Armor Forces in the Philippine Army: Then, Now, and into the Future
Updated: Mar 2
Photo Source: Wikipedia
Armor forces are known best when referring to histories about conventional warfare during the First and Second World Wars where the concept of a protected weapons platform that can move closer to enemy positions is envisioned and developed. The introduction of tanks during the First World War broke the stalemate of trench warfare and further development of tanks leading to World War II paved the way for a new tactic in warfare – the blitzkrieg or lighting war. In recent years, we have seen armor forces using assets like tanks, mechanized infantry and cavalry armored vehicles in the Gulf Wars (McMaster, 2016) where the maneuver doctrine of combined arms forces have time and again been successfully validated.
Armor is commonly seen as a formidable force and often symbolizes the armed might of the State when it comes to highlighting land defense strategies. Philippine Army’s (PA) armor forces started as a remnant of the colonial past when armor materiel from United States during WWII such as Stuart light tanks and M2 Half-tracks were transported to the Philippines and saw action during the retrograde operations in the Battle of Bataan in 1941 (Aguilar, 2020). During the Korean War in 1950, American-made Sherman tanks were deployed with the Filipino contingent under the Tank Company of the 10th Battalion Combat Team of the Philippine Expeditionary Force to Korea (PEFTOK) as part of a UN coalition force to aid South Korea (Aguilar, 2020). Through the years, the PA received more armored assets from the US such as the M41 Bulldog light tank in the 1960s and mechanized infantry troop carriers like the M113 APC, Armored Infantry Fighting Vehicle and the Commando V150. Armor vehicle (AV) variants from United Kingdom were also bought by the Philippine government like the Scorpion CVR(T), Samaritan (ambulance), and Samson (armored recovery) vehicles in the 1970s. These armored vehicles saw action during the Muslim secessionist campaigns as part of the counterinsurgency operations conducted by the PA against the MNLF and MILF in the early 1970s into the late 1990s. In the campaign leading to the Fall of Camp Abu Bakr, a then-MILF stronghold (ca. 2000), armor and mechanized forces figured prominently in this “All Out War” pronounced by then-President Joseph Estrada. (Armor Division, 2020)
Through the years, the Army’s Armor unit transformed from separate battalions into a regiment to a brigade and division-sized unit from the 1970s to 2006. It was also renamed from Light Armor Division to Mechanized Division in 2013, then recently re-designated as the Armor Division in 2019. In those years, the Simba Fighting Vehicle (SFV) was the only addition to the inventory (ca. 1995). In 2015, 114 APC M113A2s were acquired by the Philippines as part of the Excess Defense Articles program of the US. The parade of the majority of these vehicles was the highlight of the 80th AFP Anniversary last 2015 and signaled the reinvigoration of the Army’s armored force. Under the AFP Modernization Program, there was also a procurement for 28 armored vehicles armed with a 12.7mm Remote-controlled weapon station (RCWS), 25mm Unmanned Turret Station (UTS), and 76mm Fire Support Vehicle (FSV) in APC M113A2 platforms that saw action during the Marawi Campaign in 2017 (Armor Division, 2020).
The combat effectiveness of these assets has been proven to provide the direct fire and maneuver capabilities needed to win the Marawi campaign after five months of intense fighting in closed, urban terrain. Their efficacy in performing a variety of tasks across day and night during the campaign made the armored units an indispensable force for commanders involved in the Marawi campaign. Lessons learned from Marawi have steered succeeding armor modernization projects such as a 2nd-generation variant of the 12.7mm RCWS (44 units) and the 81mm Mounted Mortar System (5 units) all integrated with APC M113A2 platforms (Santos, 2019) delivered last 13 December 2019. Fifteen (15) units of the 120mm Mounted Mortar System on M113A2 APC platforms are also set to be delivered before the end of this year 2021 while the Light Tank and Wheeled APC projects are already approved under the AFP Modernization Program where the first lot of five (5) units Light Tank will be delivered by 2022. (ACDO data, 2020)
While the foresight of acquiring these new and to-be-delivered assets will upgrade and beef up the PA’s armor capabilities, there must be continuous assessment of the strategic and security environment. The fast-paced iteration of technology is already giving rise to emerging threats in the realm of artificial intelligence (AI), cyber, drone-borne (Gatopoulos, 2020), nanotechnology, chemical and biological, and EM-capable weapons (Pandya, 2019). Measures need to be ideated in order to both counter and harness the potential of these technologies (McFate, 2019) to further improve the Army’s armored force. Such asymmetric capabilities offer both opportunities and threats to any player in armed conflict.
While a lagging organizational learning curve seemingly emanates from an ISO-focused campaign in its current mission priorities and vestiges of the colonial dependence to the US security umbrella in the Pacific region (Almase, 2016), the Armor Division can find these challenges as a window of opportunity to be at the forefront to adapt and develop its own organic capability in this technologically-driven security environment as well as expand its horizon by looking into other potential armored vehicle technologies. Armored vehicles are versatile platforms that can integrate a wide variety of armaments and modular technologies as clearly demonstrated by the different variants of the M113A2 in service with Armor Division.
The Army’s future armored force should be able to adhere to its time-tested advantage of providing mobility, firepower, and shock effect to firmly hold the distinction of being the combat arm of decision today and in the future conflicts to come.
LTC Maria Victoria Blancaflor CAV (GSC) PA is a career Armor Officer currently designated as the battalion commander of the Armor Maintenance Battalion, Armor Division. She completed her Commissioning Course with the Philippine Military Academy Class of 1997 and her Master in Management at the University of the Philippines in 2014.
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