Philippine army is expanding, ramping up its firepower
MANILA – Looking to a bigger, stronger future, the army, the largest of the three branches of the Armed Forces of the Philippines is expanding and troops will be getting additional firepower.
The army commander, Lt. Gen. Arturo Ortiz, said soldiers will be getting more protective gear, more housing and better hospitals.
Ortiz pointed to converting three provisional units to permanent units. In conjunction with the expansion, the general has ordered all existing battalions to retrain to improve their combat-readiness.
Ortiz said the new firepower will include 470 night-fighting systems, 155-milimeter howitzers; 81-milimeter mortars; light rocket launchers; and 60,000 ammunition-dispensing magazine assemblies.
The new weapons make good on a promise the general made late last year when he became army chief.
Defense Minister Voltaire Gazmin joined Ortiz at the March ceremony marking the army’s 114th anniversary. The two spoke about plans for the future rather looking to the past.
The army was formed on March 22, 1897, when the Philippines was a U.S. protectorate. Many of the troops were former holders of reserve commissions in the U.S. Army or former officers in the Philippine Scouts or Constabulary.
Ortiz’s announcement was good news for troops who are fighting an Islamic-extremist insurgency and a Communist insurgency at home. Ortiz said the army obtained 740 40-millimeter grenade launchers last month and 2,200 more will be delivered next year.
The army is enhancing its communication capabilities with 300 Harris radio sets, including larger units for bases and handheld units.
“This will add to the current inventory of 9, 147 Harris radios issued earlier,” he said.
The army plans to acquire an additional 1, 476 base and handheld radios and 210 sets for armored vehicles, Ortiz said. The new troop-protection devices will include 9,786 Kevlar helmets. The troops already have 25,000, plus 2,015 units of body armor.
Ortiz said the army delivered 137 KM 450 trucks to its frontline soldiers earlier this year. It already had supplied its troops with 590 of the quarter-ton, South Korean-made trucks.
“We also expect 90 units of M35 6x6 trucks for delivery from the U.S. this coming June,” Ortiz said. The M35 is a 2 ½-ton cargo truck.
Ortiz also said he has taken two key steps to improve the welfare and morale of the troops: building new housing and renovating and re-equipping army hospitals.
“We have continually made regular visits to frontline units -- from division down to battalion and company,” he said. The visits were done not just to “look into and address their needs, but also “to boost their morale.”
In addition, non-military people in the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit were visited, Ortiz said.
Ortiz said he was proud of the army’s efforts last year to ensure a peaceful presidential election.
Defense Secretary Gazmin said the military needs to redefine its goals and its needs to better address the counter-insurgency threat. He said it also needs to introduce reforms to improve its management of financial resources and to assure that its operations are transparent enough to “rid our armed forces of graft and corrupt practices.”
Gazmin, a former general of the army, was referring to allegations that some former top officers diverted revenue appropriated for military operations to their own use.
Ortiz was considered a top candidate to replace Gen. Ricardo David as chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. His credentials include a Medal of Valor for heroism in action – the equivalent of the United States’ Congressional Medal of Honor.
However, Ortiz told President Benigno Aquino III that he wanted to retire in November in his current post. Aquino appointed Lt. Gen. Eduardo Oban as the 42nd chief of the armed forces.