HIMARS Could Be A Game-changer In The Philippines Fight Against China
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Here's what to keep in mind: "Without President Duterte's abrupt change in foreign policy prospects, the Philippines is unlikely to acquire HIMARS in the near future," said Brian Harding, an Asian security expert at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. "In addition to the price tag, Duterte HIMARS would likely find China too provocative."
The United States and the Philippines have discussed, according to the South China Morning Post, whether the Philippine military should buy the highly mobilized artillery missile system (HIMARS), a multi-rocket launcher used by the United States and other nations.
"In use, the system-fired, precision-guided long-range missiles could hit Chinese artificial islands on reefs in the Spratly chain," the newspaper said. HIMARS is a lighter, more mobile version of the U.S. Army's M270 multiple rocket launch system (MLRS) with six barrels. It can fire missiles up to 70 kilometers away and GPS-controlled ballistic missiles up to 300 kilometers away.
However, funding from the financially troubled Philippines is a hurdle. "The two sides could not reach an agreement because HIMARS could be too expensive for Manila due to the tight defense budget," the newspaper said.
How much exactly does HIMARS cost? Manufacturer Lockheed Martin refused to make estimates, instead referring requests to the U.S. Army's Aviation and Missile Command, which did not respond to TNI questions. HIMARS costs are shared between the launcher itself and separate contracts for various ammunition, including guided and unguided missiles, long-range ATACMS (Army Tactical Missile System) missiles, and weapons under development such as long-range missiles and precision strike missiles.
Some estimates assume a HIMARS guided missile of $ 100,000 to $ 200,000 each or an ATACMS of more than $ 700,000 each. Another indication is that Poland recently signed a $ 414 million contract for eighteen launchers, as well as support and training. With the Philippine Defense Budget 2019 of just $ 3.4 billion, a large purchase of HIMARS would be a burden.
Still, HIMARS is still a cheaper option than, for example, a $ 1.4 million Tomahawk cruise missile. And the Philippines already had a taste of HIMARS. The weapon was used there by U.S. Marines in 2016 during the joint Balikatan exercises between the U.S. and the Philippines. Collin Koh Swee Lean, a Singapore defense analyst, told the South China Morning Post: “There were two possible locations for the system: Palawan Province in the Philippines and Thitu or Zhongye in Chinese - the largest island that Manila owns in the controversial Spratly Chain. From Palawan, HIMARS could launch a maximum-range missile to hit China's artificial island on the Mischief Reef, Koh said. However, the island of Thitu would also be vulnerable to PLA air and missile attacks, as it is only 22 kilometers from Subi Reef, which is occupied by China, and is within range of missiles from the Paracel Islands and Hainan. "
The cheaper price of HIMARS compared to other weapons makes it attractive. "The idea of buying HIMARS systems may be one of the few viable options in response to China's artificial islands and the ongoing and increasingly provocative measures in the SCS (South China Sea)," said Jay Batongbacal, director of the Philippines-based Institute for Maritime affairs and maritime law.
Batongbacal, however, does not see a sale in the near future. "The Philippines is probably not yet able to make a purchase," he told The National Interest. "It is also unlikely that it will significantly arm its own possessions for fear of Chinese reactions."
American experts agree. "Without President Duterte's abrupt change in foreign policy prospects, the Philippines is unlikely to adopt HIMARS in the near future," said Brian Harding, an Asian security expert at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. "In addition to the price tag, Duterte HIMARS would likely find China too provocative."
But Harding believes that this could change. “Just as Duterte has dramatically reorganized Filipino foreign policy, there could be an abrupt change with a new president in 2022. A new president could also try to speed up the implementation of the US-Philippines defense cooperation agreement, which could potentially play such a role as an opportunity for the US to deploy systems like HIMARS in the Philippines. "
Indeed, the perhaps more interesting option is not the missile operated by the Philippines, but the US-operated missile on Philippine soil. "I think observers shouldn't just think about skills that the Philippines could acquire themselves," warns Harding. "EDCA offers the United States the ability to use its own rotating platforms. This could be a way to move high-end capabilities to the region if managers agree."
Michael Peck is a contributing writer for national interest. It can be found on Twitter and Facebook. This appeared for the first time earlier in the year.
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