Surprisingly, there are many inputs that are positive or negative for tanks in the Philippine Army's inventory due to different reasons and ideas.
Our previous MaxDefense blog entry dated September 2013 already provided a brief summary of tanks being operated by ASEAN countries, and it was concluded then that only the Philippines and Brunei remain as the only non-tank operator in the region.
Issues with Tanks in the Philippine Setting:
For several years now, there are discussions online as to whether the Philippine Army really need tanks in its arsenal. Strong arguments were made against the need for the PA to have tanks, and continuous so until as recent as a previous MaxDefense post in Facebook about them.
Among the major arguments made by those against having tanks are the following:
- the country's terrain is not tank-friendly due to being an archipelago without a continuous land formation between all major islands;
- the country's main islands, Luzon and Mindanao, are also not tank-friendly due to mountain ranges or impassable hilly and jungle terrain;
- the existing infrastructure is in poor condition, especially bridges in the rural area, and were not designed to accommodate tanks;
- the time of tanks is declining with the introduction of anti-tank missiles and cheaper armored fighting vehicles that are capable of killing tanks;
- tanks are expensive to acquire, maintain, and operate.
Infrastructure appears to be the biggest problem for main battle tanks in the Philippines, especially on the capacity of most bridges. As a MaxDefense reader from the DPWH confirmed, the standard concrete bridge commonly seen in the country have a capacity of 20 tons, but can accommodate at least 40 tons safely. Main battle tanks whose weight is greater than that would have detrimental effect on the bridge's structural performance in the longer run.
But it is also worth mentioning that the Philippines uses specialized construction equipment that weighs more than a main battle tank, and make use of standard concrete and steel bridges on its own or carried by semi-trailers when being transported at long distances. Also, it was reported that the AFP's heaviest armored vehicle, the LVTP-5 and LVTH-6 which weighs almost 40 tons, have no trouble moving around the country and using bridges on its own or carried by semi-trailers.
Although the above reasons are true, there are still many in the defense and military sector agreeing to the importance of tanks in the battlefield, and as an important asset of the Philippine Army.
Among the most common reasons are as follows:
- Tanks remain the most well protected and heavily armed vehicle in the battlefield. They are still among the best assets that can kill other tanks or armored vehicles, as well as supporting the infantry on the ground by providing heavy armor, an assault weapon, and even as a psychological weapon;
- Tanks can be used even without proper civilian infrastructure as long as they are well supported by engineering & support units, as well as transport assets to help them move in long distances or over natural obstacles. This was proven by other Asian countries with similar terrain as the Philippines, like Indonesia;
- Although the country is archipelagic and has many areas that are not suitable for tanks, there are still locations where the tank can be considered king, and will definitely be used by invading armored units too. This includes the vast plains Central Luzon, Southern Luzon, Metro Manila itself, the plains of Central and Eastern Mindanao, and several other areas in the country;
- If used well as a combined arms asset, tanks remain an important asset that is difficult to destroy or incapacitate. This was among the lessons learned by the AFP in the All-Out War against the MILF in 2000;
- The greatest external threat the country is facing currently has the world's largest tank fleet, and it is highly likely that tanks will be used in a ground invasion against the Philippines. It is expected that any ground invasion by them will involve tanks. Tanks remain as among the best options to kill them, together with using anti-tank missile teams, helicopters, and use of terrain against enemy tank's favor;
- As the Philippine Army is starting from zero tanks, having several of them would be beneficial, although there is no need for several hundreds of them. They can also be used for red flag training to provide lesson and experience to Army troops to fight with or against tanks.
MaxDefense believes that both sides have their strengths and valid reasons, and should be taken into consideration before making a decision. In this case, the Philippine Army has long been planning and studying the need for tanks in the service, and has long made a conclusion that tanks are indeed needed by them. The question that remains is, what kind of tank.
MaxDefense believes more can be discussed about the viability of tanks in the Philippine setting, and MaxDefense is inviting its readers to take part in comments in this blog entry itself, or in the Facebook page wherein this topic will be brought out.
Can the Philippines Really Acquire, Maintain, and Operate Tanks in the near future?
According to MaxDefense sources from the DND and the Philippine Army, the only reason why the Philippine Army remains tank-less to this day is because they cannot afford to buy, maintain, and operate them with the current budget they receive, and they are giving priority for other assets to be funded. This is the same reason why the wheeled armored vehicles will be given more importance than the tank should funding be less than expected.
It only means that the Philippine Army, like the entire Armed Forces of the Philippines, is expecting changes in the way the government is providing funding for the country's defense. Looking at the overall picture, all three major services are gunning to acquire assets that they honestly confirmed that they cannot acquire and maintain now with the budget they receive.
History shows that the AFP does not acquire assets it knows it cannot maintain and use well, and is very frugal with acquiring new assets even if they believe they need them. So the earlier reason of budget concerns appear to hold bearing. The DND and AFP many know and expecting something in the future that we do not know or see, and this is giving them the will to request such acquisitions of not only tanks, but several other assets that are currently non-existent with the Philippine Army.
Armored Vehicle Acquisition under Horizon 2
Among the planned acquisitions of the Philippine Army under the Horizon 2 phase of the Revised AFP Modernization Program are for new tanks and specialized armored vehicles.
Tanks are among those being considered for acquisition. MaxDefense won't be too specific on the details and numbers, but the requirement for tanks is still quite vague due to the absence of information.
Market information shows that tanks vary in size, capability, and price. General definition may refer a tank as a medium to heavy tracked armored fighting vehicle, heavily armored, armed with a large-caliber gun and smaller secondary guns, and is designed to fight other tanks or support the army against ground targets.
Based on these, the definition of tanks for this specific acquisition program is too wide, with the only definite requirement being "tracked", and "armed with a gun, 90mm and above". The only other available information are the total budget allocated for them, and the quantity, which MaxDefense cannot disclose for now.
It also unclear yet if the Philippine Army is open in acquiring used, refurbished tanks, or are they going for brand new ones.
MaxDefense have several models in mind depending on the possible source based on the parameters above and the budget. Among the most probable choices are:
a. Brand new Hyundai Rotem K1 main battle tank from South Korea (also known as the Type 88 tank) in A2 variant, sporting a 120mm smoothbore cannon designed in Germany. MaxDefense believes that this could probably be the basis of the Philippine Army's tank requirements, being one of the lightest among the main battle tanks in the market, uses Western parts and specifications, and is not very expensive compared to American, Japanese, or European alternatives. According to open sources, the tank's expected cost is within the far end of the PA's budget even after inflation. MaxDefense believes that there would be no used K1 tanks available for sale or transfer to foreign armies since the Koreans are expected to retire older US-made M48 tanks first before retiring the K1 series, and the Philippine Army will be getting brand new units should they intend to acquire the K1.
A problem with the K1 is market, since only the South Korean Army uses this. A previous offer to Malaysia did not result to a sale. The good thing is, the Koreans have a very large fleet of more than 1,000 K1 tanks, far greater than the combined numbers of all the tanks listed below, and is expected to operate the type for more than 20 years more.
b. Brand new Doosan K21-105 or K21-120 light tank from South Korea, which is essentially a K21 infantry fighting vehicle armed with a 105mm or 120mm cannon mounted on a Cockerill XC-8 concept turret. It is expected to be cheaper than the K1 tank series, but with the system as a whole still a concept and without any buyers even if K21 in IFV variant is already in service with the Republic of Korea Army, technicalities may hinder the acquisition of this version of the K21. But its being lightweight (less than 30 tons without up-armoring) is a very important factor that the Philippine Army may highly consider.
c. Brand new T-84M Oplot, orT-84-120 Yatagan main battle tanks from Ukraine, which is a non-standard choice considering that this considered a Soviet design. While the T-84M Oplot retains the Russian/Soviet 125mm caliber gun, the T-84-120 Yatagan is an export concept model using a 120mm NATO-compatible gun. Since the PA is not using any tank gun caliber greater than 76mm, having the 125mm won't really do harm on logistics except in combined logistics with allies in combined operations and among the positive values of EDCA and MDT.
While the T-84 is in service with many countries including fellow ASEAN member Thailand, the 120mm version is still considered a concept and may also be a problem in meeting procurement requirements. Due to preference on NATO standards, the PA may not be interested in using tested versions with the 125mm KBA-3 (2A46) gun. Thailand's T-84M Oplot tanks were reported to have cost an average of US$4 million per tank, or still within the PA's requested budget.
d. Used Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Type 90 main battle tank from Japan. There were previous announcements by the Japanese Ministry of Defense in the past already indicated the reduction of tanks, including the Type 90, in the Ground Self Defense Forces' inventory, allowing the PA to discuss for the transfer of specific number of units. MaxDefense believes that it would definitely be within the PA's budget, and may even be acquired for cheap as the Japanese government appears to be very willing to assist the Philippine military in acquiring their excess defense artilces. Like the K1A1/K1A2, it uses a license-built copy of the Rheinmetall L/44 120mm smoothbore cannon used by the American M1A1 and Leopard 2 tanks. As standard with Japanese equipment, it is equipped with advanced features and built with high quality in mind.
The only negative issue here would be product support, since Japan is the only user of the type, and they are already being prepared for retirement with the entry of the newer Type 10 tank.
|A JGSDF Type 90 main battle tank. Japan is planning to reduce its tank inventory, including the Type 90, and these could be available for transfer to friendly countries either as grants or at a price.|
Photo taken from Wikipedia.
e. Aside from the Type 90, Japan may also opt to provide the older Type 74 medium tank which would probably be taken out of service completely as more Type 10 tanks are acquired by the JGSDF. Their lightweight design would be very advantageous in the Philippine setting, although its age is already showing and might not be suitable for tank warfare against newer OPFOR tanks. But it could be used as a support vehicle for infantry or mechanized forces using its British-designed 105mm gun for fire support and against bunkers and infantry fighting vehicles. Despite its age, the JGSDF is well known for its maintenance of assets and keeping them in top shape. These tanks have never been deployed outside Japan, and are only used mostly in training and parades.
|The Type 74 tank during a display at the JGSDF Ordnance School.|
Photo taken from Wikimedia.
Although there are several more other possible choices, MaxDefense did not elaborate further because they are either too heavy, too old and outdated, or only a few units are available for transfer, or not practical to acquire. Weight is a very important aspect in the decision making which will be explained later on.
2. Wheeled Infantry Fighting Vehicles
Another requirement that the Philippine Army will be giving importance is the acquisition of a new type of wheeled IFVs that will be assigned for specific missions, including as armored personnel carriers, anti-tank and air defense platforms, mortar carriers, and armored recovery vehicles.
Not much information has been released by the Philippine Army as well, although they are expected to be larger and will have more wheels than the current 4x4 set-up of the Simba and V-150. MaxDefense also believes that these vehicles will have better armor protection, river fording capability, and will be compatible to accept future upgrades like up-armoring, availability of a high-caliber gun variant, battlefield management systems, and others. The adaptability of having a high-caliber gun variant is in anticipation of a Horizon 3 requirement for a "wheeled tank" which can be used as an anti-tank gun platform or as an assault vehicle possibly with at least a 105mm gun.
Being a non-4x4, it is expected to either be a 6x6 or 8x8 configuration, similar to those being pressed into service with neighboring armies like those of Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia. This would be brand new, although any changes in the funding targets on the minus side would definitely push the Philippine Army to look at cheaper alternatives like used platforms.
a. New or used M1126 Stryker 8x8 from the US & Canada. The standard US Army wheeled armored vehicle since 2000, it has a lot of variants in its belt, including all the variants that the Philippine Army might be looking for, including the M1128 mobile gun system variant & the M1129 mortar carrier. Compatibility with US forces will be a practical reason for choosing this, and the anticipation of a huge parts, upgrade, and manufacturing support for several thousand units serving with the US Army could make this a top choice. Downside is the reportedly poor protection compared to much modern contemporaries, and lack of other users aside from the US and Iraqi armies. A double V-hull variant is being produced to address the protection issues from roadside bombs and IED. Another downside is the reported cost of the vehicle, which is quite on the high side as compared to contemporaries, although this is expected as US-made equipment are normally expensive. An earlier concluded deal with Lithuania puts the average price of a Stryker together with weapons, ammo, training, spares, and support past the US$7 million mark. Older units that are Iraq and Afghanistan veterans may also be offered by the US for sale as EDA, although the chances is slim as the US prefers to sell new-build units.
|The M1126 APC variant of the Stryker 8x8.|
|The Stryker MGS with the 105mm gun has a high reputation for being effective in providing fire support to troops in the absence of tanks.|
b. New Patria AMV from Finland or its licensed-built derivatives are among the possible vehicles being eyed by the Philippine Army. This may even include the license-built copy of the AMV, the KTO Rosomak variant built under license by Poland. Both the Patria & Rosomak 8x8 vehicle are considered to be among the best in its class, with a reputation of being highly robust, dependable, and highly reliable. They also have sufficient combat experience, especially the Rosomak which are used by the Polish military in Afghanistan and has gained respect by both allies and foes. Currently it has an APC, IFV/anti-tank variant, and can be configured to carry large-caliber mortars depending on Philippine Army requirements including a 120mm gun proposed by Cockerill. MaxDefense sources informed that the Rosomak was already offered to PA brass in the past, and is said to be cheaper than the Stryker and Singapore's Terrex. Sources also informed MaxDefense that the Patria/Rosomak is the favorite among the Mechanized Infantry brass and Philippine Army high command.
|Shown above is the KTO Rosomak IFV variant of the Patria, in service with the Polish Army.|
Photo taken from Wikipedia.
c. New ST Engineering Kinterics AV81 Terrex from Singapore. This has been among the benchmarks in the region, and has been previously offered to the Philippine Army several years ago. Well designed for a C4ISR centric army like those of Singapore, it is among the most modern in the market today. While it appears to be very good for consideration, among its setbacks include lack of a FSV variant (without modifications), and market, since it only being used by no other country aside from Singapore. Although it is among those in the running to bag the US Marine Corps' ongoing Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV) acquisition project, a win would be greatly beneficial.
|ST Engineering's AV81 Terrex wheeled armored vehicle, in service with the Singapore Armed Forces.|
Photo taken from military-today.com.
d. New Hyundai Rotem KW1 Scorpion 6x6 and KW2 Scorpion 8x8 Wheeled Armored Vehicle from South Korea. This specific model was in competition from other homegrown 6x6 & 8x8 offerings from Samsung Techwin and Doosan DST, and was chosen by the South Korean Army for their own requirement. The vehicle is among the newest in the market, and is also an interesting choice due to the close defense ties between the Philippines and South Korea. It could also be marketed in connection to the tank requirement of the Philippine Army, since MaxDefense believes that Hyundai Rotem's K1 88-type tank is among the best choice for the tank requirement. Currently the KW1 & KW2 are only armed with cupola mounted guns, but MaxDefense sources confirmed that the larger KW2 8x8 can accommodate heavier weapons including fire support gun turrets for 90mm or 105mm guns, and both KW1 & KW2 can mount autocannons of 25mm or 30mm caliber on both manned turret or RCWS, and configured as a mortar carrier.
|The KW2 shown here in self-propelled anti-aircraft configuration carrying a twin 30mm gun system. The KW2 is the 8x8 version of the Scorpion, while there is a smaller 6x6 version known as the KW1.|
Photo taken from Deagel.com.
e. New Iveco SuperAV from Italy. Another vehicle in the running for the US Marine Corps' ACV project, the vehicle is said to have excellent amphibious capability in its standard configuration, and is even being offered to the Italian Army to replace their ageing LVTP-7 armored vehicles of the Lagunari Regiment. The only major downside is market, since it is not even in service yet with the Italian Army, and was only used by Brazil as basis for their own homegrown armored vehicle project built by Iveco Brazil. Winning the USMC ACV would be the bedrock which it could start a successful export market. Another issue is cost, since it is expected to be priced higher than the Philippine Army's budget, and is said to be more expensive than the Patria and Terrex.
|The Iveco SuperAV is a promising vehicle but has no market share yet, as even the Italians have not yet made an order for them. Its hopes hang on the USMC's ACV program.|
Photo taken from 21stcenturyasianarmsrace.com.
f. New PT Pindad 6x6 Anoa from Indonesia. Said to be derived from the older variant of the successful VAB family of vehicles from France, the Anoa is the cheapest alternative in this listing, and is said to have been already checked by the Philippine Army before. The only one without an 8x8 variant here, it lacks the space offered by others although price has its reasons. Another problem is the weapons it can carry, the Anoa was not configured to have a FSV variant although PT Pindad may offer a different vehicle, the Badak 6x6 FSV, which is more of a combat vehicle rather than a infantry fighting vehicle due to lack of space to accommodate mounted infantry. The Badak is also confirmed to be able to carry a 90mm gun from Cockerill, but no confirmation if it can carry a 105mm gun. Nonetheless, the Anoa remains a very interesting offer since the Philippines is known to be very fixated on the price as history shows us.
|The Anoa (above) and Badak (below) are 2 different vehicles from PT Pindad, with the Anoa more of an armored personnel carrier while the Badak is more of a armored fighting vehicle.|
Photos taken from PT Pindad website (Anoa) and Wikipedia (Badak).
How about the Existing Wheeled and Tracked Armored Vehicle Fleet?
Horizon 2 phase has allocated programs for all existing armored vehicle assets of the Philippine Army, specifically the V-150 and Simba 4x4, and the AIFV and M113 tracked armored vehicles. It is expected that both wheeled 4x4 platforms, especially the Simba, will remain in service for at least another 2 decades, while the tracked assets, especially the M113, will remain a backbone of future PA armored formations.
The V-150, Simba, M113 and AIFV will undergo rehabilitation and modernization under the Horizon 2 phase. Several of the existing M113A1 and upcoming M113A2 from the US will undergo life extension programs of its mechanical and electrical systems, and converted to upgraded combat vehicles, becoming platforms heavy weapons that are presently non-existent with the Philippine Army. The AIFV will be upgraded to current standards but will most likely retain its 25mm KBA cannon.
The Simba and V-150 will also get upgrades, but will be retained as cavalry assets mostly supporting the several Infantry Division formations as newer assets arrive to fill-in mechanized infantry formations. Among those being eyed are replacing engines and mechanical systems with new ones, possibly replacing the manned turrets with RCWS, and improving its communications and battlefield connectivity with the introduction of improve command and control systems.
More on this development will be discussed by MaxDefense in future blog entries.
What Do We Expect Soon:
Horizon 2 is a long way to go as far as we are concerned, with several projects in Horizon 1 phase still not moving, or has only been awarded recently. As of this writing, there are only 4 Horizon 1 projects out of 33 that have been past the awarding stage, although several are scheduled for tender, or have already completed the tender submission.
Even if Horizon 2 is still far, the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the DND have been moving ahead with its programs for Horizon 2 in terms of planning, studies, and even product evaluation, with the later probably starting as early as next year. As explained earlier, it is expected that the wheeled armored vehicle will be given priority than the tank.
Based on the budget being requested by the Philippine Army, it is clear that they are trying to squeeze as much capability and numbers from a very low allocated budget, and this is a reason why many other possible offers could not be included. Cost has always been a factor haunting the AFP Modernization, and has limited the AFP's choices by so much. It appears though that they are already eyeing certain brands and makes and is only looking for possible alternatives while trying to get the best of what they can only afford.
Although MaxDefense believes that the AFP and DND should prioritize modernizing the Philippine Navy and Philippine Air Force, being the first in line of defense against foreign threats, the Philippine Army should continue its modernization as well, and the Philippine government should provide a larger defense modernization budget for all 3 armed services for them to be able to meet their requirements without affecting each other's own needs.