Not your typical defense page...

Another big thanks to Japan!

The Philippine Air Force receives spare parts, tools, and equipment from Japan to support the Bell UH-1 Huey fleet

From Naval Air Group to Naval Air Wing?

The Philippine Navy's Naval Air Group aspires to be upgraded into an Air Wing.

Something's about to come out of the dock soon

MaxDefense continues to monitor the impending launch of the PN's new frigate BRP Jose Rizal (FF-150)

What is this thing?

Can you guess what this is for? Click on the image to see related discussions.

Del Pilar-class frigates as OPVs?

MaxDefense provides its viewpoints on the planned downgrade of the Philippine Navy's Del Pilar-class frigates from frigates to offshore patrol vessels

Thank you Japan!

The Japanese government hands over 2 Yamaha high speed boats to the PCG

Our Latest Post

IAI Elta Systems complete delivery of ELM-2288ER Air Defense Radars for the Philippine Air Force

Note: To new readers, please refer to older blog entries regarding this project, the last one published last 24 January 2019. To read it, pl...

Saturday, March 16, 2019

IAI Elta Systems complete delivery of ELM-2288ER Air Defense Radars for the Philippine Air Force

Note: To new readers, please refer to older blog entries regarding this project, the last one published last 24 January 2019. To read it, please refer to the link below

"Delivery Imminent for the Philippine Air Force's 2 new Elta ELM-2288ER AD-STAR Air Defense Radars" - first posted 24 January 2019.


The IAI Elta Systems ELM-2288 AD-STAR air defense and surveilance radar system.
Photo taken from Asia Pacific Defense Journal.

Last January 2019, MaxDefense reported that the delivery of the two remaining Israeli-made ELM-2288ER AD-STAR Extended Radar air defense and surveillance radar systems was "imminent". Back then, the delivery of the said radars were already behind schedule due to issues within the manufacturer Elta Systems Ltd.

Based on updated information from MaxDefense sources, we can now confirm that the Philippine Air Force (PAF) already received the two AD-STAR long range air defense radars, and MaxDefense expects that these radars should already be installed at the radar stations they were assigned to be fixed.

With this, the physical delivery of the three (3) ELM-2288ER radars under the Philippine Air Force's Air Defense Radar acquisition project under the Horizon 1 phase of the Revised AFP Modernization Program can be considered as complete, although Elta Systems could still be under contract to provide installation, training, and aftersales support to the Philippine Air Force.

The radars were acquired under a Government-to-Government (G2G) deal with the Israel's Ministry of Defense, which in turn has Elta Systems as the proponent.

These radars are assigned with the 580th Aircraft Control and Warning Wing, the unit under the Philippine Air Force that is in charge of air defense and surveillance radar systems. 

The AD-STAR radars will form part of the Philippine Air Defense system that comprises radars, fighter aircraft, and in the future may also include airborne early warning and conrol aircraft (AEW&C), ground based air defense systems (GBADS), and interconnectivity with air surveillance or radar equipment, and anti-aircraft systems of the Philippine Navy and Philippine Army.
Photo taken from the 580th ACWW's Facebook page.

When MaxDefense posted the blog last January 2019 where we mentioned that delivery of the two radars was imminent, the radars are not really that far from the Philippines. In fact, the radars were already in the territorial waters of the Philippines, although not yet in the hands of the Philippine Air Force.

Just a few days after we posted the blog, we received confirmation that the two radars were already received by the PAF and were en route for delivery to the Mt. Salakot Air Station in Palawan, and to Gozar Air Station in Lubang Island, Mindoro.

That was almost 2 months ago.

By now it is expected that both radars should already have been installed, although there could be integration works still ongoing, and its highly possible that both radars are not yet operational. It may take some more time, maybe a few more months, before the radar systems are ready and integrated into the Philippine Air Defense Control Center.

A typical example of what a radar mount and control structure looks like. MaxDefense believes that they could have made the building a little bigger in anticipation of space requirements, and probably more robust and modern looking.
Photo taken from the PAF 580th ACWW's Facebook page.

The IAI Elta Systems ELM-2288ER AD-STAR Extended Range radar:

The IAI Elta Systems ELM-2288ER AD-STAR Extended Range long range 3D air defense and surveillance radar has a claimed instrumented range of 480 kilometers, although it has a claimed typical fighter aircraft detection range of around 420 kilometers.

Based on the photo below, it appears that the entire western seaboard of the Philippine mainland would have air defense radar coverage with minor overlaps.

MaxDefense believes that a redundant system should also be in place, with a different bandwidth and capability cover these areas 24/7 even when one of the radar system is down for maintenance, or from damage.

This is from an old Flight Plan 2028 document during the Horizon 1 phase period, which shows the planned locations of 7 proposed air defense radars in the country. The latest version of the PAF's radar proposal now covers 8 locations, thus the PAF is planning to acquire 5 more long range air defense radars within the Horizon 2 phase.
Photo taken from PAF's old website.

Photo above shows the estimated coverage of the three Elta Systems ELM-2288ER AD-STAR Extended Range radars once they are all operational. It was assumed that the radars have a maximum range of around 450 kilometers. The coverage of the Elta Systems ELM-2106NG tactical radar, which MaxDefense believes is in Wallace Air Station in La Union, can also be seen.
Photo shared by a MaxDefense contributor who wish to remain anonymous.

Horizon 2 Radar Acquisition Plans:

With the air defense radars ordered as part of the Horizon 1 phase already delivered, we now look forward to the planned acquisition of more air defense radars under the Horizon 2 phase.

In previous blog entries and Facebook posts, MaxDefense confirmed that there is indeed a program to acquire five (5) long rage air defense radars under the Air Surveillance Radar System acquisition program. The project was allocated an Approved Budget for Contract (ABC) worth Php5.5 billion, which on the average, is greater than the allocation made during the Horizon 1 phase.

MaxDefense previously reported that among those contending for the project include IAI Elta Systems with the same ELM-2288ER AD-STAR Extended Range from Israel, Lockheed Martin with their AN/TPS-77 long range air defense radar from the United States, the Mitsubishi Electric FPS-3 air defense radar from Japan, Thales Ground Master 400 from France, and offers from Saab, and companies from India and UK.

It now remains to be seen on how the Philippine Air Force will go through with their next batch of radar acquisitions, with experience now with them after the initial purchase.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

The Del Pilar-class Frigates: Upgrade Recommendations to Avoid Reclassification as OPV

In an article by the Manila Bulletin published on 24 February 2019, it included excerpts from an interview with Philippine Navy Flag Officer in Command (FOIC) Vice Admiral Robert Empedrad discussing about the Del Pilar-class frigates.

The FOIC mentioned that the Del Pilar-class frigates are actually not classified as frigates, due to the absence of certain combat features that can be found on frigates from other navies.

Emphasis was given by the FOIC on the lack of heavy weapons, including anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles and torpedoes. Currently, the Del Pilar-class frigates are only armed with guns, with the most capable being the Mark 75 Oto Melara 76mm/62 caliber naval gun.

So does it mean to say that the Philippine Navy's Del Pilar-class frigates will not be considered as frigates anymore, and will be downgraded into something else?

BRP Andres Bonifacio (FF-17), one of the Del Pilar-class frigates of the Philippine Navy, as it enters Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii to participate in Rim of the Pacific 2018.
Photo taken from DVIDS.

What Does the Philippine Navy's Own Classification Standard Say about Frigates?

In 28 April 2016, the Philippine Navy released a new Classification, Name, Number, and Categorization of PN Ships, Crafts, Aircraft and Ground Equipage. This is now considered as the Philippine Navy's standards for asset classification. (MaxDefense will discuss more of this new classification standard in a later blog).

In it are the following descriptions:

"Frigate (FF) - it is a surface warfare ship designed for either anti-submarine or anti-air warfare. It has a displacement of 2,000 to 5,000 tons. A frigate can operate beyond the EEZ and participate in naval operations in a high threat environment."

Based on the above description, the Del Pilar-class was designed to allow the conduct of anti-submarine warfare, but it currently lacks the features. Also, it is currently not designed for anti-air warfare. While it has a displacement within the range provided to describe a frigate and also can operate beyond the EEZ, it cannot participate in naval operations in a high threat environment due to its lack of necessary sensors and weapons for offensive and defensive purposes.

Thus, based on the PN's own classification standard, the Del Pilar-class is indeed not a frigate. And thus, PN FOIC Vice Adm. Robert Empedrad is correct. But does being correct based on the ship classification system mean that it is a logical move?

Is a Downgrade on the way?

Last February 2019, MaxDefense found out that the Philippine Navy leadership has already directed the implementation of re-categorizing the Del Pilar-class ships from being "Frigates" to "Offshore Patrol Vessels".

Currently there is no specific category for Offshore Patrol Vessels in the PN Ship Classification Standard, but based on how things were made in other ships, it is expected that the upcoming changes will be made:

* BRP Gregorio del Pilar: from FF-15 to PS-15.
* BRP Ramon Alcaraz: from FF-16 to PS-16.
* BRP Andres Bonifacio: from FF-17 to PS-17.

It is just a matter of time for the Philippine Navy to announce the changes in its classification of the three ships, which MaxDefense expects to happen within the year.

Once this happens, the Philippine Navy will officially have zero frigates, which is a first since the Philippine Navy continuously maintained similar-type vessels (classified as destroyer escorts) in 1967 (the RPS Datu Kalantiaw).

Is a Downgrade Unavoidable?
Was it really necessary for the Philippine Navy to downgrade the Del Pilar-class from frigates to offshore patrol vessels?

From a technical standpoint, it appears to be logical for the PN to reclassify the ships as Offshore Patrol Vessels.

But the real question here is, can the deficiencies be solved or not to avoid such downgrade from happening?

Currently, the Philippine Navy has an ongoing upgrade project for the Del Pilar-class frigate, which is simply called as the Del Pilar-class Frigate Upgrade Project. It is part of the Horizon 2 phase of the Revised AFP Modernization Program, and has an allocated budget worth Php1.54 billion. 

Infographics on the Philippine Navy's ongoing Del Pilar-class Frigate (DPCF) Upgrade project. Photo shared exclusively to MaxDefense.

Currently both MaxDefense sources and FOIC Vice Adm. Empedrad confirmed that the lowest bidder is a UK-based company. Of the 3 invited bidders under the Limited Source Bidding mode of procurement, only Ultra Electronics is UK-based (the others being Sweden-based Saab Group, and South Korea-based Hanwha Defense Systems). Based on our information, Ultra Electronics is scheduled to undergo a Post-Qualification Inspection (PQI) in a few weeks time. Until an award is made on any proponent, MaxDefense won't be discussing much as it as there is no basis on who wins the job.

The point of this project is to improve the Del Pilar-class frigate's ability to see and hear, which is the most important upgrade for any military ship. A warship cannot fight what it cannot properly see or hear, so this is an important step prior to any modernization of a warship's firepower. But having the sensor upgrade is not enough for the ships to be considered as frigates.

Once its done with the sensors, it is more logical to undergo an upgrade that would improve its capability to fight. A weapons upgrade should follow next.

But even Vice Adm. Empedrad mentioned that it would take a lot of money for the Philippine Navy to invest in weapon systems for the Del Pilar-class frigate. Which means that the issue is a now a monetary problem rather than anything else.

So, can the dilemma of the Del Pilar-class frigates be solved? YES, IT CAN BE SOLVED. It's only a matter of giving priority in providing funds to upgrade the ships to include long range and accurate weapon systems, hard

BRP Ramon Alcaraz (FF-16) together with Pakistani Navy tanker PNS Nasr and Royal Australian Navy frigate HMAS Newcastle in Exercise KAKADU 2014. 

MaxDefense's Recommendations:

Once the frigates are upgraded to allow them to see and hear air, surface, and sub-surface targets better than ever before, there is no doubt that weapon system upgrades should be considered and made. In fact, a weapons upgrade can be made almost simultaneously with the sensors upgrade, which will allow for the savings in drydocking costs instead of doing such upgrade in another timeframe.

Among those weapons that MaxDefense believes could help improve the capabilities of the Del Pilar-class and keep them classified as frigates are the anti-submarine lightweight torpedo tubes, anti-ship missiles, and at least a short range air-defense system. A gun-based close-in weapon system (CIWS) is optional.

But this means some subsystems that were not included by the PN in its upgrade of the Del Pilar-class frigates will need to be updated to support some of the weapon systems.

MaxDefense believes that the best template that the Philippine Navy could follow is the Colombian Navy's upgrade of its Almirante Padilla-class frigates, which are close in capability as the PN's own Del Pilar-class frigates.

Greek naval blogger D Mitch of Naval Analyses has an extensive discussion on the Almirante Padilla-class frigate upgrade, which can be found in their page.

Among those that MaxDefense recommends to be done of the Del Pilar-class ship are actually very similar to the upgrades made on the Colombian Navy frigates, which are as follows:
1. Replace the OTO Melara Mk.75 Compact 76mm/72cal. main gun with the new OTO Melara 76mm Super Rapid with STRALES system

This enables the ship to improve the firepower delivery of the ship by increasing the rate of fire the main gun can do. But the main reason is because of the STRALES system. This new system allows for all-weather engagement of multiple surface and aerial threats with high accuracy by combining the stand-alone guidance system with the new DART guided munition family.

The STRALES was designed to allow more accurate firepower that is not only effective against ships at short ranges, but also against fast small boats, aircraft, and even as a close-in weapon system against incoming sea-skimming anti-ship cruise missiles. The STRALES upgrade makes the standard OTO Melara 76mm Super Rapid gun into a multi-purpose weapon system for almost all types of threats except subsurface ones.

2. Replace the ageing Mk. 92 Fire Control Radar with a new model. 

The Mk.92 is already ageing and would need a replacement to support new weapon systems. Currently it is supporting the OTO Melara 76mm Compact gun, and if the gun is replaced with the new Super Rapid STRALES gun, using a new FCR would definitely allow the PN to maximize the use of the new gun.

The new FCR could also support other recommended gun and weapon systems, including the OTO Melara 76mm Super Rapid STRALES gun to improve its accuracy and response times.

An example of Fire Control Radar that could be considered is Saab's CEROS 200 FCR, since the Del Pilar-class frigates will be using Saab's Sea Giraffe 3D radar which would be a better match for the FCR.

3. Install a new anti-ship missile system.

A warship's primary purpose is to fight other warships. And in this day and age, the best way to do it is by using anti-ship cruise missiles that can engage enemy ships from more than 100 kilometers away.

The Philippine Navy already has the South Korea-made SSM-700K C-Star anti-ship cruise missile prepared for ordering soon to arm the new Jose Rizal-class frigates. It is also currently in talks with another missile supplier to build up the Philippine Navy's land-based anti-ship missile batteries (which MaxDefense will discuss in a separate blog). 

Having a minimum of two twin missile launchers (for a total of 4 missiles) would be the minimum recommended quantity for the Del Pilar-class although it is better if the Philippine Navy can afford two quadruple launchers instead. The Philippine Navy planners should consider that in any war, the perceived enemy is expected to have more ships to fight against, and it would not take long for these missiles to be expended, thus the recommendation for more missiles.

Since the Del Pilar-class were originally armed with the Harpoon anti-ship missiles during its service with the US Coast Guard, MaxDefense doesn't find any problem in installing anti-ship missiles again, even if its not necessarily the Harpoon.
The MBDA Exocet MM40 Block 3 anti-ship missile was originally the favoured anti-ship missile system of the Philippine Navy for its Jose Rizal-class frigates, before shipbuilder HHI overrode the decision. It is still among the best choice in the market today.
Photo taken from MBDA's website.

4. Install a new twin or triple lightweight anti-submarine torpedo launchers.

With the upgraded Del Pilar-class frigates having a new hull mounted sonar for use to detect submarines, while also working with other ASW-capable ships and aircraft of the future Philippine Navy fleet, it is only logical for the Philippine Navy to arm the Del Pilar-class frigates with anti-submarine torpedo launchers.

The Philippine Navy will need a lot of platforms that can conduct anti-submarine warfare since it appears to be the core competency that the Philippine Navy is being formed into. Even if the Del Pilar-class frigate's ASW detection capability is not very impressive, the ship still needs a weapon to allow it to hunt submarines without relying on helicopters or aircraft.

Like anti-ship missiles, the Del Pilar-class doesn't have any problem with having the trainable triple torpedo tubes, since they were used to be armed with such system at a certain time during their service with the US Coast Guard.

A triple torpedo launching system like the one above was already installed on the Del Pilar-class frigates at a certain period of their service with the US Coast Guard. As the ships are being upgraded to have anti-submarine detection capability, it is only logical to arm the ships with anti-submarine weapons to allow for hunting.
Photo taken from

5. Provide for even a short-range air defense system:

While it is expensive for the Philippine Navy to provide a new air defense missile system for the Del Pilar-class, it is still relatively cheap and reasonable to provide at least a short range air defense system (SHORAD) as a minimum to defend the ship not just from helicopters or aircraft, but most of all from anti-ship missiles. While the presence of the OTO Melara 76mm Super Rapid with STRALES is already a good solution, having a SHORAD as a redundant system allows for the ship to have more options in defending itself especially on cases where the STRALES won't be available.

A good example here would be MBDA's Simbad-RC with Mistral SHORAD missiles, which is a standard system in the Jose Rizal-class frigates. Installing 2 of these in each Del Pilar-class frigate would allow for better air defense than totally nothing at all.

The Simbad-RC with Mistral SHORAD missiles is among the most affordable and easiest to install air defense solutions in the market today. It would be better for the Del Pilar-class to have these for air defense and to counter anti-ship missiles than having nothing at all.
Photo taken from MBDA's website.

Is spending on million dollar upgrades logical?

There are concerns from some groups within the Philippine Navy, and also from groups outside the organization who question the logic of spending millions of dollars worth of weapon systems on 50-year old ships. Why would the PN spend that much on ships that are expected to retire in less than 15 years from now? What would the PN do with these upgrades if the platform itself is already on the way to the scrapping yard?

Makes sense actually.

But MaxDefense believes that unless the Philippine Navy plans to acquire other used warships that are newer or younger than the Del Pilar-class frigates, the PN actually has no choice but to make do with what they have.

Why would we compare the Del Pilar-class frigates to ships that the Philippine Navy doesn't have, and doesn't intend to acquire?

Now, if the Philippine Navy does intend to acquire used warships that are younger than the Del Pilar-class, then that is another story. If this is the path the PN wanted to go to, then MaxDefense agrees on just downgrading the Del Pilar-class frigates into Offshore Patrol Vessels, and not have the weapon upgrades that were mentioned in this blog.

Instead, the upgrades should be made on these younger used warships, as they are expected to serve the Philippine Navy longer than the Del Pilar-class.

If the Philippine Navy decides to acquire younger used warships than the Del Pilar-class, then it makes sense for any upgrades to be made on these ships as they are expected to serve longer than the Del Pilar-class. MaxDefense previously received information that the PN is planning to inspect one or two Maestrale-class frigates in Italy within 2019, most likely the Aliseo, Euro, or Espero.
Photo taken from Navy Today.

It remains to be seen though if the Philippine Navy with proceed with its plans to consider used warships from friendly countries, especially that there appears to be scheduled inspections to Italy and other countries within this year.


To sum everything up, while the Del Pilar-class frigates currently lack the firepower and capability to be considered as frigates, up-arming them can be done to meet the requirements of the Philippine Navy. It requires a large financial investment, which could be debatable considering the age of the ships.

But it can be done. Its just a matter of how the Philippine Navy and the Philippine government can provide support especially financial support for the organization to allow itself to meet its requirements. 

While MaxDefense believes that the Del Pilar-class frigates are still capable assets, MaxDefense also believes that it would be better for the Philippine Navy to instead consider acquiring younger used frigates from friendly countries, like the Adelaide-class from Australia, Maestrale-class from Italy, among others, and spend the upgrades for these ships instead.

Also, changes should be made on the Philippine Navy's classification standard. The system should differentiate an Offshore Patrol Vessel from a Corvette. It should also allowing to differentiate older gun-armed ships from missile-armed ships (i.e. gun armed frigates as "FF", missile armed frigates as "FFG").

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Japan turns over Yamaha high speed boats to Philippine Coast Guard

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) recently received two fast boats from the Japanese government.

One of the Yamaha High Speed Boat 1202 fast boat turned over to the PCG recently. Thanks to one of our sources for providing this photo.

These boats are the Yamaha High Speed Boat 1202, and were specifically designed for law enforcement missions. These are said to be made in Japan. 

Both boats, together with it's essential equipment and trailer, were turned over to the PCG last 13 February 2019.

The Yamaha HSB 1202 is 12.16 meters long, has a beam of 2.75 meters, can accommodate 7 people, and can run over 50 knots. It also has a range of 200 nautical miles at 35 knots.

Photo shows the 3 outboard motors of the Yamaha high speed boat. Photo shared exclusively to MaxDefense by a source.

The Japanese government provided these boats, as part of their commitments to assist the Philippine Coast Guard improve it's capabilities.

MaxDefense believes that the Philippine Coast Guard's Special Operations Group will operate these boats, and could be assigned in Mindanao.

Last year, MaxDefense covered the turn-over of at least 10 units of 7-meter Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIB) to the PCG, which also came from the Japanese government. Based on PCG reports, all the said RHIB are already being utilized.

Below is a video from Yamaha Global on the said high speed boat. 

The Filipino people thank Japan for these high speed boats, and we hope that their support for the PCG continue in the future.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Is the Philippines Navy's BRP Sultan Kudarat (PS-22) Next on the Retirement Queue?

MaxDefense received a shoulder tap lately that another major surface ship of the Philippine Navy will be retiring soon.

Based on the information we received and validated by different sources, the next ship on the axe is the Malvar-class patrol vessel, BRP Sultan Kudarat (PS-22).

The ship was suppose to have its major dry-dock works last 2017, but apparently it did not happen. And now the Philippine Navy leadership decided to just retire it as part of the PN’s Sail Plan 2020, which aims to retire all its World War 2-era warships and surface assets by 2020.

The Malvar-class patrol vessel BRP Sultan Kudarat (PS-22) together with a Point-class patrol boat BRP Abraham Campo (PC-396) in Mactan, Cebu in 2010.
Photo taken by and credited to Mike Baylon, directly taken by MaxDefense from Navsource. 

Brief History:

BRP Sultan Kudarat (PS-22) was originally a PCE-842-class patrol craft escort of the US Navy, which was commissioned in October 1944 as PCE-895, and served in the remaining years of World War 2. She was renamed as USS Crestview (PCE-895) in February 1956, and was transferred to the Republic of Vietnam Navy in November 1961.

As the US Navy patrol craft escort USS PCE-895 during World War 2 (top), and as the USS Crestview (PCE-895) taken in 1955 (above).
Photos taken from Navsource. 

In South Vietnamese service, she was named Dong Da Il (HQ-07) and served from 1961 to 1975. The ship was among those that escaped Vietnam after South Vietnam fell to North Vietnamese forces. Legally, the US government took possession of the ship despite being docked in the US Navy base at Subic Bay.

As the Republic of Vietnam Navy patrol vessel Dong Da II (HQ-07) taken in South Vietnam in 1971.
Photo taken from Navsource.

Out of practicality, the US handed-over the ship to the Philippine Navy in April 1976, and was named RPS Sultan Kudarat (PS-22). She is considered one of the oldest fighting ships in service anywhere in the world, being in service for more than 74 years now, 43 years of it with the Philippine Navy.  She currently serves with the Philippine Fleet’s Offshore Combat Force.

As the Philippine Navy ship BRP Sultan Kudarat (PS-22) during post-repair sea trials in Subic Bay in 1989.
Photo taken from Navsource.

Expected Fate:

Like most of her sister-ships that served the Philippine Navy, BRP Sultan Kudarat might be used as a parts hulk for the remaining sister-ships still in service. If we follow the usual way the Philippine Navy disposes retired ships, her hull might be sold-off as scrap and the PN could use the sale for other purposes. 

But MaxDefense’s opinion is that this could change, as it could also be possible for the PN to use the hulk as a target ship as part of a Sinking Exercise (SINKEX) once the new Jose Rizal-class frigates, armed with the LIGNex1 SSM-700K C-Star anti-ship cruise missile, gets commissioned starting 2020.

Let’s see when exactly will this happen, although our information was that the retirement may happen “very soon”.

BRP Sultan Kudarat's hulk as a SINKEX target? Who knows, it may happen.
Photo taken from Youtube.

Same Issue on Lack of Replacements:

This upcoming retirement of BRP Sultan Kudarat highlights an issue that MaxDefense has been saying for several years now: that the Philippine Navy is retiring it's assets without a replacement.

Normally in other navies, a ship only retires when a replacement is already on it's way. In the case of BRP Sultan Kudarat, it is unclear what replacement will be coming to cover the Navy's capabilities by it's retirement.

MaxDefense compiled the retirements made by the Philippines Navy since 2015 to show our point in a clearer manner, and we will only focus on surface combatants above 100 tons and not transport or amphibious support vessels:

* BRP Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo (PG-140) Aguinaldo-class inshore patrol vessel - early 2016
* BRP Gen. Antonio Luna (PG-141) Aguinaldo-class inshore patrol vessel - April 2016

* BRP Iloilo (PS-32) Malvar-class patrol vessel - September 2016
* BRP Rajah Humabon (PS-11) Cannon-class destroyer escort(frigate) - 2018
* BRP Dionisio Ojeda (PC-117) Tomas Batilo-class fast attack craft - mid 2018
* BRP Bienvenido Salting (PC-112) Tomas Batilo-class fast attack craft - October 2018

* BRP Andres Bonifacio (FF-17) Del Pilar-class frigate - July 2016 - apparently the direct replacement of BRP Iloilo (PS-32)
* BRP Conrado Yap (PS-39) Pohang-class corvette - estimated April 2019 - apparently the direct replacement of BRP Rajah Humabon (PS-11)

The BRP Rajah Humabon (PS-11) (top), which retired last year, will be directly replaced by the BRP Conrado Yap (PS-39) (above) which is expected to be commissioned by April 2019 at the earliest.
Photos taken from Wikipedia (top) and to an uncredited source (above).

Based on this, it can be seen that the Philippine Navy has lost 4 major assets, mostly from the Littoral Combat Force, without a direct replacement.

And while the Philippine Navy is expected to receive 2 frigates between 2020 and 2021, and 2 corvettes and 6 offshore patrol vessels between 2022 to 2024, the service is also bound to lose 4 more Malvar-class and 2 Rizal-class patrol vessels before 2021. Thus, there would be a backlog of 4 offshore-capable ships starting 2021 until 2024, that's if the Philippine Navy will not retire more ships in its fleet like the Kagitingan-class inshore patrol vessels.

Aside from the Pohang-class corvette BRP Conrado Yap (PS-39), the only other sure major surface warships coming in for commissioning by 2020 is the BRP Jose Rizal (FF-150) frigate committed by South Korea's Hyundai Heavy Industries for delivery by early 2020.
Photo taken from HHI's website.

The only way at the moment to provide a short to medium-term solution and avoid the backlog is for the Philippine Navy to introduce used warships by 2020. 

Also, the Philippine Navy has no littoral assets coming in within the Horizon 2, although MaxDefense received information that a friendly foreign government, most likely the US government, is offering littoral patrol boats that could be used to replace the retired ones. But a proposal remains nothing else but paper until the first boats arrive. And until that happens, the absence of a solid plan means for everyone to expect no new assets for the Littoral Combat Force.

For now, all we can do is wait for the Philippine Navy to actually retire the BRP Sultan Kudarat from active service, and hope that they would have a good news to bring once they do the retirement. Replacing them with another Pohang-class corvette or Hamilton-class cutter would be very much welcomed.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Philippine Navy sends-off Crew of Pohang-class Corvette BRP Conrado Yap (PS-39)

Latest on the Pohang-class corvette that the South Korean government donated to the Philippines.

A Shipbucket illustration of the upcoming Pohang-class corvette BRP Conrado Yap (PS-39).
Illustration shared by Steel Bamboo to MaxDefense, credits to Steel Bamboo.

MaxDefense was informed that the Philippine Navy’s (PN) intended crew for the Pohang-class corvette, which MaxDefense first reported as the BRP Conrado Yap (PS-39) had their Send-off Ceremony this morning.

The Corvette as ROKS Chungju (PCC-762) of the ROKN.
Credits to original source of photo.

BRP Conrado Yap is formerly the Pohang-class Flight III corvette ROKS Chungju (PCC-762) of the Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN).

While the ceremony was held today, the flight of the PN crew to South Korea will be made at a later date, probably this week.

From the send-off ceremony this morning.
Photo shared by a MaxDefense community member who wish to remain anonymous.

The crew will undergo training and familarization on the ship, both in operation and maintenance. MaxDefense also received word that the crew will also cross-train with the ROKN’s active-service Pohang-class corvettes as part of the program.

Currently the ship is drydocked in South Korea as it undergo repair and refurbishing works prior to transfer to the Philippine Navy.

According to the PN’s Flag Officer in Command, Vice Adm. Robert Emperdrad, the BRP Conrado Yap (PS-39) could be home by March or April 2019. 1-2 months of training would be sufficient based on our opinion, referencing from training deployments made by the PN in the past.

Good luck to the men and women of the BRP Conrado Yap (PS-39)!

U P D A T E S:

13 March 2019:

Further information provided to MaxDefense indicated that the sailors from the Philippine Navy's Offshore Combat Force that were sent to South Korea last month was just the first batch, while majority of PN personnel to man the BRP Conrado Yap (PS-39) will only be leaving for South Korea next month.

Also, it appears that the expected delivery of the Pohang-class corvette by March or April 2019 is not possible anymore, and the new delivery schedule points closer to June 2019. It is still possible though that the formal hand-over of the ship to the Philippine Navy can be made by April or May 2019, although this remains tentative and fluid.

Meanwhile the PN's FOIC VAdm. Robert Empedrad confirmed in a lengthy interview with DWDD Katropa Radio that his visit to South Korea on 17-19 May 2019 together with Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana includes a visit to the BRP Conrado Yap and the Philippine Navy crew training on it. 

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Philippine Army Proceeds with M113 Mortar Carrier Project, Signs Contract with Elbit for 120mm Self Propelled Mortars

As early as late 2017, MaxDefense Philippines has been posting about this upcoming project, and now it has finally finalized and formalized.

Another milestone has been reached by the Philippines' Department of National Defense (DND), as MaxDefense sources confirmed that the DND just recently signed a contract with Israel's Elbit Systems Land and C4I (Elbit) to implement the Philippine Army's M113 Armored Mortar Carrier acquisition project.

This project is part of the Horizon 2 phase of the Revised AFP Modernization Program, which is the phase covering the years 2018 to 2022.

Based on our records, this project appears to be the first Horizon 2 phase project of the Philippine Army (PA) that reached the contract signing stage, since almost all other projects of the PA are only in the negotiation stage at best, while other are not yet even in the pre-procurement phase.

The Philippine Army ordered 15 Soltam Cardom 120mm Recoil Mortar System, installed on refurbished M113A2 tracked armored vehicles from Elbit Systems Land and C4I of Israel.
Credits to the original source of the photo.

The Contract:

The Approved Budget for Contract (ABC) approved for the DND and allocated to the Philippine Army for the project as approved as part of the Horizon 2 phase is Php1,094,570,175.00. As of the contract signing, this is equivalent to around US$21 million.

The project is a Government-to-Government (G2G) deal between the Philippines and Israel, with the DND's ad-hoc committee approving the procurement mode in July 2018, and with Israel supporting Elbit Systems Land & C4I as the preferred contractor. Since it is a G2G deal, it is expected that the overall cost of the project is almost equal, or equal to the ABC, as the deal was negotiated based on that amount, without looking too much on the Philippine pesos' exchange rate.

This deal goes to show the strong commitment between the Philippines and Israel to further strengthen its defense relations, as Israel is already among the biggest market for defense and security related products for the Philippine government in the past 5 years.

This project was already in the pipeline for a few years, and was originally proposed for implementation as part of the Philippine Army's 2018 Priority Projects as part of plans to equip the planned Brigade Combat Teams. Although MaxDefense doesn't have the exact dates, it appears that the Senior Leaders of the AFP approved this project only in early 2018.

It is also surprising that this project was able to finalize into a contract before other Philippine Army projects that were in considered priority even before Horizon 2 started in January 2018.

The Elbit Systems Soltam Cardom Self-Propelled Mortar system:

As part of the contract, Elbit System will supply 15 Armoured Mortar Carriers to the Philippine Army's Mechanised Infantry Division.

The main project is Elbit's Soltam Cardom 120mm vehicle-mounted Recoil Mortar System, which is also known in Israel as the Soltam Keshet.

The Cardom is available in both 81mm and 120mm variant, and is fully computerized, autonomous, and was designed to be mounted on light or medium armoured vehicles like the M113. Take note that the Philippine Army also has an upcoming delivery of 5 Soltam Cardom 81mm RMS for installation of their existing M113A2 tracked armored vehicles.

The 120mm Cardom has a range of 7,000 meters, has a maximum rate of fire of 16 rounds per minute, and can be used in "shoot and scoot" manner to have the element of surprise and avoid enemy counter fire. It can be operated by only 2 crewmen, although it is said to be easier with a 4-man crew.

It can use a variety of ammunition of 120mm NATO standard, and is in operation with the Israel Defense Force, US Army, and several other countries.
The Soltam Cardom 120mm recoil mortar system, as displayed during the ADAS 2018 defense exhibition in Manila last September 2018.
Photo credited to a MaxDefense commuunity member who wish to remain anonymous.

Compared to the US Army's M113-based M1064 mortar carrier and the Styker-based model called the M1129, the upcoming Philippine models with be using the computer-controlled Cardom instead of the manually-operated M120/RMS6L 120mm mortar (which is also based on Soltam's K6 120mm infantry mortar). This allows for faster operations and less stress on the mortar crew due to automation.

Another part of the deal is the platform where the Cardom mortars will be installed. Elbit Systems will also deliver 15 refurbished and upgraded M113A2 tracked armored vehicles

No mention was made on where the vehicles would be sourced, but MaxDefense believes that it would be from Israel. Elbit owns the Belgian armored vehicle maintenance company and reseller Sabiex, and already supplied refurbished and upgraded low-mileage M113A2 armored vehicles to Elbit Systems for export to the Philippines. But it appears that Belgium's strict arms export control to the Philippines is still in effect due to their concerns on Pres. Rodrigo Duterte's administration being involved in state-sponsored extra judicial killings and human rights violations. Thus it is unlikely that they will again be the source of M113s supplied by Elbit.

Being armored mortar carriers, the M113s to receive the Cardom mortars will have a wide roof opening to allow the safe and effective use of the mortar system.

The Philippine Army is expected to not have any trouble accepting the M113s as it is already a long time user of the type.

An upgraded M113 tracked armored personnel carrier from Sabiex of Belgium. Apparently this specific vehicle was among those delivered by Elbit Systems to the Philippine Army in an earlier contract. Elbit Systems is once again supplying 15 refurbished M113A2 tracked armored vehicles as the platform for the Soltam Cardom 120mm RMS.
Photo taken from Sabiex's website.

Another part of the deal is the inclusion of the Elbit Systems Combat NG Battlefield Management System, which is already in use with the Philippine Army.

The Combat NG is a command, control, communications and intelligence (C3I) system designed to improve artillery and air defense unit's ability to engage targets by improving its target engagement speed and accuracy, provide up to date and real time situational awareness, and provide coordination capability with other forces.

Elbit's Combat NG system utilized together with the a self-propelled mortar system. Elbit's contract with the Philippines is to combine the Combat NG with the Soltam Cardom 120mm RMS units to enhance their C3I capability.
Photo taken from Elbit's website.

And lastly, and this was unexpected, is that Elbit Systems will also provide conversion 120mm barrels for the 5 earlier Soltam Cardom 81mm autonomous recoil mortar systems the Philippine Army ordered in January 2018. As mentioned earlier, the 5 units of Soltam Cardom 81mm mortars are part of the Philippine Army's M113 Firepower Upgrade project that also includes the supply of 44 remote controlled weapon systems (RCWS) for the Philippine Army's fleet of M113A2 armored vehicles and are scheduled to be delivered this year (MaxDefense will discuss this again in a separate blog entry).

This would allow the Philippine Army to standardize its entire self-propelled artillery fleet to the 120mm NATO standard, and increasing the firepower of the upcoming mortars due to the 120mm mortar's longer range and heavier warhead.

It is still a question though if the Philippine Army will make use of Elbit's LG2MK 120mm smart mortar round, which was featured by Elbit Systems in last year's ADAS 2018 defense expo in Manila. This allows the Cardom mortar system to fire precision munitions and obtain a first shot hit, which improves accuracy and sure kill hit, reduces collateral damage, munition wastage, and u necessary firepower when required. The munition also works well with the Combat NG system as well as other artillery spotting systems of the Philippine Army.

The LG2MK smart 120mm mortar munition from Elbit Systems. While acquisition of the said mortar round type is not included in the Philippine Army's acquisition of Soltam Cardom 120mm mortars, it remains to be seen if the PA will acquire them separately for its requirements in the future. It is highly probable that the PA would obtain a few for testing and evaluation purposes.
Photo taken by a MaxDefense community member who wish to remain anonymous.

Expected Deployment:

These new M113-based 120mm Self Propelled Mortars (SPM) are expected to be operated by the Philippine Army's Mechanized Infanry Division, which can actually form up to 5 platoons or sections of 4 SPM firing units each. At least most of the MID's Mechanized Infantry Divisions would have an SPM platoon once deliveries are completed.

MaxDefense believes that priority would be made to provide at least 1 platoon to be attached with the new 6th Mechanized Infantry "Salaknib"  Battalion, which is the attached Mechanized unit to the newly formed 1st Brigade Combat Team.

The introduction of the Soltam Cardom mortar system allows Mechanized units to have its own quick-moving short range artillery support anytime without relying on heavy artillery howitzers. This is in addition to the 81mm and 60mm infantry mortars assigned to mechanized infantry units. 

In other foreign armies, 120mm mortar with smart and standard munitions actually replaced the 105mm towed howitzer, like in the case of the Singapore Army. 

The Cardom 120mm (aka Keshet) in action with the Israel Defense Forces.
Photo taken from

What's Next:

With the contract already signed, it is now a matter of time before the Opening of the Letter of Credit (LOC) takes place, which is the actual go-signal for Elbit Systems to proceed with the contracted job as it confirms financial backing and guarantees by legitimate financial institutions.

And while no date was provided to MaxDefense, based on our monitoring of AFP projects and contracts made, MaxDefense's opinion is that deliveries may be completed by 3rd quarter of 2020, or even earlier.

And like the M113 Firepower Upgrade, MaxDefense believes that the Mechanized Infantry Division may have a share of work on installing the mortar systems to the M113 platform, which allows them to understand how the process works and improve their skills especially in doing maintenance work.

Expect more of this project in the near future, as MaxDefense would definitely get updates from our sources as this progresses forward.

Congratulations to the Philippine Army's Technical Working Group on the M113 Armored Mortar Carrier acquisition project, the PA's MID and PA leadership for successfully reaching this milestone.


M113 Armored Mortar Carrier acquisition project

End User: Philippine Army (Mechanized Infantry Division)
Modernization Phase: Revised AFP Modernization Program Horizon 2 phase
ABC: Php1,094,570,175.00
SARO Release: to be updated
Status as of this writing: Limited Source Bidding to proceed, tentative bid opening 15th January 2019
Selected Proponent: None yet
Contract Price: none yet, to be updated.