Date Last Updated: November 15, 2021


America’s oldest security alliance in the Indo-Pacific, the Philippines has been a key US partner going back to World War 2. Strategically located in the South China Sea, the US-Philippine alliance and has been instrumental for regional capacity building, humanitarian and disaster relief, counterterror cooperation, and maritime patrol operations. More recently, the alliance has become an essential partnership in countering China’s illegal land claims in the South China Sea and subsequent military modernization.

The Philippines are on the frontlines of the standoff in the first island chain, as was clearly demonstrated when China seized the Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines in 2012, elevating the urgency of the need to defend Pacific islands. Since then, the threat has grown considerably, as China continues its militarization of the Spratly Islands, construct artificial islands, put pressure on Filipino trading partner Taiwan, and continually harasses Filipino commercial and military vessels. In March of 2021, China deployed over 200 vessels at the Whitsun Reef in the Spratly Islands, raising concerns about Chinese encroachment on Filipino territory.


In May of 2021, the Philippines acquired its first ground-based air defense system, SPYDER (Surface-to-air Python and Derby), from Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, a State-Owned Enterprise in Israel that also developed the Iron Dome system. SPYDER is expected to be deployed and operational by the end of 2021

Philippines Air Defense Capabilities

SystemRoleNumber DeployedPlatform
SPYDERQuick-reaction surface-to-air missile system designed to take down fighters, unmanned aerial vehicles, drones, and missiles10 officers and Three batteriesVariety of military tactical trucks
Mistral MK3 SAMShip mounted Surface to Air Missile (SAM) system2 Jose Rizal-class Frigate

Current Developments

The acquisition of SPYDER by the Philippines is part of its “Second Horizon” military modernization program in which it seeks to establish an air-defense system alongside other advanced conventional capabilities.

In the first months of the Biden administration, Secretary of State Blinken highlighted the importance of the US-Philippines alliance and its defense of maritime vessels in light of China’s new coast guard law authorizing its law enforcement vessels to use lethal force against foreign ships operating in disputed waters. In February 2021, the Filipino Department of Foreign Affairs issued a statement that:

“China’s claims directly poses a threat to the conduct of Philippine legitimate activities in the West Philippine Sea… The Philippines strongly opposed any application of China’s Coast Guard Law beyond the limits of China’s maritime entitlements under international law, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and the 2016 Award on the South China Sea arbitration.”

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