The Inbox

Why government can’t use PH manufactured M-4s

A Philippine Navy commando tests an assault rifle, made by Philippine company United Defense.

By Norman Sison, VERA Files

Steel shutters protect the building's front walls while a heavy steel gate and a security camera secure the main door. No one would have an idea of the business activities going on inside the three-storey commercial building, save for the company sign that says "United Defense."

Inside the building, automated machine tools cut precision metal parts that, when assembled, become M-4 carbines---the shorter and lighter versions of the M-16 rifle. However, unlike the M-4s used by the United States Army, the United Defense assault rifles have a key feature that makes them less prone to malfunctions.

The M-16 debuted in 1965 during the Vietnam War. It was lighter than the US military's previous battle rifle, the M-14, and had less recoil, making it easier to aim. It used a smaller bullet but was still as powerful as the larger-caliber rifles such as the Russian-built AK-47 used by North Vietnamese forces.

However, US troops were horrified to find out that the M-16 was sensitive to water, dirt and mud---which Vietnam had tons of---making it prone to malfunctions. In one clash, a Marine platoon left with 72 men and came back with 19. Troops were killed because their M-16 rifles jammed.

Also, because of its design, accumulated gunpowder residue can cause jamming or, worse, the bullet to fire a round in the chamber due to overheating. The solution was to clean and lubricate the rifle regularly. But the risk of the weapon jamming during a gun battle remained.

In 2008, a team of Philippine Navy commandos made an amphibious assault on the island of Jolo. Abu Sayyaf militants pinned them down before they could get to the beach.

"The troops were only [submerged] in a foot of water and some of their Colt CAR-15 rifles jammed," related one lieutenant of the Naval Special Operations Group (NAVSOG), whose identity was withheld for security reasons.

Commandos of the NAVSOG---the Philippine equivalent of the US Navy Seals---said they needed a rifle that could endure rigorous battlefield conditions. This prompted them to seek the services of the United Defense Manufacturing Corporation, which describes itself as a "research and development company passionate about weaponry".

A United Defense PVAR rifleAfter two and a half years of research and development with the NAVSOG, United Defense designed an M-4 variant with a pneumatic valve and rod assembly---hence the name PVAR rifle ---that made it much less prone to malfunctions.

Foreign security specialists are astounded by the PVAR rifle's reliability. In April the NAVSOG recommended that the PVAR be designated as its standard rifle. Their recommendation was endorsed to Navy Chief Vice Admiral Alexander Pama.

In September, President Aquino turned down a contract worth P213 million for the purchase of imported 1,800 assault rifles intended for the Philippine National Police's (PNP) elite Special Action Force after he found it suspiciously expensive.

Meanwhile, Filipino nationalists questioned the need to import rifles when they can be manufactured locally at less expense. They stressed that the Philippines' ongoing territorial row with China stressed the urgency of building a local defense industry.

There are existing laws encouraging the development of a local arms industry. The Constitution's Section 12, Article XII dictates that "the state shall promote the preferential use of Filipino labor, domestic materials and locally produced goods, and adopt measures that help make them competitive".

The 1936 Flag Law, Commonwealth Act No. 138, prescribes that the government give preference to Filipino products in its procurements. Republic Act No. 5183, passed in 1967, dictates that procurement contracts be awarded only to bidders that are 60 percent Filipino-owned.

There is also Republic Act No. 7898, or the 1995 military modernization law, which states that the armed forces should "give preference to Filipino contractors and suppliers".

United Defense was invited by the PNP to bid for the assault rifle contract. But the company declined because of a so-called "50 percent previous contract" provision in the 2003 government procurement law, according to United Defense chief executive Gene Cariño.

Republic Act No. 9184 was intended to ensure that only qualified bidders participate in biddings. The contract provision rules that a bidder must have made a past sale of at least 50 percent of the price of the government contract it is bidding for to qualify.

"Much as the PNP encouraged us to join the bidding, it was useless to bid," Cariño said.  "Without the government procuring from us, we have no mass base to start from and we will not be able to compete as a world-class weapons manufacturer."

A big irony here is that United Defense has been exporting the rifle. It is already in the hands of foreign security agencies guarding merchant ships against Somali pirates.

United Defense has written Senator Panfilo Lacson, who heads the Senate committee on national defense and security, requesting a review of existing procurement law.

(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true.")


Editor’s note:Yahoo Philippines encourages responsible comments that add dimension to the discussion. No bashing or hate speech, please. You can express your opinion without slamming others or making derogatory remarks.

  • Indonesia defiant as UN leads condemnation of looming executions
    Indonesia defiant as UN leads condemnation of looming executions

    Indonesia on Sunday signalled it was determined to push ahead with the execution of eight foreign drug convicts, despite a growing wave of global condemnation led by United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon. Authorities on Saturday gave formal notice to the eight -- from Australia, Brazil, Nigeria and the Philippines -- that they would be executed by firing squad imminently, along with an Indonesian prisoner. The group have been moved to the high-security prison island of Nusakambangan, where …

  • Philippines urges ASEAN to stop China in South China Sea
    Philippines urges ASEAN to stop China in South China Sea

    KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — The Philippines on Sunday urged its fellow Southeast Asian countries to take immediate steps to halt land reclamation by China in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, warning that failure to do so will see Beijing take "de facto control" of the area. …

  • Philippines urges Southeast Asia to rally to halt China reclamation in disputed waters
    Philippines urges Southeast Asia to rally to halt China reclamation in disputed waters

    The Philippines on Sunday called on neighbouring Southeast Asian nations to push for an immediate halt to China's reclamation in the disputed South China Sea ahead of a regional summit. China claims 90 percent of the South China Sea, which is believed to be rich in oil and gas, with overlapping claims from Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan. Recent satellite images suggest China has made rapid progress in building an airstrip suitable for military use in contested …

  • President to appeal for Filipina's life at Malaysia summit
    President to appeal for Filipina's life at Malaysia summit

    The Philippine president said Sunday he would appeal for mercy for a Filipina who is due to be executed in Indonesia in two days' time. President Benigno Aquino said he would take the opportunity to seek clemency for Mary Jane Veloso, who is due to be put to death on Tuesday, while in Malaysia for a regional summit Monday. "Once I am there, I will try to speak to President Joko Widodo of Indonesia to appeal once more for her case," Aquino said. She was arrested in 2009 with 2.6 kilograms …

  • Beijing poised for 'de facto control' of S.China Sea: Philippines
    Beijing poised for 'de facto control' of S.China Sea: Philippines

    Beijing is poised to take "de facto control" of the South China Sea, the Philippines warned on Sunday as it called on fellow Southeast Asian countries to "finally stand up" to their massive neighbour. Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei claim parts of the strategic South China Sea, but Beijing claims nearly all of it and its increasingly strident assertions of its territorial ambitions have caused concern in the region and beyond. "(China) is poised to consolidate de facto control …

  • U.N. chief appeals to Indonesia not to carry out executions
    U.N. chief appeals to Indonesia not to carry out executions

    United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appealed to Indonesia on Saturday not to execute 10 prisoners, including two Australians, for drug-related crimes. Indonesia has so far informed seven of the 10 death row inmates, including the Australians and one Nigerian, that they will be executed in a matter of days, possibly as soon as Tuesday. Nationals from Brazil, Ghana and the Philippines are also on Indonesia's death row. A temporary reprieve was granted to a French citizen who will not …

  • AFP monitoring deployment of Chinese seaplanes in Spratlys
    AFP monitoring deployment of Chinese seaplanes in Spratlys

    The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is adopting a wait and see approach amid reports that China will soon deploy seaplanes to further strengthen its maritime claims in the disputed Spratlys. Brig. Gen. Joselito Kakilala, spokesman for the military and commander of the AFP Civil Relations Service, said they have yet to ascertain the real purpose behind China’s continuing aggressive moves in the region. “We will wait and see before coming up with an official stand,” Kakilala said when …

  • US eyes access to Phl bases in 8 locations
    US eyes access to Phl bases in 8 locations

    The United States has asked for access to Philippine military bases in eight locations to rotate troops, aircraft and ships as Washington shifts its forces to Asia and as China expands its military presence in the South China Sea. US Defense Secretary Ash Carter, in a speech in Arizona, has outlined Washington’s next phase in its Asia “pivot,” deploying its most sophisticated destroyers, bombers and fighters to the region. The Asia “pivot” has already seen US Marines rotating through the …


Should Aquino be held accountable over the Mamasapano operations?

Poll Choice Options