- Modernize the equipment of all branches, but particularly the dilapidated Navy and Air Force, with highest priority on the Navy due to increasingly threatening incursions into Philippine Territory by Chinese ships.
- Continue to fight rebel infestations in the jungles primarily in Mindanao (Muslim extremists and NPR extortionist gangsters).
- Support domestic needs for police assistance, COMELEC inspections and disaster response.
- Merge the three forces - Army, Navy, Air Force - into one fully coordinated combat unit rather than three units managed separately and patched together on a needs basis. This is not the United States with millions of soldiers. There are only about 20,000 Navy and 20,000 Air Force personnel. With separate administrative functions and a domestic policing agenda riding high, there's not much manpower available for fighting. So consolidate the back office and support functions. Integrate the fighting teams.
- Pursue a "missile and drone" strategy as the driver of weapons procurement. Stop trying to arm with WWII weapons. Put platforms in place to deliver these weapons: ships, planes and commando teams.
- Separate domestic needs (supporting COMELEC, local police assistance and disaster relief) into a Federal Police separate from the Army, with the Army assigned the job of fighting via a smaller, well-trained, well-armed component.
Jack Ryan is famed author Tom Clancy's CIA strategist who, via a series of spy and military adventures, becomes President of the United States. We herein take our best shot at emulating the young Ryan's superior ability to digest chaos and mystery and come up with order.
This installment of our Philippine Defense dialogue will take its lead from the prior two articles. In the first, we presented a critique of the Department of National Defense layout and goals, and in the second we looked at the component AFP forces of Army, Navy and Air Force. We still have on the agenda dealing with: (a) budget, (b) intelligence security groups, and (c ) relationship with the United States. We'll deal with the US as a part of this discussion.
LESSONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS TO THIS POINT
We've learned that the AFP is administratively top heavy and grossly underfunded to accomplish the modernization goal set forward by Congress in 1995. The Navy and Air Force have been substantially neglected. The Army maintains a force of about 200,000 soldiers, each with an M-16 apparently, but the rest of the equipment is old.
We can piece together the following basic plan for the Armed Forces of the Philippines from our various readings (our analysis and words, not those of the AFP):
Our prior discussion argued for a smaller Army, less administratively burdened, more focused on warfare than police work, and better equipped. The Navy in particular needs beefing up.
The rationale for scaling down the size and scaling up the capability of the Army comes from a simple business management principle that "secondary effort, allowed to flourish, will undermine primary effort."
That is what has happened to the Philippine military. Domestic needs have taken precedent over battle readiness. Peter was robbed to pay Paul, or the Navy and Air Force were ignored to pay for a nationwide domestic Army presence. Administrative "make work" (parades and medals and lolling about at checkpoints) took the place of preparation for conventional warfare. The military is economically broke, strewn all across the nation, poorly armed, and perhaps living complacently at the top.
So Jack Ryan . . . er, JoeAm has proposed some radically different ideas to get focused back on fighting capability. Hey, it may be a pipedream, but the dream is better than reality as it stands now:
It is interesting that the Army has such a widespread presence on all major Philippine islands. And almost all Army divisions cite the mission of defeating domestic rebels. Yet rebel infestations are fairly limited in numbers - small bands - and are primarily on Mindanao. It is almost as if the Army's national distribution of troops were for a different purpose, a lingering vestige of days when coups were just around the corner and the troops were needed either to suppress them, or to help carry them out.
One would certainly be inclined to ask if the domestic enemy is really so widespread within the Philippines? Or the likelihood of coups and civil unrest so strong that a widely dispersed Army is needed?
Can you maintain a huge, widespread domestic presence and arm up to face China, or other hard threats? Not with a budget that must also serve schools and building an economic infrastructure.
Other sharp questions were raised by readers during the discussions on the two prior blogs: Who, really, is the enemy, and what are we trying to accomplish? It was observed that the island structure of the archipelago mandates a much stronger Navy, and is in some respects easy to defend.
We will in this blog reflect on who is the enemy. And we will add to that how the Philippines might relate to the U.S.
We put existing or POTENTIAL enemies into five categories:
- Semi-Organized Domestic Extortionists: (probability of combat 100%; scope 25% of available fighting forces)
- Muslim extremists: (probability of combat 100%; scope 15% of available fighting forces)
- China: (probability of combat 10%; scope 100% of available fighting forces)
- Other Asian state: (probability of combat 1%; scope 100% of available fighting forces )
- Civil unrest within the Philippines: (probability of combat 5%; scope 100% of available fighting forces)
Lets put some meat on these bones, recognizing that this exercise is wholly speculative and has no endorsement or inputs from government officials.
Semi-Organized Domestic Extortionists
These "rebel" forces eat up a lot of the Army's manpower and budget. Comprehensive peace is hard to reach because rebel demands are extreme and the organization is not unified. The persistent success of these gangs at committing murder, kidnap-for-ransom, and intimidation in support of fund-raising is testimony to the defensibility of the islands. They disappear into the jungles or merge with residents and come out to fight at any time, at any place.
Winning the war will likely come in some form other than combat as combat can only kill or capture small pods of rebel troops:
- Peace agreement making national concessions along the lines of the Mindanao agreement.
- Broader economic revitalization reducing poverty and discontent.
- Local residents turning against the gangs.
This is likely to be a long, protracted struggle. If JoeAm were writing a fictional book about the matter he'd probably be inclined to structure things as follows:
- Create Federal Police separate from the Army and make this a police action (also assign disaster response and COMELEC checkpoints to the Police).
- "Win the hearts and minds of residents" through economic improvements targeting specific regions (Northeast Mindanao) and community friendly police work (health clinics, for example).
- Continued efforts to strike a formalized written agreement that does not impose unreasonable demands on the State.
- Make military assistance available on call when large-scale actions are identified ("bring in the drones").
Muslim extremists are attack oriented, keying in on soldiers and also extortion targets (kidnappings; beheadings for intimidation). The extremists are larger, are well-armed groups with international ties. It is the international funding and arming that separates this group from domestic gangsters and calls for military, rather than police, intervention. The US is already engaged in support of the Philippine Army with (a rumored) several hundred advisors in place on islands to the southwest. It is believed that drones are deployed for eye-in-the-sky monitoring, but not for attack (one missile attack is rumored to have been undertaken).
Winning the war will likely come in some way other than combat:
- Peace agreement carried all the way through, past Constitutional objections (process underway).
- Broader economic revitalization reducing poverty and discontent (underway).
- Local residents turn against the extremists in favor of peace and economic development (underway).
This is the toughest one because the threat is pronounced yet may never materialize. The defense agreement with the United States is the backstop against a major event. It is in the best interest of the Philippines to demonstrate an increasing ability to take on her own defense in the event of limited conflict. The direction of the Philippines under this scenario would be to assume more and more of the fighting burden and to relegate the US as far into the background as possible.
What may happen regarding China? In our fictional novel, ala Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan, we might concoct some scenarios and probabilities as a starting point for refinement based on better data:
- The Philippines will win UN arbitration; China will depart from the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone ("EEZ") peacefully (likelihood 15%).
- The Philippines will win UN arbitration; China will not depart from the EEZ (likelihood 85%).
- China will land troops on unoccupied islands within the EEZ and start building residential or commercial structures (85%)
- China will evict Philippine residents and troops from occupied islands within the EEZ and take control of new territory forcibly (5%).
- China will block Philippine ships from sailing in parts of the West Philippine Sea (50%).
- China will fire warning shots on Philippine ships to block them from sailing (20%).
- China will fire on a Philippine ship or ships causing Filipino casualties (5%).
- China will occupy the Philippine mainland subsequent to escalation of localized fighting (1%).
- China will wage cyber-war against the Philippines (95% for harassment, 5% for destructive acts such as bringing down power, communications and other infrastructure).
This is so much pie in the sky speculation. But at least it starts and organizes a thinking process.
Other Asian State
If one looks around the cusp of Asia, in which the Philippines is centrally located, it is difficult to imagine armed conflict breaking out between the Philippines and any state other than Malaysia. Relations are generally good and there are few direct conflicts. Malaysia is on the chalk board due to frictions caused by Sultan Kiram's attempt to physically occupy land in Sabah that he claims. If such frictions were to grow more serious perhaps there is a scenario that would see the Philippines and Malaysia in direct military conflict. It would likely be a short-term violent flare-up, more pushing and shoving than territorial conquest. Contingency plans should include this possibility.
Massive civil unrest within the Philippines
It was only a short time ago that President Arroyo declared martial law in Mindanao. It was limited in scope and time. On one hand, it is difficult to imagine widespread unrest in today's civil Philippines. But also, given the public's penchant to vote for dynastic names rather than platform, it is easy to imagine another authoritarian president seeking permanent rule, and using the military as his arm of discipline to quell protest. Indeed, it might be advisable to ensure against such a scenario by pulling troops back from widespread distribution in the Philippines to minimize military use during civil unrest. The military should be staging for the kinds of conventional warfare incidents that are threatening today.
RELATIONSHIP WITH THE UNITED STATES
Many Filipinos are understandably suspicious of any relationship with the United States. Feelings range from outright condemnation of any US military presence to pragmatic acceptance given China's incursions into Philippine territory.
Sovereignty. Does an alliance with the US impose on Philippine sovereignty? I suppose it does in the sense that the Philippines must consider that the US traditionally demands autonomy over her military. The degree of latitude given to the Philippines to "direct" US troops would be limited. But presumably the US would respect Philippine guidance pertaining to activities in the Philippines.
The US has struck a defense agreement with Korea that puts Korea in the driver's seat to control deployment of US military assets. It is a model the Philippine might aspire toward.
One can imagine this dialogue taking place:
- American General: "We recommend flying stealth bombers over South Korea from the US to send a message to North Korea that they are within striking distance."
- Korean General: "Wait one." ("That's Army for give me a little time to converse with someone.") "Roger that. We agree. When can we expect them to arrive?"
The American General would not say "We're going to fly our bombers into Korea." Does one lose autonomy if one retains approval authority? I think not if that approval authority is specific and clear.
Or this conversation:
- Korean General: "We recommend flying stealth bombers over South Korea from the US to send a message to North Korea that they are within striking distance."
- American General: "Wait one. . . . Negative on that, General. Our chief says that's too provocative for us."
Does one lose autonomy if one respects the partner's stance? Hmmmm. Technically, yes, to the extent restraint of action occurs.
Does that mean one ought not have alliances?
No. It means one must be willing to embark on the give and take of decision making with a partner who may have different viewpoints or interests, and to remain respectful of the alliance and its overall value. In other words, don't be a 100 percenter and demand that the alliance march to the Philippine beat alone.
Perhaps it would benefit the Philippines to look within and recognize that its own acts can determine what the relationship with the United States is likely to be. If the Philippines demonstrates a good grasp of strategies, tactics and execution during training drills, and becomes and equal partner rather than student, then the US is more likely to grant the Philippines greater leeway to request and receive assistance in the form of weaponry or technology or command control.
Autonomy demands that the Philippines display "world class" fighting attitude and skill, and the ability to work in forthright partnership with allies.
Forthright partnership was not on display when the American minesweeper ran aground in Tubattaha Reef. The Philippine military did not step in to break the contentious relationship that flared up between Park Rangers and officers aboard the US ship. Nor did the Americans go directly to some standing military liaison contact in the Philippines to get relief. It was an acrimonious incident, not one of partnership. Not one of good, quick communication and resolution.
You can't have that kind of separation, and failure to communicate and execute, in battle.
Right now the two allies are dancing a very awkward dance.
The Philippines can take control of the relationship if her military leaders demonstrate the aptitude necessary to command respect from American military brass. A widespread domestic policing force and woeful sea and air power are unlikely to command respect among those looking for fighting capability. If blogger JoeAm can see what is going on with regard to the Philippine military, the US has a crystal-clear insight into the lack of combat readiness that characterizes the overall capability of Philippine forces.
The Philippines and the US do collaborate on strategic matters, but these appear to be in the form of structured conferences. Formal exchanges and briefings that confirm mutual interest. But not down and dirty work together to hammer out scenarios, contingencies and responses. The exception is the fighting of terrorism in the Southwest. It is difficult to know how that is going and what kind of mutual engagement and respect exists there.
US/Philippine training exercises are held regularly to teach troops how to converse with one another and act as a team on shore invasions or disaster recovery. But how ready is the PARTNERSHIP to address the China scenarios outlined above. Somewhere between formal top line discussions of mutual interest and in-the-field practice there is an arena where battles will be won or lost: strategies and tactical scenarios . . . and responses. Including the deceptions and feints that are crucial to good outcomes. And good information, from drones or spies or reconnaissance missions.
These fighting plans should drive equipment-purchase priorities. Right now, it would appear that equipment needs are being driven by domestic leaders tallying up hardware they'd like, without connection to battle plans.
The Philippines can drive the establishment of a scenario-driven relationship and retain considerable authority over the how the fighting alliance will work. Authority over how the alliance works does not mean cock-fight posturing. It means taking the initiative to be aggressive about thinking things through, and inviting the US into the process.
Scenarios and responses first. Understanding what the US can bring to the table second. Philippine equipment and training plans flow from that.