Defense Update: February 15, 2019

Defense Update | February 15, 2019
Authors: Riley Smith and Jack Myint
 
LOOKING AHEAD
 
 

February 21: Welcome Roundtable in Honor of H.E. Chum Sounry, Ambassador of Cambodia to the United States

February 26: Luncheon in Honor of Cambodian Senior Minister Sun Chanthol

March 1: Country Briefings with the Council's Regional Representatives in Singapore

March 12-14: 2019 Vietnam Business Mission

 
THE COUNCIL'S TAKE
 
 

Myanmar to Establish Coast Guard Under Civilian Control

On January 28, Myanmar Minister for Transport and Communications U Thant Sin Maung announced that the government is planning to establish a coast guard that would be under civilian control and that would protect national security, enforce the conservation of Myanmar’s marine resources, respond to maritime accidents and natural disasters, and crackdown on drugs, arms, and human trafficking. It will also be responsible for ensuring the safety of sea routes, particularly in parts of the country where there is off-shore drilling and construction of deep-sea ports. Currently, all maritime security responsibilities are shared by the Myanmar Navy, a branch of the Myanmar Military (Tatmadaw) and the Maritime Police Force, which is housed under the Ministry of Home Affairs (one of the three ministries controlled by the Tatmadaw). The new coast guard is expected to be comprised of personnel from various existing departments such as Immigration, Customs, Fire Services and Marine Administration. 

According to the announcement from the President’s Office, the coast guard will be established as a civilian department, which is an important distinction given that it appears to contradict a provision in the 2008 Constitution. That provision states that all armed forces shall be under the command of the Commander-in-Chief of the Tatmadaw. However, Minister U Thant Sin Maung said that the Coast Guard will be established with the cooperation of the Ministry of Defense, which appears to indicate that the Tatmadaw is on board with this plan.

United States and Thailand Launch 38th Annual Cobra Gold Military Exercises

On February 12, the 38th annual Cobra Gold exercises launched at Akatotsarot Camp in the northern province of Phitsanulok, Thailand. Cobra Gold is one of the largest and longest-running international military exercises  and is aimed at enhancing international maritime security cooperation, military field training, and natural disaster response. The Cobra Gold exercises will run for 10 days with the United States and Thailand co-hosting. In addition to the co-host, 27 other countries and approximately 10,000 military personnel – including those from Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, South Korea and Singapore – will also participate. China and India participate in the civic-action portion of the exercise, focusing on Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief (HADR) training. The U.S. has sent approximately 4,500 personnel to participate in the annual exercises, including the U.S. Navy Seabees, the USS Green Bay, the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit and the U.S. Air Force 35th Fighter Squadron. 

 
 
IN THIS UPDATE
 
 
ASEAN
US commander pushes for more funding to counter China’s influence in the Indo Pacific
U.S. Pacific Command Boss: the Chinese Military Is the 'Principal Threat'
US eyes new bases to counter China in Pacific
Growing Chinese Navy Adds to Risk of Clashes in Asia’s Major Maritime Dispute
The Asia Reassurance Initiative Act and ASEAN
From Asean Economic Development to Militarization

Brunei
Singapore-Brunei Defense Ties in Focus with Army Exercise
Malaysia-Brunei Military Relations in the Headlines With Air Force Chief Visit
Indonesia-Brunei Security Relations in Focus with Air Force Chief Introductory Visit

Cambodia
US, Cambodia ties fade from dark to black

Indonesia
Indonesian military seeks civil roles
Russia-Indonesia Military Ties in Focus with Defense Ministers Meeting
Indonesia's military demands more positions in ministries and state institutions
Implications of Indonesia’s new military base in the South China Sea
Indonesian Air Force to receive additional H225M helicopters
Minister: Terrorism threats remain in Indonesia

Laos
Laos continues to deepen military ties with Russia but risks Chinese backlash

Malaysia
SE Asia has to defend territory against Chinese moves: Malaysian leader
Leonardo positions for Malaysian light fighter programme | Jane's 360
Malaysia steps up anti-terror fight
Malaysia issues RFI for KAI’s FA-50 light fighter | Jane's 360
ADECS 2019: Malaysia revamps naval fleet modernisation

Myanmar
Gov’t Plans To Set Up Coast Guard under Civilian Control
Myanmar to establish coast guard to boost maritime safety

Philippines
U.S. and Philippine military forces conclude MASA 19.1
Philippines' largest shipyard to close in blow to Hanjin rescue
US vows to continue naval operations in WPS
Philippine military welcomes fresh US aid for intelligence support
Philippine military launches air strikes against Abu Sayyaf militants
Philippines tightens immigration checks after deadly Mindanao blasts
Carpio: Philippines should protest China's rescue center on Kagitingan Reef

Singapore
Digital defence to be sixth pillar of Total Defence
Parliament: Govt to continue work in preventing and responding to terrorism threat against public transport
7 men nabbed over illegal transaction of marine gas oil at sea off Singapore's southern coast
Defence exhibition to highlight cyber threats, fake news and disinformation

Thailand
Where Is the US-Thailand Alliance Amid the 2019 Cobra Gold Military Exercises?
Cobra Gold military exercise kicks off in Phitsanulok
Army to buy 14 more Chinese tanks at cost of B2.3bn
Insurgents up the ante
Govt hurries to quash 'fake' S44 order, coup rumours
MARA Pattani suspends peace talks, finds Thai negotiator’s attitude objectionable
Peace talks chief counters southern rebels' condemnation
Armed forces instructed to secure meetings
'Cobra Gold' drills to start next month
Army to buy 14 Chinese battle tanks

Vietnam
Vietnam’s Defense Policy of ‘No’ Quietly Saves Room for ‘Yes’  
Procurement: Herons Headed For Vietnam
Air Force Ospreys spotted in Vietnam for first time
PM Phúc pays Tết visits to armed forces, residents in Đà Nẵng City
 
ARTICLE CLIPS
 
 
ASEAN

US commander pushes for more funding to counter China’s influence in the Indo Pacific South China Morning Post 14th Feb 2019
The US Indo-Pacific commander has urged America’s strategic decision-making body to increase financial investment in the region to counter China’s expanding economic and military influence. Davidson warned that China had become the “principal threat” to American interests, people and allies with the modernisation of the People’s Liberation Army in the past two decades. Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Davidson’s remarks were aimed at finding excuses for the US military’s bigger presence in the region.

U.S. Pacific Command Boss: the Chinese Military Is the 'Principal Threat' The National Interest 14th Feb 2019
China is fielding a wide range of highly-capable weapon systems that could threaten U.S. interests in the Pacific region. That was the stark warning from U.S. Navy admiral Philip Davidson, the commander of  U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, in his testimony before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee on Feb. 12, 2019. "Over the last 20 years, Beijing has undertaken a massive effort to grow and modernize the People’s Liberation Army," Davidson explained in his written statement.

US eyes new bases to counter China in Pacific Asia Times 14th Feb 2019
The United States is currently in talks with allies about the possibility of expanding American military presence around the South China Sea, a top navy commander suggested this week, prompting a rebuke from Beijing. Speaking at a congressional hearing on Tuesday, US Indo-Pacific commander Admiral Philip Davidson told lawmakers that “the environment is changing so drastically in the South China Sea that it’s going to require new approaches in many cases.” Referencing the new National Defense Strategy, released last year, Davidson said a reassessment of the US military’s presence in the region was needed.

Growing Chinese Navy Adds to Risk of Clashes in Asia’s Major Maritime Dispute VOA 28th Jan 2019
A Chinese missile frigate returned last week from a five-day, friendly visit to the Philippines -- days after a Chinese fleet had visited Cambodia and half a year after a Chinese state firm started taking bids to build a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, a sign of Beijing’s growing power at sea. Multiple media outlets last week cited a Chinese Xinhua News Agency report saying the People’s Liberation Army ground forces had dwindled to less than half China’s total 2.26 million troops as the number at sea grew. This mounting evidence of Chinese naval expansion will show first in the South China Sea, experts say, upsetting five other governments that dispute Beijing’s maritime sovereignty claims, and challenging U.S. defense for the weaker states.

The Asia Reassurance Initiative Act and ASEAN ASEAN Business News 24th Jan 2019
On December 31, 2018, US President Donald Trump signed the “Asia Reassurance Initiative Act” or ARIA into law following its approval by the US Senate on December 19, 2018. The ARIA’s main aim is “to develop a long-term strategic vision and a comprehensive, multifaceted, and principled United States policy for the Indo-Pacific region”. More specifically, the enacted law is focused on the promotion of American interests in the Indo-Pacific region in terms of defense and security partnerships. As per ARIA, US security interests primarily involve building new counterterrorism partnership programs in Southeast Asia and increasing maritime domain awareness both in South Asia and Southeast Asia.

From Asean Economic Development to Militarization The Manila Times Online 21st Jan 2019
IN a recent editorial, The Manila Times expressed concern that relatively benign economic conditions may lead to a false sense of security as “the United States-China trade war may be starting to inflict collateral damage on the economy.” In the short term, it is a valid concern for the Philippines and other Asean economies that currently benefit from relatively benign economic conditions. But even if the worst excesses of the trade war could be deterred, there are darker clouds in the longer-term horizon. The Trump administration’s new trade protectionism is accompanied by an increasingly military stance. The new US Africa strategy heralds changes in other regions as well, particularly Asia.

Brunei

Singapore-Brunei Defense Ties in Focus with Army Exercise The Diplomat 14th Feb 2019
The latest iteration of the exercise highlighted some of the ongoing activity in the defense relationship in 2019. Last week, Singapore and Brunei concluded the latest iteration of their army exercise. The visit placed the focus on the defense side of the relationship between the two Southeast Asian states amid wider domestic and regional change. Singapore and Brunei have a close defense relationship as part of their wider bilateral relationship. This is reflected not just in traditional aspects like exchanges, visits, and exercises, but also the fact that Brunei has benefited from the expertise of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), while Singapore’s military also holds training in Brunei as it does with a number of its other key partners.

Malaysia-Brunei Military Relations in the Headlines With Air Force Chief Visit The Diplomat 12th Feb 2019
Last week, Malaysia’s air force chief was in Brunei for a scheduled visit. The interaction put the focus on the Malaysia-Brunei defense relationship and the broader state of bilateral ties more generally. The states share a land border and have attempted to forge greater cooperation over the years in spite of some differences over boundaries and borders. On the defense side in particular, cooperation includes various aspects such as visits and exchanges, training, as well as exercises. That has continued on into 2019 as well. Indeed, just last month, Malaysia’s Defense Minister Mohamad Sabu (popularly known as “Mat Sabu”) embarked on his scheduled first trip to Brunei since he took up his position following the shock election result last May, which saw former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s return to the premiership as head of the new Pakatan Harapan government. During that meeting, both sides discussed ways to strengthen various dimensions of their defense relationship and Mat Sabu visited a number of defense facilities as well.

Indonesia-Brunei Security Relations in Focus with Air Force Chief Introductory Visit The Diplomat 23rd Jan 2019
Earlier this month, Brunei’s air force chief paid an introductory visit to Indonesia. The interaction, which was the first publicized one among the two countries in 2019, highlighted ongoing efforts to further boost collaboration in the defense realm into the new year. While Indonesia and Brunei underwent a tumultuous period in their relationship at the height of the Cold War, the contemporary diplomatic relationship has gradually evolved to include a defense component. The relationship now includes components such as high-level visits, education courses, training, and exercises, along with functional areas of discussion on issues of common interest such as counterterrorism and maritime security.

Cambodia

US, Cambodia ties fade from dark to black Asia Times 15th Feb 2019
“It’s always darkest before it turns pitch black,” the late American senator and Vietnam War veteran John McCain was fond of saying, employing a slight twist on the cliché its “darkest before the dawn.” The statesman’s turn of phrase could be used to characterize the current dark state of US-Cambodia relations, which arguably have not been this dim since America’s secret bombing campaign of the country during the Vietnam War. But while Washington has imposed limited sanctions and cut aid to Cambodia for its democratic backsliding since late 2017, US policymakers are still seeking strategic ways to ensure that the lights don’t go permanently out on the relationship, including by reviving moribund military ties.

Indonesia

Indonesian military seeks civil roles ucanews.com 14th Feb 2019
A plan to appoint serving Indonesian military officers to senior positions in ministries and government agencies has been opposed by rights' activists and victims of past abuses by the armed forces. This follows the Indonesian military seeking amendments to a 2004 law restricting retired officers to positions in a limited number of ministries and civil institutions. They include the positions of Defence Minister and the Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs as well as some intelligence and judicial posts. Military chief Hadi Tjahjanto said a relaxation of the curb was needed to reorganize the armed forces, which have been unable to provide positions to about 500 middle and high-ranking officers. The plan surfaced in a story carried by the Tempo news outlet quoting Tjahjanto after he met last week in the capital, Jakarta, with President Joko Widodo

Russia-Indonesia Military Ties in Focus with Defense Ministers Meeting The Diplomat 9th Feb 2019
Earlier this week, Russia’s defense minister paid a visit to Indonesia in the first such interaction of 2019. The trip spotlighted some of the ongoing activity within the military aspect of ties between the two sides and how they are looking to develop it further for the rest of the year and into the future more generally. Russia and Indonesia have long had a defense relationship that they have looked to continue to develop over the years. While most of the attention tends to be focused around areas such as new arms purchases, there are also a range of others such as exchanges and dialogues, along with discussions about technology transfer and even joint development and production amid challenges that remain. The meeting between the two defense ministers and their delegations touched on various existing aspects of defense collaboration as well as future areas too. According to Indonesia’s defense ministry, Ryacudu suggested that increased cooperation be sought in fields such as information exchange, joint training, and annual dialogues between the two sides, in addition to current collaboration in areas like procurement and counterterrorism. Shoigu, for his part, discussed some of Russia’s intended areas for future collaboration and also invited Indonesian participation in various upcoming for a in the country, including conferences and parades.

Indonesia's military demands more positions in ministries and state institutions The Straits Times 4th Feb 2019
Indonesian bureaucrats may soon face tighter competition to reach the top rungs of the career ladder, with the government planning to allow active military officers to take up positions in ministries and government institutions. The Indonesian military, known as the Tentara Nasional Indonesia (TNI), is formulating an amendment to a legislation of the TNI law that was enacted in 2004 to permit middle- and high-ranking officers to serve in the top two levels of ministries and state institutions. TNI commander Hadi Tjahjanto, said the revision was aimed at reorganising the military, which has been unable to provide positions to around 500 middle- and high-ranking officers.

Implications of Indonesia’s new military base in the South China Sea ORF 1st Feb 2019
A new military base was inaugurated by the Indonesian Military (TNI) Commander, Air Marshall Hadi Tjahjanto on 18 December 2018 in Natuna Besar, a disputed territory between Indonesia and China in the South China Sea. The two countries have conflicting interests and rights on this island, which is the largest in the southern peripheral of the South China Sea. Though Indonesia is not a claimant in the South China Sea, but Jakarta and Beijing have entered into skirmishes involving fishing vessels in the disputed Natuna area for long. In March 2016, a special task force of the Indonesian Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries had captured a Chinese fishing boat within Indonesia’s 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) off the Natuna islands, northwest of Borneo.

Indonesian Air Force to receive additional H225M helicopters Airforce Technology 19th Jan 2019
The Indonesian Ministry of Defence and PT Dirgantara Indonesia (Persero) (PTDI) have entered an agreement for the delivery of eight additional H225M multirole helicopters. The extra units will join the airforce’s existing fleet of six H225M military variant helicopters and boost the service’s combat search and rescue capabilities. Under the agreement, PTDI will perform reassembly and complete the mission equipment installation and customisation of the 11t-category twin-engine helicopters before handing over the units to the Indonesian Air Force.

Minister: Terrorism threats remain in Indonesia vietnamplus.vn 18th Jan 2019
Indonesian Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal, and Security Affairs Wiranto has stated that Indonesia remains under real threat of terrorism and that the National Agency for Combating Terrorism (BNPT) cannot work alone in countering it. The Indonesian news agency Antara quoted Minister Wiranto on January 18 as saying that combating the acts and threats of terrorism is the collective responsibility of all elements of the nation and that the BNPT should be able to coordinate with and synergise the huge potentials of the nation in carrying out counter-terrorism measures. Thus, building synergy holds such importance that all related ministries and agencies must be encouraged to assist the preventive counter-terrorism measures, he said, adding that coordination among the Ministry of Finance, the National Development Planning Agency, and the Ministry of Social Affairs is needed during the process.

Laos

Laos continues to deepen military ties with Russia but risks Chinese backlash ASEAN Today 4th Feb 2019
On January 20, Russian tanks and armored cars drove through the streets of the Lao capital of Vientiane. The tanks were the new centrepiece of a military parade to honour the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Lao People’s Armed Forces (LPAF). Laos purchased the military equipment from Russia as a part of a deal reached in January of last year, when Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu visited Lao Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith and Minister of Defense Chansamone Chanyalath. It’s unclear what Laos is paying for the defence contracts, but they offer the country few advantages. Laos has no need for a stronger military and, as one of ASEAN’s lowest-income countries, the government could put the money to far better use. Some sources also suggest that Laos may be offering Russia other guarantees in lieu of payment. This isn’t new territory for Russian arms deals. The two countries have had military ties since the Soviet Union began supporting the Pathet Lao government in the 1960s. The Kremlin’s role in Laos is smaller today, but the deals still represent a risk as China may see them as a threat to its influence over the republic.

Malaysia

SE Asia has to defend territory against Chinese moves: Malaysian leader The Economic Times 14th Feb 2019
Malaysian leader Anwar Ibrahim said Southeast Asian nations have to defend their territory amid Beijing’s belligerent moves to build artificial islands and build military facilities in the South China Sea Anwar made these remarks during an open forum near the U.S. capital on Sunday, the same day that Washington drew Beijing’s ire for sending two warships near the disputed Spratly Islands, reported Radio Free Asia “On the South China Sea, we have taken a position that we will defend our territory,” Anwar, 71, said in reply to a question that followed his speech at the International Institute of Islamic Thought, a nonprofit based in Herndon, Virginia, in the suburbs of Washington.

Leonardo positions for Malaysian light fighter programme | Jane's 360 Jane's 360 6th Feb 2019
Leonardo is working to meet a stated requirement within the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) to procure a light combat aircraft (LCA) or a fighter lead-in trainer (FLIT) as part of the service's future modernisation plans. A spokesperson for Leonardo told Jane's on 5 February that the company has recently received a request for information (RFI) from Malaysia in support of the proposed procurement and that it planned to respond to the RFI soon.

Malaysia steps up anti-terror fight Arab News 2nd Feb 2019
Malaysia is preparing to bolster its national security and counter-terrorism policies under a defense “white paper” unveiled by the government. The 10-year program will provide a blueprint for Malaysia’s overall defense and security planning, Defense Minister Mohamad Sabu said this week. The white paper — Malaysia’s first major defense policy shift since 2010 — follows a rise in militant terror attacks in the region and a growing cybersecurity threat.

Malaysia issues RFI for KAI’s FA-50 light fighter | Jane's 360 Jane's 360 28th Jan 2019
Malaysia has issued a preliminary request for information (RFI) to Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) in support of a potential acquisition of the company's FA-50 light attack aircraft, it has been confirmed to Jane's . A spokesperson for KAI said on 28 January that the RFI was received earlier this month and that an additional RFI is expected once Malaysia refines its air combat requirements. A spokesperson from the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) could not be reached for comment. Under the country's proposed Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) procurement programme Malaysia is thought to be seeking to acquire an initial 12 aircraft with an option for another 24 units in future years.

ADECS 2019: Malaysia revamps naval fleet modernisation Shephard Media 22nd Jan 2019
Adm Mohamad Reza Mohamad Sany, Chief of the Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN), announced a series of priority tasks, including readjustment of the 15-to-5 transformation plan, in a speech on 8 January. While stating that the 15-to-5 plan must continue, he added that a revision of timeframes was needed by March.

Myanmar

Gov’t Plans To Set Up Coast Guard under Civilian Control The Irrawaddy 28th Jan 2019
The Myanmar government is planning to establish a coast guard under the control of the civilian government, not the military, according to Union Minister for Transport and Communications U Thant Sin Maung. The ministry held a meeting in December on establishing a coast guard to protect national security and fight drug and arms smuggling, as well as human trafficking, the minister told reporters in Naypyitaw on Saturday. “The coast guard is necessary for our country. Most countries have one. So, we will hold extensive discussions on how to structure it, what training to provide and how to fund it, and present [our recommendations] to the President’s Office,” the minister said. “The President’s Office wishes to establish it as a civilian department,” he said. The Navy has the manpower and equipment required to form a coast guard right away, but it would be hard for it to handle certain tasks, such as inspecting commercial ships. The coast guard will therefore be formed with personnel from various departments including Immigration, Customs, Fire Services and Marine Administration, he said.

Myanmar to establish coast guard to boost maritime safety The Myanmar Times 25th Jan 2019
Myanmar will soon establish a coast guard to protect its over 2000-kilometre-long coastline and territorial waters, news reports said. Minister of Transport and Communication U Thant Zin Maung was quoted by China’s Xinhua state news agency as saying that the new law enforcement body will also ensure the safety of sea routes, especially in areas where there is off-shore drilling and construction of deep-sea ports. The force will also work to conserve and protect the country’s marine resources as well as play a key role in responding to maritime accidents and natural disasters. The coast guard is also aimed at dealing with non-traditional maritime security threats such as human trafficking, illegal entry, black marketeering, narcotics trafficking, and illegal fishing, Xinhua said.

Philippines

U.S. and Philippine military forces conclude MASA 19.1 DVIDS 14th Feb 2019
Members of the 1st Marine Air Wing, 3D Marine Division, the Philippine Marine Corps and the Philippine Air Force marked the successful completion of 24 days of bilateral training and increased interoperability during the Marine Aviation Support Activity (MASA) 19.1 at Basa Air Base, Naval Education Training Center (NETC), and Marine Base Gregorio Lim (MGBL) from Jan. 16 to Feb. 8, 2019. MASA 19.1 is a semiannual U.S.-Philippine military bilateral training exercise focused on a variety of missions, including mutual defense, counterterrorism, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. The exercise highlighted the Armed Forces of the Philippines and U.S. military’s longstanding relationship as friends, partners, and allies and their ability to contribute to security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. This exercise increased overall U.S. and Philippine readiness and cooperation, allowing both forces to plan, coordinate, and train together to prepare for potential real world events.

Philippines' largest shipyard to close in blow to Hanjin rescue Nikkei Asian Review 14th Feb 2019
The Philippines' largest shipyard is set to close with the loss of some 3,500 jobs as financial troubles deepen around its South Korean owner, Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction. The decision to halt operations will complicate efforts by the Philippine government and Hanjin to find an acceptable white knight to rescue the Subic Bay shipyard, which sits at the strategically sensitive entrance to the South China Sea, where Beijing has steadily been building up a military presence. HHIC-Phil filed for bankruptcy protection in January after failing to repay $1.3 billion loans in what is regarded as the country's largest-ever corporate default. Chinese bidders have also expressed interest, according to a local trade official, but this has sparked a public backlash amid concerns over national security. The Department of National Defense has ordered the Philippine Navy "to study which portion of shipyard we can assist or takeover." The government would first let the private sector try to reach a final agreement, "but we will be ready just in case [they don't]," said Navy Spokesperson Commander Jonathan Zata.

US vows to continue naval operations in WPS Philippines Star 14th Feb 2019
Following last Monday’s Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPS) 12 nautical miles from the now Chinese-occupied man-made island on Panganiban (Mischief) Reef in the West Philippine Sea, the US Navy vowed to continue naval operations to keep the disputed Spratlys open to all ocean-going vessels. US Indo-Pacific Command commander Admiral Phil Davidson told the US Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that the freedom of navigation operations will push through, a day after US Navy ships USS Spruance and USS Preble sailed within 12 nautical miles of Panganiban Reef. Located 130 nautical miles west of mainland Palawan, the reef that was a former obscure maritime feature that falls within the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone has been transformed by Beijing into one of its highly fortified military bases.

Philippine military welcomes fresh US aid for intelligence support Inquirer.net 12th Feb 2019
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Tuesday welcomed the new assistance from the United States to help the Philippines in its fight against terrorism. “Of course any assistance, most especially in terms of technology or added training is a welcome activity,” AFP chief Benjamin Madrigal Jr. told reporters at Camp Aguinaldo. But he said he has no direct involvement on the talks about the assistance. A quarterly report from the US Department of Defense said the US Indo-Pacific Command is pouring in around $60 million in intelligence support to the Philippine military for 2019. Based on the assessment of the US, the AFP still needs “extensive support” when it comes to intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance because of its “limited capability” to gather information on a target.

Philippine military launches air strikes against Abu Sayyaf militants South China Morning Post 31st Jan 2019
The Philippine military launched an air strike against a local militant suspected to be behind the deadly attack on a Catholic Church in the southern island of Mindanao on Sunday. Authorities have intensified operations against a splinter group from the Abu Sayyaf in the southern province of Sulu, Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on Wednesday, including an air strike in parts of Jolo town on Tuesday. At least 21 people were killed and more than a hundred injured in two explosions at a Catholic Church in Sulu on January 27. President Rodrigo Duterte’s “directive is to crush the Abu Sayyaf,” Lorenzana said. The military has been receiving reports of a possible terrorist attack in the province as early as August last year, he said.

Philippines tightens immigration checks after deadly Mindanao blasts ABS-CBN News 31st Jan 2019
Foreign nationals visiting the Philippines will face stricter inspection in airports and other gateways to prevent the possible entry of extremists after deadly bomb attacks in the south, the Bureau of Immigration said Thursday. Authorities cannot discount the possibility that foreign terrorists will attempt to enter the country following the 2 explosions that rocked a cathedral in Jolo, Sulu on Sunday, which left 21 dead and some 100 injured, said bureau spokesperson Dana Sandoval.

Carpio: Philippines should protest China's rescue center on Kagitingan Reef philstar 31st Jan 2019
Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio called on the Philippine government to protest China's establishment of a maritime rescue center on Kagitingan or Fiery Cross Reef in the West Philippine Sea. Carpio, one of the leading figures in the Philippines' arbitration against China, pointed out that not doing so would imply that the country consented to Beijing's putting of a center on one of the geologic features that the country claims.

Singapore

Digital defence to be sixth pillar of Total Defence The Straits Times 14th Feb 2019
The Republic will introduce digital defence as the sixth pillar in its national defence framework Total Defence, signalling the threat cyber attacks and disinformation pose, and the importance of cyber security. It is the first time a new pillar has been added to the framework since it was launched 35 years ago. In his annual Total Defence Day message yesterday, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen stressed that cyber-security threats and disinformation are a serious danger to Singapore, and emphasised the need to be vigilant against them. "Security threats can be real and physical like terrorism or, just as damaging, can come through the cyberworld."

Parliament: Govt to continue work in preventing and responding to terrorism threat against public transport The Straits Times 13th Feb 2019
The possibility of a terrorist attack against Singapore's public transport facilities cannot be discounted, with the terrorism threat still pertinent. Therefore, the authorities have been working to customise specific security measures for public transport based on the current threat level. Work to increase security awareness and strengthen emergency preparedness among the public transport community is also ongoing, Senior Minister of State for Transport Janil Puthucheary said in Parliament on Wednesday (Feb 13). "Public transport facilities are attractive targets for terrorist elements due to their vulnerability and potential for mass casualties," said Dr Janil, noting that there have been attacks against commuters and subway trains globally in the last two years. He was responding to questions by Mr Melvin Yong (Tanjong Pagar GRC). Mr Yong had asked about the threat level for public transport facilities, in the light of the Terrorism Threat Assessment Report released last month.

7 men nabbed over illegal transaction of marine gas oil at sea off Singapore's southern coast The Straits Times 31st Jan 2019
Seven men were arrested on Tuesday (Jan 29) for an alleged illegal transaction of 2.7 tonnes of marine gas oil at the sea off Pulau Sudong. In a statement on Thursday (Jan 31), the police said that the men, aged between 33 and 44, were nabbed in a joint operation with the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA). Pulau Sudong is an island off the southern coast of Singapore.

Defence exhibition to highlight cyber threats, fake news and disinformation The Straits Times 28th Jan 2019
Digital defence will come under the spotlight at an annual exhibition to mark this year's Total Defence Day, which falls on Feb 15 - the day Singapore fell to the Japanese in 1942. Curated by the S'pore Discovery Centre (SDC), Our Next Battlefront will focus on fake news, disinformation and cyber threats while seeking to heighten public awareness on how these hazards can impact the nation's survival and how individuals can play their part to guard against them. Last year Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said digital defence could become the sixth pillar of total defence, a framework to reflect the multi-dimensional nature of defence, comprising five pillars - social, psychological, military, civil and economic.

Thailand

Where Is the US-Thailand Alliance Amid the 2019 Cobra Gold Military Exercises? The Diplomat 14th Feb 2019
This week, the United States and Thailand will kick off the 2019 iteration of the annual Cobra Gold exercises – an engagement that began as a bilateral drill between the two allies and has now grown into Asia’s largest multinational drill. While the exercise may first and foremost be a showcase of the growing multilateralization of a defense engagement, it will also be watched for what it says about the state of the U.S.-Thailand alliance amid broader domestic and foreign policy developments for both sides. 2019 represents a key year for the management of the U.S.-Thailand alliance amid the confluence of broader internal and external trends. The alliance, forged in the midst of the Cold War, has faced some challenges of late, with the most recent period witnessing a chill after the May 2014 coup and Bangkok’s growing ties with China, with strains continuing on even after a period of recalibration under the late Obama administration and the Trump administration. This year will be a key test of how both sides are managing the alliance amid a series of developments, including uncertainties around Thailand’s expected election in Washington and concern about the evolution of the Trump administration’s Asia policy in Bangkok

Cobra Gold military exercise kicks off in Phitsanulok Bangkok Post 12th Feb 2019
One of the Asia-Pacific region's largest multinational military exercises, Cobra Gold, kicked off Tuesday in this northern province with the participation of around 10,000 personnel and 29 countries. The exercise, held in parts of the country through Feb 22, is aimed at enhancing interoperability, strengthening relationships among participating nations, and handling security threats and national disasters. Thailand and the United States -- co-hosts of the multinational exercise -- as well as Singapore, Japan, Indonesia, South Korea and Malaysia are participating in full exercises, while China and India are joining with a limited scope. At an opening ceremony at Camp Akatotsarot, Peter Haymond, charge d'affaires at the US Embassy in Bangkok, said the exercise's significance has been demonstrated through relief work in previous humanitarian and natural disasters, including the dramatic rescue of young footballers from a Thai cave last year involving an international team of experts.

Army to buy 14 more Chinese tanks at cost of B2.3bn Bangkok Post 21st Jan 2019
The Royal Thai Army plans to purchase 14 more heavy tanks from China, a move underlining the increasingly close defence relations between Bangkok and Beijing. An army source said on Monday the army will purchase 14 more VT4 tanks, plus ammunition, at a total cost of 2.3 billion baht, to further supplement the first procurement of 28 units in 2016. The VT4 is a third-generation main battle tank built in China for overseas export.  Army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong had assigned his assistant, Gen Wijak Siribansop, chairman of the procurement panel, the source said. Gen Wijak would leave for China in late February to test the tanks' performance and the procurement proposal was expected to be forwarded to cabinet in March, the source added.

Insurgents up the ante Bangkok Post 20th Jan 2019
The recent spike in violence in the far South was driven by the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN)'s determination to demonstrate its capacity under its new leadership, according to a source from the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) Region 4. Unrest in the deep South flared late last year and shows no signs of abating after Friday's attack on a temple in Narathiwat's Sungai Padi district killed two monks and wounded two others. The BRN is reported to have appointed secretary-general Sama-ae Kho Zari, 60, as its new leader late last year. The former Islamic teacher from Pattani's Sai Buri district replaced Dulloh Waemanor, a source said. Mr Sama-ae is believed to be living in the northern part of Kelantan, Malaysia.

Govt hurries to quash 'fake' S44 order, coup rumours Bangkok Post 11th Feb 2019
Government leaders said on Monday that copies of a fake Section 44 order for the removal of the armed forces chiefs had been distributed on social media, along with a rumour of a new coup d'etat, by people intent on triggering disunity and disorder. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said the order was fake and officials were investigating it. Those  responsible would prosecuted and punished, he said. Under the false order he, as chief of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), exercised his power under Section 44 of the interim constitution on Monday to transfer the chiefs of the army, the air force and the navy to positions of inspector at the Prime Minister's Office. Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon said there was no case to support the fake order.

MARA Pattani suspends peace talks, finds Thai negotiator’s attitude objectionable The Nation 6th Feb 2019
General Udomchai Thamsarorat, the chief negotiator on the Thai side, told media that he aimed to meet MARA Patani leader Shukri Hari in Malaysia this week not to hold talks but merely to make contact in person.  “I visited Kuala Lumpur to also meet Malaysian facilitator Abdul Rahim Noor, without the specific aim of talking with any particular group,” Udomchai told Isranews. He added that MARA Patani was, in fact, scheduled to meet a Thai working group led by Kriangkrai Sriraksa to set the procedure of the peace talks.  However, MARA Patani had issued a statement earlier saying it had suspended talks with Udomchai because it was disappointed by his attitude.  “Both Mara Patani and the Thai dialogue teams arrived in Kuala Lumpur on February 2 for the introductory meeting. However, we were informed that General Udomchai would not attend the meeting. He would only meet me [Shukri Hari] personally and separately.

Peace talks chief counters southern rebels' condemnation Bangkok Post 4th Feb 2019
The head of the government's southern peace talks team said on Monday he had no appointment to meet the rebel Mara Patani delegation for talks in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday and therefore no obligation to attend, despite the rebel group's demand that he do so. The group's dialogue head, Shukri Hari, condemned Gen Udomchai for his refusal to meet them, accusing him of having a hidden agenda, and put off further talks on the violence-plagued far South until after the general election. Gen Udomchai Thammasaroraj said he was in the Malaysian capital, but only to meet Malaysian peace talks facilitator Abdul Rahim Noor. He had sent committee secretary Maj Gen Kriangkrai Srirak to attend the informal meeting with Mara Patani representatives on the agenda for the next round of peace talks, which includes the issue of decentralisation of power.

Armed forces instructed to secure meetings Bangkok Post 29th Jan 2019
Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon instructed the armed forces Monday to provide full security for Asean leaders who will attend a series of meetings hosted by Thailand as the chair of the regional bloc throughout the year. The instruction was given at a Defence Council meeting chaired by Gen Prawit in his capacity as Defence Minister, Defence Ministry spokesman, Lt Gen Kongcheep Tantravanich, said. The spokesman said that leaders and representatives of Asean members and other countries outside the region will be invited to attend more than 180 meetings that will take place at various venues across the country. Gen Prawit said state agencies must learn from "a lesson in the past", said Lt Gen Kongcheep. The spokesman was referring to the fiasco in April 2009, when red-shirt protesters disrupted an Asean summit in Pattaya, which forced the evacuation of regional leaders from the venue.

'Cobra Gold' drills to start next month Bangkok Post 25th Jan 2019
This year's 'Cobra Gold' military exercises, in which a total of 29 nations are expected to attend, is set to take place between Feb 12-22. Seven nations are also expected to take part in the main training excercise. The 38th annual military exercise will consist of Thailand, the US, Singapore, Japan, Indonesia, South Korea and Malaysia, while Chinese and Indian soldiers will take part in an additional civil assistance programme drill. The Multinational Planning Augmentation Team drill will consist of 10 nations, namely Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, France, Britain, Mongolia, Nepal, New Zealand, the Philippines and Fiji. Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Brunei, Myanmar, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Israel, Germany, Sweden and Switzerland will attend another exercise called "observer" or "COLT".

Army to buy 14 Chinese battle tanks Bangkok Post 22nd Jan 2019
The Royal Thai Army plans to purchase 14 more heavy tanks from China, underscoring the closer defence ties between Bangkok and Beijing. An army source said yesterday the army would buy another 14 VT4 tanks, plus ammunition, for 2.3 billion baht to supplement the 39 tanks purchased in 2016 and 2017. The VT4 is a third-generation main battle tank built in China for export. Army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong has assigned the task to his assistant, Gen Wijak Siribansop, chairman of the procurement panel, the source said.

Vietnam

Vietnam’s Defense Policy of ‘No’ Quietly Saves Room for ‘Yes’   The Diplomat 14th Feb 2019
Rising U.S.-China tensions over freedom of navigation in the South China Sea have increasingly pressured other states, particularly within Southeast Asia, to choose sides. As a key maritime counterclaimant to China’s expansive sovereignty claims in the region, Vietnam in the last few years has played a delicate balancing act. On the one hand, Hanoi has been working directly with Beijing on confidence-building measures to prevent total Chinese domination of the South China Sea. On the other hand, Vietnam is actively pushing back against Beijing by bolstering defense ties to major powers with a stake in maintaining the rules-based international order.

Procurement: Herons Headed For Vietnam Strategy Page 14th Feb 2019
Vietnam has purchased $140 million worth of Israeli Heron 1 UAVs. Vietnam will use the Herons for “strategic reconnaissance” which probably includes patrolling coastal waters. That is something the Heron does a lot of for many foreign customers. The Heron first flew in the 1990s and is not only similar to the American Predator but has been produced in larger quantities and sold to more foreign customers. Heron is the primary heavy UAV for the Israeli military, which makes sense as it was Israel, not the United States that pioneered UAVs of this type. It was the Israeli successes in UAV technology that motivated an American firm (General Atomics) to create the MQ-1 Predator.

Air Force Ospreys spotted in Vietnam for first time Air Force Times 11th Feb 2019
A group of Air Force CV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft were photographed at a Vietnam airport last week, marking their first landfall in the Southeast Asian nation. Lt. Renee Douglas, a spokesperson for the 353rd Special Operations Group, confirmed to Stars and Stripes that the Ospreys belong to the 353rd. Though that unit is based out of Okinawa, Japan, these particular Ospreys were stationed at Yokota Air Base in Tokyo. Douglas also said the Ospreys in Dang’s photo were there for a fueling stop before continuing on to Thailand for a training exercise. “The CV-22s conducted a preplanned refueling stop at Danang International Airport for approximately an hour,” Douglas told Stars and Stripes in an email. “They were flying to Thailand to participate in the upcoming Cobra Gold 19 international training exercise.”

PM Phúc pays Tết visits to armed forces, residents in Đà Nẵng City Vietnam News 5th Feb 2019
Prime Minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc sent the best wishes to armed forces and residents in Đà Nẵng while visiting the central city on February 5, the first day of the Year of the Pig. At the Đà Nẵng Military High Command, he conveyed Lunar New Year (Tết) greetings from Party and State leaders to officers and soldiers of the armed forces in the city, asking them to uphold their traditions to fulfil every task assigned by the Party and State. Appreciating the forces’ achievements, he noted that Đà Nẵng holds an important role in the implementation of Việt Nam’s maritime strategy in the central region. He requested the forces to enhance their co-ordination, stay ready to respond to any circumstances and well perform the mass mobilisation so as to win more people’s trust.