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Фото: «Энциклопедия военной техники»

The archipelago’s navy has been dreaming of submarines for years. It is clear that the budget is small and if there was no conflict with China, which with varying degrees of aggravation has lasted for more than a decade — submarines would have remained in dreams. The ownership of the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea is disputed by both China and Taiwan. Most recently, just in December, Chinese ships used water cannons against Filipinos trying to approach the disputed reef with their vessels.

Despite everything, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has found $36.5 billion to modernize his military hardware. The project is called Horizon 3, the third phase of a 15-year plan to improve the Armed Forces. There will be fighter jets, missile systems, new frigates and helicopters.

$1.8 billion of that money will go to the submarine fleet. The contract is believed to be almost in the pocket of France’s Naval Group, although South Korea and Spain are still competing for it.

The French defense company opened a representative office in Manila in 2020, and the following year Naval Group signed a contract with Manila to supply anti-torpedo systems for frigates.

Naval Group’s proposal includes three components. The first is the construction of two Scorpene-class diesel submarines. They have already been purchased by Brazil, Chile, India and Malaysia. And if Brazil and India want to build the submarines at home, Chile and Malaysia are ready to build them at the shipyards of the Philippines. All this will take place at the U.S. Navy base Subic Bay.

Submarines of the project «Scorpene» run for 10 thousand nautical miles with 80 days autonomy, and the model offered to the Philippines is considered to be superior to the Chilean, Malaysian and Indian ones. Meanwhile, the submarines are expected to be used in reconnaissance, special forces operations and mining.

Naval Group announced that construction of the first submarine will take 5 years plus a year of sea trials. The Philippine Horizon 3 program calls for procurement from 2023 to 2028, hence the Philippine Navy will receive the ship between 2029 and 2034.

The second component of the program offered by Naval Group is personnel training. And it is also divided into stages. First, the sailors will be trained for 4 years on simulators in France as well as on its submarines. And these crews will then have to train other Filipino sailors. The basis of the submarine fleet of the archipelago will be two combat-ready groups and one reserve. For this purpose, Naval Group will eventually build a training center in Subic Bay.

This is the third component of Naval Group’s comprehensive plan. Subic Bay will become a fairly large regional naval operating base, and not just for submarines. It’s a hundred kilometers from the capital, and the South China Sea is right there. The Philippines plans to transfer all the most modern and combat-ready ships here.

Surprisingly, for these purposes, the country’s government is forced to lease a third of the territory from an American investment company. The bay will have, naturally, the Scorpenes, the training center, the shipyards themselves, all the logistics and the command center for the submarine fleet.

«We are transferring serious know-how in naval management, operations and maintenance», Naval Group said in a communiqué. — «All of this will be done in the Philippines by local workers, which means not only job creation but also a big step in achieving autonomy for the country».

This refers to the serious intention of the President of the Philippines to complete all the stages of the Horizon Plan and create a capable military-industrial potential, and the concept of the plan includes the creation of a defense capable of self-sufficiency.

From time to time, the Philippines conducts naval maneuvers with either the French or the Americans. Subic Bay is now home to several thousand American troops and the Filipinos working for them. At one point, there was a fear that the massive American presence in the region would draw the archipelago into a U.S.-China standoff.

Last year, the Philippines held an exercise with the U.S. and Australia called Balikatan, which in Tagalog means «Shoulder to Shoulder». They were attended by 17,600 personnel. They are the largest maneuvers of the Philippine navy. And this year, another exercise, also «Balikatan», is being prepared, this time with the participation of the French Navy.

«The upcoming Balikatan will involve France, Australia and the United States», says Mike Logico, director of the Joint Training Center of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. «There are no exact figures yet, but the difference between last year and this year is that we are conducting exercises in the country’s key locations. Now we are more concerned with quality than quantity».

It is understood that the maneuvers will take place around the country’s smallest province, Batanes, surrounded by the sea wherever possible. It is now considered another potential hotspot in the confrontation with China. And the U.S., a participant in the maneuvers, is a major political ally of Taiwan and the Philippines.

Mike Logico made it clear that in preparation for the maneuvers, the possibility of involving the Japan Self-Defense Forces is also being considered.