MANILA — Modernization efforts of the Philippine Army (PA) ended with a bright note after it started distribution of its new 5.56mm R4A3 automatic rifles last September and 77 M-113A2 APCs (armored personnel carriers), earlier pledged, arrived last Dec.10 in Subic Bay, Zambales.

Another 37 are expected to reach the country by the third week of December, completing the 114 APCs commitment made by the US.

Transfer of these surplus American APCs was made possible through the US Excess Defense Article (EDA) Program.

The EDA Program grants excess US military equipment, without cost, to qualified allied countries.

The transfer is a result of a formal request made by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to assist in their defense modernization efforts.

The M-113A2 was developed to provide a survivable and reliable light tracked vehicle that allows for troops to be brought forward under armor for dismounted operations.

Commissioning of these vehicles will greatly boost the numbers of the 343 armored vehicle-strong Mechanized Infantry Division (MID), the PA unit tasked for armored operations.

AFP spokesperson Col. Restituto Padilla said arrival of the American-donated APCs will allow the MID to complete the table of equipment of its five armored battalions.

A Philippine mechanized infantry battalion is supposed to have 36 armored vehicles as a fighting force but due to lack of equipment, some units are operating only 26 to 27 APCs which is below their mandated complement.

“Well for once, the (MID) will now be able to complete (the table of equipment of its five armored battalions), battle-steel movement will be expedited, and accuracy in operation when it is mobilized, and ensure the survival of our troops (in field operations),” Padilla pointed.

The AFP virtually got these additional armored assets for free saved for the shipping costs which amounted to Php67.5 million and refitting of .50 caliber machine guns to the APCs.

And with all its battalions up to strength, it can deploy more units to whatever mission the AFP decides to assign to it.

Another highlight for the PA is the testing of six units out of the 28 refurbished M-113A2 which are fitted with .50 caliber remote-controlled weapon systems last Sept. 21.

Demonstration of this capability took place at the firing range of the PA’s Mechanized Infantry Division at Camp O’ Donnell, Capas town, Tarlac.

There, crewmen of the newly-acquired M-113A2 showed visiting media personnel, ranking defense officials, including Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, their capability to pick up and neutralize targets well above the 500 meter range.

This was made possible by the APCs’ laser-targeting system which has the capability to lock and track targets.

These six APCs are different from the older armored fighting vehicles as they no longer need gunners or military personnel to fire their weapons.

Firing of the guns can be made safely inside the vehicle.

The six APCs were transported to Tarlac last July 8.

It arrived in the Philippines last June 18.

It was part of 28 APC order deal with Israeli defense manufacturer Elbit Systems Ltd worth Php882 million.

The contract was signed last June 22, 2014.

Fourteen of the M-113s will be configured as fire support vehicles, four as infantry fighting vehicles, six as armored personnel carriers, another four as armored recovery units.

The remaining upgraded 24 APC units will be arriving by 2016.

Upgrades include installation of 25 mm unmanned turrets, 12.7 mm (.50 caliber machineguns) RCWS and fire control systems (FCS) for 90 mm turrets.

These armored vehicles were added to the roster of the MID late November.

And during the third week of September, the PA started distribution of its brand-new 24,300 5.56mm R4A3 rifles to ground units based in the Visayas and Cotabato.

This was revealed by PA Logistic head Col. Pio Diñoso

“Priorities for distribution are the troops assigned in Mindanao, however, due to our logistics distribution schedule, especially the availability of our C-130s, the troops in the Visayas and Cotabato received their rifles in advance,” he added.

The initial distribution of the newly procured 5.56 R4A3 carbine rifles, also known as M-4 rifles, is part of the 44,186 total rifles that are now on-hand in the Army arsenal with 19,866 rifles still undergoing ballistic tests by the Philippine National Police.

The new R4A3 rifles are part of the Army’s modernization program.

For this year, the PA expects the delivery of more armored personnel carriers, protective gears for individual soldiers, and radio communication equipment.

“By 2016, the PA envisions to be a well-equipped and respected Army in Southeast Asia, and a potent force that is ready and capable to address external threats,” PA commander Lt. Gen. Eduardo M. Año said.

There was a delay in the distribution of the new M-4s after the Army asked the contractor to improve its sight mechanism.

As reported, all sight mechanisms of the Army’s M4 were already replaced by the manufacturer.

It can be recalled that the PA has procured a total of 56,843 carbine rifles as part of its capability upgrade program. It is still awaiting the delivery of another 12,657 rifles.

The procurement of new firearms is part of the three horizons, revised Armed Forces of the Philippine Modernization Act under Republic Act 10349 signed in December 2012 that aims to develop a credible strategic Armed Force and the professionalization of the AFP. Priam F. Nepomuceno/PNA