Since 2012, the Philippine Navy (Hukbóng Dagat ng Pilipinas) has been planning to acquire a submarine capacity, i.e. two to six submarines depending on the project. The program was put on track in 2015. It should be executed as part of the second phase (2018 – 2022) of the five-year plan (2012 – 2027). Several submarine manufacturers have positioned themselves on this project.
The armed forces of the Philippines benefited from a major political effort in 1995 with the passing of Law No. 7898. It allocated a specific budget for the execution of a vast modernization plan of which the navy (Hukbóng Dagat ng Pilipinas) swallowed the largest part. Completion was due in 2017. Second-hand buildings were acquired between 1993 and 1998. Some of them benefited from funds for maintenance and repairs between 1996 and 2000. These are mainly patrol boats , some corvettes and amphibious units which serve to support the Philippines' demands for exclusive economic zones in the face of Chinese advances.
Since 2010, the United States, as part of its efforts to defend its concept of freedom of navigation as defined in the Montego Bay Convention (which entered into force in 1994), has transferred several former decommissioned units of the US Coast Guard including cutters under the Excess Defense Articles (EDA) program.
The President of the Republic of the Philippines, Mr. Benigno Aquino II, announced in the Revised Armed Forces Modernization Act a new plan for modernizing the armed forces on a scale of fifteen years (2012 – 2027) and with a budget of 35 336 million euros (2012). Lieutenant Commander Nerelito Martinez, Acting Chief of Staff for Plans and Programs, presented his naval translation in June 2012: the Philippine Fleet Desired Force Mix plan ( budget of 9,092 million euros (2012).
This plan would for the first time contain the objective of acquiring a submarine capability, the target being three submarines. It would even have been studied in 2012 to retain coastal submarines (500 to 1000 tonnes) numbering 4 to 6. But the project does not seem to have the slightest start of execution. Major General Gregorio Pio Catapang made an allusion, in October 2013, to the project by discussing the advantages and disadvantages of the two types of propulsion (conventional and nuclear) for submarines. The submarine program was only launched in 2015 by the Philippine Navy.
For the first time since 1946, the Philippines publishes its first national security strategy document. Entitled Security and Development for Transformational Change and Well-being for the Filipino People , it focuses on the development of the air force and the navy within the geographical framework of the Philippine archipelago.
Vice Admiral Robert Empedrad, “ flag officer ” or head of national operations, requested the immediate inclusion of the acquisition in the submarine capability, which is supported by the Department of National Defense (DND). The second phase (2018 – 2022) of the five-year plan adopted in 2012 therefore involves the acquisition of submarine capacity but the target number of units is revised from three to two submarines.
Russia offers its assistance in obtaining such a submarine capacity by the Hukbóng Dagat ng Pilipinas and the two countries have been negotiating a memorandum of understanding since August 2018. It would have given Manila twelve months to decide but no decision was taken until August 2019 and even since. Russia reproposed its offer in October 2019. By this, we most probably mean project 636.3, that is to say the one which was recently ordered by Vietnam (6), the Russian Federation for its Black Sea (6) and Pacific (6) fleets as well as Algeria (2).
From 2016, the Japanese navy made a stopover at the Subic Bay naval base (former major naval base of the US Navy (1945 – 1992) with two destroyers, the JS Ariake (2002) and JS Setogiri (1990) , as well as Oyashio submarine (1998), first in its class of eleven submarines. And its presence is not without evoking both a signal to China and a possible opportunity to present Japanese know-how regarding submarines to the Philippine authorities. No public demonstration of discussions between Manila and Tokyo seems to have been recorded. Japan is seeking a first experience of selling submarines to a foreign state, particularly in its strategy for counter China.
The Philippine Secretary of Defense, Delfin Lorenzana, declared, on July 24, 2019, during an interview given to the Philippine News Agency that “The Scorpene is one of the submarines being evaluated by the Armed Forces of our country ” . It is not said whether Naval group was able to officially present the Scorpene to the authorities in Manila . The version of the Scorpène is not specified but must probably be the Scorpène 2000 rather than the Scorpène 1000, the former SMX-24 Andrasta . Naval group has not won a contract in the region since the Malaysian order in 2002 and failures in Singapore and Indonesia. Unless we take into account the Australian order for 12 conventional Barracudas (conventionally powered version of the Suffren-class nuclear attack submarines).
The Hukbóng Dagat ng Pilipinas (navy) would also study offers from other submarine construction companies including those from Germany, South Korea and Japan without these receiving a public interest certificate (Scorpène 2000 ) or negotiations (project 636.3 Kilo). The Philippine naval budget remains very modest, as evidenced by the numerous purchases of second-hand vessels, or even transfers. The target for the submarine program was revised from two to three. The best offer will only win and it would hardly be surprising to see a proposal based on second-hand submarines.