The Philippine Army told Shephard Media as far back as 2014 that it harboured ambitions to procure main battle tanks within the 2020-28 period. However, a more realistic and immediate plan is to acquire lighter AFVs.
Thus, the army’s Horizon 2 procurement plan proposal (covering 2018-22) features light tanks with a budget allocation of PHP9.484 billion ($185 million). A total of 44 units are needed to equip three tank companies of the Mechanized Infantry Division (MID) of the Philippine Army, which is based at Camp O’Donnell in Tarlac.
However, following the bloody urban combat in Marawi last year, Shephard understands that the desire for tracked tanks has been eclipsed by a requirement for wheeled armoured vehicles. Two types are being eyed: a tank destroyer armed with a 105mm gun, and a vehicle armed with a 30mm gun in an unmanned turret. Ideally, both vehicles would share a common 8×8 platform.
The Philippine-based MaxDefense blogsite explained that options for a wheeled tank destroyer from Europe, South Korea and Turkey are currently being considered.
The requirement for a wheeled vehicle was made explicit when Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana revealed last August that the army was interested in armoured vehicles weighing less than 20t.
If funds do not permit a 30mm gun, the army might have to settle for a 6×6 hull carrying an RWS armed with a 12.7mm machine gun.
Whichever company is selected for the wheeled requirement would find itself in pole position to supply the extant requirement for light tanks as well. Specifications have not been finalised by the army’s technical working group yet, but the preference is for a diesel-powered, tracked vehicle weighing less than 35t and armed with a 105mm gun.
Companies are already making proposals to the army.
Therefore, of the 44 AFVs required and funded, the army will probably opt for a mix of wheeled and tracked vehicles. MaxDefense believes the procurement process ‘may start late this year or early next year’.
The number of tracked light tanks available on the international market is limited. Although there is a European option, two contenders come from Asia, PT Pindad’s Kaplan (developed in conjunction with FNSS) and Hanwha Defense Systems’ K21-105.
Both platforms feature a CMI Defence turret and Cockerill 105mm high-pressure gun.
Xavier Rigo, communication manager at CMI Defence told Shephard: ‘The Cockerill 3105 is the market-leading 105mm turret for the light-/medium-weight tracked and wheeled vehicle segment. It is currently in series production and it is integrated with the PT Pindad medium tank and Hanwha Defense Systems K21-105 medium tank. The Cockerill 3105 turret is also selected by SAIC for its entry into the US Army’s Mobile Protected Firepower programme.’
Rigo added: ‘Market interest in the Cockerill 3105 turret continues to grow as its utility and value for high-mobility systems is increasingly appreciated.’
CMI Defence would not be drawn on specific Philippine requirements, however. ‘We are a supplier of large and critical subsystems to vehicle OEMs and to system prime contractors. As such, questions relating to the supply of a light tank to the Philippines are an issue for the vehicle system OEM or system prime.’
There are rumours that Belgium had enacted an arms embargo against the Philippines due to the issue of extrajudicial killings under President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration. If true, that would have meant the Philippines could not consider the Kaplan, K21-105 or any vehicle fitted with a CMI Defence turret or gun since the latter is a Belgian company.
However, Shephard has determined that no such embargo is in place. A Belgian federal government official noted: ‘At the moment there is no implementation of any arms export embargo against the Philippines because of human rights concerns.’
Nevertheless, Frieda Coosemans, advisor for the Belgian Directorate-General for Economic Analyses and Global Economy, added: ‘The export of weapons and dual-use goods is always subject to control in order to safeguard international security…Therefore, companies involved in the trade of these items have to comply with strict rules.’
Likewise, a spokesman from the Walloon authority added: ‘There is no Walloon embargo on the Philippines. Export requests are examined on a case-by-case basis.’
Of interest, four Steyr Pandur II 8×8 vehicles (two with a 12.7mm RWS, one with a 30mm RWS and one with a 105mm gun) arrived in Indonesia last September. It is unclear whether the Indonesian Army is interested in the type or whether they are being evaluated by PT Pindad.
Another pertinent question is whether the Philippines will consider Chinese and Russian vehicles. Norinco makes the VT5 tank that weighs approximately 35t. However, the Philippine military would be leery of buying such equipment from China, with which it has territorial disputes.
Duterte has previously given overtures to buying more Russian equipment, but the only likely candidate from there would be a BMD-4-based platform.
Light tanks armed with a heavy gun would have proved useful in urban fighting as the military retook the town of Marawi from Islamic insurgents. Nevertheless, vehicles fitted with an RWS proved themselves there thanks to their accuracy, night-fighting capability and crew safety.
The Philippine Army deployed four mechanised battalions, one cavalry squadron and a light armoured troop, totalling 120 AFVs. A number of their lightly armoured vehicles were seen fitted with all manner of home-made protection against RPGs.
In addition to its quest for light tanks, the Philippine Army plans to upgrade 44 of 114 M113A2s received from US Excess Defense Articles in 2015. This M113 Firepower Upgrade programme, funded to the tune of PHP1,051,650,000 ($20.5 million), will add a 12.7mm machine gun in an RWS to the vehicles.
Given that Elbit Systems has already successfully upgraded 28 M113s for the Philippines – with 14 receiving 76mm gun turrets (from dilapidated FV101 Scorpion tanks), four gaining 25mm UT-25 unmanned turrets and six receiving a 12.7mm Dragon RWS – the Israeli company is in prime position to win this next contract.
Among this batch of 44 M113s, five will be converted into mortar carriers featuring a Soltam CARDOM 81mm mortar from Elbit Systems. The mortar mount will be able to accommodate 120mm CARDOM mortars when they are acquired in the future. This project falls under the second list of Horizon 1 of the army’s modernisation plan.
The Philippine Army has no more than ten Scorpion light tanks in service, some of which were used in Marawi.