But is purchasing the ships really not worth it?
Let us discuss the pros and cons of the ship with regards to its use with the Philippine Navy, starting with the cons.
These are the most common reasons why people are against the purchase of the Hamilton-class ships for the Philippine Navy:
1. "The ships are too old and are replaced with newer ships by the US Coast Guard".
|USCGC Rush before the FRAM upgrades. Taken during Exercise Brim Frost 1985. Notice the missing telescopic hangar, and Phalanx CIWS at the fantail, and the use of the older 5" gun.|
Photo taken from Wikipedia.
2. "These ships were heavily used by the US Coast Guard in their high seas operation".
The US Coast Guard heavily used the Hamilton-class cutters as these are their most capable and longest-ranged ships in the service. They were everywhere around the world during the 40+ years in service, from the icy waters of the Bering Strait to the tropical waters of the Caribbean. The Hamiltons were even used by the USCG in sea control, escort and shore bombardment duties from the Vietnam War until the South Ossetia War. Due to their design to perform well in the high seas, they are also the preferred platform on high sea state operations if required by the USCG.
3. "They do not have the necessary sensors and weapons systems a normal modern frigate has".
Before transferring to friendly countries like the Philippines, the US government removed the ship's AN/SPS-40 air search radar, the AN/SPS-73 surface search radar, communications systems and links used by US military forces, the 2 Mk. 38 Mod. 0 chain guns, and the Mk. 15 Phalanx close-in weapons system. The US government claims that the weapons will be used for their incoming Legend-class and other USCG ships, while the radar and communications systems will be used as spares for their remaining Hamilton-class ships in USCG service. The recipient countries bought a new radar system to replace the surface search and navigation radar and necessary safety equipment as a basic requirement for normal sea travel.
|The BRP Gregorio del Pilar was only armed with the Oto Melara 76mm gun when handed-over to the Philippine Navy.|
Photo from BRP Gregorio del Pilar PF-15 Facebook page.
4. "They won't stand a chance against OPFOR naval forces".
With only a 76mm gun plus light weapons, it won't stand a chance should OPFOR decided to use force against the ship. It does not have the offensive power to strike OPFOR ships, aircraft and submarines, and except for the main gun, it does not have the hard-kill systems to defend against anti-ship missiles and soft-kill systems to avoid torpedoes. It does not even have the capability to detect incoming threats from a longer distance as compared to its American sister-ships.
|The PN needs more capable warships and naval assets to protect the country's EEZ and territory from OPFOR threats, like this fleet.|
Photo taken from sina.com
5. "There are a lot more naval ships on offer abroad, why settle for the Hamilton-class?"
Currently there a number of frigates being offered in the used market, with the well-known Maestrale and Soldati classes from the Italians, the Oliver Hazard Perry-class from the Americans, the F122 Bremen-class from the Germans, and others. These are even younger and more capable than the Hamilton-class cutters, with a more comprehensive offensive and defensive weapons, sensors and detection systems, and were built according to Milspec.
|The Italians offered the Maestrale-class frigates before, as discussed in previous MaxDefense blogs.|
Photo taken from Wikimedia.
But also there are positive reasons on why the Philippine Navy decided to get the Hamilton-class ships:
1. The Philippine Navy needs to acquire as many large-hull warships it can possibly get, operate and maintain with its limited budget.
The PN is currently experiencing shortage of capable ships of all sizes, and before the PF-15 was commissioned in 2011 there was only 1 gun frigate in service. Several old warships were decommissioned without replacement in the past. The PN needs to have more ships to show its presence and patrol the vast Philippine territorial and EEZ waters. The Hamilton-class was an opportunity that the PN saw, and now the BRP Gregorio del Pilar has been a big boost to the capability of the PN even if it's just 1 ship. If there are more used warships available in the market and the PN has the budget to purchase more, it must use the chance and do so. The BRP Gregorio del Pilar was funded with a 2 years operational budget worth Php 120 million when it was purchased to make sure that it won't get stuck at port due to lack of funds.
2. Despite its age, the Hamilton-class ships are definitely younger, more capable, and have better seakeeping than 3 major ship classes of the Philippine Navy which are from the 1940s era.
Before the Gregorio del Pilar arrived, the PN's 3 largest surface warships are 70-year old World War 2 veterans, the BRP Rajah Humabon (PF-11), the BRP Quezon (PS-70) and BRP Rizal (PS-74). There are also 6 more World War 2 veteran patrol vessels with the PN. Due to old age, these ships should have already been withdrawn from service by now. They do not have the weapons and systems currently being used in other navies, limiting the increase of technological skills and knowledge of ship crews and of the PN organization as a whole. Stories of the Oto Melara 76mm gun breakdown of the Jacinto-class ships and the lack of skilled specialists in the PN organization are abound on the internet, and all are attributed to the lack of modern equipment to train with in the PN's inventory.
|The Gregorio del Pilar-class frigates are definitely younger than the BRP Rajah Humabon.|
Photo taken from US Navy c/o Wikimedia.
Of course they're old! If not they won't be even sold by the US government right? We must also consider the fact that all frigates in the used market are old, so the WHECs are not the only ships holding that distinction. You won't see slightly used frigates being sold elsewhere. Proper and thorough inspection of the ships can give the PN a better chance of only getting what it thinks is best for their specifications and requirements.
3. The Hamilton-class ships were sold to the Philippines at a very low price.
The BRP Gregorio del Pilar (PF-15) only costed the Philippine government Php 450 million (more than $10M as of 2011) for the ship, crew training, and refurbishment & minor repair works. An additional amount was spent to drydock the ship in the Philippines prior to commissioning. The BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF-16) was also purchase for the same amount, although an additional $ 5 million was spent for the repair works and engine replacement. For the 2 ships the government only spent less than $30 million. That is around more than half of a single Maestrale-class frigate without training and refurbishing works when Italy offered one to a South American country in 2009. Or just less than the price of a single KAI FA-50 Golden Eagle being offered to the Philippine Air Force.
Imagine how many WHECs you can buy with the missing Php 10 billion PDAF "pork barrel" that is in the local news right now.
|In comparison, the cost to purchase the 2 Hamilton-class WHECs is even less than a new FA-50 LIFT aircraft being offered to the PAF.|
For a cash-strapped navy like the PN, this is already a very good bargain. Even Nigeria is contemplating getting another unit, and Bangladesh now joining the fray. Even in its current state as a large OPV, there is almost nothing in the used market right now that can offer the same deal for that price.
4. The Hamilton-class ships has the basic modern technology the Philippine Navy needs to train its personnel, and has the size to install current and future weapons and sensors to keep it up-to-date for another decade.
The Gregorio del Pilar has brought with it a lot of new capabilities to the PN when it was commissioned in 2011. It is equipped with a CODOG propulsion system, and became the first ship in the PN's history to have gas turbines as part of the propulsion. It is equipped with a "current technology" Oto Melara 76mm Compact gun, making it the 4th ship in the PN's inventory to have it, and despite the removal by the US of its original radar systems, the PF-15 has new navigation and surface search radar and a new C&C/Common Operational Picture system. It also has a helicopter hangar and helideck for shipborne helicopter operations, and provisions for new radar and communications systems if the PN decides to install. Provisions are also available to install Harpoon anti-ship missiles, Mk. 15 Phalanx CIWS or SeaRAM on the fantail, Mk. 38 25mm chain guns on the midships, a hull-mounted sonar (needs further modifications) and even torpedo launchers.
There are already plans to up-arm and upgrade the Gregorio del Pilar-class, with both ships to be installed with Coast Watch links, and reportedly, with a new 3D search radar, the Harpoon missile, the Mk. 38 Mod. 2 Typhoon 25mm chain guns, an AW-109 Power shipboard helicopter, and anti-submarine warfare capability. Of all current PN assets, only the Gregorio del Pilar-class has the space and size to receive systems that require large space and power requirements.
5. The Hamilton-class ships are readily available, and can be put to sea in a shorter span of time than most used frigates in the market.
Although the PN took more than a year to bring the BRP Ramon Alcaraz to service due to "overlooked" repair works, the cycle from purchase to commissioning is still faster than if buying other frigates. The BRP Gregorio del Pilar only took a few months from hand-over to commissioning. Due to the complexity of other used frigates, the PN may not be able to bring these more capable ships to sea immediately as it needs more time to train. The Hamilton-class ships are much simpler, and will be easy for the PN to assimilate into its fleet and capability.
MaxDefense believes that in general the Hamilton-class ships were a good buy for the Philippine Navy despite the negative issues ships, the positive outweighs the negative concerns. It is a better platform than the ageing naval assets of the PN that negatively affects their capability considering the limitations of their current assets. As an interim platform, the ships will be able to provide the Philippine Navy with capable ships at sea to immediately do its mandate of protecting its interests and territories even with limited capability. Anyway it is not expected that a shooting war will happen anytime soon if political arrangements are properly utilized in the absence of armed capability.
The Gregorio del Pilar-class frigates are expected to be in service with the PN for another decade, but the PN must not be complacent and rely too much on these ships. The cons issues posted above still hold true, and the PN must be able to plan its course of actions to move ahead further and not getting stuck with the WHECs. Purchasing brand new and more capable frigates is a good way to start, which the DND and PN are expected to release the details soon. At the mean time, MaxDefense suggests getting more WHECs from the US government using the same deal (or better) when it took the PF-15 and PF-16. The USCG is expected to release more WHECs every year, with another expected within this year.
|More WHECs, more happy sailors seeing their organization upgrading and moving away from World War 2 era vintage warships.|
Photo taken from Timawa.net
MaxDefense will be updating this blog later on (expect edits on this blog).