Wednesday, July 3, 2013

UAV – Made in the Philippines

In recent days, the headlines in the Philippine news media are the joint exercises of naval forces from the Philippines and the United States.  Fully aware of the threat that the Philippines faces in its maritime territories, this certainly is good news to many Filipinos like me who really prefer peaceful and legal means to resolve conflicts.

Although these joint naval exercises have been going on for the last 19 years, this sharing of techniques in sea reconnaissance has gained greater significance.  Added to the plan of PNoy to shore up the country’s capabilities in patrolling its maritime territories and by cooperating with the United States, the Philippines hopes to contribute in “maintaining regional security, addressing trafficking and smuggling, and responding to disasters”.

According to the news, the use of America’s unmanned aerial system, which can be used for sea surveillance and convoy, and tracking target positions, was demonstrated.  Weighing only 6 kilos, the Kevlar radio-controlled UAV can fly up to 10,000 feet at speed of 40 nautical miles.  “Images taken by a camera inside the unit can be monitored by squadron members on the boat.  It is also capable of capturing infrared images,” the report also stated.

In the 1990s, I had the privilege of representing one of the pioneers of the UAV technology – BAI AEROSYSTEMS.    The representation was to exclusively sell their systems to the Philippines and to Southeast Asian allies who would qualify and be cleared for technology transfer.

At the time, BAI’s UAV system was already being used by the U.S. Military especially in the Persian Gulf War with great success.  I remember bringing the Philippine Naval/Military Attaché to the manufacturing and training facility of BAI in Easton, Maryland for demonstration.  We noticed that some Israeli military experts were also visiting and checking out the technology.  The attaché committed to support my efforts.

Convinced that the Philippines, being an archipelago would really need and benefit by the acquisition of such a technologically advanced system, I decided to pursue it more aggressively.  I communicated and met with the military’s UAV Coordination, National Disaster Coordination, and the Self-Reliance Program Director who would all benefit in the acquisition and use of the technology.  In one of his Washington visits, I also met with the Secretary of National Defense.  I presented to him the beneficiality, necessity, and practicability of the technology at that time.

I went further.  With the help of a Colonel friend who was in touch with the Congressional committees on defense, we got an allocation for the UAV inserted in the Defense budget.  In fact, the amount was almost identical to the quote I had earlier proposed.  It became part of the budget by law!

My interest in having the UAV technology transferred to the Philippines was not just for its military uses although it was pre-eminent.  Based on the Master Plan that I accessed and my discussions with the Founding President of BAI and his very skilled Vice-President both of whom I befriended, the UAV technology also has several civil and commercial uses.


Knowing the importance of monitoring and protecting the Philippine Archipelago including its maritime territories recognized by International Law, I saw the necessity of being able to build and manufacture a Philippine UAV.  It required the transfer of technology.  I negotiated it and got it.  BAI and I were convinced that we would not have any problem getting the U.S. State Department approval.  The BAI President who is Jewish American thought that the Philippines was as close an ally as Israel of the United States.

After relaying this development to the Philippine military’s Self-Reliance Program Director, he suggested that we would eventually work with the Mapua Institute of Technology to start building a Philippine UAV.  I had no objection but the military had to buy the BAI UAV system first.


UAVs that are now known as DRONEs could perform one or more of the following functions:
  1. Carry sensors (such as video, infrared, radar, and chemical);
  2. Carry communications relays;
  3. Carry cargo

The Department of Agriculture can use them for:
  1. Pesticide & Fertilizer spraying;
  2. Insect sampling (bug catching);
  3. Farm Management

The Postal Service can use them for Package Delivery; the Bureau of Customs for Counternarcotic and Smuggling surveillance; the NBI for surveillance of suspects, search and rescue operations; the National Disaster Coordinating Council for surveying and assessing disaster areas, facilitating relief operations, and relaying communications; the Transportation Department for traffic and highway surveying and monitoring, mapping and surveillance for illegal aliens; and many other agencies of the government.


In a meeting with the executives of one of the largest TV stations in the Philippines, I introduced the benefits of the UAV system for media purposes.  It could serve as an “EYE in the SKY” with the installation of overhead cameras for news and special events coverage.

It could also act as the equivalent to a low-altitude satellite for communication relay; monitoring and reconnaissance of fishing areas; monitoring of shipping hazards; overnight package and mail delivery in small towns and isolated islands; tree spotting and tree removal; gas and oil pipeline monitoring; searching for mineral and fossil fuel deposits; aerial monitoring of rail lines and trains; and many more.

We failed to consummate a deal that would have benefitted our country then and obviously now.  I never considered it a failure – only a “suspended success” as my late father would say.

I understand that BAI Aerosystems, Inc. has been acquired by one of the biggest suppliers of drones to the U.S. military. The latter maintains its manufacturing and training facilities in Easton, Md.   It has offices in Virginia and in Texas.  The new company absorbed BAI personnel including my Vice President friend.

There are now new rules and policies governing Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.  But the value of acquiring this technology for the protection and defense of Philippine maritime territories at this point in our history requires a firmer determination on the part of PNoy to pursue it.

PNoy’s legacy of fighting corruption in the government especially in the military would be enhanced and past corrupt practices negated if the acquisition is pursued with no taint of corruption.   

The civilian and commercial uses of the technology cannot be ignored.  They could contribute to economic development exponentially.

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