PH Navy detects US submarine, a first in its 121-year history

Chiara Zambrano, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 17 2020 12:15 PM

Philippine Navy sailors (L) march past their newly-acquired vessel, the Pohang-class corvette BRP Conrado Yap (PS39), as it prepares to dock at the international port in Manila, August 20, 2019. Ted Aljibe, AFP

MANILA—The Philippines’ first warship with subsurface capabilities has detected a United States submarine in Philippine waters, in what is considered a first submarine detection in the 121-year history of the Philippine Navy.

Vice Admiral Robert Empedrad disclosed this Wednesday before the press in his exit interview as outgoing chief of the Philippine Navy. He is set to retire in February. 

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana was delighted that the Philippines is capable of subsurface detection—a vast sea area that the Philippine Navy has been blind to up until the Pohang-class corvette, BRP Conrado Yap, was donated by South Korea in 2019.

“Happy ako dahil 'yong ating barko meron nang capability na ma-detect ang submarines,” said Lorenzana.

(I'm happy that our ship is capable of submarine detection.)

The defense chief, however, said there was nothing extraordinary in spotting foreign submarines there.

“'Yong mga Amerikano saka 'yong Chinese, palagi namang nag-aano d'yan sa South China Sea 'yong submarines nila eh,” Lorenzana said.

(Submarines from the US and China always frequent in the South China Sea.)

According to Empedrad, the Philippine Navy was on its way to acquiring submarines of its own after he said President Rodrigo Duterte approved the purchase of submarines “in principle.” 

Lorenzana, however, was a little more circumspect, and said the submarine acquisition do not have his go signal yet.

“Gusto nila i-frontload ngayon but I think we will wait some more kasi wala tayong pera," he said.

(They wanted to frontload it but we're still waiting because we're lacking funds.)

Acquiring, operating and maintaining a submarine is expensive, Lorenzana said.

It will take away a huge chunk of the defense sector’s budget while there are many other assets needed in the military's modernization program, he added.

He does, however, understand the Navy’s desire to be at par with its regional counterparts in operating the subsurface realm.

"Pati nga 'yong Malaysia, 'yon ngang pati Singapore na napakaliit, meron silang submarine eh, tayo pa wala, napakalaki ng ating maritime domain," he said.

(Malaysia and Singapore have submarines while we don't considering we have a wide maritime domain.)

Lorenzana said they have until 2022 to begin seriously considering the acquisition, when the Navy enters its third phase of modernization.

“Although the Navy is really intent on buying that, matagal pang proseso 'yan. We will weigh the advantages and disadvantages of having a submarine,” he said.