MAASIM, Sarangani (MindaNews/16 July) — From afar, the steel facility looks like a cellular phone tower but it is not. It is called the Coast Watch Station (CWS), a facility that can monitor all vessels coming in and going out of our territorial waters, according to Commodore Philip Cacayan, commander of the Naval Forces Eastern Mindanao (NFEM).
There’s not just one but six Coast Watch Stations (CWS) in the eastern part of Mindanao, within the NFEM jurisdiction: in Maasim and Maitum towns in Sarangani; Kalamansig in Sultan Kudarat, Balut Island in Davao del Sur, and Cape San Agustin in Gov. Generoso, Davao Oriental. The old one in Glan, Sarangani, where the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) maintains a detachment, is under rehabilitation.
The six stations, costing a total of at least a billion pesos ($25 million) and funded by the United States Government, was a major feature in the recently concluded Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) 2012 between Filipino and American troops.
It was the 18th CARAT between the Philippines and the United States but the first ever in Mindanao. Held on July 2 to July 10, it was participated in by some 450 troops from the Philippine Navy and PCG and at least 400 from the United States Navy (USN) and US Coast Guard (USCG).
The CARAT featured onshore exercises in the Mindanao Sea and offshore drills in General Santos City and Sarangani province.
The US Navy deployed the destroyer USS Vandergrift, a missile-guided frigate, while the USCG deployed Waesche, which is mounted with the 20 mm close-in weapons system and the 57 mm gun weapons system.
On the Philippine side, the PN utilized the Barko ng Republika ng Pilipinas (BRP) Magat Salamat, BRP Miguel Malvar, BRP Salvador Abcede and BRP Teotimo Figuracion and BRP Pampanga for the PCG.
The USN also provided aircrafts P3C Orion and a SH-60B helicopter, the PN the PN Islander (PNI 320) and the BO-105 CB from the PCG as part of the naval exercises.
An important part of the at-sea exercises was testing the capability of the CWS.
Cacayan said the Coast Watch Stations have state-of-the-art monitoring and communication system equipped with radars and cameras.
“Not to gather intelligence data”
US Navy Rear Admiral Thomas F. Carney, Jr., the US Naval head of delegation to the CARAT 2012, told reporters on July 4 that the naval exercises between the American and Filipino troops in the seas of Mindanao was purely “to enhance interoperability and not to gather intelligence data” in this part of the country.
“The naval exercise is part of an open source project. We’re promoting maritime domain awareness with the Philippine Navy (through) the Coast Watch Stations,” he said.
At the CARAT 2012 closing ceremony on July 10, US Navy Captain David Welch, commander of Task Group 73.1 and Destroyer Squadron 31, described the CWS as an important part of the naval exercises.
“We had a very good engagement with the entire Armed Forces of the Philippines and that includes the Coastal Watch Stations. We have discussed the results of those exercises and we look forward to continue to include them in future engagements,” Welch told reporters.
He did not elaborate.
Cacayan said one of the exercises involved board and search and search and rescue operations involving a civilian ship considered as a distressed vessel.
“This (distressed ship) was located through the Coast Watch Station in Maasim,” he said.
With the CWS, Cacayan stressed that “they were able to track the vessels conducting the exercises and all assets and watercraft transiting the area.”
“This (CWS) will enhance our maritime domain awareness. We can monitor all the crafts going in and out of our waters,” he noted.
“The CWS can detect big and small boats, fast and slow, even those without computers,” Cacayan also said.
There are also CWS in the western part of Mindanao, with Cacayan revealing that they will be interlinked with those in Eastern Mindanao through a single system.
In Palawan, there are plans to also construct CWS, he said.
Part of Coast Watch South
The CWS is a part of the Coast Watch South, a defense project that is also supported by the Australian government.
In an article titled “Sealing the ‘back door’ in the Philippines,” Dr. Peter Chalk, a senior analyst at the Research and Development Corp. (RAND), said the core objective of Coast Watch South is to provide a system of “maritime domain awareness” that facilitates the movement of desirable people and goods and contributes to the attainment of peace and development objectives in the western and southern Philippines.”
RAND is a global non-profit think tank that seeks to improve policy and decision-making through research and analysis. Its global clients include government agencies, foundations and private sector firms.
In line with its core functions, Coast Watch South is “assigned with the operational tasks of countering threat groups – notably the New People’s Army (NPA, which despite operating mainly in Northern Luzon still retains a residual presence in the southern Mindanao region), the Abu Sayyaf, renegade elements of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and criminal organizations – enforcing maritime law and providing disaster relief,” according to Chalk.
His report was published on August 26, 2010 at the Strategic Insights of Risk Intelligence, a Denmark-registered limited shareholding company that provides consulting services to private and government clients on security threats and risks.
The Coast Watch South will eventually consist of 13 monitoring platforms that will have both surveillance and interdiction capabilities, Chalk wrote.
He noted that the United States has underwritten the installation of the equipment through Department of Defense 1207 funding, a Pentagon-authorized program that uses defense dollars to perform a State Department function.
“The main benefit of CWS is that it provides a relatively cheap system of surveillance for a large expanse of maritime territory that has traditionally been a major conduit for terrorists, arms traffickers, people smugglers, pirates and other criminals. It would be impossible for the Philippine Navy, much less the Philippine Coast Guard – which is totally bereft of assets (having only a few corvettes and cutters of its own) – to adequately patrol th[e] area,” Chalk said. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)
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