AFP Modernization: The case for establishing a local defense industry | Inquirer Opinion

AFP Modernization: The case for establishing a local defense industry

/ 05:01 AM August 11, 2022

President Marcos Jr.’s administration will be continuing a number of programs started by former president Duterte. Among these is the defense modernization program of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the first phase of which kicked off during the time of former president Aquino III, who signed the revised AFP modernization act, or Republic Act No. 10349, in 2012.

The program is expected to cost $40 billion over 15 years divided into three five-year phases or horizons. Over the years, the acquisition of modern military equipment and weapons systems by the government has shown considerable progress in terms of implementing the law.

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Another crucial but less visible aspect of the program is the development of a self-reliant defense posture, which can be achieved if the country establishes a local defense industry. Compared to acquisition activities, the setting up of a local capability to produce, service, assemble, and develop defense equipment, weapons, material, and systems has greater strategic impact on national security and economic interests. However, it is important to note that both objectives go hand in hand and complement each other.

In terms of national security, our country’s pursuit of an independent foreign policy to safeguard our sovereignty requires a minimum credible defense posture anchored on self-reliance. While we still need allies and some of the more complex weapons systems that have to be sourced outside the country, we can at least minimize our dependence on major powers in the region and decrease any leverage they have over us. A minimum credible defense posture also means that while we do not necessarily seek the capability to win a war against a potential enemy, we at least have enough defense capacity to make any aggressor think twice before engaging in hostile action.

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A local defense industry creates a new sector in the economy, thereby providing opportunities for employment, technology transfer, assembly, repair, and maintenance services, and even production, and the possibility of joint ventures between foreign suppliers and their local counterparts. Portugal provides a good example with its modest defense industry. It does not manufacture heavy and complex weapons systems, but focuses on support services, systems integration, communications/cyber capabilities, shipbuilding, etc. The Philippines is quite capable of doing that.

In fact, in support of this strategic objective of establishing a local defense industry, former defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana signed a memorandum of agreement in June this year with authorities at the Freeport Area of Bataan that would encourage investors in defense projects to establish their manufacturing plants in the country.

Furthermore, Senate Bill No. 304 or the Philippine Defense Industry Development Act of 2019 remains pending in committee. This bill specifically seeks to strengthen the country’s self-reliant defense posture and incentivize in-country enterprises to facilitate growth in this sector of the economy, in tandem with the implementation of the AFP defense modernization program. Considering that the bill was filed by now Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri, its passage might be revisited soon.

Protecting our national sovereignty and defending our country are of paramount importance, and establishing a viable local defense industry contributes to those goals. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that such industry also creates jobs and generates revenue at the same time.

Moira G. Gallaga,Stockholm, Sweden

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