Palace: US spy planes just like Google Earth

(UPDATED) But the US planes that could monitor Scarborough Shoal carry missiles, torpedoes, rockets, mines, and bombs

SPY PLANES. The US Navy's P3C Orion spy planes, which the Philippines could request from the US, carry armaments. Photo from the US Navy

(UPDATED) MANILA, Philippines — Why should China worry about the spy planes that the Philippines could request from the United States to monitor the disputed Scarborough Shoal?

It’s just like Google Earth that takes aerial photos and surveys the world, said Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang in a press briefing Tuesday, July 3. “Nobody thinks that if Google Earth lies over Luzon or Scarborough, then that’s going to be a provocation,” Carandang said.

On Monday, July 2, President Benigno Aquino III said the government could request the US government for P3C Orion spy planes to monitor possible Chinese territorial incursions in Scarborough Shoal. (Read: PH may ask US for air surveillance.)

The possible US overflights over Scarborough Shoal will have no military component involved, Carandang explained.

“If they happen at all… they are not meant to be provocative. They are merely meant to monitor our territory. There’s no offensive capability here,” he said.

A reporter pointed out that P3C Orion is a military plane. Carandang, however, still downplayed the aircraft’s capabilities. “We don’t believe there’s an issue there.”

‘Frontline aircraft’

The US Navy describes the P3C Orion as its “frontline, land-based maritime patrol aircraft since the early 1960s.”

Its primary functions include anti-submarine warfare and anti-surface warfare.

“The P3C’s mission has to include surveillance of the battle space, either at sea or over land. Its long-range and long loiter time have proved invaluable assets throughout the overseas contingency operation,” the US Navy says on its website.

The US Navy adds P3C Orion includes the following features: 

  • advanced submarine detection sensors

  • magnetic anomaly detection (MAD) equipment that can carry a mixed payload of weapons internally and on wing pylons

  • Armament such as AGM-84 Harpoon, AGM-84K SLAM-ER, AGM-65F Maverick missiles, Mk46/50/54 torpedoes, rockets, mines, and depth bombs.

China has consistently shown agitation over US involvement in South China Sea issues. (Read: The trust factor in US-China relations.)

In a press briefing Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Liu Weimin said the Philippines should promote peace in the Asia-Pacific, reacting to Aquino’s statement about the US spy planes. “We hope the relevant party will do more things that are conducive to regional peace and stability,” Liu said. 

‘Deescalating’ situation

Carandang, however, said the Philippines is “bending over in order to try to deescalate the situation.”

In another press briefing, Foreign Affairs spokesperson Raul Hernandez said the possible request for spy planes is unlikely to worsen the two-month tension between the Philippines and China. “We’re just monitoring what’s happening in our areas, in our territory, in our (exclusive economic zone). And that’s part of the prerogative of our country,” Hernandez said.

He said the US, in the first place, has been helping the Philippines build a “minimum credible defense posture.” “Surveillance, reconnaissance, as well as intelligence gathering are part of this assistance,” Hernandez explained. 

On Thursday, July 5, the President will discuss Philippine-China relations in a meeting with his Cabinet. —

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