|The AgustaWestland AW159 Wildcat naval helicopter, one of the expected entries for the PN's ASW Helicopter acquisition project.|
Photo taken from Helihub website.
Although no information was provided in the media, it is expected that the PTDI-Airbus Helicopters venture will offer the Airbus AS565SB Panther naval helicopter, and AgustaWestland with the AW159 Wildcat. PTDI-Airbus recently won some tender projects with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), particularly with the Philippine Air Force (PAF) with the supply of 2 NC-212 Aviocar for the Lift Lift Fixed Wing Aircraft program, Airbus with the supply of 3 C-295 transport aircraft for the Medium Lift Fixed Wing Aircraft program, and AgustaWestland for the supply of 8 AW109E Power helicopters for the Attack Helicopter program, aside from the 5 AW109E Power naval helicopters for the Philippine Navy.
It was earlier announced in media reports that Bell Helicopters was also interested in this project, and it was expected by many that Sikorsky Aircraft, and even NHIndustries, may also show some interest in the project. Should these 3 other companies try to join, it was expected that Sikorsky may offer the S-70B Seahawk, NHIndustries with the NH90NFH, and Bell Helicopters may use a modified B412EP similar to its previous 412EP Sentinel from the late 1990s. But according to MaxDefense sources, all 3 helicopter manufacturers are not expected to join the tender, with Sikorsky and NHIndustries due to "budget vs product costs concerns", and Bell due to difficulty in making an offer based on their product line up to meet the DND/PN requirements.
With only PTDI-Airbus and AgustaWestland submitting queries, this further cements the idea that only these 2 manufacturers will be expected to submit a bid for the project, making this project a Panther vs Wildcat "cat fight".
MaxDefense was able to get the Technical Specifications released by the DND for this project, so called "Supply and Delivery of Two (2) Anti Submarine Helicopters to the Philippine Navy with Munitions, Mission Essential Equipment, and ILS". A summary of the said specs are as follows:
Technical Specifications Summary:
- 2 brand new units (aircraft, systems, and components);
- Certified for both Anti Submarine Warfare (ASW) and Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW) capability;
- Crew of 2 pilots, passenger crew as Tactical Coordinator (TACCO) and Sensor Operator (SENSO) in ASW configuration, or 6 passengers in utility;
- Dual Pilot Control System and Automatic Flight Control System, 4-axis Autopilot System;
- Certified for Single-Pilot Instrument Flight Rules (SPIFR), and for night VFR operations using Generation III Night Vision Goggles (NVG);
- Cruising Speed of at least 120 knots in full ASW configuration with munitions;
- Maximum Take-off Weight (MTOW) of not more than 12,000 kgs.
- Payload of at least 1,800 kgs.;
- Endurance of at least 2 hours (revised from original requirement of 2 hours and 30 minutes) in full ASW configuration with munitions;
- Range of at least 240 nmi (revised from original requirement of 300 nmi.), in full ASW configuration with munitions;
- Retractable dimensions to fit ship hangar with dimensions at 14.3m (lenght) x 9.8m (width) x 5.6m (height);
- To include manual or automatic main rotor blade and/or tail folding kits necessary for retraction;
- Equipped with Recovery, Assist, Securing and Traversing (RAST) system;
- Utilized for naval/maritime operations by country of origin or by at least 2 other countries;
- 730 days delivery schedule from issuance of Notice to Proceed (previously from issuance of Letter of Credit),
- External painting in matte grey with PN markings;
- Wheel type landing gears;
- Twin turbine Full Authority Digital Electronic Control (FADEC) engines, capable of hot and humid operation
- Engine performance allows one-engine inoperative capability in full ASW configuration
ASW and ASuW System:
- capable to detect, localize, classify, and track submarines and surface targets based upon data derived from active and passive accoustic sensors;
- Tethered (A rope or chain) active multi-frequency (medium to low frequency) sonar;
- Tethered Sonar may be integrated with sonobuoy processor, with capability to process sonar and sonobuoy data simultaneously;
Weapons and Munitions:
- Equipped with interchangeable/removabale Armament Control and Dispensing (ASCD) System for munitions, armaments, sonobuoys, and stores for smoke markers and Signal Underwater Sound (SUS);
- Capacity of each station for future weapons up to 600 lbs (272 kgs) per station;
- Allowable to upload/download external weapons while aircraft has rotors turning;
- Provisions for self defense stores including chaffs and flares.
Torpedo & Torpedo Launcher:
- To include 2 removable Torpedo launchers/dispensers per helicopter;
- To include 6 Torpedoes with warshot & exercise head per helicopter;
- Torpedo will be the same as those to be acquired for the new PN frigate, to wait for finalized technical specifications of the frigate (addendum as per new SBB);
- Torpedo should be lightweight, impact detonated, with sub-surface target homing capability in active/passive/mixed acoustic modes; with target range of not less than 10 kms., seawater battery operated with electrically rechargeable power source, and to include Flight in Air Material (FIAM) gears.
Air-to-Surface Missile & Launcher:
- To include 2 air-to-surface missiles per helicopter;
- Missile should weigh not more than 150 kgs., with a warhead weight of not less than 20 kgs., a range of not less than 20 kms., and must be equipped with an internal guidance system.
- Any missile system will do as long as it complies with the requirements above (addendum as per new SBB).
Heavy Machine Guns:
- To include 2 50-caliber Heavy Machine Guns, interchangeable and removal, either mounted on both sides, with 2 spare barrels per helicopter or pod mounted with pilot control firing mechanism
- To include 5,000 rounds ammunition per helicopter.
- Optimized for surveillance, detection, classification and tracking of surface targets from minimum target range of 100 yards, to maximum of at least 120 nmi, at the service ceiling of 10,000 ASL, through 360 degrees;
- Capable of over-land surveillance, and supporting navigation and weather avoidance.
EO/IR - Forward looking Infrared (FLIR):
- Passively detect any Fast Patrol Boat / Fishing Boat sized vessel at a minimum range of 15 nmi in unobscured conditions;
- Provide imagery to classify by platform type any fishing boat sized vessel at a minimum range of 5 nmi. in unobscured conditions;
- Provide imagery to identify a platform at a slant range of 1,000 ft. in obscured conditions;
- Compact with multi-sensor system
- Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) / Selective Identification Feature (SIF)
- Mission Data Management System
- Tactical Data Exchange and Recording System, compatible to Tactical Data Link 16;
- Portable Down-link Receiver, compatible and ready for installation on and surface ship or ground station specified by the PN, and must be interoperable with the installed data link system of the helicopter;
- To include External Rescue Hoist with Strap, removable, with minimum capacity of 600 lbs.;
- To include Cargo Hooks with net and sling, minimum capacity of 500 kgs.
From the specifications above, there is a strong indication that the PN and DND used the AgustaWestland AW159 Wildcat as their base platform. MaxDefense sources says that the PN already made previous discussions with several naval helicopter suppliers, including those joining the tender and those MaxDefense believed to be joining, before the tender was started. There are several items worth discussing on the specifications that will broaden up information on this acquisition project.
On General Requirements:
Both the naval Wildcat and Panther have an MTOW of less than 12,000 kgs, with the Wildcat a little heavier of the 2 helicopters at 6,000 kgs., and the Panther even less than half of the requirement at 4,500 kgs. But for payload, the Panther may have problems meeing the required 1,800 kgs. minimum weight, as the aircraft's specified weight only allows around 1,600 kgs. Being a smaller aircraft, the Panther is at a disadvantage on this regard against the larger Wildcat, including a possible technical issue on the required range and endurance in full load configuration.
|Dimensional drawing of the AgustaWestland AW159 Wildcat.|
Photo taken from Globalsecurity website.
Both helicopters are equipped with a 4-axis autopilot and SPIFR systems, and RAST system. Both can also fit the required hangar dimensions in folded configuration. The navalized Panther is in service with the French Navy and several other navies like Israel, Morocco, United Arab Emirates, and Mexico. The Wildcat is a newcomer being a different aircraft from the older Super Lynx, and is now in service with the British Royal Navy, and was ordered by the South Korean Navy for its Incheon-class frigates.
|The Israeli Navy operates the Panther from their Sa'ar V corvettes, and are actively used for surveillance and maritime patrol duties in extension of the corvette's capabilities.|
On Airframe and Powerplant:
The competing helicopters are both compliant with the engine and landing gear requirements, being both powered by twin turbine engines with FADEC. Point of interest would be the paint scheme, which appears to follow the one used by the PN's AW109E Power naval helicopters.
|The external paint scheme for the new ASW helicopters will probably follow the scheme used for the PN's AW109E Power naval helicopters, shown above.|
On Weapons and Sensors Systems:
Both helicopters are capable of doing ASW, ASuW, and SAR missions, with only differences on the specifications of the systems they are using. It is expected that the Wildcat will be using the Thales Compact Flash dipping sonar similar to what the South Korean AW159s will be getting. Aside from a tethered dipping sonar system, the specs also require a surface scanning radar system that can be used for surveillance and targeting, and as an extension of its host ship's sensors system. The data link standard was previously on hold for further announcement, but the SBB has indicated that the PN would use the Data Link 16 standard. The Portable Downlink Receiver is an interesting requirement, which was required to be compatible to the data link system and is ready to install to the PN's naval ships and ground stations. MaxDefense believes that the PN was specifically looking at the Security Enhanced Data Transfer Unit, which has this ability and is compatible with Tactical Data Link 16 network.
|An illustration of what the Wildcat can carry.|
These helicopters are also capable of carrying chaffs and flares, and both can carry heavy machine guns as required, although the AS565 Panther appears to have difficulty of having them on door pintle mounts and may require gun pods, which reduces the number of external stores like additional ordinances that the helicopter can carry.
The Panther and Wildcat can both carry the required torpedoes, but will be dependent on the actual torpedo type and made that the PN chooses for its new frigates. The Panther can carry the US Mark 46 and French/Italian Whitehead A.244/s torpedoes, while the Wildcat is designed initially to carry the British Sting Ray torpedo, although AgustaWestland is currently making the aircraft capable of carrying the MU90 and other similar Western torpedoes. The torpedo's propulsion requirement for a seawater battery operated type may point to the MU90, as the rest of possible torpedo contenders use other means.
|The BAE Sting Ray torpedo.|
Photo taken from Navweaps.com.
The missile is where an edge of the Wildcat over the Panther shines out. The Wildcat currently carries the British Sea Skua ASM while the Panther carries the French AS 15TT. Both missiles meet and exceed the required missile and warhead weight minimum requirements. But for the PN's specified requirement that the range must be at least 20 kms. will keep the AS 15TT at bay due to its operational range of only 15 kms., 25% short of the minimum range requirement. The Sea Skua even exceeds the requirement with an operational range of 25 kms.
|The Sea Skua, above shown being loaded on a RN naval helicopter, meets the requirements set by the DND and PN for the helicopter-launched ASM acquisition together with the ASW helicopters.|
|A naval Panther from the UAE military equipped with 4 AS 15TT missiles, 2 on each side.|
The Wildcat also benefits from an ongoing future missile requirement specified by the British Armed Forces, which includes the already available Thales Light Multirole Missle, although both the Panther and Wildcat shares the advantage of having the MBDA Future Anti-Surface Guided Weapon (FASGW) to replace both the British Sea Skua and the French AS 15TT. But while the PN requires a missile that is already being sold, which makes the Wildcat sit atop the Panther in the missile requirement.
The only problem now is if the Sea Skua is still being produced by BAE Systems. If not, the British government may allow to provide pre-owned missiles from RN stocks, while the PN may opt to shift to the FASGW upon availability.
Additional Information related to the PN's New Frigates:
The additional information provided by the Supplemental Bid Bulletin also included tidbits of information that pertains to the incoming new frigates of the PN. Some previously missing information were answered and may shed important information on the ships.
The frigate specifications did not provide the exact data link system to be used, which is now known as the Tactical Data Link 16 network. This was probably decided upon by the PN between the release of the frigate and ASW specifications. It is interesting to note the the US, Australian, and Japanese military, NATO and most partner nations use this network, allowing inter-operability and joint use of tactical information. The SBB also shows that there is a possibility that most major, if not all, Philippine Navy ships will be installed with the Data Link 16 network.
It also confirms that the PN has not yet decided on the torpedo type until the ASW Helicopter SBB was released.
With these information, it looks quite clear that the PN is going for the AW159 Wildcat, although PTDI-Airbus and any other manufacturers will be given a chance to match or exceed AgustaWestland's newest baby either by the specs or by the price. So far MaxDefense sources confirmed that the navalized Panther's unit price is several million dollars cheaper than the Wildcat, although in terms of capability, the Wildcat exceeds the Panther in several attributes. Add to that the earlier win of AgustaWestland to supply smaller naval helicopters to the PN in the form of 5 AW109E Power helicopters, which gave them an advantage in terms of supply chain, training, maintenance, and cooperation agreements.
So is the DND and PN handing the silver platter to AgustaWestland? Although it looks like it, until the bidding proceeds and all bid submissions are opened, validated, and passed the post bid qualifications, we cannot really say. There are instances that manufacturers fail the post-bid qualifications, although the chances are slim.
MaxDefense will be following this major acquisition program with updates on the bottom part of the blog to be added later on, and more information on the comments and replies that will mount up later on.