A United States official on Thursday said the plan of the Philippines, its long-time ally, to acquire big-ticket items like submarines from Russia does not help with the alliance. US Assistant Secretary of Defense Randall Schriver said the procurement of the Philippine Navy of a special underwater craft from Russia should be assessed in terms of the longtime alliances between the US and the Philippines. “I think they should think very carefully about that,” about purchasing equipment from Russia because “I don’ think that is a helpful thing to the alliance.” Schriver said.
Duterte criticized the US for interfering in the country’s plan to get submarines from Russia to modernize the navy during a speech at the mass oath-taking of barangay officials in the regional political party Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HNP) at the SMX Convention Center Davao on Friday. He said the neighboring countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) neighbors own submarines, citing Vietnam with seven; Malaysia, two, and Indonesia, eight. Duterte said he wants to meet the US officials in a forum to hear from them why they oppose the Philippines’ plan to buy submarines from Russia. “You state your case why you are against my country acquiring submarines. Give me the reason why and make it public. You want us to remain backward,” he said.
While the decision to buy Russian submarines may not be strong reason to degrade the 1951 Phl-US Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) as well as other defense agreements, the US has the option to impose the sanctions such as Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) against the Philippines. CAATSA is a State Department policy that can be imposed on US companies to limit, if not totally cancel its dealings to a country or those that are investing and contributing to the economy of a particular country. Those who opposed the procurement of submarines from Russia pointed out that operating systems of the eastern military bloc are not compatible with the Philippine military, a NATO-bloc user. The US defense official added that inserting a Russian submarine to Philippine Navy’s inventory would somehow affect its capability in the future in case it operates side-by-side with US forces to address security challenges.
The Philippines Department of National Defense (DND) said it will consider any and all offers, and not just from South Korea and Russia, when it comes to the purchase of submarines for the Philippine Navy. In a statement, the DND clarified the acquisition of submarines from South Korea or Russia, as Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana had announced in June, was not yet final. Russia, it was recalled, is keen on selling to the Philippines its Kilo-class diesel-electric submarines, which has surface displacement of 2,350 tons, a length of 73.8 meters, and capable of speed of 17 to 20 knots. The Philippines has no money to buy its first-ever submarine, Russia is more than willing to provide the country “soft loans” to acquire the specialized underwater craft. The Kilo-class submarines can be armed with a variety of torpedoes, missiles, and naval mines and have a cruising range of around 6,000 to 7,500 nautical miles. In the ASEAN region, Vietnam is known to operate six improved Kilo-class submarines in its fleet.