Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Iron Fist

THERE IS NOW a dire need for the Philippines to take the lead in building a military alliance with Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Extremely alarming events in the past two months triggered by Communist China are serving to convince our Allies that they, too, are actual and not potential victims of Communist China's relentless diplomatic aggressiveness in the West Philippine Sea.

The governments of our four Allies should realize an alliance remains the only viable option for deterring Communist China from pursuing its "New Imperialism" that will reduce them to the status of witless vassals if left unchecked.

Fresh in their minds is the humiliating example of servile Cambodia, ever the subservient Igor to Communist China's Dr. Frankenstein.

There is sound logic for using the powerful diplomatic tool of alliance building. Alone, none of the five Allied nations has the power to bend Communist China to its will.

Collectively, however, the Power of the Five will be enough to deter further Communist Chinese expansionism in the West Philippine Sea.

One can compare the Five to the fingers in a hand. Singly, each finger is vulnerable to pressure, however slight. But acting together when clenched, the Five Fingers become an Iron Fist with the power to inflict pain on any foe.

And the Iron Fist can now turn to Japan and India for support because of Communist China’s aptitude for making enemies right and left. This support is tantamount to arming the Iron Fist with a massive battleaxe.

Seapower: The future Philippine Navy

The naval balance
The power of the Iron Fist lies in the combined naval power it can bring to bear against the Communist Chinese. In numbers, both sides are almost evenly matched.

Together, the Allies can currently muster some 50 surface combatants (destroyers, frigates and corvettes) and eight submarines. It will be far stronger by 2020.

Their antagonist in any sea conflict will be the South Sea Fleet of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). This fleet of some 30 destroyers and frigates and eight diesel-electric submarines is based in the city of Zhanjiang in Guangdong province.

This fleet will be reinforced by the more powerful East Sea Fleet (whose mission is to invade Taiwan) should fighting erupt. But the presence of the ROC Navy should serve to deter any massive redeployment of its ships to assist the South Sea Fleet.

The PLAN has an edge in fighting power and a homogeneous command structure. Together, what the Allies have is a credible naval deterrent that inflict far more damage on the PLAN than any single Allied nation can.

A bully won’t be as warlike if he knows the nerds facing him can also beat him up, as well. It is this fear that will restrain the bully from further provocations. And any hesitation by Communist China to further its aim of transforming the West Philippine Sea into a Communist Chinese Lake is already a victory for the Allies.

But this will only be brought about by the existence of the Iron Fist.

Allied naval power
In 2011, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam took delivery of her second “Gepard 3.9 Class” frigate. Vietnam’s two operational Gepard (Russian for “cheetah”) frigates are now among the most advanced surface combatants among the Allies apart from Taiwan's U.S. made destroyers and "La Fayette" stealth frigates. Vietnam has two more Gepards on order.

The Gepard’s firepower is massive: eight sea-skimming “Switchblade” anti-ship missiles, each with a range of 130 km; a surface-to-air missile system; two 6-barreled 30 mm autocannon; torpedoes; an anti-submarine rocket launcher and a 76.2 mm dual purpose main gun.

Vietnam is awaiting delivery of six improved “Kilo Class” submarines (six torpedo tubes, 6,000 mile range). It currently operates 23 Sukhoi “Su-30MK2” Flanker-C naval fighter-bombers (anti-ship missiles, 5,000 mile range) and is buying more of these anti-ship attack aircraft.

These weapons systems, all made in Russia, bring Vietnam closer to the point where she can successfully challenge China--her primary strategic foe--if push comes to shove in the West Philippine Sea. And Vietnam has a score to settle with Communist China.

Vietnam suffered a naval defeat off our Kalayaan Archipelago during the "Spratly Islands Naval Battle of 1988." In that battle, three missile-armed Chinese frigates attacked three almost defenseless Vietnamese troop transport ships defended by three lightly armed patrol boats, sinking all the transports and killing 60 Vietnamese. The Chinese lost six men but no ships.

Malaysia and Taiwan also realize the immense value of submarines and modern warships in defending their national interests in the West Philippine Sea.

Malaysia three years ago took delivery of two Scorpène submarines built by France. These advanced subs are armed with “Blackshark” wire-guided torpedoes and “Exocet SM-39” sub-launched anti-ship missiles.

Taiwan operates four submarines, 22 modern frigates and four destroyers. In addition, the ROC Navy is building 30 “Kuang Hua VI Class” missile boats capable of patrolling the West Philippine Sea. Brunei's navy consists of missile armed corvettes and fast patrol boats.

The Philippines 
And what of the Philippines and her Philippine Navy?

The Navy is becoming stronger because of a stronger focus on national defense by Pres. Aquino. A second Hamilton-class frigate will join its sister-ship, the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, next year as will another frigate. The new Hamilton is expected to be armed with missiles and a close-in weapons system for use against aircraft.

The most heartening news, however, is that the Philippines will acquire two Italian frigates armed with ship-to-ship missiles and surface-to-air missiles. These will be the first modern fighting warships in the Navy.

More firepower for the Philippine Navy: A Maestrale-class frigate.
Despite its paucity in naval fighting power, the Philippines has an ace-in-the-hole: the mighty United States Navy. The coming redeployment of 60% of the U.S. Navy's fighting power to the Pacific will also give China pause.

Communist China, however, has shown a stubborn streak in its push for hegemony in the West Philippine Sea. And there is abundant reason to doubt Communist China’s sincerity when she states diplomacy is her preferred tool in solving the Spratlys’ impasse. Her recent and relentless aggressive actions belie this claim again and again.

Only the Iron Fist will suffice to keep Communist China in check. And the Allies can learn from recent history the folly of appeasing aggressive states such as Communist China.

The Philippines and her Allies cannot cede a single centimeter of territory in the West Philippine Sea to the Communist Chinese. To do so would ignite a chain of disastrous events that will lead to a war.

In the infamous Munich Agreement of 1938, the Western Allies surrendered the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany in the hope of preventing Adolf Hitler from plunging Europe into war. This act of appeasement failed and World War II was not averted.

History must not repeat itself at our expense.

Original of the version published by the Philippine Daily Inquirer on 9 August 2012.