Friday, May 11, 2012

When is an air force not an air force

When it does not have a single fighter plane:
The long overdue completion of the modernization program of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) finds the military in quandary today without a single jet fighter to protect the country’s airspace and an antiquated navy unable to secure the nation’s vast territorial waters.
Military officials interviewed by the Philippines News Agency expressed dismay over the predicament of the AFP with virtually no external defense to speak of No Fighter Jet To Protect PH at present, a far cry from the days of old when the Philippine Air Force (PAF) and the Philippine Navy (PN) were second to none in Asia, except Japan at the end of World War II until the 1970s.
At present, Philippine airspace is vulnerable to intrusion as the Air Force, the nation’s first line of defense, has no fighter jets in its arsenal to intercept hostile aircraft entering into the country's airspace after the PAF decommissioned its aging F-5 interceptors in 2005.
The PAF has to be content with its few remaining S-211 jet trainers as “substitute interceptors” which cannot be compared to the supersonic fighter planes such as the F-22 “Raptor” F-14 Phantom; F-15 “Eagle”; F-16 “Falcon”; F-18 “Hornet”; Mig-29 Tornado GR4; Mi¬rage 2000 Sokhoi S-37, and the F-21 Kfir.
The failure of the AFP to modernize the Air Force and Navy is now be¬ing felt with the intrusion of Chinese fishing vessels at Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal which is within the Philippines’ territorial waters but claimed by the Chinese as theirs.

“If we had a credible military, this could not happen,” military officials said in unison when asked by this writer.
Despite Congress passing the 1995 AFP Modernization Law of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) allocating P331 billion spread in 15 years, the PAF is still wanting of new jet fighters to replace the decommissioned F-5s.
The AFP, particularly the Air Force, has been pushing since the mid-1980s to acquire the F-16 jet fighters or the Mirage 2000 as re¬placement of the F-5s but this has remained an elusive dream to date.
From the 1950s until early 1970s, the PAF was a force to reckon with, second to none in Southeast Asia in terms of military muscle.
Today, the AFP found itself dismally in the lowest echelon among neighboring Asian nations.
At the height of its glory days, the AFP had more than 50 jet fighter interceptors – the F-5A/B and F-8 Crusaders, not to mention the 140 “Huey” helicopters, 35 attack helicopters, 30 trainer jets, 12 C-130 “Hercules” planes, an array of other aircraft in the inventory of the Philippine Air Force (PAF).
The Philippine Navy was equally replete with warships and gunboats acquired from the United States at the end of the Pacific War. Likewise, the Philippine Army also got modern tanks and armored vehicles.
Over the years, however, wear and tear had crept in that these armaments had become obsolete.
Today, the Navy is badly in bad shape as it tries to maintain ageing warships some of which are more than 50 years old.
Worse, the Navy has no missile gunboats compared to other neighboring countries which have acquired such sophisticated armament.
Yet, the Navy has to patrol the Philippines' vast coastlines which are twice as long as that of the United States. With the shortage of ships, the Navy cannot do it as it is just impossible.
The Navy has been clamoring for new ships to replace its decommissioned floating assets.
The Department of National Defense (DND) and the AFP had anticipated that reality that they made a blueprint to modernize the military as early as 1980. The DND and AFP recommended for the acquisition of new defense equipment, particularly new jet fighters and warships.
In 1989, PAF got two squadrons of S-211 jet trainers from Italy, followed by a squadron of MD500/520 attack helicopters bought from the US, all brand-new.
At that time, the Air Force reiterated its recommendation to Congress to acquire a squadron of F-16 jet fighter-interceptors or similar aircraft to replace the ageing F-5A/B jet acquired in 1965. But the government did not give priority for the acquisition of new fighter-jet interceptors due to lack of funds.
The Philippines depended heavily on the United States to supply the AFP with military hardware since after World War II.
In exchange for that, the Americans had a string of military bases in the Philippines such as Clark Air Base in Pampanga where the 13th US Air Force was based, and Subic Naval Base in Zambales, the biggest US military installation in the world outside the United States.
In the early 1980s, the US agreed to pay rentals for the use of its mili¬tary bases in the Philippines in addi¬tion to supplying the AFP of military hardware totaling US$ 500 annually until 1991 when the Philippines-US Military Bases Agreement (MBA) was abrogated.
As a consequence, the Americans dismantled its military installations in the country.
Why does this matter? Becuase China has been bullying the Philippines over Scarborough Shoals in the South China Sea, and now China is threatening war:
China has been remarkably patient as the US raised its profile in Asia, supported China’s neighbors over the South China Sea issue, pulled Myanmar out of its tight orbit around China and stepped up its military presence in the region. But a combination of Philippine and Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea has now created the first genuine test of America’s new Asia policy, and so far at least, China is taking a much tougher line.
The Scarborough Shoal standoff has escalated. Chinese media is threatening the Philippines with war. China’s state-run media has held forth with fiery editorials, like this one from Wednesday’s Global Times:
The Philippines needs to be taught a lesson for its aggressive nationalism. . . . For China, the standoff over Huangyan Island is a matter of sovereignty. And now Manila needs to be defeated in this area.
The Telegraph adds more new developments in the dispute:
Territorial rivalry has escalated throughout the seas around China as regional and international navies seek to establish rights of passage against an expanding Chinese presence.
Chinese and Philippine vessels have been locked in a high seas stand-off since the PLA Navy prevented a Philippine warship from arresting crews of Chinese fishing boats near the Scarborough Shoal on April 8.
Both countries claim the fish rich shoal as their own and protests by Philippine fishermen over their loss of livelihood have drawn mass support in the south-east Asian country.
China International Travel Service, the state-owned tourism operator, yesterday suspended ties with the Philippines after organisers announced plans to demonstrate outside Chinese embassy buildings and property today.
Beijing also issued a travel advisory warning its citizens to keep a low profile. "Avoid going out at all if possible, and if not, to avoid going out alone," it said. "If you come across any demonstrations, leave the area, do not stay to watch."
Reports in Japan said five Chinese warships – including two guided missile destroyers, two frigates and a amphibious landing ship – had passed through waters close to Okinawa moving to Philippine reefs.

So China is behaving like Japan circa 1938 and the Philippines are completely unprepared militarily. I support pretty much anyone who is against China right now, and the Philippines are a friend to the United States, but my sympathy is limited. If they did not want to be vulnerable to military pressure from China, maybe they should not have kicked us out of Clark Air Base and Subic Bay in the 1990's.  In fairness, Clark Air Base was destroyed by Mount Pinatubo. But the Philippine Senate chose to throw the US out in a nationalist frenzy over the objections of its own people, who benefited from the US presence. Now how's that workin' out for ya?

Thoughts from Walter Russell Mead:
There are a lot of people in China right now who want a clear win — a Philippine humiliation — rather than a nice face saving compromise. That isn’t just because they are nationalist hotheads who care passionately about the South China Sea; it’s also because from the standpoint of realpolitik China doesn’t want to create the impression that weak countries can get away with tweaking the dragon’s tail. If the Philippines are seen as gaining anything from the crisis, the Vietnamese, Koreans, Japanese and others will all think that the time has come to push China on these unresolved border issues.
America wants the region to stay quiet. We don’t want one crisis after another, and while we can’t let China run rampant, bullying its neighbors whenever it feels the need, we also don’t want to get sucked into an endless series of situations where we have to either throw an ally to the wolves or get into a high profile confrontation with China.
If our friends and allies want our backing in a crisis, they need to consult with us before the crisis breaks out, and if they provoke China’s wrath by taking steps that we think are ill judged, we can’t let ourselves be dragged into the fight. On the other hand, they need to know that we will stand with them if they have pursued a thoughtful and moderate course — and even if they haven’t, we may be compelled to rally to their side if China’s response to their ill-judged provocations goes too far.
America’s new Asian policy is the right thing to do, but doing it well is going to be hard. Encouraging Asian states to resist Chinese expansionism without signalling to their politicians that America will back them up no matter what isn’t easy to do.
Sounds about right.

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