Is Congress turning back the Capability Upgrade Program (CUP) clock?

Thursday , 8, December 2011 Leave a comment

The Capability Upgrade Program is a priority component of the Philippine Defense Reform (PDR) that sought to re-prioritize the AFP modernization program . It consists of three six-year phases designed to bring the AFP to a condition where it could be modernized, before it actually pours funds into modernization.

Phase 1: Back to basics This phase sought to apply the sum of P5 billion per year, for a total of P30 billion, to upgrade the AFP’s Internal Security Operations (ISO) capabilities in the following key areas:

  • Mobility
  • Firepower
  • Communication
  • Force protection
  • Combat life support for individual units

Understandably, ground troops benefited the most from this phase, thus giving the lion’s share of funding to the Philippine Army and Philippine Marines. The Philippine Air Force and Philippine Navy also received funding, but primarily for acquisitions that improved their ability to support land forces.

Phase 2: Transition from basic capabilities to first-level modernization This phase sought to invest P10 billion a year, for a total of P60 billion over six years, to begin meeting basic requirements for external security threats. This phase would have focused on the needs of the Philippine Air Force and the Philippine Navy.
Phase 3: Beginning of real modernization This final six-year phase sought to apply P20B per year to complete the AFP’s goals for its 18-year capability planning horizon.

According to the AFP Modernization report of 2008, Phase 1 started in 2005. Among the highlights of the phase were:

  • Mobility
    • 1/4 ton KM-450 trucks
    • KM-250 trucks (6×6)
    • ACV-300 and ARV armored vehicles
    • Refurbishment of F-27 transport aircraft
    • UH-1 light transport helicopters
    • SF-260 trainer aircraft
    • Multi-Purpose Assault Craft (MPAC)
  • Firepower
    • Squad Automatic Weapons: M249 (Belgium) and K-3 (South Korea)
    • Night-fighting systems (PA, PMC)
    • Jacinto Class Patrol vessel upgrades (Phases 1, 2, & 3)
    • PKM patrol gun boat acquisition and upgrade (South Korea)
  • Communication
    • Harris digital radios
    • Base communications network
    • GPS units for infantry units
  • Force protection
    • PASGT-type Kevlar helmets
    • Level 3 body armor
  • Combat life support for individual units
    • Medical equipment for AFP hospitals

A more comprehensive list is available on the forum here.

The primacy that ground forces enjoyed is readily apparent. While the Philippine Navy and Air Force also received their share of funds, the projects prioritized were assets that supported ground forces. The Navy’s acquisitions since enactment of the Modernization Law consisted of logistical support vessels and patrol craft optimized for littoral operations. The Philippine Air Force became, for the most part, a transport helicopter force, as air defense considerations were set aside with the retirement of its last F-5A fighters in 2005.

While some critics labelled the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) the weakest military force in Asia. Other, more astute defense observers, called it “the most COIN-specialized force in Asia”.

By the turn of the second decade of the 21st century, things were looking up. By 2011, the programmed end of the ISO phase, all CUP Phase 1 acquisitions were complete. Thus the AFP was poised to begin the transition to Phase 2, and develop capabilities that could be applied to external defense concerns such as the Kalayaan Island Group. The Philippine Navy and Philippine Air Force were to get their due.

The legislature, however, appears to be oblivious to the the progress already made since 2005. The two most comprehensive AFP Modernization bills currently pending in Congress, the Enrile (SB 2093) and Lacson (SB 2938) bills, are both adamant that ISO remain the principal focus of the AFP Modernization program. The Lacson bill even seeks to return the program to how it was in Phase 1 of the CUP, by requiring that:

“. . . the first five (5) years of the implementation of the program shall be substantially focused and directed initially towards addressing the internal security threats of the country . . .”

The Enrile bill inserted the following into the law’s objectives:

“To develop its capability to detect, prevent, neutralize and repel internal threats against the Filipino people, the government and its institutions.”

Do our political leaders really want to put off preparations for external defense for another half-decade . . . or more?

To comment on this essay, see the following Timawa forum discussion.