarine force would be a blunder on government’s part. Submarines can surprise the enemy and strike first without being detected. It can decide the course of battle and/or frustrate the enemy’s battleplan. Its stealth allows it to approach enemy forces without being detected whilst being capable of striking targets in land and sea.

Having a submarine force effectively weakens the enemy, as it will have no choice but to deploy much of its assets to search for our stealthy submarines. Even more resources must be expended to neutralize them. The specter of having a submarine lurking beneath the waters serves as a distraction to the enemy, hindering them from performing their attack missions with impunity.

While it is true that submarines will not compensate for the superiority of other navies in terms of fleet size, technology and firepower, having them as part of our naval assets closes the gap. The key is to have all our assets work in concert with the other so that all are made to count in the battlefield.

Thus, a well considered naval defense strategy must be pursued with vigor and commitment. A half-hearted defense strategy or one driven by cost rather than quality will only backfire. Remember, the lack of synergy among assets only diminishes their individual potentials. A defense strategy must be holistic and customized to our needs.

The versatility, lethality and survivability of submarines make them the game-changer for small navies like ours. It allows us to live another day and gives us a fighting chance for victory.

The cost to acquire submarines and maintain its ecosystem (eg. torpedoes and missiles, piers, repair infrastructure, technical training and squadron development, etc.) will cost billions. True, the nation’s resources are limited and there are other pressing needs. But how much are we willing to pay to defend our people and land from the ravages of war? What price do we put on our sovereignty? How much do we value our way of life? How much of our natural resources do we stand to lose? To scrimp on our naval defense is akin to scrimping on our nationhood. We must defend it at all costs.

The government of France is the first country in the EU to define her Indo-Pacific strategy and seek solutions to regional security. France has agreed to assist the Philippines not only in the acquisition of its Scorpène mid-sized submarines but also in the support systems they require. This includes the development of a naval base, maintenance and training facilities, armaments supply, etc. The French have extended the most favorable mix of technology, value and terms of payment.

Adopting a submarine program has been in the armed forces agenda since 2008 but has not progressed due to political and financial considerations. The top echelon of our navy has already recommended it in the strongest terms. It is an asset we needed “yesterday,” they stress. The decision to move forward with the submarine program falls squarely on President Marcos. That said, we make the most urgent appeal for the President to approve this program in haste. The worse thing that can happen is not having a submarine program in place when we need it most in a time of siege.

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Email: [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @aj_masigan


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