October 27, 2023
MANILA — In a bid to bolster its deterrence capability against external attacks, the nation’s fleet tested its drone and missile systems in the West Philippine Sea.
Lieutenant Giovanni Badidles of the Fleet Public Affairs Office said the sea phase of the Philippine Fleet’s 2023 Exercise Pagbubuklod was conducted off the waters of Capones Island in Zambales, which is only a few hundred kilometers away from Scarborough Shoal.
Despite being inside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, the sandbank was seized by China after a standoff with Manila in 2012. However, a ruling from an international tribunal in 2016 stated that the area was a traditional fishing site for several countries, including the Philippines.
“The Philippine fleet will continue to improve in terms of training and ensure the reliability of our newly-acquired equipment and their effectiveness,” he said in a phone interview with INQUIRER.net.
In another statement, Badidles said the drills will enable the fleet to address “traditional and non-traditional challenges.”
On the second day of the drill’s sea phase in Zambales island on Thursday, Badidles said that the fleet’s three multi-purpose attack crafts (MPAC) used their Spike-ER missile system in a live firing exercise.
Acquired from Israel in 2018, the surface-to-air missiles onboard the three MPACs have a range of eight kilometers.
Badidles said the fleet also tested on Wednesday the capability of the Naval Air Wing’s unmanned aerial vehicle system, commonly known as a drone.
The drone, deployed under the fleet’s Maritime Unmanned Aerial Reconnaissance Squadron Flight Bravo, is part of the anti-submarine capability, according to the lieutenant.
Meanwhile, also converged during the exercise were the recently-acquired fleet assets such as frigates BRP Jose Rizal and BRP Antonio Luna; landing dock BRP Tarlac; fast attack interdiction crafts BRP Lolinato To-ong and BRP Gener Tinangag; patrol vessels BRP Valentin Diaz and BRP Ladislao Diwa.
To further improve interoperability, the fleet also tested its communications compatibility with the Philippine Fleet headquarters via marine radio, ship-to-air, and ship-to-ground communications.
The preliminary activities of 2023 Exercise Pagbubuklod also include a tabletop exercise aboard BRP Tarlac, and subject matter expert exchanges among operations officers, planners, headquarters staff, and other participants.
The annual multilateral drills began on Monday, Oct. 23, and will last until Oct. 27.