The Philippines continues to accelerate its naval modernization to counter China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea. The recent launch of the BRP Miguel Malvar, the first of two corvettes ordered from HD Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) in 2021, marks a significant step in this process. The second corvette is due to launch by year-end, with both vessels joining the fleet within the next few years. These corvettes, along with Jose Rizal-class frigates received earlier in 2016 and the upcoming Wonhae-class offshore patrol vehicles (OPVs), will bolster the Philippines’ naval capabilities amid rising tensions in the South China Sea, says GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company.

GlobalData’s report “The Global Naval Vessels and Surface Combatants Market Forecast 2024-2034” reveals that Philippine investment in procuring various types of naval vessels is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.1% during 2024-34. The need to update its naval fleet as part of the country’s naval modernization program is primarily responsible for such growth.

Venkatesh Kandlikar, Aerospace & Defence Analyst at GlobalData, comments: “China’s recent assertiveness in the South China Sea has driven the Philippines to strengthen its territorial defense, a primary objective highlighted in the Revised Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Modernization Act passed in December 2012. The escalating presence of Chinese coast guard patrols and the establishment of military installations in nearby islands have further led to frequent clashes with Philippine vessels in the contested waters.”

The modernization efforts of the Philippines are part of a broader regional trend in response to these escalating challenges, with countries such as Vietnam, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, and Brunei also bolstering their maritime defenses to counter China’s assertions.

Kandlikar adds: “While this collective effort has the potential to restore stability in the South China Sea, there are also concerns about the risk of wider military escalation in the region. Given the strategic importance of the South China Sea, characterized by overlapping territorial claims and crucial trade routes, there is apprehension about potential entanglements with major global powers, including the US and its allies.”

Amidst these escalating tensions, collaboration among the Philippines Navy, the Philippine Coast Guard, and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) becomes critically important. Through coordinated efforts and pooling of resources, these agencies can effectively enforce maritime laws and patrol the Exclusive Economic Zone. Such collaborative endeavors not only strengthen maritime security but also enable the Navy to focus on joint maritime drills with friendly countries, thereby strengthening overall maritime defense capabilities.

Kandlikar concludes: “Over the period 2024-34, a substantial portion of the Philippine Navy’s inventory is expected to largely feature cost-effective naval platforms built by South Korea. HHI’s scheduled delivery of corvettes, OPVs, and maintenance services for the in-service naval fleet plays a pivotal role in the country’s naval modernization efforts. Through strategic partnerships, such as with South Korea, and collaboration with various maritime agencies, the Philippines is looking to tackle a stronger opponent, China.”

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