Philippine army to get 27,000 new rifles in upgrade

Philippine army to get 27,000 new rifles in upgrade

MANILA - The Philippine army is getting a much-needed upgrade with the arrival next month of around 27,000 new M-4 automatic rifles, part of an ongoing plan to modernise the Philippine military amid growing tensions in the South China Sea and a festering communist insurgency at home.

Lieutenant-Colonel Noel Detoyato, the army's spokesman, announced yesterday that the M-4s - a shorter and lighter variant of the M-16A2 assault rifle - would arrive on July 19, replacing the Vietnam-era M16As and M14s most Filipino soldiers are still using.

The rifles arriving next month are part of 63,000 M-4s worth about 2.4 billion pesos (S$68 million) that the Philippines has ordered to modernise its military, one of the least capable in Asia to deal with external threats.

The Philippines is locked in increasingly bitter conflicts with China, which has started building island fortresses in the Spratlys - a chain of reefs, atolls and islets - in the South China Sea just west of the Philippines' coastlines.

Last Thursday, the Philippine air force announced that eight armed versions of the Agusta Westlands AW-109 helicopters would arrive in the third quarter of the year, and that 12 F/A50 light combat aircraft would be in service next year.

These purchases are part of the armed forces' 15-year modernisation programme.

The Philippines has spent 41.2 billion pesos on 36 modernisation projects since 2012 and has earmarked another 33.8 billion pesos till 2017.

Two US Coast Guard cutters are now patrolling the South China Sea, and the Philippine government has opened tenders for new frigates.

The Philippines is also negotiating for five patrol boats from France and multi-role naval vessels from South Korea; it is also known to be in the market for a submarine.

The country's military spending, however, is still dwarfed by China's.

On the first day of the annual session of the National People's Congress in March, Beijing announced a defence budget for the year of US$132 billion (S$165 billion), a 12.2 per cent increase from last year.

This article was first published on June 22, 2014.
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