Saturday, 28 May 2016

**** Thy Neighbour, Kiss Thy Submarines Goodbye!

Every Country Needs Submarines

Well not quite, there are always caveats. Not perhaps if you are Andorra, Mongolia, Nepal or Republique Centrafrique, in which case you would not even have the need for a navy. Other than that, as long as the country has a maritime border, having a fleet of submarines is probably on the wish list of every naval chief.

The submarine is unique in its ability to dive to the depths of the oceans and remain largely hidden from friend and foe for days, weeks or months until it is ready to strike. And when that moment came, it could than choose to strike at the enemy where and when it was least expected, thus increasing its chances of a successful operation.

Their deterrent value is such that they are probably the only way a smaller navy could hold its ground and stand up to the might of a much bigger one. After all, you can't fight what you can't detect! Having submarines would also force your opponent to channel lots of resources into anti-submarine warfare ( ASW ), meaning time, money, personnel, surface and sub-surface combatants, perhaps even aerial assets have to be diverted from other tasks to conduct ASW operations.

In addition, the old adage that the best platform to hunt for a submarine is another submarine probably still holds true today. So if your arch enemy owned submarines, you would probably like to have the same capabilities as well, fiscal and other circumstances allowing.

So every maritime nation needs submarines but some need it more than others. But none in more dire need than the Philippines which is embroiled in a long standing maritime territorial dispute with China. In fact outgoing Filipino President Benigno Aquino III openly indicated in late March 2016 that his country is contemplating having a fleet of submarines. Just how that can be achieved is a matter of debate.

Sweden's future submarine the A26 breaking waves. Image : SAAB-Kockums

South China Sea or West Philippine Sea? 

The Philippines and China have long had overlapping claims on island, outcrops and sea territories in the Spratly Islands, South China Sea. The international community largely views the South China Sea as the high seas open to all for navigation but China thought otherwise. With their ambiguous nine-dash-line map China claims almost the entire South China Sea as its own backyard, ignoring overlapping claims from other smaller countries like Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam and Taiwan.

Confrontation between the navies and coastguards of both countries are common but the outcome is usually non-fatal as the less capable Filipino forces back down or withdraw. But Filipino fishermen have been denied fishing rights by the Chinese Coastguard vessels within the Philippine's 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone, and men and vessels are frequently detained for infringing those territories. The situation is so bad that the Philippines had asked the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague to invalidate China's claims in Jul 2015. The court ruled that it had jurisdiction over the matter in Oct 2015 and agreed to take up seven out of fifteen submissions by the Philippines, some of which focus on whether Scarborough Shoals and Mischief Reef in the Spratlys are considered islands or outcrops. The hearing of the case, which China boycotted, was completed in Nov 2015 and the tribunal is due to release its report anytime now.

China has all this while resisted arbitration with international legal bodies like the International Court of Justice ( ICJ ) as it believed the proceedings and judges could be biased against it, instead it has been advocating for bilateral negotiations with the countries affected.

Presumably to make its legitimate claim on the Spratly Islands based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea ( UNCLOS III ) look even more legitimate, the Philippines have began referring to the South China Sea as the West Philippine Sea. You may not find it on your nautical charts or atlas but those printed or published by Manila certainly bear this surreptitious change.

The New Sick Man Of Asia

This derogatory label in its original form " Sick Man of East Asia " ( in Chinese 东亚病夫 dong ya bing fu ) was used to refer to Imperial China in the late 19th and early 20th century where half the population was emaciated from opium abuse and the authorities were too weak to resist occupation by foreign powers. Wars were fought and lost and as a consequence and concessions had to be dished out to the victor. Of course this sick man had long since been put on anabolic steroids and is currently a super power and the biggest bully in Asia.

On the other hand, the Philippines which once used to be the second most prosperous country in Asia ( after Japan ) in the years after World War II, saw its fortunes change for the worse when endemic and systemic corruption by its leadership effectively emptied its coffers and bankrupted the nation. Specifically, the Marcos family and their cronies who over two decades of dictatorship had enriched themselves to the tune of USD 10 billion or more. Things hardly improved even after the People Power Revolution which ousted Marcos in 1986 as corrupt practices are deeply entrenched. As a result the whole country suffered and the Philippines Armed Forces was not spared either. Years of underfunding and neglect had seriously undermined its ability to safeguard the interest and sovereignty of the Philippines.

Its equipment are not only old but also obsolete, consisting of largely hand-me-downs by the good will of friendly nations. Foreign military aid from the United States is an important source of sustenance. Therefore it is not surprising that the Philippines is considered the new Sick Man of Asia, which of course Aquino would vehemently oppose. To be fair, the economy of the Philippines did improve under his watch over the past six years, perhaps so much that the country now could begin to procure new equipment, like the KAI-Lockheed Martin FA-50 Golden Eagle fighter / light attack aircraft of which a dozen had been ordered. But these are no where near what the Philippines might actually require in terms of number or type, and Aquino will be stepping down this year, after his single term of six years come to an end.

You Call That A Frigate?

So what kind of shape is the Philippine Armed Forces in? How bad is bad? Compared to China, where does the Philippine military stand? To have an idea of the huge disparity between the military forces of the two countries, we just have to look at the Philippine Navy ( PN ) and the People's Liberation Army Navy ( PLAN ) or Chinese Navy.

The South Seas Fleet of the Chinese Navy alone is made up of 11 guided missile destroyers ( DDG ), 21 guided missile frigates ( FFG ), 10 missile corvettes, 9 modern attack submarines ( SSK ), another 8 not so new SSK, 4 nuclear ballistic missile submarines ( SSBN ), 6 nuclear fast attack submarines ( SSN ) and numerous landing crafts and auxiliary / support vessels. They are supported by land based combat aircrafts of the fleet air arm which includes the H-6 Badger bomber, J-11 Flanker, JH-7 Flounder and J-8 Finback. We have not even mentioned about the East Sea and the North Sea Fleets yet.

In contrast, the entire Philippine Navy can only muster 3 frigates, 10 corvettes and 36 patrol crafts, 11 amphibious landing ships, some support vessels and no submarines at all. None of these surface combatants are armed with missiles. Of the 3 frigates, 1 was an ex-USN destroyer escort which saw action in WWII, was decommissioned after the war and transferred to the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force in the fifties, laid up in the seventies and sold to the Philippines as excess defense article in 1978 ( assumingly at rock bottom prices for almost next to nothing ). The other 2 frigates are ex-US Coast Guard Hamilton-class high endurance cutters that had been retired from service in 2011. Most of the corvettes are actually old minesweepers and patrol crafts with some dating back to WWII.

The BRP Rajah Humabon PF-11 is probably the oldest frigate in active service.
Commissioned as a destroyer escort in the USN in 1943, it was transferred to the
JMSDF in 1955 and commissioned as the JDS Hatsuhi before it was
returned to the USN in 1975 and sold as excess defense article to the Philippines in 1978.
Seen here during Exercise Balikatan 2010 in the South China Sea. USN Photo.

The BRP Gregorio del Pilar ( PF-15 ) and Coast Guard vessel Edsa (SARV 002 )
during CARAT Philippines 2013.
PF-15 is a coast guard high endurance cutter disguised as a frigate. Without a CIWS,
it won't have survived the first salvos of inbound vampires from the PLAN. Wikicommons

From the revelations above it is not difficult to understand the rationale behind the Philippine's desire to acquire submarines, the great equalizer, but what can it afford? If it doesn't even have the money to buy proper frigates and corvettes which are generally much cheaper, how can it aspire to own submarines?

The GDP of the Philippines had enjoyed healthy growth in the past 5 or 6 years under the economy friendly policies of Aquino. It is estimated to hit almost USD 300 billion in 2016. The defense budget for 2016 however is only USD 3.8 billion, barely 1.3% of the GDP. Yet it already represented a 50% increase year on year, and the 2015 budget was itself a 25% increase over the previous year's. Such massive increases are only possible if one started from an ultra-low baseline. In 2014, the defense spending actually suffered from a reduction due to funds being diverted for disaster relief after the Philippines was struck by the super typhoon Haiyan. This highlights another problem that developing nations frequently face, that military spending is not given a high priority and is contingent on funds not being taken away for other projects deemed more urgent, or worse, being siphoned away by some corrupt politician.

For comparison, NATO member countries are obliged to allocate at least 2% of their GDP as defense expenditure, though the truth is that most fall short of that targeted level of spending. The United States spends about 4% of its GDP on its military, China 2.1%, Vietnam 2.2%, Malaysia 1.5% and Singapore 3.3%.

To answer the question of what submarine the Philippines might be able to afford, we have to examine the cost of some of the recent submarine deals.

Recent Submarine Transactions

Unless you are fortunate or unfortunate enough to be Israel, where its submarine acquisition costs are hugely subsidized by Germany as an atonement for crimes committed against the Jewish community during WWII, you will be on your own when shopping for submarines. Here are the various submarine sales and offers that occurred in the past decade or so in USD :

Scorpene-class for Malaysia in 2002 2 ( + 1 Agosta 70B ) for $972 million ( Unit cost $486m )
Scorpene-class for India ordered in 2005 6 ( last 2 with AIP ) for $3 billion ( Unit cost $500m )
Project 636M Improved Kilo-class for Vietnam ordered in 2009 6 for $1.8 billion ( Unit cost $300m )
Type 214 for Turkey ordered in 2011 6 for $2.2 billion ( Unit cost $367m )
Type 209 / 1400 for Indonesia in 2011 3 for $1.07 billion ( Unit cost $357m )
Type 218SG for Singapore 2013 2 for estimated $1.1 billion ( Unit cost $550m )
A26 for Sweden in 2015 2 for $945 million ( Unit cost $473m )
Type 039A Yuen-class AIP in 2015 offered to Thailand 3 for $1.1 billion ( Unit cost $335m )
Type 209 for Egypt in 2016 2 for $1.01 billion ( Unit cost $506m )
Soryu-class late model with lithium batteries for Japan in 2016 1 for $580 million
Shortfin Barracuda for Australia 2016 12 for estimated $14.4 billion ( unit cost $1.67b )

As the numbers indicate, the unit cost of a new build modern diesel-electric fast attack submarine or hunter-killer submarine ( SSK ) will not be cheap. It will cost at least US$300 million or more. And you don't just buy one boat. To have a credible submarine force, a country would need a fleet of at least 3 submarines to ensure the availability of one or more boats at any one time. So it would set the prospective buyer back by at least US$1 billion, not including other expenditures like docking and maintenance facilities, submarine tenders and rescue vessels with the necessary equipment including deep submersibles, medical support infrastructure like hyperbaric treatment centres and of course a submarine training school. After that there will also be recurrent operational costs involved.

South Korea's Type 209 derived Chang Bogo- class SSK the ROKS Nae Dyong
at RIMPAC 2012, Hawaii. Photo : USN

Second-Hand Submarines

If new submarines are out of Manila's reach, how about used submarines? The early nineties was the golden era for buyers of used submarines as many NATO countries were retiring their submarines earlier than planned due to the end of the Cold War and the perceived peace and New World Order than came with it. The naval equivalent of the Great German Panzer Sale.

The most extreme case must have been the Royal Navy's 4 Upholder-class SSK, commissioned between 1990 to 1993 and all decommissioned in 1994. The last boat of the class HMS Unicorn's commission lasted less than 16 months! They were all subsequently sold to the Canadian Navy in 1998 for US$750 million and renamed the Victoria-class. Though relatively new, 4 years of being mothballed must have caused significant deterioration to the condition of the submarines and there were still incidents and mishaps involved including a serious fire onboard HMCS Chicoutimi ( ex-HMS Upholder ) that left it crippled during the trans-Atlantic transfer from Faslane in 2004.

Royal Canadian Navy Victoria-class submarine HMCS Windsor ( Ex-HMS Unicorn ) SSK 877
leaving Faslane, Scotland for Halifax, Nova Scotia. Wikipaedia

The Swedish Sjoorman-class and later Vastergotland-class, German Type 206A and Dutch Zwaardvis-class boats were all divested or decommissioned by their owners before the end of their useful service life.  But unfortunately those opportunities have long since dried up.

Of course submarines are being commissioned and decommissioned all the time, but nowadays fleets then to be much smaller and the boats tend to remain in service for a much longer duration. These old hulls will not have much useful lives left in them, not especially if you have to pay to acquire them and then pay again to have them refurbished. For example the project for the replacement of Norway's 6 Type 210 derived Ula-class, commissioned around 1990, has already began but the boats have been slated to remain in service until the year 2025, a total of 35 years! Similarly, the Netherland's 4 Walrus-class SSK commissioned in 1992 has also been targeted for replacement but again will remain in service until 2025.

Regardless, consider South Korea's recent offer of two 20 year old Type 209 Chang Bogo-class SSK to Thailand for $500 million. The unit cost would be $250 million and that is almost the price of a new SSK! It seems that even used boats are not exactly a viable option for Manila either! That leaves the Philippines with the last possible option which it is already so familiar with - the hand-me-down option.

Hand-Me-Down Boats

In order to identify possible sources of hand-me-down submarines, we have to examine which are the countries that are sympathetic to Manila and might have boats to spare. China for sure isn't one, even though it might have loads of surplus submarines but those are mainly obsolete Ming-class boats derived from the Soviet Romeo-class SSK which nobody wants anyway.

The United States of America was and still is the staunchest ally of the Philippines but they have not had a single conventional diesel-electric submarine in service since the last of the Barbel-class ( laid down between 1956 and 1957 ) USS-Blueback was decommissioned in 1990.

The British supplied 3 Peacock-class patrol vessels from the Royal Navy's Hong Kong Squadron to the Philippine Navy in 1997 for a goodwill price of US$20 million and might be somewhat sympathetic to Philippine's cause but they have already sold their last conventional submarines to the Canadians and had gone completely nuclear long ago just like the Americans and the French.

The Australians are hugely concerned about the ever expanding ambition of China in the southern seas and would probably side with the Philippines. They also have a relatively large and not too old fleet of submarine, the Collins-class which are due for retirement beginning around the year 2025. But dates are likely to slip as the construction of the future submarines gets delayed for various reasons. Could they possibly gift a couple of Collins boats to the Philippines? Even if that happened, would anyone actually want to operate the defects plagued Collins-class submarine? I can only say perhaps beggars can't be choosers.

Japan has been a strong supporter of the Philippines and has plans to transfer surplus P-3C Orion maritime patrol planes to the Philippines as more of their new Kawasaki P-1 come online. The Filipinos will also be leasing 5 of Japan's Beechcraft TC-90 King Air advanced trainer aircraft to boost their maritime surveillance capabilities. The Japanese also have a history of decommissioning their submarines relatively early, usually after 18 to 20 years of service which made Japanese submarines theoretically good candidates for refurbishment and a second life in some other less advanced navy. That had never happened in the past because the post war Constitution of Japan forbade any form of arms export, new or used, until current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe lifted the ban. However, in order to counter the might of the Chinese Navy, the Japanese plan to have a total of 22 submarines in active service, 10 of the older Oyashio-class and 12 of the latest Soryu-class ( of which 8 have already been built ), so they have yet to reach this target and do not have spare submarines to offer. Unless of course we consider some of Japan's even older submarines the Harushio-class where 6 have been decommissioned and 1 converted into a training submarine. What's a couple of Harushios in exchange for say a permanent presence or a lifetime of berthing rights in Subic Bay?

Closer to home, within the 10 member ASEAN organization which the Philippines belongs, perhaps Singapore is the only country which is small enough and has operated submarines long enough to possibly have surpluses. Small enough to avoid the perpetual problem of not having enough boats to cover vast tracks of oceans like fellow members Indonesia and Malaysia. Long enough to have witnessed the retirement of earlier generation boats and have them available for sale or as give away. Just last year, the Republic of Singapore Navy ( RSN ) retired two Challenger-class submarines that it had operated since the late nineties. The remaining two Challenger-class boats still in active service will likely be retired after the new Type 218SG submarines are commissioned beginning year 2020. These submarines, first commissioned into the Royal Swedish Navy between 1968 and 1969, will be past fifty years old by then, but they had been extensively modernised and tropicalized before and had been in the good hands of the RSN. They might just be used judiciously for several more years as long as one doesn't make too many fathoms out of them. Afterall Taiwan's WWII era Guppy-class submarines Hai Shih and Hai Pao are still in active service as training boats after more than seventy years. Will Singapore risk incurring the wrath of China by selling or giving the Challenger boats to the Philippines? Common sense tells me it will not, since there exists very strong commercial ties between China and Singapore, but who knows? One can always arrange to have them sold as scrap metal to some third party front company registered in the British Virgin Islands or Panama and then have the boats shipped to the Philippines for stripping and demolition only to have them resurrected and patrolling the West Philippine Sea before Xi Jinping can even let out a startled fart. The world can always learn a thing or two from China.


Taking Goodwill For Granted?

The impending doom that the Philippines is currently facing is the fact that President Benigno Aqino's 6 year term is ending. The steady economical growth enjoyed by the country for the past few years may not necessarily continue at the same pace with the leadership renewal. It all depends on who is at the helm. Unfortunately for the Philippines, the people chose Rodrigo Duterte, the foul mouthed, gun-totting, self-confessed womanizer and ex-mayor of the once lawless Davao City who rose to fame with his zero-tolerance policy against crime. Under his record seven terms as mayor, he claimed to have drastically reduced the crime rate of Davao but was widely alleged to have been associated with vigilante death squads that carried out extra-judicial killings of criminals. He rode on his promise to rid his country of crime and corruption within six months of taking office and eventually finished the presidential election with a landside win of 38.5% of the votes. The amazing thing was he won without ever properly giving an account of how he was to manage the economy.

Rodrigo Duterte - the next dictator of the Philippines? Wikipaedia

During his presidential election campaign, he made so many gaffes and made so many incredulous remarks that offended individuals, organisations and countries alike that Donald Trump's antics would have paled in comparison.

This included a Facebook post in April by his publicist that seemed to suggest the endorsement of his candidacy by Mr Lee Hsien Loong, the Prime Minister of Singapore, a country which is noted for its clean government and relatively low levels of corruption. " Davao Mayor RODRIGO DUTERTE is the only Presidential Candidate that could make Philippines like Singapore. Clean, efficient and disciplined. .... Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong ". That was of course swiftly refuted by the Singapore Embassy in Manila. " The Embassy has learned of a FB post mischievously alleging that the Prime Minister of Singapore endorses a presidential candidate for the upcoming presidential election in the Philippines. This is untrue. Singapore does not endorse any candidate." " The choice is for Filipinos alone to make. We wish the Philippines well in its conduct of its elections." Short, sharp and perfectly logical response to Duterte's nonsense. The original post had been taken down, and the Singapore government later said it would seek legal advise on the misleading post. Not only did he not apologise, the Duterte camp even labeled the incident as a " trivial matter " and suggested that Singapore was over reacting.

Facebook page of the Singapore Embassy in Manila

Still on Singapore, at a rally on 30th April, Duterte recalled how he protested the 1995 execution of a Filipino domestic worker Flor Contemplacion by Singapore for committing a double murder, killing a fellow Filipino worker and a 4 year old Singaporean boy. He mentioned the unwillingness of Singapore to budge on the execution order even when a pardon was sort by the then Filipino President Fidel Ramos. He claimed to have told someone at that time " Find me a flag of Singapore. Let's burn it. I told them, **** Singapore. ". He then went on to lead about a thousand Davao City employees to burn the Singapore flag in March 1995. A nation's flag represents its sovereignty and should never be dishonored in anyway by anyone. Burning another country's flag can be considered the greatest diplomatic taboo that should never have been allowed. Such disrespectful antics towards one's neighbor reflects poorly on the standing of the perpetrator can never have a good outcome. Instead of letting such serious incidents in the past be forgotten, this mother***king idiot actually brought it up and wore it on his chest as if it was the Medal of Honor! As usual, his spokesman subsequently kicked into damage control mode and said that his flag burning remarks were made only jokingly. Would you like to have a comedian as your Presidente? Yes Presidente, No Presidente, Ho Ho Ha Ha Ha you are soooo funny Mr. Presidente.

The face of a murderer.
All the Filipino websites that commemorated Flor Contemplacion,
including Migrante International from which the image was taken,
never ever mentioned about why she was sent to the gallows,
that she was convicted of murdering two persons
after a very thorough investigation by the Singapore Police
and a proper trial in the Singapore Courts.
Had a Singaporean committed a similar crime, the
judiciary system would have dished out the same punishment.

He also joked about the rape and murder of an Australian missionary during a hostage crisis by inmates of a Davao detention centre in 1989 which as the mayor he was involved as a civilian official in the negotiating team. " They raped all of the women … there was this Australian lay minister … when they took them out … I saw her face and I thought, Son of a bitch. What a pity… they raped her, they all lined up ... I was mad she was raped but she was so beautiful. I thought, the mayor should have been first ". His remarks were heavily criticized by both the Australian and the American ambassadors to the Philippines. Amanda Gorely ( Aus ) " Rape and murder should never be joked about or trivialized. Violence against women and girls is unacceptable anytime, anywhere.". Philip Goldberg ( US ) concurred with this " Statements by anyone, anywhere that either degrade women or trivialize issues so serious as rape or murder are not ones that we condone. " Instead of retracting his remarks and apologizing, he told the ambassadors to shut up. " It would do well with the American ambassador and the Australian ambassador to shut their mouths". "You’re not Filipinos. Shut up. Do not interfere because it’s election time".

US and Australian Special Operations Forces (SOF) fast rope out of a
MH-60 Seahawk as part of a helicopter assault training event during
exercise Balikatan 2016 at Puerto Princessa, Philippines.
 The US and Australia are the two staunchest allies of the Philippines. Photo : USN

He even dared the Americans and the Australians, two of the Philippine's closest allies, to sever diplomatic ties with his country once he is elected as president. " If I become the President, go ahead and sever it (diplomatic ties)". Some follow Filipino technocrats even consider Duterte a threat to national security as he had absolutely no insight as to the importance of alliances in his country's foreign dealings. They believed Duterte had undermined Aquino's six years of efforts nurturing ties with America and Australia and might be steering the Philippines into isolationism. As usual, he later blamed the media for asking leading questions that resulted in him being misquoted. " Who am I to sever ties? ". The answer to that question? You are a nobody, just a ***king turd.

His tough talking endeared him to nobody. He seems to have offended almost all the friends and allies of the Philippines with the exception of Mr Shinzo Abe, but I believe it is only a matter of time before this CB Mouth would utter something absurd to absolutely make the Japanese mad.

He was at odds with the religious community and accused the Catholic Church of being hypocritical, of influencing and meddling with politics, criticizing him and yet asking for favours from him. He also accused the priests of secretly fathering children and the bishops of corruption, alleging that they received luxury cars from sponsors and organisations. He threatened to reveal all their misdeeds. He even cursed Pope Francis and called him the son of a whore when he discovered that the traffic jam he encountered was caused by the Pope's visit to Manila, only to quickly apologise saying that he was unhappy with the Manila authorities and not the Pope.

On the maritime territorial dispute with China, he wanted to conduct direct talks with China, something which his predecessor was vehemently opposed to. That could potentially make his country's filings to Permanent Court of Arbitration look silly in view of the new developments. He also indicated that he would forego Philippine's claims on the Spratly Islands if Beijing builds him a high speed rail system like they did in Kenya and I believe he would not have hesitated to sell his own mother to the devil if it benefited him. He said openly that he wanted carry a Philippine flag and ride a jet ski to the Spratly Islands occupied by the Chinese, land, plant the flag and proclaim to the Chinese troops there that the territory belonged to him. Yeah, right. Let's see what a couple of 23mm slugs could do to a puny unarmoured pinoy jet ski and what effects they could have on the human body. Mr Duterte will literally have his mind blown away even before he could make a landing.

The Jet Ski® is a registered trade mark of Kawasaki.
The Jet Ski Ultra 310LX 2016 is depicted. Image : Kawasaki.

Other controversial issues raised by Mr Toodirty included the plans to bury the Philippine's late dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the Heroes' Cemetery in Manila which would only whitewash all the crimes committed against the state and the people of the Philippines. Already members of the Marcos family had been allowed not only to return to the country from exile but are making a comeback in politics with the wife Imelda elected a congresswoman and the son Ferdinand Marcos Jnr a senator, never mind the $10 billion stolen or the thousands killed or tortured. Such is the forgiving culture of the people of the Philippines, sometimes to the point of absurdity.

You Are On Your Own, Buddy!

That's the scariest phrase to hear when one is already up to the neck waddling in deep shit. Unfortunately, that's exactly the situation for the Philippines, who already lost huge tracks of oceans and numerous islands and outcrops to China, the most recent being Scarborough Shoals in 2012. Instead of mustering all the friends that can possibly lend a hand, the Philippines seems to be doing the opposite by alienating itself from its traditional supporters and actively burning bridges. Beginning from the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991 that almost completely destroyed Clark Air Base of the US Air Force and Subic Bay where the US Navy had a permanent base, the Filipino government made the strategic mistake of their lives by their failure to continue to allow US Forces to maintain a constant presence in the Philippines.

Naval Air Station Cubi Point ( left ) and Naval Station Subic Bay ( right ) in a
1990 photo. Wikipaedia

The might of the US Pacific Air Force : F-4E and F-4G Phantoms,
C-141 Starlifter and C-130 Hercules at Clark Air Base, 1989. Wikipaedia

The Kiwis were there too! Good old Douglas A-4Ks of the Royal New Zealand Air Force
at Clark Air Base during Ex Cope Thunder 84-7. Wikicommons

The large plinian eruption column of the stratovolcano Pinatubo
seen from Clark Air Base just 14km away on 12th Jun 1991.
 It reached an altitude of 19km. It was the first of a series of eruptions
that would climax on 15th June, sending pyroclastic flows
down the slopes of the volcano. US Geological Survey photo

Ashfall from the 15th Jun 1991 eruption cause the roof of this warehouse
to collapse at Clark Air Base. USAF Photo via Smithsonian Institution
National Museum of Natural History Global Volcanism Program website

Naval Air Station Cubi Point, Subic Bay 15th jun 1991 :
Heavy ashfall cause this World Airways McDonnell Douglas DC-10 to rest on its tail.
USGS photo via Wikipaedia 

Naval Station Subic Bay at Zambales 40km from Pinatubo is not spared
from the destructive ashfall either. Photo taken on 8th Jul 1991. Wikipaedia

Emboldened by the withdrawal of the USAF and USN, the Chinese progressively occupied more and more reefs in the Spratly Islands while the Philippine military could only watch in horror as they were too weak to resist the Chinese moves. In 1999, they were so desperate that the Philippine Navy deliberately grounded a WWII era County-class Landing Ship Tank, the BRP Sierra Madre at Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratlys and used the ship as a permanently garrisoned outpost. As of today, the rusting hull is still housing a small contingent of marines who had to receive their resupplies by airdrop of late due to the blockade by the Chinese Coast Guard. At the rate Duterte goes, the Philippines will soon find itself fighting China alone.

The Second Thomas Shoal ( right ) is just 30km east of
Mischief Reef ( upper left ) which is occupied by the Chinese.

A small speck at the northern rim of the reef is where the BRP Sierra Madre is grounded.
It is not too difficult to see the grounded LST in this magnified image.
The dilapidated LT-57 BRP Sierra Madre in its final resting place at Second Thomas Reef.
Her hull had rusted through after years of abandonment with waves lapping inside her cargo
 hold. She will probably never ever sail again.

The BRP Sierra Madre rusting away at Second Thomas Shoal. Photo : Japan Times

Aft view of the Sierra Madre. I wonder if the AA gun still works. Photo : Japan Times

More Foreign Military Aid?

Want Mr Turnbull's old AP-3C Orion maritime patrol planes after he receives his P-8A Poseidons this coming Christmas? More ex-USCG cutters as frigates? Free submarines dropping out of the heavens like Manna? Dream on Duturdee. Not when you keep offending your allies like you did and laugh it off as trivial matters. Why should anybody help the Philippines? Nobody owes the Philippines a living. If the Philippines Armed Forces needs modernization, you jolly well fund the whole venture yourself. After all, who was it that claimed he could wipe off crime and corruption in his country in 6 months? With corruption gone, and the economy doing so well, the coffers should be overflowing right? Now we are talking.

Not that I know what the Singapore government intends to do with the 2 retired Challenger-class boats RSS Challenger and RSS Centurion. If ever they were to be given away, they should go to some other more deserving countries, like Brunei or Taiwan. Both have maritime territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea. Both are important defense partners with Singapore, as they regularly host Singapore Armed Forces troops during their overseas military training exercises. Both deserve Singapore's gratitude. However, Brunei is probably rich enough to afford brand new submarines and may not be keen to receive hand outs. They threw away their Nakhoda Ragam corvettes without even commissioning them and then went on to order new ones, remember?

On the other hand, until the day they can successfully build their indigenous submarines, the Taiwanese Navy could very well make use of a couple of well maintained 50 year old submarines. Anything would be considerably safer than their seventy year old Hai Shih and Hai Pao. Heck, Singapore can do anything with the Challenger and the Centurion. Museum boat, mothball for future contingencies, sell them, cannibalize them, sink them or scrap them, anything .... . Just don't give 'em to that Son Of A Bitch Duterte.

Go **** yourself, you worthless piece of turd. And good luck with those jet skis.


  1. Singapore relationship with the Philippines have not recovered after the hanging of Flor Contemplacion for murder.
    Our RSAF stationed several Skyhawks at Clarke airbase during the 70s those years when Spore and Philppines
    enjoyed good relationship.
    Fast forward to present day, I doubt our Govt will donate or sell our decomm subs to the Philippines.
    Donating to Taiwan is a possibility as the country allowed SAF to train in Taiwan for decades.
    Not many people are aware, Taiwan stationed a small nbrs of their Airforce personnel in Spore in the 70s.

    1. Absolutely right. There was also the incident in 1979 when 3 A-4S on a training mission with the USAF at Clark Air Base crashed into a mountain killing 4 pilots / wso.
      Concur On the Taiwanese Air Force - One such person was LTC Fu Chun Hsien Hd Air Ops and Air Plans Dept, a distant relative. A photo of him in the RSAF 20th Ann coffee table book showed him in a slightly different uniform but did not mention about his country of origin but of course I knew.
      Thanks for sharing!

  2. The sweedes still have another 2 remaining vostergotlands that could be available (to be replaced by the a26) in a few years time.

    By the way, how much did ot cost singapore to buy its 2 vostergotlands?

    1. The 2 remaining Vastergotland-class SSK of the RSwN HMS Sodermanland and HMS Ostergotland had been upgraded in 2003 / 2004 with air independent propulsion and are now known as the Sodermanland subclass.
      Singapore bought the two older boats Vastergotland and Helsingland in 2005 for SEK 1 billion, then equivalent to USD 135 million. They were upgraded to Sodermanland-class standards and tropicalized. Maybe I would include this in the article.
      The 2 A26 will not be delivered until 2018 and 2019 earliest. By then the Sodermanland would have been commissioned for 30 years. Whether they would then be available for anyone is unknown. The Swedes might want to keep one or both as a gate guard or museum piece?

  3. It is doubtful the two retired challengers will be given to Starlight for the same reason they will not given to the pinoys

    1. Agreed. Existing trade ties with China is always an over-riding issue when dealing with countries that China don't favour.

  4. I love this son of a bitch! Cheers to the author! HAHA right in the spot! Well said!

  5. The only way the Philippines will ever have a Modern Military is if they GO to Russia and ASK Putin.

    1. You might be right! Putin has been trying hard to antagonize the US in every aspect and would only be too happy to oblige if Manila requested for assistance. But the Russian economy had been doing badly recently due to sanctions ( Crimea / Ukraine )and low oil prices, so don't expect too much charity. It will be done for a fee, but Russian arms are generally cheaper than their western counterparts. In doing so the Philippines might lose the long time support of the US though, something it may not be able to afford. Its Duterte's call.

    2. Why not because Putin can sell his gear to whoever as long as he's getting paid. On top of that Putin and Russia can also punish China for copycatting their gear. I believe Putin would be generous.

  6. Nah the Singapore Armed Forces dont really do charity they will just retire and sell it to scrap thats it. The only time they were generous was for the training in Thailand for f16A and B models