TARS is our eye-in-the sky » Manila Bulletin News

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By Floro Mercene

Floro M. Mercene

Call it serendipity but the impending possession by the Philippine Navy of a Tethered Aerostat Radar System (TARS) would be a timely event.

It comes just as China once again tries to take possession of a sandbar that is part of our Pag-Asa Island.

Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, who seems to never blink watching over China’s behavior in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), released a bombshell, saying China has “invaded Philippine territory.”

He said Chinese ships are now reportedly guarding a newly created island, actually a sandbar that appears only during low tide and disappears during high tide between Pag-asa and Zamora Reef.

Called Sandy Cay, the sandbar has risen permanently due to China’s dredging in Zamora Reef, creating pulverized corals that were added atop Sandy Cay.

Carpio said China turned the sandbar into “land or territory capable of sovereign ownership.”

Carpio said two frigates, a coast guard vessel, and two fishing boats of China were guarding Sandy Cay, some 4.6 kilometers (2.5 nautical miles) from Philippine-occupied Pag-asa Island.

“Sandy Cay is a Philippine land territory that is being seized or being invaded by China,” Carpio said.

We have yet to hear from China how they will justify their latest incursion in our territory.

But remember that China has dragged its feet for a year on the chorus of ASEAN voices wanting to craft a legally binding Code of Conduct [COC] in the SCS.

A COC in place would hamper any attempts by China to change the status quo in the WPS.

The TARS, once in place in Pag-asa Island, would be our “eye-in-the sky” following every Chinese move.

TARS is among the military assistance under the US government’s Southeast Asia Maritime Security Initiative.

The Navy said TARS is an unmanned lighter-than-air system that would enhance our Navy’s capability in maritime intelligence surveillance “by effectively detecting maritime and air traffic within the country’s coastal waters.”

The TARS system is capable of staying aloft for weeks at a time, providing round-the-clock surveillance of broad areas.

The system includes the aerostat, tether, mobile mooring platform, ground control shelter, officer shelter, and power generators.

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