POSTSCRIPT / May 18, 2021 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Can submarines stop incursions in WPS?

IF NAVY surface ships are unable to stop Chinese encroachment in the West Philippine Sea, will adding three submarines to the naval force stop the rape of its natural resources and the building of foreign military outposts?

A congressman says that deploying attack submarines will help drive away Chinese fishermen and militias that have been getting bolder in intruding and then controlling strategic areas in our exclusive economic zone.

Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel, chair of the House strategic intelligence committee, urged the rush purchase of at least one of three submarines on top of the four frigates and 12 corvettes that the Navy wants to acquire between now and 2028.

He said the recent sinking of an Indonesian submarine with its 53 crew in the Bali Sea during a torpedo drill should not deter the government from buying submarines. The sunken vessel, he pointed out, was 42 years old and refurbished several times.

“Attack submarines can stealthily conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance against Chinese militia vessels,” he added. “We are one of the world’s largest archipelagic states, like Indonesia, so submarines should be part of our mix of defensive combat ships.”

The Navy wants three Scorpene-class submarines from France capable of anti-surface vessel and anti-submarine warfare, long-range strikes as well as special operations and intelligence gathering. They will be equipped with torpedoes, missiles, and mines.

We believe, however, that more urgently than submarines, we need leaders who are not distracted by partisan politics and personal gain but motivated by unalloyed patriotism, honesty, and competence.

 Philippines a pygmy beside China

LOOK at the tale of the tape with a focus on naval power. For 2021, China is ranked No. 3 among the 140 countries assessed on the Global Firepower website, after the United States (No. 1) and Russia (No. 2). The Philippines is No. 48.

China’s estimated population is 1,394,015,970, with 3,355,000 total military personnel, 2,185,000 of them active. It has a 14,500-km coastline and 22,457 km of shared borders.

With a $178,200-million defense budget, China’s available naval assets total 777, which include 2 aircraft carriers, 50 destroyers, 46 frigates, 72 corvettes, 79 submarines, and 123 patrol vessels.

The Philippines’ estimated population is 110,846,590, with 315,000 total military personnel, 125,000 of them active. It has a 36,289-km coastline and no shared land borders.

Its defense budget is $4,250 million. Available naval assets number 103, which include 2 frigates, 4 corvettes, 55 patrol vessels, and no aircraft carrier, no destroyers, no submarines – clearly no match to China’s naval might.

For the US, a Philippine treaty ally, the Global Firepower site counts 490 US total naval assets, which include 92 destroyers, no frigates, 21 corvettes, and 13 patrol vessels.

The US is reported to have 83 nuclear-powered warships, including 72 submarines, and 10 aircraft carriers. These NPWs, making up about 40 percent of US naval forces, visit over 150 ports in some 50 countries.

With an estimated population of 332,690,850, the US has a defense budget of $740,500 million. Its coastline is 19,924 km, and its land borders with Canada and Mexico run 12,048 km.

 My boarding a nuke ‘boomer’ submarine

IN LATE 1960s, I had the unexpected privilege of boarding the USS Daniel Boone (SSBN 629), one of America’s nuclear submarines at the time, waiting to sail out from Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

(We apologize that a photo of a random submarine was inadvertently used with this article on Twitter, not that of the Daniel Boone nuke sub mentioned, whose picture was uploaded later.)

Then covering foreign affairs for the old Manila Times, I was among seven journalists who toured several US military bases in the Pacific as guests of Admiral Chester William Nimitz, then the Commander-in-Chief Pacific.

The Daniel Boone, named after the American frontiersman, was the ninth nuclear-powered vessel built at the Mare Island shipyard at Vallejo, California. It was the fourth “boomer”, or ballistic missile submarine, built there.

Upon its commissioning on April 23, 1964, Daniel Boone was assigned to Submarine Squadron 15, becoming the first ballistic missile submarine assigned to the Pacific Fleet. It was decommissioned on Feb. 18, 1994.

As we stepped down the hatch, a sailor took our cameras (mine was a Canon bought two days earlier at the PX store in Honolulu using purchase privileges granted by our host the CinC-Pac). Cameras were not really needed as an official navy photog was covering our visit.

Inside the cramped sub were huge vertical cylinders supposedly holding a missile each that, an officer said, had been programmed to hit pre-selected targets. At that time, the only perceived potential enemy was Communist China so I presumed they were all aimed at the mainland.

We learned that the crew spent much of their six-month duty underwater in radio silence, before coming out for air, sunlight, and normal land life for the next six months. I could imagine that anyone with claustrophobia will suffer and die in three days.

No wonder I heard years later from a classmate who was in the navy (but found himself assigned later to the White House) that some people who had enlisted hoping to see the world courtesy of Uncle Sam ended up on submarine duty and did not see much of the planet.

Another classmate from Angeles City who also joined the US Navy spent some time on KP (kitchen patrol). He was proud to say that with Pinoys virtually in control of ships’ mess halls, adobo had become such a favorite that it was added to the regular menu on board.

Who can resist the aroma of pork slices or chunks marinated in a magic mix of salt, sugar, garlic, and some spices? There would be a mutiny if this Pinoy concoction were withheld from the crew.

In Guam, in a surprise similar to the Daniel Boone experience, we were roused before dawn to witness (but not to photograph) the take-off from the Andersen airbase of a stream of B-52 giant bombers dispatched to rain death and destruction on Viet Cong targets in Vietnam.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 18, 2021)

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