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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