28 April 2009

Philippines to Acquire Israeli UAV Spy Plane for Use in Basilan

25 Juli 2001

Israel's made Blue Horizon UAV (photo : ElmitUAV)

In need of dramatic results in its war against the extremists, the Armed Forces are banking on technology to help them out. To the rescue: an Israeli unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that can see through foliage and buildings - and pinpoint location of hostile forces.

Within the month, Newsbreak learned from military sources, the Philippines is expected to get its first UAV and will be deployed to Basilan. Details of this major acquisition, involving a low of two million dollars to a high of 12 million dollars, are under wraps because it is considered an intelligence operation.

Few people know about the project. These include President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, her Armed Forces chief of staff, deputy chief of staff, a few in the Armed Forces General Headquarters, and the top brass of the Department of National Defense.

Some in the Armed Forces question the absence of transparency in the negotiation. If it pushes through, this will be one of the most expensive purchases by the military. The Armed Forces acknowledge they need a UAV. But the deal, some say, should pass through rigorous bidding.

Newsbreak sought an interview with Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes but he declined. Armed Forces deputy chief of staff Maj. Gen. Roy Cimatu gave written responses but did not directly answer Newsbreak's questions.

Blue Horizon, the name of the UAV model to be acquired, is manufactured by Singapore Technologies, under contract with Emit Aviation Consultancy of Israel. Singapore Technologies is a multinational corporation, engaged in, among others, the manufacture of military hardware.

Jane's Defence Weekly reported in December 1998: "In a drive to exploit a domestic requirement for UAVs, Singapore Technologies has signed a 14-million-dollar contract with Emit Aviation Consultancy (EAC) for the new Blue Horizon UAV." EAC is a UAV manufacturer.

Equipped with infrared, Blue Horizon can see people in jungles and enclosed places even at night. Data from the Internet describe it as a "small, lightweight UAV, powered by a twin-cylinder piston engine. It is capable of carrying out 'penetrator' missions by operating at low speed and low altitude."

Israel is a pioneer in UAV technology. Together with the US, it is an acknowledged leader in the field. In Southeast Asia, Singapore and Thailand are known to have UAVs.

The Blue Horizon can fly at 2,000 feet, with an endurance of four hours, covering a radius of 50 kilometers. It delivers real-time information to a monitoring center on the ground. Immediately, ground troops can be sent to the area where targets are located.

A UAV can't say whether forces are friendly or hostile. It merely determines where, for example, a group of people are in isolated areas, either mobile or stationary.

The UAV will go on test missions in Basilan as part of the company's product demonstration. Initially, it will be operated by experts from the company. Armed Forces personnel, specifically from the Army and intelligence units, will be trained to use it. Training may take about two weeks.

Although the Armed Forces list UAVs in their modernization wish list, this first acquisition is not part of it. The Blue Horizon project did not go through competitive bidding as required by the rules.

Only when there is a single manufacturer could government enter into a negotiated contract. There are about close to a hundred UAV manufacturers in the world.

Cimatu, who chairs the bids and awards committee of the Armed Forces modernization program, said the Armed Forces were "seriously evaluating" buying a UAV. But he did not confirm the Blue Horizon deal.

Newsbreak checked with Brig. Gen. Cesar P. Garcia Jr, director general of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, and he was unaware of the deal. But he said the UAV WAs long overdue: "We needed that two years ago." He said the acquisition of such equipment should go through public bidding.

Currently deployed in Basilan is the counter-terrorist force of the Army, the 45-man Light Reaction Company. This is the first time the Army has formed such an elite unit, trained and armed by the US military.

The UAV is expected to complement their operations. The UAV, said Maj. Gen. Dionision Santiago, former commander of the Special Operations Command, under whose watch the LRC was born, is "good in tandem with combat forces". The LRC falls under the Special Operations Command of the Army.

Santiago, too, is unaware of the arrival of Blue Horizon.

The Philippine Army has developed its own UAV, still unnamed, and will be ready for use in a month. Compared with Blue Horizon, the homegrown UAV has less endurance (two hours flying time) and a smaller radius (20 kilometers) and is much cheaper at 3.5 million pesos (about 66 million pesos).

It took the Army five years to see the project through, from research to construction. Col. Ricardo Morales, who thought up the idea of building a UAV for the Army, was not consulted about the plan to purchase the Israeli equipment.

"Our team has studied various UAV systems all over the world," Morales, who heads the Army Modernization and Strategic Studies Office, says, "Some elements must coincide for the operation to be successful."

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