Earlier this month, Japan and the Philippines inked a contract for the delivery of vessels that would constitute the largest in the Philippine Coast Guard. Though this was just one of many developments in the Japan-Philippine defense relationship, it is not without significance for their security ties as well as for the broader bilateral relationship more generally.
As I have observed before in these pages, while Japan and the Philippines have long had a bilateral relationship, the development of the defense aspect of ties has accelerated over the past few years, covering various issues including not just defense equipment and transfer, but also critical capacity-building and broader regional cooperation in areas ranging from cybersecurity to maritime security. Some of that has continued in spite of the challenges posed by the rise of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.
That has continued on over the past year or so. Indeed, last month, we saw Japan and the Philippines carry out another coast guard exercise between them, which spotlighted one aspect of the growing defense ties between the countries.
On Feb. 7, the security aspect of the relationship was in the spotlight with the signing of a new contract for two vessels for the Philippines. The 6.7 billion peso contract was for two multirole response vessels (MRRV) for the Philippine Coast Guard, and was inked between Philippine Department of Transportation (DOTr) Secretary Arthur Tugade and Mitsubishi Shipbuilding Co. President and CEO Koji Okura. This was part of a series of vessels being acquired by Manila under the Maritime Safety Capability Improvement Project Phase II.
Per DOTr specifications, the MRRVs would have an overall length of about 94 meters and a top speed of 24 knots. Each vessel will also include a series of features including a deck and hangar for helicopter operations, an underwater remotely operated vehicle for subsurface search and survey, and two high-speed rubber boats.
The MRRVs would represent the largest ships to be operated by the PCG, thus constituting a major addition to the service’s capabilities. Following the contract signing, PCG spokesperson Arman Balilo said the assets would help “further boost the capabilities of the PCG in responding to offshore and coastal maritime incidents.”
Of course, the impact of the MRRVs on the capabilities of the PCG and the Philippines more generally will only be evident once they are actually operational. That is still a few years away, with current indications suggesting that the first ship will be delivered in March 2022, and the second one following in September that year.
Prashanth Parameswaran is Senior Editor at The Diplomat based in Washington, where he produces analysis on Southeast Asian political and security issues, Asian defense affairs, and U.S. foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific.