Manila: The Philippines military, for the first time, has admitted to the use of unmanned aerial vehicles in combat.
In activities marking its 22nd anniversary at Camp Emilio Aquinaldo in suburban Quezon City, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) showcased its two “unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV)”.
Besides the camouflage and navy-grey colour scheme of the unmanned aircraft, the drones appear more like a remote controlled device used by hobbyists with their 1.78 metre wide wingspan.
The Philippine military had denied the use of UAVs by its forces in the past.
UAVs are used by military services of other countries largely for observation and terrain mapping as well as tactical applications.
Larger drones such as the Predator used by the United States military are large enough to carry missiles and conduct actual combat operations against targets such as terrorists.
In the case of the Philippine Army’s UAVs, the Raptor and the Knight Falcon, it can so far be equipped with cameras for reconnaissance duties.
Capt Anthony Bacus, acting chief Army Public Affairs, said the military is adopting the UAV as part of its regular weapon systems mix.
Equipped with a 12 megapixel camera and with the ability to fly at a height of up to 350 metres, the Raptor and Knight Falcon provide “over the horizon” real-time visual capability.
The Raptor was first put into action before the public in September in government military operations against a group of recalcitrant Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) fighters under Nur Misuari. The aircraft was seen flying over Zamboanga City conducting observation missions.
The unmanned aircraft has a range of around seven kilometres.
Bacus said the military had been so impressed with the performance of the Raptor and the Knight Falcon, that it is developing a third, more expensive, drone.
“The Army is now developing a third drone costing P1.5 million (Dh124,031). It will be an enhanced version of the first two drones combined,” Bacus said.
In comparison, the Raptor and Falcon only cost around P150,000 each to develop.
Earlier, the Philippine Marines said it is poised to acquire UAVs to boost the capability of its land forces, particularly in jungle-clad and coastal areas such as Sulu and Palawan.
The Department of National Defence said it plans to acquire UAVs for use by the Marines for security as well as search and rescue operations.
The defence department had recently released a bid bulletin for the P684 million Marine Forces Imagery and Targeting Support System Acquisition Project.
The programme will involve the purchase of six sets of drones, nine sets of target acquisition device sub-systems, 12 kits of tactical sensor integration sub-systems and an integrated logistics support package.
Drones had been rapidly gaining popularity with the military and civilians because of its relatively low acquisition and maintenance cost. More importantly, unmanned aerial vehicles reduce the exposure of soldiers to hazards.