Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the Philippines would be dragged into the rising tension between the United States and China in the South China Sea if a shooting war would break out between them.
In his speech during a forum of the Stratbase ADR Institute, Lorenzana stressed that the escalating tension between the two superpowers “has occupied the interest and time of the security agencies in the region.”
“This then is the crux of the security challenge in the Indo-Pacific region, the looming confrontation of the US and its allies and China over the South China Sea,” Lorenzana said.
Meanwhile, the Philippine Navy’s capability to do various missions at sea will be greatly enhanced by the advanced fixed-wing unmanned aerial system provided by the United States, naval officials said.
“Whatever missions that we are capable of before, with this system it will expand the coverage of all these missions whether it is for internal security operations, for territorial defense, for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief or even just for maritime law enforcement operations, it will expand it by more than five times,” Navy chief, Vice Adm. Giovanni Carlo Bacordo said in an interview after the turnover ceremony of eight ScanEagle air vehicles, two launchers, skyhook and ground control station at Naval Base Heracleo Alano, Sangley Point, Cavite Wednesday.
Lorenzana said: “While the US and China continue to assert that their actions are defensive, the danger of miscalculation is ever present like the near collision of two frigates belonging to the US and China two years ago,” he added. He added “The recent decision of the Chinese government to arm their coast guard vessels patrolling the South China Sea has upped the ante even more, and if a shooting war happens, the Philippines, which is right smack in the middle of the conflict, will be involved whether [the country] likes it or not.”
Lorenzana said he had obtained personal calls as well as visits from other defense ministers, showing that the recent developments in the South China Sea was important to other nations.
He noted that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) could “exert considerable influence on issues and events in the South China Sea if only it could act as one.”
Earlier, the ASEAN said it would remain independent and would not allow the United States and China to drag it into their power struggle.
The Philippine government, for its part, said it would remain neutral amid the rising tension between the two countries.
China claims nearly the entire resource-rich South China Sea, but Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam each claim parts of it.
Despite the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands, which delivered a sweeping victory to the Philippines for its case against China, Beijing continue to push for its massive and “historical claims” over the area.
The ScanEagle and its associated equipment, worth $14.79 million, were acquired through the Maritime Security Initiative Program of the United States.
It was requested by the PN in 2017 and was formalized in February 2019, after a series of dialogues with the Philippines’ Joint US Military Assistance Group (JUSMAG-Phil).
With the ScanEagle now in the PN inventory, Bacordo said the Navy now had another option other than its helicopters and radar systems to expand the coverage of its patrols.
“In the area of territorial defense, it will expand our horizon, let’s say if one ship can patrol a certain area in 24 hours, with this system we can cover that same area maybe in just about four hours instead of the usual 24 hours patrols,” he added.
Bacordo also said the ScanEagle could also be used in rapid damage assessment if needed in times of calamities or typhoons.
“With this system we can have this airborne already and have the rapid damage and needs analysis so that our HADR responders can already proceed to the areas where they are most needed,” he added.
Bacordo said data from the ScanEagle are as reliable as those taken from existing PN electro-optical systems or even their radars or surveillance by helicopter or fixed-wing aircraft.
“It’s the same because what it sees in near real-time is what the operator can see in their control stations,” he added.
The turnover event for the ScanEagle UAS was graced by Armed Forces of the Philippines deputy chief-of-staff Vice Admiral Erick Kagaoan, who represented Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana as guest-of-honor and speaker and Philippine Fleet commander Rear Admiral Loumer Bernabe.
Acting Deputy Chief of Mission Kimberly Kelly and representatives from the US embassy turned over the ScanEagle UAS to the PN which will be used by the recently activated squadron under the Philippine Fleet’s Naval Air Wing, the Maritime Unmanned Aerial Reconnaissance Squadron (MUARS-71).
“Transferring the ScanEagle system for operation by the Maritime Unmanned Aerial Reconnaissance Squadron represents the steadfast commitment by the United States to our partners in the Armed Forces of the Philippines,” she added.
Lorenzana’s message, read by Kagaoan, said “these new assets will complement the same kind being operated by the 300th Air Intelligence and Security Wing at the Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan, which is very close to the disputed areas in the West Philippine Sea that needs our consistent attention.”
The ScanEagle UAS is a product of Insitu Inc., a subsidiary of the Boeing company.
It is a small, long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle primarily can be used for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions since it provides near real-time coverage and can be launched from both land and aboard PN capital ships.