The Trilateral Sulu Sea Air Patrols and the Maritime Patrol Capabilities

Three notable Southeast Asian Nations kickstart an activity that aims to protect their porous borders from various eminent threats which include terrorism. And that means stepping up to the capabilities game which will redefine "interoperability".

Defense Ministers of three countries shake hands as the operation
starts. Source
With the primary purpose of strengthening border patrol and relations among these nations, air forces from Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines started the Trilateral Air Patrol Operations last October 12, 2017.

The Sulu Sea is notorious for piracy as well as the known transit of terrorists and smuggled goods which these things are a primary cause of concern as it affects trade and security in the area. 

Add to that the threat ISIS poses these days with the Marawi conflict serving as a reason that comes up to this undertaking as well as enhancing the regional ties among these neighbors where all of the parties will benefit in these operations. 

The air patrols in the area will be done by long-range patrol aircraft or any useful assets that are brought in to conduct the operations. In the case of the Philippines, it doesn't have any aircraft that is specifically designed to undertake this operation which may be done by the Defense Department's procurement of Long Range Patrol Aircrafts as part of the Armed Forces' modernization program.

With the lacking of specialized aircraft it needs to carry out for maritime patrol, the Philippine Air Force is opted to use other aircraft especially from the ones intended for transport (see PAF C-130 plane on the first photo) to conduct this operation away from its very purpose. And this goes with the necessity that the slow-moving project shall make up its pace a bit further.

Tentara Nasional Indonesia - Angkatan Udara (TNI-AU)
CN-235 Maritime Patrol Aircraft. Source: Jet Thrust Images.
Talking about maritime patrol capabilities, both Malaysia and Indonesia have such capabilities to conduct maritime patrol operations especially under this agreement which the Philippines is presently lacking where its LRPA procurement project will surely cover.

The Indonesians through their air force the Tentara Nasional Indonesia - Angkatan Udara (TNI-AU) obtains the CN-235 Maritime Patrol Aircraft which are considered as cousins of the Philippine Air Force C-295 Medium Lift Aircraft where this was produced under the partnership of Airbus Military and PT Digantara Indonesia.

The Indonesian patrol aircraft contains most of its sensors coming from Thales Airborne Systems especially the airborne maritime situation control system or AMASCOS which it includes the Ocean Master search radar produced by Thales and EADS Deutschland, the Elettronica ALR 733 radar warning receiver, the Chlio thermal imager developed by Thales Optronique, the Gemini navigation computer from Thales (formerly Sextant) Avionics and the AN/ASQ-508 magnetic anomaly detection (MAD) system from CAE. 

Add to that its capabilities to carry Harpoon or Exocet anti-ship missiles as well as two mk46 torpedoes in its three hardpoints under each wing (Air Force Technology). This capability alone shows how capable maritime patrol aircraft Indonesia obtains for operations like this agreed Trilateral Air Patrols.

Malaysia meanwhile like Indonesia also has aircraft specified for maritime operations. Add to that the programs to upgrade such capability that the Royal Malaysian Air Force, also known locally as Tentera Udara Diraja Malaysia (TUDM) presently obtains that are also opted for maritime patrol purposes. 

One of those aircraft is the Beechcraft Super King Air B200T Maritime Patrol Aircraft that is primarily opted for this job where the Philippines also obtain such aircraft in the form of Leased TC-90 (King Air) from Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF). Like the Indonesian MPAs, the Beechcraft B200T that RMAF obtains also contains sensors from Thales Airborne Systems which is the AMASCOS that makes it a better platform than its TC-90 counterparts that only contain Mk. 1 Mod 0 Eyeball as its only sensor.

This may be shown as an indirect challenge for the Philippines to improve its own capabilities wherein having one effective platform to conduct maritime patrol operations is ideal for the country to have where interoperability wise, nations effectively doing their part exchanging information and knowledge that will make this deal an ideal one. Add to that, all nations involved do seem to need C-130 planes just to cover up more areas of the sea than the aircraft being intended.

PC-3 Orions are once considered but were not push through in favor
of newer MPAs. Source
The Department of National Defense released both a Supplemental Bid Bulletin and Initial Technical Specifications dated July 24, 2014, specified as a guideline for the supplier to follow the first stage and the second stage of the bidding. These are for Long Range Patrol Aircraft Project for the Philippine Air Force to have.

Skipping to the present year, this program is plagued with problems that it made it stall that it affects the timelines that have made it much delayed as it is intended where if it was made on time, it may either be the planes getting delivered on its way or maybe already delivered to be on Trilateral Patrols which it may help PAF improved its capabilities and somehow, getting at par to its neighbors by having its own dedicated Maritime Patrol Aircraft.

Just so we know, the latest reports pertain to the bid opening that supposedly opens on September 22, 2017, and there are no updates after that. Apparently, the previous bid before this one was failed due to all suppliers getting disqualified or rather, not getting up to the standards that the bids and awards committee is looking for a Long Range Patrol Aircraft. 

This unfavorable series of events shows worries about the uncertain fate that may bring to this project that affects the capabilities Philippine Air Force may have that aids to the country in surveillance matters like this trilateral patrol. That being said, no updates may not mean that the project in itself is not moving. Rather, the planners may have found a way to resolve this problem that, it may take time but with the hopes that the procurement project will be successful this time.

With this project and several others getting in limbo, perhaps one may get a nice reflection as to how other countries succeed in their modernization program. In that case, China and its leverage over disputed territories at present do take place all thanks to the legacy of Admiral Wu Shengli that overlooks the growing strength of the People's Liberation Army, Navy, and Air Force. 

To take note, some forum starter in that linked reflection shares with our question about the duration of the AFP planners and program managers materializing their respective projects including the Long Range Patrol Aircraft project. This is something to worth ponder upon as the community waits for updates.

One may consider the trilateral exercises to be an indirect challenge for the Armed Forces to further improve the capabilities of the beloved organization whose mandate is to defend the nation, its sovereignty, and national interest. And speaking of capabilities, this is some sort of motivation for the project planners to make the procurement successful in due time upon their efforts.

An artist rendition of SC-130 Maritime Patrol Aircraft.
The Philippines will have Palletized ISR kits for its C-130 planes.
Photo Source
There are other projects aside from the Long Range Patrol Aircraft project that also aims to enhance Maritime Patrol capabilities as the country badly needs it to patrol its waters from above as well as enhancing its mandate.

The United States is providing the Philippine Air Force the Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) palletized ISR kit that can be installed on a C-130 which is the mainstay of the air force's transport fleet. 

This kits, known in the linked Lockheed Martin Presentation as roll-on roll-off Maritime Aircraft will give the transport-oriented C-130s the sensors or the eyes it needs for such kind of maritime operations. Its capabilities are based on the P-3 investment which is primarily on Anti-surface warfare that primarily focuses on surface assets like terrorist fast-crafts. Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin also has another platform still based on C-130 but with capabilities against submarines. 

That is, the SC-130J Sea Hercules. With regards to what the Philippine Air Force soon have, the palletized ISR kits for C-130s are a welcome addition for the armed forces to have which it can be fitted on the existing platforms available in the inventory rather than acquiring SC-130J Sea Hercules which there are no plans on acquiring it considering that the practicality for buying newer platforms go to the winning LRPA bidder presuming that they qualified the standards set by the bidding committee.

The kits are a big help to cope with the shortcomings for PAF's maritime patrol capabilities while the LRPA project is still being materialized.

These things are in the hopes that such capabilities may help the authorities effectively patrol the territorial waters especially the disputed West Philippine Sea and the porous Southern Border so that in an event of an incursion taking place in the area, the planners may have the sufficient intelligence and reaction time to their advantage which that may help them came up in a decision clearly.

Such capabilities may help the Philippines later on to be a more effective trilateral partner than it is at present where interoperability among the nations participating will be more significant where each nation's armed forces effectively share their respective capabilities, information and coordination that, if done together will further attain their primary objective like in this case, patrolling the borders of imminent threats like terrorism.

A maritime patrol aircraft with more sensors is something
The Philippines need by the due time.
The Trilateral Sulu Sea Air Patrols are a welcoming deal made by Indonesia, Philippines, and Malaysia where it will definitely solve the problem that affects these nations made especially on the terrorism threatening to gain influence and territory which it may prevent by foiling it at seas.

The patrols will help these nations further coordinate as well as to enhance the relations between these nations as these actions coincide better opportunities for business growth, better security and improving trade and exchange of cultures considering that Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines are part of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations or ASEAN. 

By that matter, as in the case of the Philippines, such coordination and the opportunities it coincides require an effort that includes enhancing the capabilities of its Armed Forces especially the Air Force to work on their mandate like this one that involves maritime patrol missions. 

Good enough, the C-130s that PAF presently have will soon obtain the palletized ISR kits from the United States that are helpful to conduct missions where such kits give transport-oriented C-130s the eyes it needs so that it can clearly detect any threats whenever it sees one. Add to that the LRPA project where, despite the lack of updates, still goes the hope that a bidder complying with the requirements will bag the project and wholeheartedly fulfilling it for the best of capabilities needed for maritime patrol.

With this, it goes with the hopes that security in the southern border will be better than ever that threats will be foiled in due time. And with that comes the hopes that the Philippines will have the capabilities it needs for better maritime patrol operations that its southern neighbors have. These things go the eventuality for a peaceful life with numerous opportunities coming along the way as this may further enhance trade that is for the benefit of all.

1 comment:

Pitz Orpiano said...

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