Tag Archives: Oil

Multinational Corporations in the Oil Industry


By Monica Sullivan 

Diplomacy is not only a function of the military and the federal government, but it is very much an integral facet of multinational corporations. The diplomatic agenda pushed by American multinational organizations is one focused on building trust between nations as a way by which to further national security aims. Additionally, the spread of American businesses overseas allows for the introduction of business ventures into areas otherwise untouched by basic capitalist ideas. Since American multinational corporations are predominantly apolitical forces, their primary purpose is not to force a political agenda, as seen in other diplomatic outlets. However, multinational corporations still have the abilities to introduce other countries to the basic tenets of American democracy through the business interactions that take place. Due to the extent of interactions between American multinational business and other countries, these businesses are one of the most important outlets when it comes to shaping the perception of America abroad. For the scope of this paper, the interactions of American multinational oil companies will be examined. As multinational corporations are involved in the development of foreign infrastructure, their relationships abroad should be considered as a viable alternative for diplomatic action when military and state actors fail.

Within the oil industry, the presence of American multinational corporations have allowed the growth of otherwise improbable relationships and the promotion of U.S. values abroad. The presence of U.S. oil companies in the Middle East have allowed a line of communication to bridge the gap between the starkly different Western and Islamic worlds. American involvement in the Middle Eastern oil prospects began in post-World War I period as American business was eventually permitted under the British mandate. It was evident that U.S. military and economic power would be beneficial as the Middle East was unstable and its future looked to be volatile.Since the U.S. became involved in the oil scene in the 1920s, it has only used this connection to strengthen bonds between itself and Saudi Arabia. Despite the inherent benefits attributed to the multinational nature of oil companies, there are some considerable downfalls that must be taken into account.

With the power of oil companies as influential multinational corporation comes the risk associated with such a unique diplomatic tool. Foremost, oil is a constantly dwindling natural resource that doubles as a crucial economic commodity. Since the United States is not a primary source of oil production, it must rely on other foreign oil producers. Any fluctuation in foreign industry can plunge the world into recession. The delicacy of oil dependence in the world is not as apparent as it was during the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973. The sanctions forced upon the U.S. by OPEC as retribution for allying with Israel crippled America’s supply of oil. In turn, this also drove up the price of oil and gasoline to quadruple the price prior to the sanction.2 This crisis demonstrated the power Saudi Arabia derived from its oil production and the United States’ lack of oil control. Although the United States reduced its dependency on Arab oil after this incident, it became apparent the importance of American corporations maintaining viable and open relationships with foreign countries. The economic and military relevance of oil was underscored once more in 2002, as Saddam Hussein used his control of oil processing as leverage during military campaigns. His threats to destroy oil platforms were met with the response of special warfare to ensure that his rogue actions would not cause an economic recession in the midst of the Iraqi conflict.3

Prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, American multinational oil corporations were involved in humanitarian aid efforts to try to quell the mistreatment of the civilian population. However, this initiative, known as the Oil for Food program, devolved into an international scandal in which American corporations like Chevron received illegal kickbacks which undermined the goal of transmitting food to a population crippled by United Nations’ sanctions.4 The fact that Chevron was manipulating this program to its benefit demonstrates the possible risks associated with using multinational corporations as means for diplomacy.5 Multinational corporations are subject to the whims of their executives, thereby allowing for their private ethical perspectives to drive the corporation’s representation of American ideals in foreign states. Despite the bad reputations evoked by some multinational corporations, the overall purpose of these businesses is grounded in their desire to spread American interests abroad.

One of the most influential examples of the positive power of multinational corporations is direct advancement of African civilizations in Chad by ExxonMobil. American interests in Africa peaked following World War I, but were overshadowed in the years since, until 9/11. Africa was not of strategic interest to the U.S. until it was determined that it was a breeding ground for radicalized terrorists. Prior to the unfolding of 9/11, ExxonMobil explored Chad as an option for oil extraction. These plans for extraction detailed that how the country was to develop its infrastructure, education, and healthcare through the use of the money received from taxes and royalties from the oil produced.6 By investing in Chad, Exxon-Mobil was able to provide about $4.2 billion dollars of aid, whereas the United States was only providing about $3 million dollars of aid to the area.7 The United States’ positive presence in the area allowed for a smooth transition of American military and state presence in the years following 9/11, as the CIA established stations in the area to monitor and track terrorist cells thought to have been left over from Bin Laden’s time in Sudan during the 1990s. Whereas the military and state was primarily focused on missions regarding terrorist activity, Exxon was involved in turning their business aims into an opportunity for eliminating poverty in the region. The bonds forged between Exxon and the local population prior to the introduction of American operatives in the region made this transition much easier than if Chadians had no prior interactions with American people. This may be just one case study of the impact of the diplomatic power of an American multinational corporation, but it exhibits the mindset of the American business owners to further American ideals abroad. 

Multinational oil corporations do not only have to form relationships with other states, but they have to coordinate with each other. Looking to the future, American oil corporations will be faced with the challenge of competing with Saudi Aramco, the largest multinational corporation in the world. As this one entity has more power than any other American based company, it has the power to bend the U.S. to their will. The question that remains is: How will the American values modeled by multinational corporations abroad continue future diplomatic relations?

Monica Sullivan is a 3/C Midshipman at the United States Naval Academy. She majors in Political Science with a minor in Spanish language. In her free time, Monica enoys singing with the Protestant Chapel Choir.

Works Cited

Coll, Steve. Private empire: ExxonMobil and american power. London: Penguin, 2013.

“Q&A: Oil-for-food scandal.” BBC News. September 7, 2005. Accessed March 31, 2017. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/4232629.stm.

“Chevron to Pay $30 Million to Settle Charges For Improper Payments to Iraq Under U.N. Oil For Food Program.” U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. November 14, 2007. Accessed March 30, 2017. https://www.sec.gov/news/press/2007/2007-230.htm.

Myre, Greg. “The 1973 Arab Oil Embargo: The Old Rules No Longer Apply.” NPR. October 16, Accessed March 30, 2017http://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2013/10/15/234771573/the-1973-arab-oil-embargo-thE-old-rules-no-longer-apply.

Yergin, Daniel. The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power. London: Simon & Schuster, 2012.


1. Daniel Yergin. The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power. 196

2. “The 1973 Arab Oil Embargo: The Old Rules No Longer Apply.”

3. Steve Coll. Private Empire, 154-176.

4. “Chevron to Pay $30 Million to Settle Charges For Improper Payments to Iraq Under U.N. Oil For Food Program.”

5. “Q&A: Oil-for-food scandal.”

6. Steve Coll. Private Empire, 154-176.

7. Steve Coll. Private Empire, 154-176.

Featured Image: Ed Kashi/Corbis

The Concept of ‘Reach’ in Grasping China’s Active Defense Strategy: Part I

This publication originally featured on Bharat Shakti and is republished with permission. It may be read in its original form here.

The article will be presented in two parts. In this part, the author explores China’s dependence on crude oil that traverses across the oceans to feed the country’s growth. These circumstances have prompted China to develop its naval forces, since its greater security concerns are in the oceans. The author initiates his discourse on Chinese strategy by detailing the foremost core imperatives that drive the Communist Party of China and its stated core national interests.

By Vice Admiral Pradeep Chauhan AVSM & Bar, VSM, IN (Ret.)

Much thought needs to be given to possible politico-military circumstances under which the Government of India might realize that a Sino-Indian military build-up, stand-off or confrontation is no longer a mere skirmish between their respective armies but a clash in which the Republic of India in its entirety becomes engaged in armed conflict against the People’s Republic of China. Within the context of these circumstances—themselves a matter of both conjecture and debate—this article seeks to initiate an analysis of contemporary Chinese military strategy, using the concept of “reach.”

In common with many such analyses, China’s White Paper of May 2015 forms the basis of our understanding of China’s Military Strategy, i.e. the plans by which the country’s military seeks to achieve national objectives at the strategic level.

Image Courtesy: Reuters
Chinese military parade. Image Courtesy: Reuters

The core imperatives that drive the Communist Party of China’s relationship to the State and the State’s relationship with the world at large include: 1) regime survival 2) “saving face” 3) domestic stability and 4) territorial integrity.

These resonate well with the more formally-stated six core national interests of China: 1) state sovereignty 2) national security 3) territorial integrity 4) national reunification 5) China’s political system established by the Constitution and overall social stability and 6) basic safeguards for ensuring sustainable economic and social development.

The commonly used term core interest, as used by the Chinese leadership, does not have direct correspondence with the same term used by India or, for that matter, by almost all other nation-states. The People’s Republic of China uses the term “to signal a more vigorous attempt to lay down a marker, or a warning, regarding the need for the United States and other countries to respect (indeed, accept with little if any negotiation) China’s position on certain issues”—in other words, “issues it considers important enough to go to war over.”

Along with the exponential growth of China’s “outward-leaning” economy in recent decades the country has experienced an equally meteoric increase in the geopolitical clout that it wields. Geopolitics is largely the sum of geoeconomics and geostrategy. Consequently, as China’s geoeconomic power has affected and dwarfed other regional and State economies, its asserted geostrategy has incrementally incorporated an number of geographic regions as its “core interests.” Examples include Xinjiang, the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands in the East China Sea, and very nearly the whole of the South China Sea.

Image Courtesy: Defence Alert
Image Courtesy: Defence Alert.

China’s geoeconomy has not only generated a more aggressive geostrategy but has also marked an inclination for other nation-states to acquiesce to China’s latest “core interest.” Within the Chinese state-apparatus, this acquiescence appears to have been understood as tacit acknowledgement of China’s intrinsic and inherent superiority to all other geopolitical entities and peoples. This concept of self is driven by the millennia-old Chinese belief that China is the “Middle Kingdom,” at the very center of global civilization, surrounded by barbarian vassals. It is a view that largely defines China’s sense of national identity. Thus, amongst the Chinese power-elites within the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the Central Military Commission (CMC), the lack of any “pushback” from other global and regional powers to China’s assertions has led to a sense of disdain bordering on hubris.

Image Courtesy: NDTV
Image Courtesy: NDTV

In analyzing China’s military strategy, it is essential to understand three central features of the People’s Republic. The first is the critical importance of continuity and supremacy of the CPC. The second is the Chinese economy. The third is the uniquely Chinese concept of “face.” All three are closely linked. If the economy should falter or fail, the continuity of the CPC (regime continuity), or at the very least its continued supremacy, will become uncertain. Likewise, the Chinese sense of identity is inextricably linked to this concept of face and a national loss of face is likely to be far less acceptable than a mere “temporary” loss of territory or military assets. This critical feature offers India several military-strategic options in dealing with China.

The 2015 White Paper clarifies that China characterizes outer space and cyberspace as the “new commanding heights in strategic competition among all parties.” It likewise declares China’s intent to focus upon building a reliable second-strike capability. However, the sharpest thrust has been reserved for the oceans, which is understandable given the prominence that the 2015 White Paper accords to the contemporary strategic concerns of the People’s Republic. These strategic concerns include America’s pivot towards the Indo-Pacific, Japan’s recasting of its military and security policies, and the resistance being offered by Philippines and Vietnam to China’s 9-Dash Line and its assertive activities in the Spratly Islands.

The Chinese Armed Forces are charged with the preservation and protection of the country’s core interests, and this tasking determines China’s military strategy. As war evolves towards “informatization,” a key strategic task of Chinese armed forces is safeguarding China’s security interests in new domains such as Global Positioning Systems, Electronic Warfare (EW) and Cyber/Information Warfare. The latest White Paper has also reaffirmed the centrality of active defense as the guiding strategy for China’s military forces. Thus, offense at the tactical and operational levels is consistent with an overall defensive orientation at the strategic level. By this logic, cyber-attacks are integral elements of the Chinese military’s efforts to “resolutely safeguard China’s sovereignty, security and development interests” in cyberspace. Indeed, in the cyber and maritime domains alike, Beijing consistently rationalizes assertive activities as justified responses to prior provocations.

Despite the inevitable hype that has accompanied analyses of the 2015 White Paper, this is a Chinese strategic concept that predates the People’s Republic itself. Its first articulation within China may be attributed to Mao Zedong, the CPC’s founding chairman, who codified it in a much studied 1936 essay on the “Problems of Strategy in China’s Revolutionary War,” which outlined “the strategy that the Red Army used in order to overcome stronger Nationalist and Japanese opponents—right from the Party’s inception in 1921 until its greatest triumph in 1949.”

Image Courtesy: AFP
Image Courtesy: AFP

“Active defense may be accurately described as a strategically defensive posture that a big, resource rich but (militarily) weak combatant assumes to weary and turn the tables on a stronger antagonist. Such a combatant needs time to tap its resources—natural riches, manpower, martial ingenuity—so it protracts the war. It makes itself strong over time, raising powerful armed forces, while constantly harrowing the enemy. It chips away at enemy strength where and when it can. Ultimately the weaker becomes the stronger contender, seizes the offensive, and wins. It outlasts the foe rather than hazarding a battle early on—a battle where it could lose everything in an afternoon.”

Obviously, a nation needs physical and strategic maneuvering space to work this strategy. Originally, this strategy was confined solely to the geospatial imperatives of the land war fought by the Red Army, wherein Mao’s peasant troops had the luxury of withdrawing into the remote interior of China. This move forced the enemy forces to choose between breaking contact and ceding the initiative or giving chase and overextending themselves. In the latter case, Red Army units, operating closer to their own logistics base could raid and harry the overstretched enemy, cut supply routes, and fall upon and annihilate isolated units. It was a strategy that the Russians, too, had used a century earlier when, in 1812, they seduced Napoleon deep into the Russian interior, leading to military disaster for France.

The term active defense remains contemporary in militaries other than the People’s Republic of China. The US Department of Defense, for instance, also uses the term, albeit predominantly (if not solely) with distinctly tactical connotations and defines it as “the employment of limited offensive action and counterattacks to deny a contested area or position to the enemy.” The Chinese, however, apply this as a general strategic principle applicable across all levels, from the tactical to the strategic. At the level of geostrategy, the required “maneuver space” shifts from the hinterland to the largely maritime expanse of the Indo-Pacific.

Here, the concept of strategic maneuver has intimate linkages with geoeconomics, much of which, as a result of the geographic element within that term, is maritime in nature. As the renowned Chinese Professor Lexiong Ni put it, “When a nation embarks upon a process of shifting from an ‘inward-leaning economy’ to an ‘outward-leaning economy,’ the arena of national security concerns begins to move to the oceans. This is a phenomenon in history that occurs so frequently that it has almost become a rule rather than an exception.”

Perhaps a good way to understand the application of this strategy at the grand-theater level is to simply abandon the lexicon of the standard Western approach to active defense, which in Indian analyses is all too frequently simply “copied-and-pasted,” and instead examine this stated strategy through a different prism, one that I call “reach.” We need to consider reach as an overarching ability with internal (e.g., political/societal) as well as external (geopolitical) facets and with spatial as well as temporal dimensions.

Internal reach may be considered as the ability to tap into the intrinsic sources of China’s strength—its people (including its global diaspora) and their conditioned sense of identity, their value system with the centrality that it gives to the concept of “face,” their industriousness, their innovativeness, their ability to reverse-engineer everything from contemporary and evolving concepts to cutting-edge and state-of-the-art military-hardware, their fierce determination to regain “face” that was lost in the Century of Humiliation and to not lose it ever again, etc. This is, in effect, the contemporary re-creation of the Chinese people as a roughly homogeneous mass—the peasant army in a modern, sophisticated avatar—no longer peasants but retaining the quality of “mass” all the same.

At the geoeconomic level, economic reach is the ability of China to build its own economy and sustain its economic growth by gaining and maintaining access to geographically diverse external sources of economic wealth (whether by way of access to raw materials from foreign lands or through market expansion of Chinese products in foreign lands). China’s geostrategy translates economic reach into geographical reality over a time frame that is predetermined by the state.

In other words, at the geostrategic level, strategic reach is the ability to shape the probable battlespace by enabling access and logistic support to Chinese commercial and State entities (including military entities) throughout China’s areas of geopolitical interest, so as to enable and/or facilitate economic reach while avoiding placing all geoeconomic eggs in a single basket.

In some cases, this geoeconomic reach can be realized within a purely land-centric (continental) frame of geographic access. For instance, Mongolia, which has substantial reserves of high quality coking coal, is an important focus of China’s overland strategic reach. Likewise, Russian overland exports of oil, gas and
minerals (especially iron ore) increasingly feed the voracious economic appetite of China and have catapulted China into
Russia’s largest trade partner, ahead of Germany. In the case of Vietnam, too, where the principal exports to China are oil and coal, a significant amount of the trade is overland, since the 1,300 km border is shared between the Chinese provinces of Yunnan and Guangxi and eight provinces of Vietnam. Both China and Vietnam have invested billions in highway and railway infrastructure to facilitate their bilateral overland trade. China’s significant imports of refined copper and copper ore from Laos also move predominantly along overland trade routes.

myanmar-kazakhstan-oil-gas-pipelineHowever, to meet the ever-growing demand for mineral resources and petroleum-based energy that is required to sustain China’s economic growth, the bulk of China’s imports of these resources are being drawn from increasingly distant areas that are either accessible only by sea or where seaborne transit offers the most cost-effective movement in terms of volume, time, and space. In fact, the maritime component of her geostrategy is so large that China is increasingly forced to venture into the uncertainties of becoming very nearly a pure maritime power. In China today, there is widespread recognition that a competent and well-balanced blue-water navy is the only military instrument that can obtain and sustain a favorable geopolitical situation in all the dynamic shifts that characterize international relations between China and the nation states upon which her geoeconomy depends. Indeed, the economy is simultaneously China’s greatest strength and its greatest vulnerability, and therefore, it is the centerpiece of the country’s policy and strategy. This is, of course, true of India as well.

ESPOAn ever-increasing demand for energy fuels China and India’s economic growth. Although the share of coal is still the largest in the energy-basket of both countries, oil consumption is growing so rapidly that it is driving the foreign policy and security perspectives of both China and India.  In 1985, China was East Asia’s largest exporter of oil. In 1993, China became a net importer, and in 2015, she became the largest importer of crude oil on the planet. By April 2015, China was importing a staggering 7.4 million barrels per day (bbd) and by 2020, China will be importing an estimated 9.2 million bbd of crude-oil.

myanmar-china-oil-gas-pipeline-300x225For all the marvelous engineering, the three main crude oil pipelines into China (the Eastern Siberia-Pacific Ocean pipeline (ESPO), the Kazakhstan-China oil Pipeline and the Myanmar-China oil pipeline), taken in aggregate, cater for a mere 15% of China’s crude oil imports. Almost all of the enormous quantity of crude oil that China imports either lies within or must travel across the Indian Ocean and must transit one or more of the chokepoints that connect the Indian and the Pacific Oceans. These are: the Malacca Strait, the Sunda Strait, the Lombok strait, and the Ombai-Wetar strait. Of these, the Malacca Strait and the Lombok Strait of are particular importance to China and constitute what Chinese leaders term the “Malacca Dilemma.”

It is prudent to remember that the terms “energy security” and “security-of-energy” are not mere semantic variations. Energy security is the degree to which the available or assured and affordable energy exceeds the demand. The security-of-energy, on the other hand, is the physical security of the energy as it flows across or under the sea or over the land. Consequently, China, as a country, concerns itself with energy security, while the Chinese Navy concerns itself with the security-of-energy.

Conscious of all this, China is executing a geostrategy that will enable her to assure her geoeconomic needs. As in the famous Chinese game of Go, the People’s Republic is putting in place the pieces that will shape her desired geopolitical space.

The second part of this article will explore China’s geostrategic execution further.

Vice Admiral Pradeep Chauhan retired as Commandant of the Indian Naval Academy at Ezhimala. He is an alumnus of the prestigious National Defence College.

The Other Deep-Water Battleground

This article originally featured on Reuters and was republished with the author’s permission. Read it in its original form here

By Peter Marino 

A floating dock of the Indian navy is pictured at the naval base at Port Blair in Andaman and Nicobar Islands, India, July 1, 2015. REUTERS/Sanjeev Miglani

The Indian Ocean may be the only ocean named for a country, but it’ s still heavily contested territory. Both China and India, who have major strategic interests there, are suspicious of each other. Their struggle for leadership in the “emerging world” will play out for decades and all around the globe, but today the Indian Ocean is Ground Zero.

The South China Sea is home to overlapping claims by China, the Philippines, and other countries in the region. And the Arctic Ocean, increasingly, has seen a build-up of U.S. and Russian troops, lured by the possibility of billions of barrels of untapped oil. The Indian Ocean is significant because of its strategically important sea lanes — particularly for India and China, two of the world’s largest importers.

China imports most of its oil by sea, and 80 percent of it crosses the Indian Ocean before it passes through the Straits of Malacca, on its way to the Chinese market. Beijing is very concerned about its dependency on a waterway it does not control, and is using diplomacy, both carrots and sticks, to ensure that it can continue to access the sea lanes. As part of this effort, Xi Jinping’s “maritime silk road” program will offer cheap Chinese financing to cash-strapped governments for trade and industrial infrastructure along such routes.

China is using hard power as well. Through China’s longstanding alliance with the Pakistani government, it has funded improvements at the deepwater port of Gwadar, Pakistan, where a state-owned Chinese company now has a 40-year management contract. That agreement allowed the port to host ships owned by the People’s Liberation Army Navy, giving the Chinese a permanent, or at least semi-permanent, presence in the region.

China’s participation, since 2012, in the international anti-piracy coalition that mans the Gulf of Aden has also allowed it to operate in the Western Indian Ocean, where it is reported to be conducting studies of the sea depth, presumably to aid future submarine patrol missions.

Delhi has been paying close attention, and is mobilizing its own diplomatic and hard-power tools to shore up its influence in its home region. Indian foreign aid, while not yet on the scale of Chinese state investment, is being spread liberally to countries near the Indian Ocean, especially to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. India’s proximity and cultural similarities give it some advantages over the Chinese efforts. Nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been notably active in this area, making the first trip by an Indian PM to Sri Lanka in 28 years as part of the push to improve bilateral relations.

Moreover, Delhi is aware of the gap between the strength of its own forces, and that of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, which has been modernizing for 20 years. India is opening up its checkbook for better equipment, including a multi-billion-euro deal for advanced Rafale fighter jets from France to replace its aging Russian Sukhois. And it is becoming less shy about the idea that it is countering China at sea. When U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter visited Delhi in June this year, he signed early paperwork establishing a collaboration to develop India’s next generation of aircraft carriers. Because China had recently launched its first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, and was constructing two more, the motivation behind this proposed Indo-U.S. partnership was unmistakable.

Despite these conflicting interests, China and India could still have room to collaborate on several major global issues. As two of the world’s biggest importers of agricultural goods, minerals and energy, they share an interest in working with exporters to help smooth out price volatility in commodity cycles. And as countries that will be “great powers” while still relatively poor, they should work with each other to push through reforms at the United Nations, World Bank and other international groups that were set up by the rich world. Their shared interest in a peaceful and stable Southeast Asia should contribute to their joint participation in peaceful diplomacy there, too.

But for the moment, Delhi and Beijing are mostly in a mode of competition in the Indian Ocean, and the tendrils of their struggle extend even further, across the steppes of Central Asia, to the Western part of Africa, and into the Persian Gulf, as well. The Indian Ocean is the one major ocean not bounded by one of the existing great powers, which makes it the perfect locale in which the struggle for primacy in the “emerging world” can play out. What we are seeing now is only the beginning.

Peter Marino holds an MSc in Global Politics from The London School of Economics and is a graduate of Norwich University. He lived in Shanghai from 2003 to 2008 and served as head of China development for London-based Aurigon, Ltd. He founded and sold Quaternion, a political risk startup, and is currently establishing a new Think Tank for International Affairs aimed at promoting engagement with the “Millennial Generation.” He also produces Globalogues, a video blog with commentary on global politics and economics. The views expressed in this article are his own.

Naval Build-Up in the Philippines

Like many of its regional peers, the Philippines is in the midst of a defense buildup, motivated in no small part by China’s assertive moves in the western Philippine Sea and the resource-rich Spratly islands. 
The donation this week of two Balikpapan-class Landing Craft Heavy (LCH) from Australia was the most recent boost to Philippines defense efforts. 
The LCH donation is particularly timely, as it complements the upcoming pair of Strategic Sealift Vessels (SSV), being built by PT PAL Indonesia. Based on the Indonesian navy’s successful Makassar-class Landing Platform Dock (LPD), the 8,600-ton amphibious lift ships can transit to remote areas and serve as a mobile base for helicopters and smaller landing craft. As evidenced during Typhoon Haiyan, the dearth of such assets hampered the Philippine government’s aid response to the hardest-hit parts of the country. 
As gifts stand, the donation of ex-HMAS Tarakan and Brunei is particularly generous – the Royal Australian Navy will hand them over fully refurbished with new safety and navigation components, plus spare parts packages. Manila is considering purchasing the three remaining LCHs as well. 
While the media focus of Manila’s defense acquisitions under the Capability Upgrade Program has been centered on big-ticket items to restore basic conventional force capabilities, there have been other, quieter acquisitions that directly support war-fighting and maritime domain awareness (MDA). 
Notably, the service signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2014 with the Philippine National Oil Company to transfer three retired 2,500 ton petroleum tank ships. This acquisition would enable fuel replenishment at sea and increase on-station time for high-endurance assets like the patrol frigates Ramon Alcaraz and Gregorio Del Pilar, both formerly U.S. Coast Guard Hamilton-class cutters.  
Another low-profile capability is the National Coast Watch Center program—a surveillance system designed to monitor oceanic traffic in the western Philippine Sea.
As expected, details of this national intelligence capability are closely held, but much of it is likely based on the successful implementation of the earlier Coast Watch South program. With heavy U.S. assistance, the Philippines created a network of monitoring stations combining radar, maritime surveillance and radio/data networks that provides a real-time strategic and tactical “picture” of oceanic traffic in the Southern Philippines—the so-called Sulawesi Sea Triangle. That area is a hotbed of illicit trafficking by sea and a favored logistical trail for transnational insurgent forces that prowl the region. When completed in 2015, the west-facing Coast Watch chain will monitor the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), extending 200 nm into the contested Spratly Islands group. In the future, additional monitoring chains will cover the Northern and Eastern facing portions of the country as well. 
The most recent, visible and well-publicized modernization program has been the integration of the multipurpose helicopter program with the patrol frigate force. Five Augusta-Westland A109s twin-engine helicopters equipped with forward-looking infrared have been delivered to the fleet to replace long-retired BO-105s. From an operational perspective, the navy has made quick strides to integrating the air asset with ships of the line. The AW109s had a maiden deployment on board Ramon Alcaraz during the Australian multinational military exercise Kakadu 2014, approximately eight months after receiving the first helicopters. 
Out of all the projects to restore capabilities, the navy is still awaiting final determination of its premier acquisition – the multi-role frigate. The Philippines wants to buy two units to serve as major and modern combatants of the patrol frigate force. While the negotiations have been stymied by a complex two-phase process, a list of qualified bidders has emerged, including well-known Spanish shipbuilder Navantia and several South Korean firms, among others. A winning bid was to be selected in late 2014, but the acquisition process reportedly has been complicated by efforts to separate the tracks of selecting a ship from the embedded weapon systems. This may have to do with current challenges of the Philippines not being easily cleared for purchases of regional-balance changing weapons, such as a long-range surface-to-surface missile, with which this ship class is normally equipped.  
The Armed Forces of the Philippines has benefited under President Benigno Aquino III’s administration. To date, multiple modernization programs have either reached significant acquisition stages or have been completed entirely during his tenure. 
However, as the new paint smell wears off for the navy, the historical challenges that have haunted its past acquisitions and programs loom. It is critical that the next presidential administration continue to support the acquisitions, as well as the services, both politically and fiscally. The navy needs to ensure that internal expertise among the ranks to maintain their newly acquired equipment is present and sustainable. Above all, operating effectively and efficiently at sea continues to be the primary objective. The nation’s seafaring history and ties to the maritime culture give impetus to the current goals of ensuring territorial integrity and establishing a credible defense. Given the relatively rapid pace of modernization, the Philippine navy is well on the road to restoring the capabilities necessary to meet those demands. 
Armando J. Heredia is a civilian observer of naval affairs. He is an IT Risk and Information Security practitioner based in New England, with a background in the defense and financial services industries. He is a regular contributor to the Center for International Maritime Security’s NextWar blog.  
This article can be found here in its original form on the USNI website and was republished by permission.