The Philippine army was formally organized in 1936 after the United States accorded the Philippines commonwealth status in 1935, but it traced its origins to the rebel forces established in 1896 to fight for national independence. The army was intended to be a small standing army modeled on the United States Army, but army strength varied widely over the years, depending on the internal threat. After dramatic growth during the 1970s, total army strength remained relatively stable during the 1980s. With some 68,000 troops in 1990, the army was by far the largest of the services. The commanding general, a major general, directly controlled the service's administrative, logistics, and training functions from headquarters at Fort Bonifacio in Manila, but area unified commands exercised operational control over nearly all combat units. Army units were actively involved in the fight against the communist insurgency and, to a lesser extent, monitored the mostly dormant Muslim rebellion.
The army's weapons were appropriate to its light infantry force structure and counterinsurgency mission. Major items included 41 light tanks, 85 armored infantry fighting vehicles, 285 armored personnel carriers, and assorted light and medium towed artillery. Most arms and equipment were of United States make or design, although sources of weapons and supplies had diversified since the 1970s. The standard infantry weapon was the Colt M16A1 rifle, manufactured in the Philippines initially by Elisco Tools under a license agreement from Colt.
The army operated a variety of schools for its arms and branches. The Army Training Command was located at Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, north of Manila. The training command provided basic training for enlisted personnel and officers and advanced training in some specialties such as infantry and artillery. Specialized training in other areas, such as armor, intelligence, and engineering, was the responsibility of service extension schools operated by the commanders of those army units. Many soldiers, however, never attended centralized military schools, but instead were trained by army divisions at basic training centers throughout the country.
The army's major tactical units in the early 1990s were its 8 light infantry divisions. Three divisions were headquartered on the northern Island of Luzon, 2 were based in the central Visayan Islands, and 3 operated on the southern island of Mindanao. All except one consisted of 3 brigades, with the remaining having only 2 brigades. Although the Army's overall strength did not change, during the late 1980s it was structurally expanded, from the 4 divisions that had existed since 1983 to eight in 1990. The basic maneuver unit, however, remained the infantry battalion. Although authorized to contain some 600 soldiers, battalions typically had 500 troops or fewer assigned.
In addition to these infantry formations, in the early 1990s the army had a light armored brigade, 8 artillery battalions, 3 engineer brigades, and a construction battalion. Support units included a service support brigade, a training command, a signal group, an intelligence and security group, a civil-military operations battalion, and a finance center. An Army Special Warfare Group, which had contained the Scout Ranger Group (subsequently 1st Scout Ranger Regiment) and the Special Forces (at the time collectively referred to as the Special Forces Group), had been disbanded in 1983. The elite army Scout Ranger regiment, a specialized counterinsurgency force, had been disbanded following its participation in the 1989 coup attempt.
The Philippine Army continued to restructure during the 1990s. The Scout Ranger Regiment was reformed in the early 1990s as a result of increased engagements with communist and islamic rebels in the north and south of the archipelago. In 2004 the Army activated its 9th Infantry Division. In 2006 it expanded the Light Armor Brigade into a full Division. A 10th Infantry Division was also in the process of being formed at that time. The Divisions were also reorganized to each include an organic artillery battalion and various support elements. Divisions still generally had 3 Brigades.
The individual battalions, and to a lesser extent seperate companies, remained the most important element of the Army's units. Divisions represented a permanent higher headquarters with a permanent location, but existed essentially for control of the division's brigades and support elements only. Brigades represented essentially temporary intermediate commands during operations, with battalions assigned to the Division and only placed under the operational control of brigades. Brigades were also often assigned separate companies, mostly from elite forces or the Light Armor Division, as well as local militia units (Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Units and CAFGU Active Auxiliaries). The composition and location of a division's brigades changed often as the AFP deployed units to troubled spots. Standard procedure in Infantry Divisions was to cycle battalions between brigades engaged on the near constant internal security operations to provide time to refit and make up for manpower losses. The division's battalion's would also spend time as the division's cadre battalion, from which manpower and equipment could be drawn to support battalions engaged in operations.
By the turn of the century, among of the most telling weaknesses of the AFP is its equipage. By 2003 Army units still use old model radios which require dozens of D-sized batteries that are quickly drained of power. Even a two or three (2 or 3 day) patrol would entail lugging around heavy bags full of replacement batteries – an anachronism in these digital times when some reasonably-priced commercial models with wafer-thin but long-lasting lithium batteries can easily fit into one’ s pocket. The condition of basic weapons aroused concern. Most of the M-16s had to be replaced by new ones. Some of these rifles are so ancient that they literally looked like relics, and they easily malfunctioned. No new pistols had been issued since the 1960s. Transport and combat vehicles are comparatively small in number. A visit to a Military Supply Unit (MSU) in Zamboanga City revealed many carcasses of old vehicles lying around in depots, cannibalized and eviscerated.
It was reported in November 2012 that the Philippines Department of National Defense (DND) was planning to acquire 100 armored personnel carriers (APC)s and dozens of artillery equipment from Italy in support of the military’s capability upgrade program. The Italian government might donate 100 units of operational M113 APCs and 25 units of operational FH70 155 mm howitzers. The possible donations were in connection with the procurement of other equipment that may become part of what the DND called the “Italian package.” The DND was negotiating with Italy for the procurement of Maestrale-class ships, C-27J-Spartan medium-lift fixed wing aircraft, special mission aircraft and three naval helicopters. If the procurement came through, the 100 APCs and 25 long-range cannons may be included in the package.
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