The scale of devastation brought by Super Typhoon Haiyan (local name Yolanda) was unprecedented in Philippine history, and is nowhere near the dozens of storms the country experiences in a year. Normally the Philippine government has contingencies and preparations for disasters, and this includes bringing in the capabilities of the AFP with its men, materiel, experience and capability in rapid deployment and handling rescue and relief operations. But as the sheer coverage of the disaster was known, so is the inability of the AFP to reach out on these areas all at the same time.
It exposed the AFP's capabilities, or the lack of it, to the general public, and brought it closer to the attention of our citizens and lawmakers alike. People became aware on the military's lack of assets to transport large amounts of aid to a large area of responsibility like almost the entire Visayas region.
What does the AFP have?
Currently the Philippine Air Force (PAF) only has 3 C-130B/H Hercules heavy tactical transport planes, 3 units of the smaller Fokker F-27 Friendship tactical transports and N-22B Nomad light utility aircraft, and a few dozen UH-1H Huey and W-3A Sokol utility helicopters in its inventory, and not all of these assets can be used for a single air operation due to requests for air assets for other purposes. The Philippine Navy has the same dilemma, with only a handful of naval transports in the form of the 2 Bacolod City-class logistics support vessels (LSVs), a few World War 2-era landing ship tanks (LSTs), and a couple of large landing craft utilities (LCUs), and a few BN-2 Islander and BO-105 utility aircraft at its disposal. In this type of situation, these assets are not enough.
Not only is the military lacking in air and naval transport capabilities, it also lack the ground assets and support facilities that are both needed for normal military operations as well as humanitarian and disaster relief missions. The Philippine Army and Marine Corps, like the rest of the Armed Forces, does not have enough trucks and utility vehicles, engineering and construction equipment, and amphibious vehicles It also does not have or only have minimal temporary facilities like power generation, water treatment equipment and tanking, mobile hospitals, temporary airfield facilities, and communications equipment. It is surprising that there are still calls by many people to bring in relief aid to communities accessible by land transport until more than a week after the storm hit, but was not aided due to lack of these assets.
Thankfully, all these shortages were filled-in by the international community's contributions to the relief effort, as seen on the capabilities they brought in to assist the AFP and the Filipino people as a whole (a special MaxDefense blog article was made specifically to showcase the international help provided, see HERE). But this international aid is a temporary solution and will only be available until the Philippine government musters enough capability to stand alone to provide its people the necessities and return to normalcy. The capability brought upon by the international community can be a template for the Philippine government, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), other related government agencies, and by the AFP as it build up its own capability for future disasters. The Philippines cannot always just rely on foreign aid every time a similar unfortunate event happens; it must be prepared to face similar threats in the future, and it must also be prepared to answer the call to aid of other countries in need just as they answered our call for help.
Lawmaker's Questionable Solutions?
There are already earlier calls by a certain congressman who used to be the AFP's Chief of Staff to purchase more helicopters and transport planes in expense of purchasing fighter jets and territorial defense assets like the KAI FA-50 Fighting Eagle, and recent calls by another neophyte senator calling for the same route of purchasing more transports for the AFP by cancelling the FA-50 and AW109 acquisitions.
MaxDefense believes that both lawmaker's intentions of increasing the capability of the AFP to respond to civil defense duties is correct and commendable, but the plan to cancel the procurement of fighter jets and other territorial defense assets to divert the funds is absolutely wrong and irresponsible. These lawmakers did not take into consideration the importance of having a minimum deterrent that will give the Philippine government some semblance of capability to enforce its territorial and foreign affairs policies. The fighter jets are not just for shooting down enemy aircraft, but are also meant for air policing duties and enforce our territorial jurisdiction from foreign aircraft. It's not about the numbers, but the willingness of the Philippines to be responsible of its territorial integrity that matters.
The best compromise to avoid undermining every AFP capability from another is to increase funding of the armed forces, as well as strengthening the mandate and capability of the NDRRMC (which is also under the Department of National Defense). This can be done through separation of the systems being procured by the AFP: defensive weapons systems like fighter aircraft and frigates can be financed through the AFP Modernization Program, and dual-use equipment like transport planes, trucks and utility helicopters can be classified as HADR equipment and financed by a separate funding scheme, reinforced by the AFP Modernization Program budget. It is expected that public opinion will be calling for the improvement of disaster relief capability of the government, and although lawmakers are not very keen on military capability improvement but will have no choice but to definitely support improvements in the military's ability to respond to HADR operations.
Recommended HADR Purchases for the AFP: The following are MaxDefense's recommendations on what the government and AFP must improve to cope up with similar disasters in the future. Instead of relying on the AFP Modernization Program budget, the DND and AFP must push for another funding scheme that will solely focus of acquiring capabilities that can be used for both military and civil defense/disaster response purposes. Due to the special nature of disaster response, the DND and AFP can make use of this loophole to request for further funding using alternative sources to improve disaster response capability while also improving the military's overall transport and mobility capability. This can be divided into several sub-programs:
Philippine Air Force:
- The PAF can request for expanding the aerial transport capability improvement, which includes increasing the budget for its current procurement on the following projects: Combat Utility Helicopters (CUH), Light & Medium Fixed Wing Transport Aircraft, Search and Rescue Seaplane, and used UH-1H Helicopters. The PAF currently has a standing requirement for at least 100 CUH available at any time, and will require more or less 130 units of CUH in their inventory. There are plans to increase the number of air assets in the next round of AFP Modernization Program budgeting for 2017 and beyond, these programs can be accelerated by increased funding. The PAF can also make use of procuring more interim UH-1H helicopters from US military stocks which can be made available faster than new helicopters. The PAF could opt to go for more than 21 units.
- The PAF could also include the request for the following: Procurement of additional new or used (or both) C-130 Hercules transport planes and procurement of Medium Lift Utility Helicopters which can be used to enhance the transport capability of the PAF; Emergency Airport Facilities (mobile air traffic controllers and radar systems, temporary lighting and signalling equipment, and mobile air monitoring radar systems) which can be deployed to immediately re-activate damaged or disabled airports and air bases; Cargo handling ground equipment like rough terrain and heavy forklifts; and even Firefighting Buckets and slinging equipment for helicopters.
- Modernization of current assets can also be included, which may include installation of rescue winches on the W-3A Sokol helicopters (which are already transferred to the 505th SAR Group) and remaining S-76 helicopters; upgrading of several CUH to be able to carry firefighting water buckets;
- The PN can opt to request for a separate funding to accelerate the purchase of more landing platform docks (LPD) or strategic sealift vessels (SSV) in addition to the 2 units already on the pipeline. Originally the PN plans to have at least 4 SSVs in its future inventory and accelerating this program can hasten the availability of these ships as early as possible. It can also do the same for the LCU acquisition project, which also requires more that a dozen more in the next Modernization Program phases.
- To support the SSV/LPDs, the PN must also request for medium lift helicopters to be procured at the same time as the ships they are intended to be used with.
|Additional assets that can bring in supplies and disaster relief aid like amphibious vessels (photo shows PN's LSV) can be funded by a separate program that focuses on disaster preparedness.|
Photo taken from US Navy.
Philippine Army and Philippine Marine Corps:
- The need for more mobility assets like cargo and utility trucks to bring in troops, people, goods and for other purposes can be requested through this funding. These can either be used assets from the US military, or new trucks similar to the ones bought from Korea recently;
- Amphibian transport vehicles, similar to the GKN Aquatrack that the PMC and NDRRMC currently operates. These vehicles can be used during floods and has a large capacity for carrying people or goods;
|The GKN Aquatrack being used by the PMC is an example of equipment that can be used for HDMR operations, as shown above. The PMC is operating 2 units of behalf of the NDRRMC.|
- Rescue equipment like search robots, personal protection equipment for rescuers, additional K9 units, first aid kits, heat signature scanners, and other related equipment that are also not available or not enough numbers within the Philippine ground forces;
- Requirements for field hospitals, power generators, water filtration systems, field kitchens, satellite and high frequency communications, tents and field shelters, portable water and oil storage facilities, first aid kits, meals ready to eat (MRE), and water supplies.These items are actually needed by our ground forces during long deployments outside major camps, and are also not even available on minor army and marine camps. It would be best to acquire such capability and to allocate enough for HADR operations;
- Engineering and construction equipment like payloaders, backhoe, loaders, dump trucks, and also mechanical handtools like chainsaws. These can be used in clearing and rebuilding, and even during normal civic-military operations which the Philippine military already specializes even in non-crisis times. It would be best to expand and improve in this matter;
- Combat engineering equipment like pontoon bridges can also be classified, and also materials for erecting temporary bridges to replace destroyed ones.
|Water filtration equipment similar to those used by the Canadian Forces in Iloilo, are actually needed by military ground units even for military operations outside major camps.|
Photo taken from Combatcamera / Canadian Forces website.
Although its too late for the government to react for this specific calamity, it is not too late for the government to prepare for the future. There is already a call from Senator Ralph Recto to include the funding of reactivation of at least 3 mothballed C-130s of the PAF with the 2014 National Budget, and even considering the purchase of new C-130 aircraft using multi-year funding schemes. He also supported the purchase of more naval vessels including strategic sealift vessels and logistics support vessels.
The DND has also recently announced the purchase of 2 more used C-130 aircraft from an "unspecified source" with a budget of Php 1.6 billion, and has plans to start a acquisition program for a new Combat Utility Helicopter to replace the W-3A Sokols. And there is mounting support from the public as well as local government units for the national government to increase funding for the purchase of more military equipment that can be used for HADR operations. There are even calls by some lawmakers to create a separate Cabinet Office for Emergency Response.
|These C-130s in Mactan, Cebu, previously discussed in another MaxDefense blog, can be the proposed candidates for refurbishing as brought out by Senator Ralph Recto.|
Photo taken from Mr. Jake Nelson @ Pinoy Daily Journal.
But these plans are not enough. It must be pursued immediately without being caught up with the usual red tape and politics affecting military and civilian expenditures, as these are emergency items that are needed as soon as possible without waiting for a new crisis to arrive. The Philippine government has the capacity to fund for these requirements if it wants to, and will only need political will of the national government and cooperation from the different sectors of government. Money can't be a reason anymore for the government, as disasters won't wait for a chance for the Philippines to be wealthy enough before it strikes again. Not only will it improve the AFP's capability to respond to HADR, it will also improve the AFP's capability to respond to the internal security and territorial defense posture of the country.
Opportunity to Return the Favor:
It must also be taken into consideration that the Philippines now owes the world for the aid and assistance they gave to the country in this time of need, even if they do not ask anything in return. The best way for the Philippines to return the favor is for it to be better prepared in the future to minimize the need for another massive foreign assistance. At the same time, the country must be prepared to assist other nations that will encounter similar crisis in the future.
Having a well prepared and well equipped military and disaster response teams that has the ability to be deployed in times of calamity anywhere in the world would bolster the Philippines' relations with the international community, improve its foreign policy standing, and can be a source of pride to the Filipino people. Just look at Indonesia: In 1963 the Philippines provided them with aid and medical assistance delivered by several C-47 transports of the PAF when Mount Gunung Agung erupted. Now they have returned the favor by sending several tons of relief aid brought in by several TNI-AU (Indonesian Air Force) C-130s, a shipload of Red Cross aid, equipment and personnel, and an LPD from the TNI (Indonesian National Armed Forces) is on the way to bring in more aid and more medical teams with their respective equipment (further discussed HERE) This is a source of pride for Indonesians to be able to help a friend in need even if they are also facing disasters in their own country and is also coping with financial issues. Can the Philippines do the same in the future? Yes, it can.