|Naval Air Station Cubi Point, now known as Subic International Airport.|
Photo taken from airliners.net.
MaxDefense will discuss some of the reasons why it would be an advantage for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to consider opening bases for the PAF and PN in Subic Bay.
Subic to Decongest NAIA and Improve CIA
On the civilian side, the transfer of PAF to Subic International Airport (SIA) is actually part of an overhaul of the aviation industry and standards of the Philippines, which is actually a give and take situation between civil and military aviation groups.
Access to Manila's premier aviation gateway, the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) has been tight for a few years now as it has already exceeded the designed capacity to accommodate flights and passengers. One of the solutions made by the Philippine government is to transfer all flights for all light aircraft traffic (including private and corporate planes, aviation schools, and morning fish deliveries) to another airport, which was eventually known as the Philippine Air Force's Danilo Atienza Airbase in Sangley Point, Cavite City, currently the home of PAF's 15th Strike Wing (15th SW). Transferring private and light commercial flights to Sangley Point means the 15th SW will need to let go of the base, and this is where Lumbia Airport in Cagayan de Oro City will come in.
|Danilo Atienza Airbase in Sangley Point, Cavite City. CAAP will be taking over the airbase by 2014.|
Photo taken from panoramio.com.
Lumbia Airport was previously the main airport servicing Cagayan de Oro City in Mindanao. It also serves as a minor airbase for the PAF, where there are normally PAF assets like UH-1H Huey combat utility helicopters stationed. But with the opening of the larger and more modern Laguindingan International Airport, all civil flights are now diverted to the new airport. The Philippine government then allocated the old Lumbia Airport for exclusive use of the PAF, which will now become a full airbase and will accomodate the soon to be homeless 15th SW. So expect the OV-10s and MD-520MGs to be based in Mindanao, which is actually the natural habitat of these attack aircraft for since their induction to the PAF in the early 1990s.
|PAF OV-10s forward deployed at Lumbia Airport.|
Photo taken from Wikimedia.
Now the 15th SW has a secure home in the future, the Danilo Atienza Airbase is good for transfer to the civil aviation soon. According to some reports, the 15th SW may completely leave Cavite as early as 2014 if the transfer goes well, and Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) may open the airbase to civilian traffic almost immediately as well.
|The highly publicized Air Force City hangar at Clark Air Base, Pampanga.|
Another solution for the NAIA problem is to increase the capacity of the Clark International Airport (formerly known as Diosdado Macapagal International Airport), including the expansion of civilian activities to the premises of PAF's Air Force City base on the said airport. Currently Air Force City is the home of the 1st Air Division, the Air Logistics Command and the 710th Special Operations Wing, and is also an extension airbase by the Air Defense Wing's assets originally based in Basa Air Base in nearby Floridablanca, Pampanga. Taking out Air Force City means looking for a new home for these units, and the closest possible bases for transfer is either at Air Defense Wing's Basa Air Base or Subic International Airport. And between the two, SIA is the better choice due to its wider area and more room for improvement.
|Subic International Airport, proposed to be a new air base for the Philippine Air Force.|
Photo taken from traveltothephilippines.info.
Subic as a Deep Water Naval Base and Replacement to the old Cavite Naval Base
As early as the 19th century the Spaniards found Subic Bay's strategic location, deep water and sheltered anchorages suitable for a fine naval base. The Americans confirmed this by choosing it as their largest overseas naval base during the Cold War until its closure in 1992. With the PN acquiring bigger vessels than what they had in their inventory before and the possible take-over of the Cavite Naval Base (CNB) together with nearby Danilo Atienza Air Base to the CAAP, the PN is in a situation where it needs to find a new base to replace CNB in the near future.
Subic Freeport is also home to several shipbuilding and repair facilities, oil depots, and has been the home of the BRP Gregorio del Pilar since it was acquired in 2011. More large ships are expected to arrive and will need a new home as CNB is currently cramped, old, and does not have the facilities to handle such ships. It is a natural choice for the PN to choose Subic Bay as its new home, with more room for further development in the near future. Subic still has some of the US Navy's previous facilities that can be of good use to the Philippine military, like ammunition depots, shelters, warehouses, access roads and other American-made infrastructure.
Subic's Distance in relation with Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) and West Philippine Sea
Of all PAF airbases, Basa Airbase is the closest to the contested Panatag Shoal in the West Philippine Sea. But Subic Airport beats Basa Airbase in closing the distance by a mere 20 something kilometers. Although 20+ kilometers seems small, according to AFP documents released by recent news reports it would cut the reaction time of responding fighter planes by at least 3 minutes, which is very important in terms of air defense response times. It would also shorten the distance between the shoal and the fighter's home base and maximizing the short legs of the incoming KAI FA-50 Golden Eagle fighter trainers of the PAF, as well as incoming maritime patrol aircraft.
Subic Bay is also closer to Panatag Shoal than from Cavite Naval Base. This will also shorten the time for ships to reach the area, considering that ships travel slower than aircraft and the travel time can be shortened by several hours. Overall, Subic is the best location for the PAF and PN to be closer to the potential conflict areas and West Philippine Sea theatre of operations.
Subic and Olongapo City are Military-Friendly Locations
Of all the cities in the Philippines, Olongapo City just outside Subic Freeport is considered as one of the most military-friendly, together with Angeles City near Clark. The city's history is long connected to American and foreign military presence, and the people are very supportive of the move to have military bases in Subic. This is an added advantage considering that many cities in the Philippines are not symphatetic on having military bases in their area due to fear of being legitimate military targets of OPFOR, avoidance of associating with the military, and avoidance of presence of foreign troops.
|Olongapo City residents watching a US Air Force band during a performance at SM City Olongapo.|
Photo taken from subicbaynews.com
Subic as a Joint Base for Philippine and Friendly Forces
The issue regarding the temporary basing of US forces as well as military units from friendly countries like Japan is getting close to reality, and it was earlier revealed that Subic will be the best place to station these visiting foreign forces. Subic can accommodate the largest naval and transport ships, submarines and aircraft carriers, at the same time the nearby airport can accommodate military fighter and transport aircraft as well. The area can also be developed to accommodate the planned temporary housing for military and disaster relief equipment of the US and other friendly countries for forward deployment. This is very advantageous to the country since these forward-deployed items like construction vehicles, tents, relief goods, etc. can also be used by our government if disasters struck (the Philippines is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world).
|If the Philippine government approves, we may see Japan Maritime Self Defense Forces (JMSDF) ships coming in and out of Subic Bay in the near future.|
Photo taken from US Navy.
Since Subic is not too close to the civilian population it is also an ideal base to safeguard joint forces from close contact with the populace, and from preying eyes of the public (and foreign spies as well). The openness and experience of the local population and businesses to foreign and local military forces is another advantage. Olongapo City officials earlier said that having foreign military access to Subic will boost their tourism and business potential and increase income.
Joint Bases in Subic makes Defending it Easier
Having both a naval and air base in Subic makes it easier for the military to defend both at the same time. The AFP can deploy future anti-aircraft gun and missile defenses in the area to defend both the combined bases, the industrial freeport zone (with its oil depots, supply stores and repair facilities) and the city of Olongapo all together without having to deploy separate units for each location. This maximizes the deployment of limited number of defense systems by only having a few but cohesive unit to do the job, thus giving the military enough numbers to deploy elsewhere. If foreign forces are also in the area, it is not impossible that these forces (especially the US) will also provide additional defense systems to strengthen those deployed by the Philippine military.
MaxDefense believes that the planned transfer of naval and air force units of the Philippines to Subic is a good strategic decision and would be beneficial in the overall defense posture of the country, as well as in helping the civil aviation sector. It is still the best location so far for the military, and would be a cheaper alternative than building new military bases. The DND should provide protected facilities in the new base for oil and ammunition supply, hardened aircraft shelters, and other military requirements.
To further maximize this efforts, the AFP and DND should also start modernization and upgrading its current air force and naval bases. Basa Airbase should be modernized, as well as the Fernando Airbase in Batangas. With the impending transfer of the PAF to Lumbia Airport, the DND must also start upgrading the facility to military standards. The PN should also do the same, and it is a welcome news that they would be upgrading their facilities in Rafael Ramos Naval Base in Cebu.