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The Spotted Chinese Tracking Ship and the PH-CN Pragmatic Relations

Since the tribunal decision in 2016 where the present government decided to set-aside for goodwill, pragmatic and "Charmy" relationships with China, the frequency of this naval ship visit becomes rampant as it defines the current, closer ties which cause sentiment to several citizens of this country given the conflicting issues between the two. This is in the light of the intensified issues that are taking place over the contested territories that both sides claim for their respective sovereign integrity.

A Yuan Wang-class Tracking Ship spotted in Davao's Sasa Wharf
Just recently, A Chinese Naval Tracking Ship was spotted in Sasa Wharf (see above photo) clearly seen among passengers onboard a RoRo vessel especially the ones that have vacation-related itineraries in the nearby island of Samal (which in itself obtains a number of breath-taking and worth-taking spots).

This is the newest among the ships visiting such particular port since the change of stance in dealing against China last 2016 when the new administration seats in and the hallmark of the arbitral tribunal deciding against Chinese claims on the contested swathe of water which is also claimed by the Philippines. 

Let us take note that recently, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Manila for a two-day state visit which was seen by the administration and supporters alike as a productive visit intended to fuel the investment on the local economy in terms of infrastructure projects and joint cooperation through the number of agreements signed by both parties. 

While things are as appealing and as hopeful as it can be for the country's growth and development, the sense of sentiment and disappointment also comes out among several citizens where arguments range from the country being a sell-off before the Chinese to a view that is seen as treasonous which is a no-no for national sovereignty. Furthermore, let us take note that recently, a news crew of GMA 7 was shooed by Chinese Coast Guard in the vicinity of Panatag Shoal which is still considered within the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone or EEZ.

So, let us simply discuss the details about the ship that has docked in Davao as well as additional information that comes correlated with a couple of events that perpetrated in the country in relation to the disputed, contested waters with China.

The larger view of Sasa Wharf, with the Chinese ship, docked on
the left side of the image.
The Chinese ship spotted in Sasa Wharf just recently refers to the Yuan Wang-class tracking vessel (远望 in Chinese) which means "Long View". According to this entry from GlobalSecurity, Such a vessel is intended for roles ranging from tracking Intercontinental and submarine-launched Ballistic Missiles down to satellite communication and data-related roles.

So as to its docking up in Davao City, it is done to the usual docking procedures which other ships also observe. The ship shown above is the Yuan Wang 3 tracking ship in which its area of assignment is in the Pacific Ocean. This is not the first time for the ship to dock in the Sasa Wharf, where the ship at several points in time already did the same prior to this latest spotting. 

One dates back July this year where it also finds itself docked in the area. Another, such as this one pertaining to the sister ship Yuan Wang 7, also docked in the area last August for re-provisioning and refueling prior to deployment on its intended assignment. There is another one for the Yuan Wang 7 last September. This makes their deployment in the area much as routinary where various Chinese crew may have an idea so as to the whereabouts of the City given that they may have the time visiting it. 

Moreover, this kind of norm goes as usual to the locals given that the ship is simply docked there in a way US Navy ships docked in Subic Bay which makes one wonder about this wonderful display of playing soft power in this country that is considered strategic regardless to what point of view or whether one sticks to the Chinese side or the US and its Allies side.

These Chinese ships are in Davao, where they made the City as a stopping point for their ships as lengthy voyage requires provisioning and fuel for the crew and the ship itself to operate according to their respective duties and responsibilities as intended. While such moves are seen as benign to this standpoint, just being a Chinese ship makes it uneasy for some of the citizens with the contested waters simply being a justification for it.

Presidents Xi Jinping and Rodrigo Duterte Forged a deal - which actually seems
like China abides by Philippine jurisdiction.
Photo from
South China Morning Post [Link to the Article Here]

Pitz Defense Analysis Note: The following note is simply a point of view created with regards to the relations between two Far Eastern Nations. Inputs are provided by the author with respect to the facts raised.

While the forged deals are being seen with the utmost suspicion that it may get to the disadvantage of the country and its national interests, there is the other side of the coin that definitely speaking provides the insight of what it seems to be idealistic to the interest of the Philippines as a nation.

In a statement made by Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio just recently that one of the deals between the Philippines and China which is about the joint exploration of the waters in the West Philippine Sea obtains provisions in the Memorandum of Agreement of the deal that may be seen as compliance or recognition to the Sovereign Rights of the Philippines over the overwhelmingly-disputed waters where some of which is under control of China through its Armed Forces. 

While such point sees as a nice breakthrough for both sides for an agreement, it is worthy to understand that there is a bit of bleakness on this point of view given that China still controls several of the features like Panatag Shoal in the West Philippine Sea as well as having those Artificial islands that still poses the threat not only to the Philippines but as well to other claimants in the area such as Vietnam, Brunei, and Malaysia.

To understand further the points with regards to the diplomatic play in the area, it is worthy to understand the two sides of the coin. On one side, there is the Philippines, antagonizing China wholeheartedly which was done by the previous administration in a way that it triggers a couple of disadvantageous position to the country starting with Panatag Shoal down to the Artificial Islands in which they solidify the claim to these features situated in the West Philippine Sea - in which this is while waiting to the decision that the arbitral tribunal will make to the contested features of the sea. On the other side comes the present stance of the country -- the decision in favor to the Philippines being set aside (while being used as an ace card later on), forging a better tie with a nation that is perceived as an adversary like China and engage in economic trade that most likely benefiting both sides and forging deals that seems advantageous and compliant to the national interest and sovereign rights flowing through the adage of keeping friends like the traditional ally such as the United States close and adversaries closer. 

To take some note, this economic trade with China as perceived shows suspicion especially in the way debt or liability is being dealt with other nations in which the present administration sees to have consideration in it. In addition, the implying influence made by South Korea, Japan, and the ASEAN also plays the role for this kind of geopolitical approach, reflecting the growth and development of the services prevailing in the society in various ways ranging from meetings to donations of service and equipment as well as the number of naval visits and forging agreements which is to each its own.

Given the impression, there is the perception of openness as well as a pervasive plan to improve the country and its defense given that the Horizon 2 projects being on its way. While it may get commendable to have these respective projects approved and up for the taking, this will not satisfy nor prosper the minds of several citizens that have already shown discontent or disappointment to what the administration is doing like the "appeasement" that's being done to the enemy. Hence, their actions need a clear understanding so as any misinterpretations will be prevented. 

The situation of keeping a good relationship with a bully while fighting on the country's vested interest is a delicate measure that the government keeps on, where the perception of providing provocative moves means conflict. That is not necessarily the case, where a simple presence of a vessel in an area simply show that the country is standing on its claims, in a way that the intentions aren't for a full-scale conflict. A simple kind of deterrence it is while keeping tensions at bay. 

A war nor appeasement is the ideal key for the resolution of this situation but rather, by sending a strong and clear message to show the stance as well as getting in the negotiations table with the leverage such as the arbitral tribunal decision in place. This is to get the upper hand on the situation in line to the national interest of the country while giving importance of diplomacy in a way that tensions are kept at bay.

A Chinese Coast Guard Vessel spotted which are the ones patrolling
the Scarborough or Panatag Shoal. 
Photo Courtesy of the Philippine Star.

The situation in Panatag Shoal isn't changed since the last time the Chinese deployed their Coast Guard vessels in the area. They keep on shooing away fishermen whose living relies on that very fishing ground that China claims as part of what they call "integral territory". The latest incident in the area involves a Philippine media crew gathering some scoop for a documentary.

Just recently, the media crew for GMA's show Reporter's Notebook visited the area and see the situation up close where they encounter a Chinese Coast Guard Vessel that is in pursuit to their position. From there, the crew of the Chinese Vessel hesitates for an interview given that the Philippine Media Crew didn't obtain permission from China to hold such activity, especially on this part of the sea which they considered as theirs.

To see this feels like a realistic devastation on the part of the country that some other powerful nation which is China, implement its control over a feature that is the Panatag or Scarborough Shoal where it is within the 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone of the Philippines. 

While there is the fact that the country is weak when facing the Chinese which obtains the firepower to project their force in the region, this does not mean that things will simply stand down and admit that it is finally theirs where it is equated to the country is on the losing end despite being awarded by the arbitral tribunal that makes the Chinese Claim for the most of South China Sea null and void. 

Nevertheless, despite these bit disappointing things, countries such as the United States as well as its allies like Japan and the United Kingdom conducted their respective their own respective Freedom of Navigation patrols as well as a couple of naval exercise in the contested area as a sign of discontent and protest against the Chinese incursions in a way that they defy the provocative moves that the Chinese made in which may harm not only the claims of other claimants in the area, but also the maritime trade route itself given that the South China Sea or the West Philippine Sea serves as such where a number of goods and commodities pass the area that helps economies sustain and progress for the better.

So, the Philippines, despite the discontent from some of the citizens over the pragmatic relations with a country which have the conflict of interest issues over contested claims still obtains indirect support from forces like the United States and other allies in a way that countering Chinese influence in the region is something for them to have. 
That is, provided that China at the present date is modernizing its Armed Forces to the full - From its Army down to its Navy, Air Force as well as its Coast Guard that pose a threat to the primary U.S. Dominance in the Asia-Pacific Theatre of operations. 

With these series of situations and the order of positions that each country's governments obtain at present, time may only tell with regards to any changes of stance wherein the local Philippine context, may define with regards to the results of the foreign policy that it employs at present as well as what it will be to the defense of the country whether the Armed Forces' Modernization Goals may attain or not. Such things remain to be seen, on a certain time later on.

The ship somewhat symbolizes the renewed relations between
the Philippines and China, which leaves a bad taste in
the events pertaining to the disputed sea issues.
The deployment of these ships that tracks ICBMs and SLBMs by China makes it at par with other countries that obtain such technology such as the United States and Russia. Such docking of such ship like the Yuan Wang-class tracking vessels somewhat gives the impression, the unofficial symbol of warming-up relations of both countries in the light of high tensions over the contested sea just off the coast of Palawan.

With a number of events unraveled with regards to the relations of two nations especially in line with the very essence of sovereignty and national defense, it might be nice to contemplate and understand it down to the depth wherein parameters are measured and considered so as the dedication of both sides to abide by the agreements as well as the potential risk and rewards on every move between both parties in a way that it is done both militarily, economically, diplomatically and in some cases, politically. The country can still stand for its national interest while keeping pragmatic relationships on hand.

To end this article, let us take this note for everyone to understand: It is nice and appropriate that as one nation, let us unite together with the government to push its goals for the development of each and everyone. Moreover, it is nicer to point out improvements or vent out sentiments about the necessity to improve the country provided that suggestions or criticisms are constructive in nature. In these things will find the nation grow, progress and integral to its very sovereignty.

The History and Resurgence of the Philippine Army's Mechanized Division

The Armed Forces, especially the Army ideally obtain mechanized divisions that come in aid with its foot infantry, especially for protection, deployment and fire support. With the recent news made by the administration for this year, this division within the Army will soon obtain its fair share of enhancements and improvements which come along the way as part of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Modernization Program.

M-113s were installed with Elbit-manufactured RCWS. Credits to
the late Mr. John Chua.
Last September 20, the Philippine Army Mechanized Infantry Division celebrated its 12th Activation Anniversary together with the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte.

In the speech provided, the president commended the division in its contribution to protecting the country and its citizenry as part of its mandate where peace and development are re-emphasized along with the improvement of communities especially in areas ravaged in conflicts such as the 2013 Zamboanga Siege and the 2017 Marawi Conflict. Not also to mention that this mechanized division plays a key role on the number of skirmishes against insurgents especially the ones situated in Mindanao where it further shows the significance of their role as well as the necessity for this division within the Philippine Army to have them provided with support and tools to get their job done. That's where the President announces that they will be provided with projects, apparently, acquisition-related ones, where 5 separate procurement programs will be materialized with the overall contract price worth Php 13 Billion overall. Given the threats in Mindanao as well as those of the communists who attempt to hamper eventual peace and development in this country, the necessity to gather resources to obtain these enhanced and better-armored vehicles are in a place where the capability of Government Troops improves in a way that they will get more of the upper hand in dealing with these vicious threats that endanger the country and its citizenry.

The statement made by the President is a nice continuation of this wonderful story of the Mechanized Infantry Division where, there are multiple cavalry divisions already incepted in the history of the Philippine Armed Forces with the hopes, dreams, and aspirations that newer assets, as well as doctrine and support on spares, facilities, and personnel, helps enhance further this capability that provides the fighting capability for the boots on the ground especially against bad elements that pose threat on the peace and security in the country.

A Philippine Army M-41 Walker Bulldog Tank. Obtained from
Philippine Defense Forces Forum - Tapatalk.
The history of Armored/Cavalry Divisions in the Philippines comes down deep in a century, starting from revolutionary Filipinos fighting colonial powers such as Spain and eventually, United States. To be specific, the roots can be traced back to 1896. Perhaps the rest about the history can be explained in this RTVM Video which we shared on our Facebook Page.

The first tank that the Philippine Army operates dates back to the Commonwealth period where the then Horse-based Cavalry received the Renault FT Tank (FT-7T as depicted in the video) where this was considered as the first tank (a light tank to be precise) that possess such revolutionary design of that time where aside from the Commonwealth of the Philippines, it was in service across the number of armies of the world at that time from the United States, United Kingdom, and France which is its home of origin as well as eventual Fascist countries of the Second World War such as Nazi Germany, Japan, and Italy and Communist Countries like the Soviet Union. More sophisticated armor come eventually as the Second World War comes to a close with countries such as the United States liberated the country and started rehabilitation for the nation to recover from the shambles of battle with the reorganization of the Armed Forces in a newly-independent republic. That enhancement started with the World War 2-era M-4 Sherman tanks that played the role in the country's liberation from the Japanese rule which was in service across allied countries at that time and then the M-41 Walker Bulldog Tank where both of these platforms comprises the post-war Philippine Armored Division. 

These light tanks comprise of what was once the firepower support vehicles that the Philippine Army obtains in a sense that these platforms help provide the troops necessary support at that time where it provides the benchmark of what the present Armed Forces assess on what it means to purchase a light and medium tanks as well as improving firepower on its existing armored vehicles in the aims to obtain better ground support for the troops on the ground and to deliver their mandate as prescribed by law.

FV101 Scorpion Light Tank of the Philippine Army. Courtesy to DRP Mother Forum.
As of date, the Philippine Army already obtains several Armored Personnel Carriers with some already enhanced with firepower needed to be classified as Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFVs) or in the Philippine Context, they are called as Fire Support Vehicles (FSV)s. 

The depicted photo above is the FV101 Scorpion Light Tank of the Philippine Army. Reports as far as 2011 reported that there are 12 aging units where at that time was prompted for upgrades. Moreover, as far as deployment is concerned, these tanks last saw action in Zamboanga Siege where this photo obtained from DefensePH was shown. Nevertheless, some of this tank's components such as the turret found its way to the M-113 Fire Support Vehicles which are in active service in the Army.

The M-113 Armored Personnel Carriers and Fire Support Vehicles comprises the bulk of the mechanized fleet of the Philippine Army at present along with the GKN Simba FSVs and V-150 Cadillac Cage Commando Armored Vehicles forming the rest of the units in the inventory. With regards to the M-113 Armored Personnel Carriers, the Philippine Army obtains several units at present with several having its firepower upgraded with plans taking place to purchase more upgraded units of this type for future use. The performance of these upgraded M-113s especially the ones fitted with Elbit's RCWS or Remote-controlled weapons system proves its worth in Marawi as it sought action and use as proven from this video by VJ Norz in its YouTube Channel on its disembarkment from a Tarlac-Class Landing Platform Dock in Iligan City. Hence, this is a nice addition on its usefulness where more of such assets provides the sense of support the Army presently needs where, the realizations made by recent damage inflicted by terrorism increases the willingness of the Government to supplant the needs of the Army along with other branches, in a way that this further improves the delivery of their mandate as well as to make the country and its citizens more secured that less violence allows for peace and development sustain its growth further that benefits all citizens.

However, the caliber provided by these newest, sophisticated assets in some sense may still not suffice the needs especially if it is put against thicker structures and heavy fortifications posed by urban warfare which makes the recently-finished Marawi Siege as the fiercest one to fight on by troops on the ground. This puts the necessity of having more armored vehicles with more firepower punch as well as decent armor in which may provide better support for the troops to blast out well-fortified opposition forces (OPFOR) in complementary with other battlefield weapons ranging from area-saturating artillery to precision-bombing ground attack aircraft which includes light attack helicopters (AW-109), Close Air Support Aircraft (OV-10) and Lead-in Fighter Trainer jets (FA-50PH).

So this arises the proposal of obtaining light and medium tanks for the Philippine Army in which, the very detail of its project is still in the making with additional information awaits for disclosure. Many candidates will come up with this project, but it is nice to say that it is early to say any finality concerning it.

The Joint Turkey-Indonesian Project for a Medium Tank known as
Kaplan, or as what the Indonesians call it, "Harimaw Hitam".
With the Revised AFP Modernization Program on the run especially with Horizon 2 projects already obtains respective budgets allocated to it, it might be nice to know the projects that come at hand for the Philippine Army especially to its Mechanized Division.

The modernization process is already exhibited by the M-113s as discussed in this article where it provides significant results that prompt key decision-makers to purchase more of such type with several of such upgrades pr conversions now include mortars installed onboard these Armored Personnel Carriers that emphasizes both mobility and firepower which in itself is a big plus on the capabilities of the Government troops. 

Without digging into the details, this article made by MaxDefense Philippines simply detailed it all about the mechanized division's "future plans". To sum the details of the article, the Army is looking for Tank Destroyers, wheeled Armored Personnel Carriers in replacement to the GKN Simba, Bravia Chamites and V-150 APCs in service with the Philippine Army as well as Light and Medium Tanks that this military branch aspires to have in its inventory. The materialization of these respective projects will definitely overhaul the mechanized division for the better to have better management of the situation especially of the recent difficulties faced in urban conflicts such as the one in Marawi last year. 

As for the Medium Tank category, one of the notable candidates that sees preferability among the members of the defense community is the Joint FNSS-PT Pindad project for a Medium Tank known as the Kaplan MT (shown on the photo above) or "Harimau Hitam" in Indonesian which means "Black Tiger". It is perceived to be the preferable one given the geographical setup and climate that both the Philippines and Indonesia shared provides the background or benchmark that the Army looks for a tank as well as other factors like logistics. Of course, this does not dismiss other candidates which they may stand a chance if evaluation confirms on their favor. 

The Kaplan MT or Harimau Hitam as per posting is still not in active service, although reports from Indonesian press says that Pindad, one of the company under the joint venture conducted some firing test for this new medium tank that may see service later in countries like Indonesia and Turkey. Nonetheless, it is still violable at present under the procurement law to obtain prototypes such as the Kaplan, perhaps this armored vehicle may get qualified once in service on the countries where it was developed. As detailed in that defense article, there are many options for the Philippine Army to choose. 

It's only on the matter of technical assessments of the Technical Working Group plus the budgetary assessments of the Bids and Awards Committee through the Requests for Quotation (that will define the contract price) that will determine which among the participants have the best offer for the buck if it is through bidding while having the best terms on negotiations if done under direct G2G or Government-to-Government deal.

The future is bright for the Philippine Army's Mechanized Division as seen that many project plans are laid ahead for it where it awaits to materialize with respective parties have the ball starts rolling for the procurement process that will overhaul and modernize the capabilities of the division for a new high. With the length of time for the implementation of the Modernization Program especially the Transformation Roadmap of the Army from the present thru 2028, there are still many things that may change depending on various conditions such as the economic performance and developments on the technology employed by the number of vendors.

Some of the Armored Personnel Carriers sought action in
Zamboanga Siege as shown above. It plays a key role
in the City's security against the Separatist Forces.
The mechanized division of the Philippine Army, as well as its pre and post-war predecessors, share their colorful experiences with each personnel and crew involved have a story to tell along with the respective assets they utilize. 

As it with its past, the mechanized division faces a more, daunting challenge as the mechanics of warfare changes on with the trend leaning more on dealing with radical terrorists as well as the ever-continuing strife of respective "rebel bandits" which is a threat to the society and the development of the country as a whole. 

This arises for the need to further improving its present capabilities in the aims of having better support and an upper hand in dealing with threats based on the lessons learned on battles such as the one in Marawi City. 

With respective plans and projects set in their respective timeline with their allocated project and the evaluations and quotations still in the discussions of the key decision-makers, there are still many changes that may take place wherein there will be additions or reduction on the project line-up to attain the best capabilities package that tax money can pay at a price written in the contract as well as in line to the technical specification that the Army needs.

Hence, it goes with the hopes and dreams that the government, this administration shows the importance of the role of the Army especially those of the mechanized division where there is the chance that the tools will be provided to deliver their mandate more efficiently and effectively, that is to the very best interest of the military service, the national security and the country's sovereign integrity as well as those of the welfare of the citizenry.




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