Sunday, January 25, 2015

Finally, the Philippine Navy's BRP Ramon Alcaraz got its Mk.38 Mod.2 Guns

After a long wait, the Philippine Navy's BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF-16) finally got its 25mm Mk. 38 Mod. 2 close-in weapons system installed. It was reported more than a year ago that the PN's foremost naval asset will be receiving these 25mm gun weapon stations after a US report that there were 2 orders for the systems for the Philippine Navy. This is the Philippine Navy's first Mk. 38 Mod. 2 system, and the first Hamilton-class ship to have such mount.


The BRP Ramon Alcaraz in Cebu. For those with very good eyesight, the Mk. 38 Mod. 2 gun platform on the port side can be seen on this angle. It is just behind the red-colored RHIB.
Photo taken from Cebu Daily News / Inquirer.net


Since the report regarding the acquisition of this gun system involves only for 2 units, it was even anticipated that the PN would either arm one gun system each to the BRP Gregorio del Pilar (PF-15) and the BRP Ramon Alcaraz, or only 1 of the ships will have both guns. Previous statements coming from Navy officials even pointed out that the older Gregorio del Pilar was the chosen ship to get both guns, without mention if the Ramon Alcaraz will also be getting as well.


The actual Mk.38 Mod.2 gun on BRP Ramon Alcaraz. This looks like on the starboard side.
Photo taken from Geminirecon @ Timawa Forum.
The port side of the ship also shows the presence of the Mk.38 Mod.2 weapons mount.
Thanks to one of our MaxDefense reader who wants to remain anonymous, who went inside the ship and took some photos.


Rear photo of the gun showing the ammunition loading system.
Photo shared by a MaxDefense reader.


But here we now have some evidence that the BRP Ramon Alcaraz was indeed fitted with the guns. Several online social media sources, including those from MaxDefense readers who shared their photos confirming that there are indeed 2 guns in the said ship, both fitted on the midship port and starboard deck sides. The ships was available for viewing to the public as it was docked in Cebu after providing naval and air security during Pope Francis' visit in Tacloban City last week.


An Mk. 38 Mod.2 weapons system installed on a US Navy vessel.
Photo taken from Wikimedia,


It is worth noting that aside from the Oto Melara 76mm Compact main gun, the PF-16 has no other weapons before the installation of the 25mm chain guns other than several 50-caliber machine guns. Meanwhile its sistership PF-15 has two 20mm gun at the superstructure midships and a manually-operated Mk.38 Mod.0 chain gun at the ship's tail end.




The BAE-Rafael Mark 38 Mod. 2 Close-in Weapons System:

For the uninitiated, the Mk. 38 Mod. 2 gun system is a remote manually controlled 25mm gun station commonly found on US Navy ships. Produced by BAE Systems and Rafael and of Israel, two units were ordered as part of a larger order made by the US Navy. This is the newer and remote-control capable version of the Mk. 38 Mod. 0 gun system which is used by the Philippine Navy on several of its Andrada-class patrol boats, the Cyclone-class BRP Gen. Mariano Alvarez, and the secondary gun mounted on the aft of the PF-15. It uses a 25mm Bushmaster M242 chain gun and was designed to protect the ship at close range from small fast surface and slow aerial threats. US Coast Guard personnel were reportedly part of the installation team as the PN doesn't have the adequate experience to do the job on their own. For further information, MaxDefense recommends the manufacturer's website (link HERE).


A closer look of the PN's new Mk.38 Mod.2 gun mounted on the BRP Ramon Alcaraz.
Thumbs up to the PN and to our friend who went there and share these photos to us.


Each of the gun mount has its own EO system that allows the gun to be used on day & night and all weather conditions. Controls of the gun is done on a console with its own video feed screen, and the gun is trainable by joysticks. 


An example of what the Mk.38 Mod.2 control console looks like.



Aside from the Mk. 38 Mod. 2, the other remote-operated close-in weapons system the Philippine Navy currently uses is the MSI 25mm Seahawk mounted on the Jacinto-class patrol corvettes, which also uses the same 25mm M242 Bushmaster gun.

With the entry of this system into the Philippine Navy, it is expected that the same system might be acquired to arm several types of upcoming ships, including the Strategic Sealift Vessel which has already started construction and requires at least 2 mounts per ship, and the new light frigates which are being tendered. 


Other Interesting Finds on the Ship:
Aside from the installed guns, there are other points of interest that MaxDefense wants to share here:

A photo of the display console of the ship's Kelvin Hughes MantaDigital surface search and navigation radar system was also made available again. Until more capable radar systems become available for the ship, this would remain as the main eyes of the ship. 


A PN crew member discuss the use of the surface radar display console to the visitors.
Photo shared by one of our MaxDefense readers who wants to remain anonymous
.

Another interesting photo involves the shipboard AW-109 naval helicopter. It appears to be a normal now to see the helicopters paired together with the frigates. It may also be interesting to take note on how the aircraft is restrained on the flight deck when not in use. 




The AgustaWestland AW-109 Power naval helicopter on the ship's flight deck.
Photo shared by one of MaxDefense's readers.


Finally, although already confirmed before, the Philippine Navy has changed the Philippine Fleet's sub-unit's name where the frigates are assigned under their recently made restructuring program based on capability. Previously known as Patrol Force, it is now known as the Offshore Combat Force, in anticipation of the greater role the unit will undertake in the near future as more assets arrive. Its logo can been seen on the PF-16's superstructure near the Mk.38 Mod.2 guns. The other Philippine Fleet units that were also renamed as the Littoral Combat Force (formerly the Coastal Patrol Force), and the Sealift & Amphibious Force(formerly the Service Force).





With the BRP Ramon Alcaraz having its close-in gun systems, we now wait for its sistership BRP Gregorio del Pilar to have a similar weapons system, as well as for the 2 ships to get their highly-anticipated long-range surface and air search radar systems, and the defense/offensive missile systems as discussed in previous MaxDefense blog entries. With the year 2015 still in its infancy, expect more news on the upgrade of the 2 ships, especially with the impending awarding of the PN's new frigates coming very soon.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

More on the Philippine Air Force C-130T Acquisition: Is the PAF Acquiring Aerial Refueling Tanker?

The US Embassy released information last January 9, 2015 that the Philippine Air Force has completed a second inspection of two C-130T that are being offered for transfer to the aforementioned armed service. Photos from the US Embassy press release shows the Philippine officials with one of the aircraft with number 022, and was said to be in Joint Reserve Naval Air Station Fort Worth in Texas. The press release also indicated that the Philippine government, through Maj. Gen. Victor Bayani, has already signed the Letter of Offer and Acceptance signifying the approval to procure the inspected aircraft. Expected delivery was placed by 1st quarter of 2016, although no exact month was specified. 


PAF and US officials during the 2nd inspection of C-130T aircraft at Fort Worth, Texas.
Photo taken from US Embassy in the Philippines website.




Upon further checking with open sources, it appears that the said aircraft (#022) is not a US Navy aircraft C-130T as earlier expected, but is a US Marine Corps unit, with tail number 163022, and is actually a KC-130T multipurpose transport-tanker aircraft. It is also assumed that the second aircraft may also be the same type and may come from the same source. A second photo from the press release also showed the interior of one of the aircraft being inspected, and it does not have the updated glass cockpit done on the US Navy C-130T aircraft. Too bad that the photos provided by the US Embassy in the Philippines did not show the wing portion to confirm if the underwing refueling pod are still there.


More photos from the inspection of aircraft no. 022. Note the analog cockpit on the aircraft, whereas the expected US Navy aircraft were already modified to use glass cockpit types.
Photo taken from US Embassy in the Philippines website.


These KC-130T are actually former C-130H aircraft converted to be aerial refueling-capable in support of US Marines air operations. Open sources like C-130.net indicated that the 163022 was built in 1984, and was modified to be able to carry the probe-and-drogue refueling system which is currently used by the US Marines aviation assets like the F/A-18C/D Hornet and AV-8B Harrier as well as CH-53 Super Stallion large helicopter series. This is the same system used by the Saab's JAS-39 Gripen. But this system is different from those used by the F-16 Fighting Falcon and F-15 Eagle fighters, which uses the Flying Boom system. (More of these can be found in open sources for further information.)


KC-130T "022" with the wing-mounted aerial refueling system on the far end of the wings.
Photo taken from usamimi.info website.


Being KC-130T Means....
For the uninitiated readers, the "K" in the KC-130T designation means it is a tanker-capable aircraft in US military parlance. So it means the Philippine Air Force is acquiring an aerial refueling capable aircraft. BUT it doesn't necessarily mean the PAF is acquiring tanker aircraft.

What's the difference? 

The KC-130Ts (or we can currently call C-130T until further notice) might be aerial refueling-capable aircraft, but it is still unknown and unconfirmed if the deal to acquire them include having the refueling system intact and usable upon the aircraft's hand-over to the PAF. But not having the aerial refueling system does not mean the PAF cannot have them in the future. With the aircraft already made to be capable of such, any future decision by the PAF to return the aircraft to tanker-capable status is very much possible and easy, as compared to other C-130 aircraft without this current capability.


A KC-130 probe and drogue underwing refueling pod. The PAF may opt to have the aerial refueling system retained when they acquire the USMC C-130T.
Photo taken from Wikimedia.


Having them retained, which is very much possible, means that the PAF will be having an added capability of aerial refueling, a first in its history. 


How About Transport Missions?
Being a multi-purpose transport aircraft, it will retain its cargo-carrying capability for other purposes, including Humanitarian and Disaster Relief (HADR) operations. This is possible by removing the fuel tank system in the cargo hold, in which the KC-130 can easily be converted from a tanker aircraft to a standard transport aircraft, with almost the same load and space capacity as a regular C-130 Hercules. The underwing refueling pod can remain even when doing transport duties.


The KC-130's fuselage fuel tank, which can easily be carried or removed from the aircraft's cargo space to convert the C-130 from a tanker to a standard transport aircraft. This is the same unit used by the US Navy and US Marine Corps on their KC-130s.
Photo taken from ar-15.net.


Why Need for an Air Refueling Tanker Capability?
The Philippine Air Force currently has no aircraft capable of aerial refueling. But they can use the aircraft to train the organization in tanker and aerial refueling operations in anticipation of future requirements. Training early is actually good as it takes time to learn and master this system, and doing it early gives them this needed time to learn and be capable of using the system well by the time the first aerial refueling receiving aircraft arrive in PAF's inventory. This can be done by having aerial tankers participate to support US military aircraft during joint US-Philippines military exercises like Balikatan, while doing standard military and HADR transport missions. Its rapid fuel transfer system can also be used in ground operations when necessary, which can be both applicable in combat and HADR support operations.

Some of the incoming new assets for the PAF can be specified or modified to be capable of receiving fuel using probe-and-drogue aerial refueling. This includes the Airbus C-295 medium tactical transport aircraft, and probably the KAI FA-50 Fighting Eagle lead-in fighter trainers. Particularly for the FA-50 with its limitations in terms of range, endurance, and load capacity, having the capability of aerial fueling can extend its reach and enable it to carry more at long distances like in the possible conflict areas in the West Philippine Sea. Future maritime patrol aircraft (MPA), airborne early warning & control aircraft (AEWC), and multirole fighters (MRF) that the PAF aspires to acquire in the next few years can also benefit from such capabilities, especially with these assets are also expected to operate in the vast Philippine EEZ and ADZ.


With its small size, MaxDefense believes that the FA-50 Fighting Eagle must be given the capability to refuel on air, with installing a refueling probe system. It is possible that the PAF has already considered this requirement.






So, is the PAF acquiring aerial refueling tankers? Possibly, but still unconfirmed. But even if the PAF won't be getting the aircraft with the aerial refueling system intact, this is the closest they can get from having one, as making them have one is due to the inherent capability the aircraft already have for as long as support and budget is provided. So why not? Here are some examples of which platforms are compatible with the KC-130's probe-and-drogue system:


So let's see, who can use the probe-and-drogue aerial refueling system of the KC-130?
The Gripen can....


...Super Hornets also can use them....
(Photo taken from chinalakealumni.com)
...legacy F/A-18C Hornets also are compatible...
(Photo taken from Wikimedia)
...even the C-295 is OK with it!







Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Year Ender for 2014: A Summary of Updates of Philippine Navy Acquisition Projects

MaxDefense would like to end the year 2014 with a Summary of Updates of Acquisition Projects of the Philippine Navy, which also includes major items for the Philippine Marine Corps. Most of these were previously discussed in older MaxDefense blog entries or in recent postings in the MaxDefense Facebook page. This blog entry may also serve as a guide for future monitoring of the said projects, as this would be easily accessed unlike those in the FB pages.


1. Delivery of 2 Armed AW-109 Naval Helicopters
The last two of a total of five ordered AW-109 Power naval helicopters from AgustaWestland was reportedly delivered to the Philippine Navy on December 29, 2014, and are expected to be commissioned to active duty on January 16, 2015. These two units are expected to complement the two Gregorio del Pilar-class frigates while the three unarmed versions are expected to be land based until more helicopter-capable navy ships become available.

A photo of one of the new AW-109 Power naval helicopters being tested in Italy in October 2014.
Photo copyright owned by Fabrizio Capenti - Malpensa Spotters Group, taken from Airliners.net.


These helicopters differ from the earlier three units for being armed variants, with external loading capability that could enable the helicopter to carry different weapons systems ranging from gun pods, rocket launchers, and although still officially unconfirmed, can also be fitted to carry a torpedo. There were also previous indications that the helicopters are fitted with Electronic Countermeasures (ECM) systems which the earlier three helicopters do not have.

With the PN beginning to fully understand the capabilities of the helicopters, it is expected that further orders might be fulfilled to fully replace the ageing BO-105.


2. Updates on the Strategic Sealift Vessels (aka Landing Platform Dock)
The contract to build two Strategic Sealift Vessels (SSV), which is the project name to acquire Landing Platform Docks for the Philippine Navy, has been awarded to PT PAL of Indonesia and signed mid this year. And according to PT PAL and Philippine Navy press statements, the lead ship will be started within the 1st quarter of 2015 and will be delivered to the Philippine Navy on the 2nd quarter of 2016, while the second ship will be delivered by 2nd quarter of 2017. 

The scale model above is not yet the final design, and MaxDefense confirmed through its PN sources that there are changes in the helicopter deck and hangar design.


According to MaxDefense's PN sources, the final design of the ship has already been confirmed although minor details are still being finalized. It would be a derivative of PT PAL's own Banjarmasin-class LPD for the Indonesian Navy, and will have a mount for a 76mm forward main gun, remote weapons systems in the 20 to 30mm class similar to the Mk.38 Mod.2 being procured for other PN ships, mounts for Man-Portable Air Defense System (MANPADS) in the Mistral-Simbad class, and for 50-caliber heavy machine guns. The weapons will be separately procured by the Philippine Navy and it is still being determined if these weapons can be installed fully or partially by the time the ships are delivered.

MaxDefense is expecting more news of this project within the early part of 2015.



3. Updates on the New Frigate Acquisition Project:
The Philippine Navy recently confirmed that the new frigate acquisition project is still on the move, with all six interested bidders that passed the 1st stage bidding process still up in the running. The pre-bid conference for the 2nd stage bidding is scheduled on January 8, 2015, and bidding will be held probably before the end of February 2015. The PN expects the awarding and contract signing for the frigate contract within the 1st half of 2015 as they are trying to avoid further delaying the project.

Hyundai Heavy Industries offered the HDF-300 multipurpose frigate design, which is where the ROKN's Incheon-class frigate was based.


During the ADAS 2014, HHI confirmed that they are indeed offering a design based on their HDF-3000 multipurpose frigate which the South Korean Incheon-class was derived, while Navantia is offering a design based on their Avante series. Indian and French press releases regarding their participation (Garden Reach and STX France, respectively) in the project indicated their offers will have a displacement of more than 3,000 tons displacement and a length of more than 105 meters. STX France also previously indicated that they are offering a design based on their New Generation Surveillance Frigate.

As the pre-bid conference is scheduled within a few days, MaxDefense is also expecting more news regarding this project very soon.



4. Updates on the Anti-Submarine Helicopter Acquisition Project:
With AgustaWestland named as the only bidder that complied with the requirements of the Anti-Submarine Helicopter Acquisition project's 1st stage bidding, it is expected that the project will be moving on faster as the DND and PN would only need to deal with 1 bidder. Although they have passed through the 1st stage bidding, AgustaWestland still needs to comply to the requirements set for the project.

The chances for an awarding of the contract for 2 Anti-Submarine Helicopters to AgustaWestland is now high as they are the only complying bidder. AgustaWestland is offering its new AW159 Wildcat ASW helicopter.


The PN expects the award and signing of contract for this project to be completed within the 1st half of 2015, and will be paired closely to the PN's frigate acquisition project due to capabilities that require the helicopters and frigates to work closely with each other. 



5. Updates on the Missile-Equipped Multi-Purpose Assault Craft (MPAC):
Re-bidding for this project will be initiated this coming 2015, and there are reportedly some changes in the terms of reference of the project. It is expected that the same bidders as last time will be submitting their interest for this project.

One of the PN's MPACs, delivered as part of the 2nd batch of 3 units acquired a few years ago.
The PN's current requirement is for such to have short-range anti-surface missiles and a remote weapons station.
Photo taken from Interaksyon.com.


It is expected that these MPACs will be physically larger than the two current sub-classes being used by the Philippine Navy, although it would be retaining most of its performance attributes. 



6. Commissioning of 3 Naval Tankers provided by PNOC:
Originally intended to be commissioned this year, the Philippine Navy has rescheduled the entry of 3 tankers, all still unnamed, after some reworks on the ships that will enable them to do replenishment at sea missions in support of the fleet. These are former oil tankers of the Philippine National Oil Company that were given to the Philippine Navy this year.

No exact schedule yet on when these ships will enter naval service.



7. Hand-over of a Pohang-class Corvette and LCU from South Korea:
According to previous reports from Korean media, the Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN) will decommission several ships in their fleet before the end of the year, including the Ulsan-class frigate ROKS Ulsan, a couple of Pohang-class corvettes, and several patrol killer gunboats. Among those is ROKS Gyeongju (PCC-758), which is speculated to be the ship to be handed-over to the Philippine Navy. 

The ROKS Gyeongju (PCC-758), which was reportedly the unit to be provided to the Philippine Navy.


It is expected that the deal for transfer of the ship to the PN will be similar to what the Colombians had when they got some ships from the Korean government this year. Refurbishing will be done in Korea, and will be paid for by the Philippine government, before the ship can be sent to the Philippines for commissioning. There are already preparations being made by the PN for people to be sent to Korea, although information regarding this has been tight lately.

Aside from the Pohang-class corvette, there are also reports that a retired LCU of the Mulgae-class, will also be included, which was discussed previously in a MaxDefense blog entry. No new information though regarding development on this acquisition.

An example of a Mulgae-class LCU from South Korea.



8. Possible Offers of More Korean Excess Defense Articles for the Philippine Navy:
In relation to the availability of excess Pohang and Ulsan class warships, there are strong speculations that the Korean government has been pushing hard for the Philippine Navy and Department of National Defense to choose a Korean shipbuilder to win the new frigate acquisition project, and other Korean defense manufacturers like Samsung Techwin, Samsung Thales, Hyundai Rotem, Doosan, and LIG Nex1 in other defense acquisition projects. 

ROKS Chongju (FF-961), an example of an Ulsan-class frigate from South Korea.


The offer was said to include conditional offers to transfer more Pohang-class corvettes, and probably a couple of Ulsan-class frigates. Although this is not limited to the Koreans, with other bidders reportedly having similar conditional offers as well. According to MaxDefense's PN sources, the Navy is indeed very much interested in acquiring several of the both classes as it also pushes to retire more of its ex-World War 2 assets.



9. Acquisition of 8 Amphibious Assault Vehicles:
The tender for the acquisition of 8 units of AAVs resulted to only Samsung Techwin submitting a bid, with an offer for their AAV7 armored vehicle. These vehicles will be embedded with the SSV that the PN acquired (please see #2 above).

Samsung Techwin's AAV7 is a licensed copy of the original AAV7 / LVTP-7 built by BAE Systems.


Post qualifications have reportedly been completed although there were no confirmation if Samsung Techwin was able to comply with the requirements. It is expected that an award for this project will be made early next year, as the 2-stage bidding process was also cut short with the entry of only 1 bidder. It is expected that the PMC will acquire more AAVs as the PN acquires more SSV and other amphibious naval ships to support Marine operations.



10. Shoulder-Launched Multipurpose Assault Weapon (SMAW) for the Marine Corps:
The Philippine Navy confirmed recently that they have started evaluating the Philippine Marine Corps (PMC) requirement for Shoulder-Launched Multipurpose Assault Weapon (SMAW) to replace the ageing and heavy recoilless rifles still used by the service. 

An old catalog of the SMAW, as marketed by the now defunct McDonnel Douglas Astronautics Company.


As discussed before in MaxDefense, this project has been in the pipeline for more than 2 years now, and it is curious to know why the PN only started the evaluation of this project recently. It is unclear yet if the PMC is interested in the original SMAW weapon used by the US Marines, or is still looking for a different model from other sources. It is interesting to note that the Philippine Army went separate ways on the decision to replace old recoilless rifles, with the Army choosing the RPG-7USA made by American arms company Airtronic.



10. 155mm Towed Howitzers for the Philippine Marine Corps:
Previously reported as a joint Philippine Army-Philippine Marine Corps project, and was reported won by Israeli company Elbit Systems Land and C4I, recent press releases by the Philippine Navy indicated that the project will again undergo a rebidding for still unknown reasons. 

The Elbit Systems Athos 155mm towed howitzer, which was initially selected as a winner for a joint PA-PMC 155mm towed howitzer acquisition project. The PN confirmed recently that a rebidding will take place soon.


If another bidding is to proceed, it is expected that this will happen within the 1st quarter of 2015, although it is still unclear if this will still be a joint acquisition with the Philippine Army. It appears also that the PMC is interested in acquiring support systems for the artillery system, including targeting radar and fire control computer systems.




Aside from those listed above, there are still many other projects under the Philippine Navy that are not discussed anymore, but will be given coverage in future MaxDefense blog entries as more information becomes available for public consumption.



Although 2014 has not been a very good year for the AFP Modernization due to several delays encountered due to questions on the source of funding, especially with the legislative moves questioning the legality of Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) and usage of the Malampaya Trust Fund, the AFP and DND were able to use the time to allow most of the projects to move quickly as issues are being cleared by early 2015. 

MaxDefense wishes the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Department of National Defense, and all MaxDefense blogs and Facebook page readers a very Merry Christmas and a Happy, Prosperous New Year!! Wishing a faster-paced modernization program and additional support and budget from the national government to broader up the program further!


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A Frigate for $200 Million for the Philippine Navy? Why Not!

For all the doubting Thomases following the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Modernization Program, the question whether the Philippine Navy's budget of Php 18 billion (around $400 million) for 2 brand new frigates is enough has been asked for almost forever since they announced the existence of such acquisition project. With the DND recently announcing that awarding for the project is not possible within this year, it is timely to discuss the issue here @ MaxDefense.


An Incheon-class frigate of the ROKN.
photo taken from Flicker account of the Korean Ministry of Defense.


Before anything else, MaxDefense suggests that readers go through earlier blog entries related to this project, listed as follows:

1. An In-Depth Look at the Philippine Navy Frigate Program of 2013 - an initial analysis made by MaxDefense in the absence of technical specifications, and basing it on the capabilities found on the Maestrale-class frigates.

2. Philippine Navy Frigate Acquisition Project - An Analysis of the 1st-Stage Bidding Specifications - discusses the background of the project, the initial technical specifications released by the PN and DND, and an analysis of what can be expected based on these information.

3. Updates on Philippine Navy's Frigate Acquisition: 6 Bidders Qualified for the 2nd Bid Stage - discussed the pre- and post- bidding results of the 1st stage bidding done on December 2013, and an analysis of what the bidders could be offering.

Further reading and research is also advised, as there are many discussions made with regards to the Philippine Navy Frigate Acquisition Project.


The Kamorta-class large ASW corvette. Garden Reach of India is among those bidding for the PN's frigate project, and MaxDefense believes that they could be offering a variant of this warship.




Corvette vs Frigate: which is which?
There is a very thin veil separating the classification of small warships as either corvettes or frigates, and the Philippine Navy's new frigate may fall somewhere in this category. 

A discussion to explain this issue will actually take up a lot of reading, and MaxDefense would rather refer its readers to an interesting entry regarding the separation of Offshore Patrol Vessels from Corvettes from Frigates:

What is a Corvette? And What Next? - an entry for Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC), by Chuck Hill of Chuck Hill's CG Blog.

Based on the link above, it shows that size itself will not be a singular determinant on a ship's classification. It would not really matter much if the ship will actually be considered a large corvette or a light frigate, but will be determined more according to its mission profile. Since it is also up to the PN to determine if the ship is to be considered a corvette or a frigate, then this could probably be considered a light multipurpose frigate that will be tasked to do combat, patrol, and escort missions. Following the PN's own Fleet Desired Force Mix whitepaper, this specific frigate project is actually closer to their requirement for an Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) corvette as the requirement for frigates actually emphasizes the mission profile to specialize in Anti-Aircraft Warfare (AAW). 

Per MaxDefense sources, the PN is likely to choose a design with a lot of future-proof capability to accept planned systems which was also indicated in the first stage bidding technical specifications, in a similar way that the British did with their Type 45 destroyers, or the Thais did with their Naresuan-class frigate. Also, the requirement for high sea state capability together with capability to mount more weapons systems plus allowance for future-proofing means that the ship should have sufficient size. It is expected that the ships would definitely be larger than most current corvettes in service with other navies like the Indonesian Diponegoro-class and even the new DSME-designed ships recently announced by the Royal Malaysian Navy.


The closest comparison MaxDefense can make of the PN frigate is that of Indonesia's ongoing PKR Frigate Project based on Damen's SIGMA 10514 design, which was estimated to cost between $220-250 million.



Background of the Frigate Acquisition Project:
The Philippine Navy (PN) originally planned to acquire two used Maestrale-class frigates that the Italian Navy was planning to retire starting late 2013. The budget allocated by the PN and DND was Php 12 billion for the two ships, training of crew and shipyard maintenance teams, refurbishing works, replacement of several electrical, electronic, and mechanical systems, spare parts, and a limited logistics support package. But the Philippines dropped the plan in 2013, which was discussed in a previous MaxDefense blog. Although the PN and DND did not confirm the exact reasons, all those pointed out on the previous blog entry seem to support the decision.



1. The Hyundai Offer:
Apparently, the Koreans, be it the Korean government (or any of its agencies), or Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI), provided details and solicited offers to the DND and PN to sell a variant of their HDF-3000 frigate design for around Php 18 billion for 2 units. A juicy offer, plus all other negative reasons regarding the Maestrale-class' physical condition and deal details, made the DND and PN decide to go for new frigates by just adding Php 6 billion to its war chest.


The 2nd of class Incheon-class frigate, ROKS Gyeonggi (FFG-812) was built by Hyundai Heavy Industries.


(The Hyundai HDF-3000 frigate is the base design used for the used for the Incheon-class frigate of the Republic of Korea Navy)

Based on this reason alone, it already shows that the Philippine Navy can get an Incheon-class frigate derivative with its budget, even without a bidding. Previous accounts suggest that a standard ROKN Incheon-class frigate cost slightly higher than Php 9 billion each, the Philippine variant can be worth less due to its minimum initial specifications as compared to its Korean variant, an example of which is having only a 76mm rapid firing main gun instead of a larger 127mm gun.


2. Others Answered the Philippine Navy's Call:
To further maximize its budget, the DND decided to go for tender acquisition process instead of going directly with HHI's offer. They used the same budget and technical specifications that was loosely based on the HDF-3000 offer, with hope that there are other shipbuilders and suppliers willing to provide a product within the same parameters as what HHI offered earlier within the allocated budget.  

Based on the description provided on initial technical specifications, it can be categorized either as a corvette or a light frigate, depending on the size of the ship which was not provided. MaxDefense sources confirmed that the PN is giving priority to design allowances for future growth instead of a design that is compact, giving offers whose design exceed the marginal length of 100 meters. Nonetheless, this is not an issue as the ships are design-optimized for maritime patrol, anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and anti-surface warfare (ASuW), with limited anti-aircraft warfare (AAW) defensive capability. To note, the Philippine Navy's Fleet Desired Force Mix strategy whitepaper actually listed 12 anti-submarine corvettes or light frigates in its projected requirement together with 6 more frigates optimized for air defense.


Although Navantia's Avante 2200 Combatant design appear to be smaller than HHI's HDF-3000, as long as it meets the requirements set by the Philippine Navy for its light frigate requirement, then it is acceptable.


With 6 shipbuilders from Korea, Spain, France and India confirming their ability to provide a ship that meets the PN's initial terms of reference and budget, it only proves that what the PN wanted can be had for around $400 million. These shipbuilders are not stupid to enter such tender without knowing the risks of swallowing a contract they can't complete. Thus, not only is the budget capable of getting a HHI frigate, it can also buy the PN a frigate made by any of the shipbuilders that passed the first stage bidding, namely Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering, STX Offshore & Shipbuilding, STX France SA, Navantia-Grupo SEPI, and Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers.


Garden Reach's latest product, the Kamorta-class large ASW corvette for the Indian Navy. MaxDefense speculated that they could be offering a variant of this design to the PN's frigate acquisition project.
Photo taken from GRSE website.




3. Separation of Budget to Acquire the Frigate Hull and Weapons Systems:
Another recent adjustments made by the PN and DND was to separate the budget to acquire the frigate hull from that of the weapons systems and ammunition. 

After the presentations made by shipbuilders prior to finalization of the final terms of reference for the 2nd stage bidding, it was found out that they would encounter problems if shipbuilders will be tasked to acquire the weapons systems for frigates. There are unforeseen limitations on this acquisition set-up, and it was acknowledged by the DND that it would be best to have the weapons systems procured separately by the Philippine government, although installation can still be made by the winning shipbuilder or a selected systems integrator. 

No doubt, there were deficiencies on the Technical Working Group (TWG) tasked with this acquisition project, which is attributed to their lack of experience in similar projects before. It should be taken note that this is the first time the PN is acquiring a modern surface combatant in its recent history, and prior to that all major surface combat assets of the PN were handed over by the US Navy and US Coast Guard. But this serves as an important lesson to the country's defense planners, which they could now consider for future similar acquisition projects.


This definitely delays the project, but it does not cancel it as speculated by many people including people with previous military and government background. The changes actually gave the DND and PN a chance to catch-up with all the delays to allow the awarding of the ship hull while the PN still decides and negotiates for the weapons system.


The MBDA MM40 Exocet anti-ship missile are among those being considered to be installed on the upcoming new frigates of the Philippine Navy.


MaxDefense sources indicate that the Philippine government has already made several steps to overcome obstacles in acquiring advanced ship-based weapons systems. The recent signing of the Philippines-France Defense Cooperation Agreement this year is an example of such accomplishments to allow the Philippines to acquire weapons systems from France.



4. The Frigate Acquisition as a Major Priority Project of the Aquino Administration:
Among the major projects championed by President Benigno Aquino III includes this frigate acquisition project. This is evident by the continued announcements made by the president in his State of the Nation Addresses, speeches on major military and security events, and press releases by the government. Canceling this project for any reasons except from opposition from Congress or Senate will definitely have a negative impact on the current administration's ability to provide the Armed Forces of the Philippines the equipment they need to accomplish their mandate. 

MaxDefense believes that the current administration will do all means necessary to push for the awarding and contract signing of this project within the 1st half of 2015 to allow for a major accomplishment (launching or delivery) of the first unit before Pres. Aquino steps down by mid-2016.




So is the PN Frigate Project just another OPV?
There were several opinions made by other analysts and discussions in several websites stating that the Philippine Navy's requirement might be more of an Offshore Patrol Vessel rather than a frigate. But MaxDefense beg to disagree on this. 

In 2011, the US Naval Sea Systems Command released a Request for Information (RFI) regarding the possibility of a Philippine Navy acquisition of at least 2 Offshore Patrol Vessels. The projected specifications had a lot of difference from the PN's current frigate base specifications. The only similarity are the sea state requirement for operation, and the gun systems calibers and numbers. Differences can be seen on the requirements on speed, range, physical dimensions (the PN did not specified the exact dimension requirements for the frigate, but it is expected to be higher than what was requested in the RFI), guided weapons, and other details that were obviously less than those required on the frigate. The RFI actually gave a glimpse of what the PN might be looking for its future OPV requirement, and its dissimilarity from that of the current frigate requirement obviously separates the 2 projects as one and the same.

Also based on the RFI, it appears to be smaller compared to other OPVs in the region like the New Zealand Navy's Protector-class, the Royal Malaysian Navy's Kedah-class, and the Royal Thailand Navy's (RTN) Krabi-class, which was based on BAE Systems' own design with a similar design is used by Brazil as the Amazonas-class. According to multiple open sources, the Thais only spent around $85 million for each of the Krabi-class OPV, complete with its full systems complement. This is less than half of the budget allocated by the Philippine Navy for each of the frigates without weapons systems @ $175 million. The Amazonas-class were originally built by BAE Systems as the Port of Spain-class for Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard, and each of the ships costed them £50 million ($81.5 million) each in 2009Even if you consider inflation and price adjustments due to time, it is still far less than the frigate budget. 


The Krabi-class OPV of the Royal Thai Navy.


Another point of comparison is the recently chosen OPV for the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) to be built by French shipbuilder OCEA, which will cost around $113 million together with 4 smaller 24-meter patrol boats. It is expected that the OPV-270 design will only be less than $75 million.

Based on the aspects of costs and previous specifications for OPV requirements, it is acceptable to say that the current frigate acquisition project is not for an OPV, but for a surface combatant, either a large corvette or a light frigate, but will also be capable of doing patrol and EEZ protection duties. 



...But Other Frigate Projects Exceed $200 million apiece!
There are comparisons made during discussions to other frigate projects worldwide using the budget allocated by the DND and PN for the frigate acquisition. And it appears that the PN's budget of $200 million for a single frigate is too low.


Previous studies were made wherein they concluded that increasing the hull size was a cheap option, thus increasing the hull size to frigates size will not significantly increase the cost. But the bigger the hull, the heavier the ship is, and if the PN wanted a ship with speed to match its size, then a higher output engine aside from the usual cruising diesel engines is needed. This is where MaxDefense believes the ship's cost will escalate.Further price escalations will be coming from the electronics, mechanical, electrical, and sensors/detection system to be installed in the ship. Although the base specs indicated a minimum 2D search radar, MaxDefense believes that the PN would be getting at least a 3D air-surface search radar which is the current standard nowadays.

Without the weapons, $175 million would not give the PN much wiggle room, but would definitely be enough to build a frigate without its weapons systems. But it would depend on who will supply the ship as building it in Europe or other advanced countries may escalate the price due to production costs. This would have a negative impact for Navantia and STX France which are planning to build the ships in Europe. This could change if they are willing to build the ships on their partner shipyards in Asia.

What actually concerns MaxDefense is the $25 million allocated for the weapons systems and ammunition. But the separation of the weapons systems from the frigates may actually give a new hope that the PN could actually provide more to arm the ships properly. Being a separate project, the DND and PN has the option to improve the budget allocation without affecting the schedule of the frigate construction. If the PN cannot allocate enough budget to fully arm the ships upon its commissioning, then it would be capped in the meantime to limited roles although the allowances in its design will allow future growth should the budget allows.




Latest News Confirmed Earlier Analysis: The latest press release made by the DND c/o USec. Fernando Manalo is a relieving news, a sign that the DND and PN has not abandoned the project after awarding has been delayed for several months now. It also confirmed that they are indeed using a revised terms of reference (which includes a technical specification molded by the inputs of all the shortlisted shipbuilders) which will give to rest to the speculation that the frigate will be nothing more but a OPV with bells and whistles. 

With a new target of 2015, which collaborates with all other MaxDefense sources from both DND and PN, it is still possible to actually have a major accomplishment made by mid 2016. There are certain bidders that can actually complete an entire frigate from the ceremonial steel cutting until launching in less than a year, and delivery period can be also be a consideration on choosing the winning bidder.

So let us be more patient in awaiting for a positive outcome of this acquisition project. If this proves to be successful, succeeding major ship acquisition projects would definitely be easier and take shorter to complete next time.