Cover: Non-Traditional Threats and Maritime Domain Awareness in the Tri-Border Area of Southeast Asia

Non-Traditional Threats and Maritime Domain Awareness in the Tri-Border Area of Southeast Asia

The Coast Watch System of the Philippines

Published May 17, 2012

by Angel Rabasa, Peter Chalk


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Research Questions

  1. What are the security challenges facing the tri-border area — the territory and territorial seas of three littoral states — the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia?
  2. How can the Philippines' Coast Watch System help with maritime domain awareness in the tri-border area?

The tri-border area (TBA) between the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia is a key hub of terrorist and related criminal activity in Southeast Asia, a well-known transit zone for weapons and explosives, and a principal logistical corridor for local and transnational terrorist groups. The authors analyze the security environment in the TBA; evaluate the Philippines' Coast Watch System, designed to improve maritime domain awareness in the Philippine archipelago; and examine the challenges the system must overcome. Finally, they consider the prospects for forming an integrated system of maritime security that would tie together the three states that converge in the TBA.

Key Findings

The Territory and Territorial Seas of the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia Constitute a Single Geopolitical Space

  • Long-standing ties facilitate commerce and social relations among the populations of the region, but they are also conducive to transnational dissident, terrorist, and criminal activity.
  • Vast areas lie outside government control, and ethno-national, ideological, and religious conflicts exacerbate the void in governance.

The Philippines Is Moving to Promote and Enhance a Transparent and Effective Means of Coastal Surveillance in and Around the Region

  • The Coast Watch System (CWS), a collaborative initiative involving the United States, Australia, and the Philippines, aims to develop a common operating picture of the maritime domain in the Philippines.
  • Its purpose is to collect, consolidate, and integrate all data relevant to maritime security and provide real-time information for locating, apprehending, and prosecuting those who engage in illegal maritime activities.
  • The system's future will depend on Manila's ability to sustain CWS stations that are up and running; ensure proper integration and connectivity for those that are nearing completion; and acquire necessary equipment, such as long-range surveillance platforms and sensors.


  • The Coast Watch System must evolve beyond the Philippine-centric character that it currently exhibits if it is to fulfill the type of comprehensive maritime domain awareness that it is supposed to engender.

The research described in this report was prepared for the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). The research was conducted within the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by OSD, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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