The 48th anniversary of the 250th Presidential Airlift Wing, on the 13th of September, 2016, gave President Duterte’s critics yet another treasure-trove of “Duterteisms” that have since become fodder for punditry on defense social media and even generated international interest in Philippine foreign policy. In this latest episode, Duterte stated, among other controversial assertions, his openness towards equipment AFP equipment from China and Russia.
While its worth noting that in a separate speech in Cebu, President Duterte also mentioned interest in sourcing equipment from Israel, indicating a policy of broadened equipment sourcing beyond traditional sources, critics — and numerous media articles — focused on the “China” aspect of the discussion.
The prospect of Chinese weapons complicating the AFP’s logistics picture with equipment that are incompatible with the existing Western-oriented support infrastructure is cause for legitimate concern. Should Sino-PH tension escalate, Chinese equipment could very well be subjected to a spare-parts embargo. Other than being part of an “unconventional warfare” operation, use of a potential opponent’s weapons also introduces operational security (OPSEC) risks because the opposing force knows as much about weapon’s capabilities as the user — if not more so.
These risks however, arguably, are not lost upon AFP planners, and the chain of command. Sourcing equipment from China is not, in fact, new and have hitherto been restricted to non-kinetic equipment. It is actually very likely that all we will see will simply be more of the same.
The following Philippine Star article from May 27, 2007 relates one instance where the PRC offered assistance to the AFP:
DND seeks more military aid from China
Updated May 29, 2007 – 12:00am
The Department of National Defense (DND) has called for sustained defense and training exchanges with China, including military aid, following a security cooperation dialogue between the two countries last week.
Defense Undersecretary Antonio Santos relayed this message to Lt. Gen. Zhang Qinsheng, deputy chief of staff of the People’s Liberation Army, who led the Chinese delegation to the 3rd Annual RP-China security cooperation conference at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City Friday.
. . .
On top of allowing Filipino troops to undergo military schooling in Beijing, the Chinese government donated heavy military engineering and medical equipment to the Armed Forces of the Philippines last year. – Jaime Laude
An Inquirer.net article on the same story presented the following photograph of the donation of PY165H graders and unidentified bulldozers.
Since then, these Chinese donated engineering equipment have been seen in the colors of all AFP services. Photographs are care of various Timawans.
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Exactly what Chinese equipment Duterte is prepared to acquire for the AFP is unclear. What is certain, however, is that the potential equipment that can be had from China is as broad as its manufacturing base. Such equipment need not even be military in nature.