Skip to main content
Best News Website or Mobile Service
WAN-IFRA Digital Media Awards Worldwide 2022
Best News Website or Mobile Service
Digital Media Awards Worldwide 2022
Hamburger Menu




As the US and the Philippines move towards real-time intelligence sharing, infrastructure may be a challenge: Analysts

Their comments came a day after the Pentagon released new guidelines on US-Philippine defence cooperation.

As the US and the Philippines move towards real-time intelligence sharing, infrastructure may be a challenge: Analysts

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, speaks during a meeting with Philippines President Ferdinand Romualdez Marcos Jr., left, at the Pentagon, Wednesday, May 3, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The United States and the Philippines moving towards real-time intelligence sharing to guard the Southeast Asian nation against attacks in the South China Sea is a “huge step forward”, an analyst said on Thursday (May 4).

But it also comes with challenges such as ensuring appropriate infrastructure to do so.

While the US may have already been sharing intelligence with the Philippines, the language used in the guidelines seemed to herald the beginning of a “more robust” relationship, said senior defence analyst at nonprofit think tank RAND Corporation Derek Grossman.

That would “significantly” improve the Southeast Asian nation’s maritime domain awareness capabilities, he noted.

“This really allows Manila to have a much better picture of what's going on in the South China Sea and potentially in real time, so that they can respond to incidents that infringe upon their sovereignty in the region,” he told CNA’s Asia Now.

Mr Raymond Powell, project lead at the Gordion Knot Center for National Security Innovation at Stanford University said the US sets a “very high bar” for sharing intelligence given its security concerns and called the latest development with the Philippines a “huge step forward”.

“We were drawn to bring the Philippines much, much closer to where we can really share with them a lot of our more advanced capabilities, especially from space, from a lot of our intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft, and other platforms that we have,” he told CNA’s Asia Now.

Their comments came a day after the Pentagon released guidelines on US-Philippine defence cooperation, following a meeting between US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin and Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos in Washington.

The new guidelines for the countries’ 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty specifically mention that mutual defence commitments would be invoked if there were an armed attack on either country "anywhere in the South China Sea" and that coast guard vessels are among those protected.

They follow Manila’s complaints of an increase in aggressive behaviour in the contested waters by the Chinese coast guard and fishing vessels suspected of being maritime militia.

However, both analysts acknowledged that there are challenges in sharing real-time information.


The biggest challenge is coming up with information systems that are shareable from across national lines, said Mr Powell.

While such systems that can be used to share classified information with allies in the “central command area” have been built over years, “we don't have quite those systems in place in the Indo Pacific, so we're going to have to build them”, he said.

The former analyst in the US intelligence community said difficulties in sharing intelligence include the level of classification and the type of information.

“What it sounds like from the bilateral defence guidelines is that these issues have been sorted out at least for a certain level of classification and certain type of information related to the South China Sea,” he noted.

“It's a good sign that it appeared in the document. I don't think they would mention something that they were still unsure of when they're mentioning it so publicly like that.”

In terms of infrastructure, that can always be a challenge, he said, adding that he is “confident” the two countries have figured it out.


The analysts noted that the defence cooperation may require a “delicate balance” in some areas, like the US potentially using the US-Philippine bases as a staging point for military action.

The Philippines wants the bases under the enhanced defence cooperation agreement for defensive purposes only, as opposed to potentially drawing the Philippines into an “unnecessary war led by the United States”, said Mr Grossman.

“Biden and the … Biden administration clearly want the enhanced defence cooperation agreement to deal with issues that may not directly relate to the Philippines, such as China attacking Taiwan to the north of the Philippines,” he said.

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos (centre) accompanied by a US soldier inspects a high mobility artillery rocket system (HIMARS) prior to a live fire exercise as part of the US-Philippines Balikatan joint exercise at the naval training base in San Antonio, Zambales province on Apr 26, 2023. (Photo: AFP/Ted Aljibe)

“I'd imagine it's still going to have an impact on the Philippines, but perhaps not a direct impact the way it would in terms of US interests vis-a-vis Taiwan.”

At these US-Philippine bases, the US can pre-deploy military equipment and rotational troops, conduct joint training and do construction on these bases, with a variety of benefits for both sides, he added.

However, Mr Powell said that he does not believe that the US is contemplating any unilateral or offensive military action. To pull off a successful cross-strait invasion, China would have to inevitably involve other countries, he noted.

“There are so many things that would happen in association with the Taiwan conflict. It's really unpredictable, but it would certainly be much larger than simply a bilateral conflict between China and Taiwan,” he said.


On whether this development could prompt other countries with competing claims in the South China Sea to look to bolster their security cooperation with Washington, Mr Powell said that the Philippines being a very close security partner and treaty ally with the US is a “special case”.

“Every country is going to approach it differently, but I think it is important for those countries to see just how much it helps the Philippines in its bilateral relationship with China over the longer term,” he said.

Mr Powell said over the short term, ties with the Asian giant are likely to be “bumpy”, but over the long term, there are advantages for small countries that have issues with China to have leverage.

“The Philippines is going to be able to draw on a lot more strength, not just with the United States, but with other regional powers like Australia, like Japan, with which it is also looking into deepening its security ties,” he said.

Source: CNA/ja(ca)


Also worth reading