Philippine Marines’ New Warfighting Paradigm: The Archipelagic Coastal Defense
Updated: Jun 28, 2021
Photo credit: Philippine Navy
Taken during the visit of the Chief of Staff Armed Forces of the Philippines to the Philippine Navy at Bonifacio Naval Station, Taguig City showing one of the fires capabilities of the Marines on 25 May 2021.
The Philippine Marine Corps (PMC) is gradually veering away from old traditional land-centric warfare to its new operating concept dubbed as Archipelagic Coastal Defense (ACD). This paradigm shift is just timely as tensions are now increasing caused by other claimant countries’ posturing of hybrid military capabilities in our exclusive economic zone.
The Philippines has experienced a relative period of peace and prosperity brought about by its consistent efforts towards political and socio-economic stability. However, it continues to confront various defense and security issues that impede its full economic potential. The country’s location has a geopolitical implication to a rising revisionist power, whose claims comprise of those areas from Taiwan, much of the South China Sea, the West Philippine Sea, and the Senkaku Islands. Its increasing hybrid military posture in the West Philippine Sea continues to challenge the nation’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. It also threatens to exhaust the country’s vast maritime resources.
How the Marines are traditionally employed
In the past decades, the Marine Operating Forces (MOF) are being employed primarily to support ground operations and other constabulary functions given its available capabilities. Designed to be a “hard-hitting seaborne force” when it was created in 1950, the Marines’ capacity to perform its mandate in littoral environment was limited. This was also dictated by the need to fill in the gaps in addressing internal defense missions such as the long-running insurgency, secessionist movement, and terrorism.
AFP’s pivot to external defense
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) now pivots to external defense guided by its National Military Strategy (2019) and Joint Operating Concept (2020). On the part of the Philippine Navy (PN), the Active Archipelagic Defense Strategy has been advocated since 2013. It is being translated into more executable task with the publication of its Naval Operating Concept in 2020 anchored on the new Joint Operating Concept. With this new strategic direction, the rapidly changing security environment, the potential flashpoint in the West Philippine Sea, and revolution of modern technologies, there is a need for the MOF to adapt and be future-ready.
The Archipelagic Coastal Defense Concept
The ACD is now the overarching concept that guides how the Marines should operate as part of the naval and joint force, while adapting to the current and future operating environment anchored on the PN Active Archipelagic Defense Strategy. It is being performed through seaward, landward, and supporting maneuvers. The ACD to be performed well should have the following: integrated sensors, robust command and control, mixed fires including shore-based anti-ship missile system, shore-based air defense system, multiple launched rocket system, man portable air defense system, and howitzers, coastal maneuver forces, and support and sustainment.
The MOF shall perform ACD seaward maneuvers to complement the fleet forces and other naval units in anti-access/area denial (A2/AD), sea control, and maritime security operation including mine warfare operation. This means the MOF should be capable to sink enemy ships from the shore to protect the fleet, intercept and take down hostile aircrafts, missiles and rockets, and perform decisive counter-landing operations. The MOF shall also perform landward maneuvers particularly island to island operation and amphibious maneuver to support the Army Forces in the conduct of ground and special operations. It shall also support the Air Forces in securing their forward air refueling points and air defense missions. Likewise, its littoral maneuver capabilities shall support other law enforcement and concerned government agencies in border control, maritime law enforcement, other constabulary operations, and humanitarian assistance and disaster response.
Marines’ Naval in Character and Purpose and its shift of focus
The PMC, as one of the major type commands of the PN, has naval in character feature having its premium attribute as a hard-hitting archipelagic coastal defense force. Individual Marine was born and raised under the PN seamlessly integrated with the sailors. Its naval in purpose feature mandates that the Marines are the coastal instrument of naval power for maritime force projection ashore, amphibious maneuver, and area denial. The MOFs roles and functions are built upon these naval operational tasks proving the Corps’ naval in purpose.
The Marines’ shift of focus to external defense also sets its new paradigm of warfighting. Traditionally, its main role is to perform amphibious maneuver and ground operation to support the land forces and law enforcement agencies. A 180-degree shift is expected as the MOF shall now primarily perform its roles seaward to support the fleet and other naval units to deny the enemy from controlling our sea lines of communication and maritime key terrain. Supporting land forces in ground combat operation may now become the MOF’s secondary role.
Implications to PMC Force Design and capability development
To execute the ACD effectively, there will be modifications in the PMC’s future force structure and capability development. While in traditional sense, the marine infantry is at the center of the MOF capability performing ground operations with fires and other combat and service support units around it, the MOF in geographical deployments for external defense may consider the mixed fires as the core capability with coastal maneuver forces and other combat and service support units around it. Still, however, there will be dedicated MOFs as National Maneuver Amphibious Force for rapid response nationwide.
Having a strong Navy with credible Marines for coastal defense is not a choice for an archipelagic state like the Philippines; rather, it is a geopolitical necessity. The ACD concept sets the tone for the future direction of the Corps. As the new Flag Officer in Command, PN emphasizes on “continuity and change”, the Corps shall continuously push forward while maintaining its responsiveness. While doing so, change will be inevitable. The new warfighting paradigm, which aligns with the Commandant, Philippine Marine Corps’ Guidance (2021), will trigger meaningful discussions with the force employers putting to proper context how the Marines should be employed in the joint operational area in complementary with other forces. This defines the Marines’ niche in the overall defense architecture of the Philippines.
Colonel Danilo T Facundo PN(M)(GSC) is the current Assistant Chief of Marine Staff for Plans and Programs (MC5), Philippine Marine Corps. He was the lead writer of several manuals and strategic documents such as the AFP Joint Land Operations Manual, Marine Corps Exercise Management Manual, PMC Capability Development Strategy 2020 – 2028, Marine Amphibious Ready Unit Capability Development Plan, and the Archipelagic Coastal Defense Concept. He is a graduate of PMA Class of 1998 and earned a degree in Master in Public Management Major in Development and Security at the Development Academy of the Philippines. He is a recipient of the Distinguished Joint Planner Award when he took up the Joint and Combined Warfighting Course at Joint Force Staff College, Norfolk Virginia, USA. He was recognized as one of the ten Metrobank Foundation Outstanding Filipinos in 2018.