Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A clearer picture on the Strategic Sealift Vessel of the Philippine Navy

The absence of enough information regarding the Philippine Navy's Strategic Sealift Vessel (SSV) has left the public blind on what we can expect on the ship's capabilities, features and aesthetics. But the recently released Supplemental Bid Bulletin (SBB) # 4 by the Department of National Defense (DND) has brought in enough relevant information on the project, as well as some hints of future procurement plans of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), to the point that we can now somehow see a clearer picture of what the SSV really is.


The SSV is said to be smaller than the earlier MRV requirement, which was supposed to be awarded to a Korean manufacturer before based on the Makassar-class LPD.

Based on the Supplemental Bid Bulletin # 4 for the SSV project, here are the basic information of the ship's specification based on MaxDefense' interpretation (a copy of the SBB can obtained here:  http://www.dnd.gov.ph/DNDWEBPAGE_files/BAC/2013/SBB/august/SBB-AFP-PN-SSV-13-04.pdf)

Type: Landing Platform Dock (LPD)
Displacement: approximately 7,300 tons full load, subject to shipbuilder's design
Length: 120 meters minimum, subject to shipbuilder's design
Beam: 21 meters minimum, subject to shipbuilder's design
Propulsion: at least 2 Diesel engines coupled to 2 controllable pitch propellers, subject to shipbuilder's proposal
Speed: at least 13 knots cruising, at least 16 knots maximum
Range: 7,500nmi @ 13 knots
Crew: between 100 to 130 officers and men

Boats Carried: 2 Landing Craft Mechanized/Utility at floodable well decks, 2 RHIB or LCVP on Boat Davits
Passengers: at least 500 troops
Decks: Tank (? sqm minimum) and Truck Deck (800 sqm minimum)
Payload: 2,800 tons minimum

Sensors: Navigation, Surface Search Radar, Air Search Radar, EW Suite, Electro-Optical Fire Control System (all separate items to be supplied by PN), Combat Management System

Weapons: Primary: 1 x gun (possibly between 40mm to 127mm), Secondary: 2 x 30mm automated cannons port and starboard sides (EO FCS controlled), ? x machine guns (all separate items to be supplied by PN)

Aircraft Accommodation  Helideck capacity for 2 x 10-ton helicopters (based on Sikorsky Black Hawk), Enclosed Hangar for 1 x 10-ton helicopter (also based on Black Hawk)

Surprisingly, the SSV's basic requirements are similar to the dimensions of PT PAL's SSV offer. This has been posted before in earlier MaxDefense blogs about this project.

Besides the basic information of the ship, there are also more information that MaxDefense finds interesting to discuss with, and here are the following points:

1. Presence of floodable wells and helicopter deck with hangar.
These features, plus the general information of the ship's details listed above, confirms that the SSV is indeed a Landing Platform Dock (LPD), a small one though as compared to typical Western designs. Larsen and Toubro's query even included a clarification on the ship's type being labelled as an SSV when in fact the ship is an LPD. The dimensions indicate that it has similar dimensions as the Indonesian Navy's Makassar-class LPD, and surprisingly has almost the same details as the SSV offer made by PT PAL. But unlike the Makassar-class, the SSV will be smaller, lighter and may be simpler to reduce costs.


Floodable wells, like this one, are present on the SSV. An indication that it is not just an ordinary ROPAX vessel as some believe.
Photo taken from Australian Ministry of Defense website.


2. Use of Mild Steel per ASTM A131 for the hull.
A query by Stone of David highlighted this and request considering the use of a more sturdier material for the hull, although the PN insisted on mild steel. Actually mild steel can be considered an excellent ship hull material due to its high strength, sufficient ductility and low cost. It retains some strength after yielding and before failure, which is a good characteristic for ship hulls. It is also lighter, giving the ship a better power to weight ratio for efficiency, while retaining the required strength as compared to other steel hull materials.

3. Inclusion of 2 Landing Crafts Mechanized/Utility (LCM/LCU) and 2 Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIB) per ship.
The SSV program already included the provision of 2 steel-hulled LCU or LCM as well as 2 RHIBs that will be delivered together with each ship. This was unexpected although it is a welcome addition since it was assumed earlier that these boats will be bid-out separately and will require a different budget and program. Although this would also mean that the cost for these boats will be deducted from the budget allocated for the SSVs.


2 units of LCU or LCM, similar to those shown above, are included in each ship's cost and will be carried by the SSV. They must have a 25-ton load capacity and are steel-hulled.
Photo taken from US Navy website.


4. Boat davit capacity of 15 tons while RHIB at full capacity is only around 4 tons.
Several bidders like Stone of David, Larsen and Toubro, and Propmech highlighted the issue of having a boat davit with load capacity of 15 tons that will be holding the RHIB, probably because they believe this an over-design that relates to higher costs. Although the PN intends to place RHIBs on these davits, it is expected that the PN may also opt to fit the heavier LCVP in its place when necessary. Actually Stone of David's query already indicated the possibility of using the davits for LCVPs. The LCVP usually has an empty weight of around 9 to 9.5 tons and will require a higher capacity davit, on this case the PN insisted on a 15-ton capacity davit. 


MaxDefense believes that the PN would also embark LCVP on davits,like shown above mounted onboard HMS Ocean (L12), thus the requirement for 15-ton capacity.
Photo taken from thamesvessels.blogspot.com.


5. Payload capacity of deck turntables at 25 tons.
The turntable is required to be able to handle a 25-ton payload of around 7 meters long, which are probably armored vehicles from either the Philippine Marines (PMC) or Philippine Army (PA). Except for the PMC's few LVTH-6, the heaviest armored vehicles in both the PA (ACV-300) and PMC (V-300) only weigh around 14 tons. MaxDefense does not expect the incoming AAVs to use the turntables so it means that the SSV is built to accomodate larger and heavier armored vehicles should the PA or PMC acquire them in the future.


A vehicle turntable similar but not exactly the same as above, with a diameter of 7 meters and load capacity of 25 tons, will be available at the truck deck for easy maneuver of vehicles on the tight space.
Photo taken from Haynes-World blog.

6. Helicopter landing deck and hangar capacity requirement.
There is a requirement for the ship to have a helicopter landing deck for 2 helicopters, and a hangar capacity for 1 helicopter. The replies provided by the DND/PN indicated that the helicopters are 10-ton types, with a specific mention of Sikorsky's Black Hawk helicopter. Although the Philippine Air Force (PAF) currently has a single S-70A Black Hawk in its fleet (Presidential Wing asset), it is expected that the ship will accommodate navalized PN helicopters more than standard PAF ones. MaxDefense believes that the PN may have plans to purchase Black Hawks in the future as part of its Desired Force Mix multi-purpose helicopter requirement, and the PAF may also do the same.


The SSV takes the Black Hawk into consideration in its design, giving the helicopter a place in the PN's future.
Photo taken from US Navy website.


7. Replenishment as Sea (RAS) capable.
The SSV will be RAS capable, with both port and starboard sides having RAS stations for easy replenishment. The PN's Gregorio del Pilar-class frigates are capable of RAS, but this capability is currently not available with the PN, although there are some indications that the PN is trying to acquire such capability, possibly by taking replenishment from allied naval vessels in the absence of PN replenishment vessels. There is also a possibility of the PN acquiring replenishment vessels in the future, as indicated in its Desired Force Mix white paper.


A replenishment at sea (RAS) / underway replenishment (UNREP) capability is being sought for the SSV, similar to shown above.
Photo from globalsecurity.org.


8. Weapons and sensors systems costs are separate from the ship's budget.
The SSB mentioned that the weapons and sensors systems will be "owner supplied", meaning it will be provided by the PN separately. This removes the cost of these systems from the SSV's budget, and good thing considering that these systems may cost as much as the budget allocated by the DND. With these separated, shipbuilders would now have more room to provide a better offer, and is beneficial to both the bidder and the end user. 

9. Types of weapons and sensors for the ship.
Sensor types mentioned in the SSB include a surveillance radar, an air search radar, electro-optical fire control system for the secondary guns, a Combat Management System, and an Electronic Warfare (EW) suite. The presence of an option to place an air search radar feature will enable the ship to detect and track airborne threats like aircraft and cruise missiles. The PN may employ similar radar systems that they intend to install on other future PN combat vessels like the new frigate. The EW suite is an added feature that would be beneficial as it gives an added defensive feature for the ship from OPFOR attacks. As for the weapons, the SBB mentioned the presence of 2 units 30mm guns, both remotely operated with electro-optical fire control system (EO-FCS). Although not mentioned, it may be safe to assume the presence of a larger primary weapon, probably a gun system with a higher caliber the secondary guns, somewhere between 40mm to 127mm. Also like other PN vessels, it is expected to have manually-operated 12.7mm machine guns for self-defense against small boats and minor threats. No mention was made regarding missile systems or anti-missile CIWS though.


A 3D search radar, like the Thales Smart-S shown above, is not impossible to be mounted on the SSV.
Photo taken from Thales Nederland website. 
Two secondary guns, similar to the Mk.38 Mod.2 shown above but with a 30mm gun, is eyed for each SSV. These would be remotely controlled, and linked to an electro-optical fire control system.
Photo taken from Wikimedia.

10. The SSV are configured as possible flagships.
The SBB confirms the earlier press releases that the SSV will also serve as flagships and mobile government centers aside from being amphibious transport vessels. The supplemental bulletin acknowledge the presence of a Presidential Room as well as a War Room, which are instrumental for government functions including the presence of the President of the Philippines in cases of emergencies and needs that require him and other key government officials to be on the ship.

Besides the above-mentioned details, some other information on the ship includes:
- the ships are designed to accommodate future AAVs (probably based on the AAV-7A1)
- availability of water desalination system capable of producing 25,000 liters per day;
- provision for bow thrusters, possibly for installation in the future;
- LCU / LCM will be steel-hulled, empty weight of 70 tons, load capacity of 18 tons or 80 troops, armed with 2 x 50 caliber machine guns;
- SSV delivery will be on Manila's South Harbor Pier 13


The scheduled submission and opening of bids is on August 29, 2013, although there is still a possibility of moving it to a latter date similar to what happened to other DND projects. Until then, let us see who among the potential bidders could step forward and offer their services to the DND.




===================================
Updates:

August 29, 2013:
Of the 9 potential contenders for the SSV project, only 2 submitted their bids: PT PAL Indonesia (builder of Banjarsamin-class) and Daewoo-Daesun of South Korea (builder of Makassar-class). But after further examination, the DND only qualified the bid of PT PAL, while Daewoo-Daesun was disqualified. It is still a hanging project as PT PAL needs to pass the post bid qualifications, which may start soon.

More of the news here and here.

==========

February 3, 2014:
The Philippine Navy has already provided the Notice of Award (NOA) for the SSV project to Indonesia's PT PAL after passing the post-bid qualifications and inspections. PT PAL itself confirmed receiving the NOA late last month, and is expecting the signing of contract to follow soon following these developments.

More here.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The 4 Potential Bidders for the 3rd Bid to Supply 21 UH-1H Helicopters to the PAF

There are now 4 potential bidders that may take part in the 3rd re-bidding to supply the Philippine Air Force (PAF) with 21 used UH-1H Huey combat utility helicopters. These are the companies that bought the bid documents and are expected to submit a bid on August 30, 2013. Originally it was reported that 14 companies were interested in the project, but it is surprising that less than half made real intentions to join.


The PAF still sees the importance of having more UH-1H Hueys in its inventory, and it is expected that this type will be in service with the PAF for at least 10 more years from now.


MaxDefense made a brief summary as a preview of what these companies can do (click on the company names to access their official websites for further information):

1. RADOM Aviation Systems Ltd. (Israel);
2. Singapore Technologies (ST) Aerospace Ltd. (Singapore);
3. Stone of David Tactical Equipment (Philippines);
4. Vector Aerospace (Canada)

Here is a short summary of the said companies, below are MaxDefense' initial information about them:

Radom Aviation Systems Ltd. is an Israeli company, and according to their official website, the company "specializes in upgrade and modernization of military and civil helicopters and aircraft". It has been operating for more than 25 years, and is also said to be capable of supplying platforms that include the UH-1 series. It is worth noting that Radom submitted a bid for the 1st and 2nd earlier attempts for this project, although their 1st bid failed for not satisfying the requirements and lost on the 2nd bid to a US-based company. 


Israel-based Radom Aviation Systems Ltd. specializes in helicopter refurbishing and maintenance, including the UH-1 series.
Photo taken from Radom Aviation website.

ST Aerospace Ltd. is a subsidiary of Singapore Technologies (ST) Engineering. It is said to be one of the world's largest 3rd party aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) provider, and has previous experience in supplying refurbished UH-1H Hueys to the Philippine Air Force in the last decade. It also bought bid documents in previous bid attempts but did not submit a bid for unknown reasons. In their previous supply contract, ST Aerospace used US-sourced UH-1H and refurbished them before delivery to the PAF, so it may do the same this time should it win the bid. ST Engineering was also identified before as interested in supplying the Philippine Navy with 2 new frigates.


Singapore-based ST Aerospace is one of the world's largest MRO service provider, and has experience in supplying refurbished UH-1H for the PAF.
Photo taken from ST Aerospace website.

Stone of David Tactical Equipment is a Filipino company that specializes in small arms and personal protection gear, but is said to have contacts with foreign defense manufacturers through its mother company, Joavi Philippines Corp., including Israel Shipyards, IMI and others. It has also bought bid documents in the previous bid attempts but did not submit a bid also for unknown reasons. This company has been actively joining bidding programs of the Philippine military for some time now, recently also purchasing the bid documents to supply 2 amphibious transport vessels for the Philippine Navy.


Philippine-based Stone of David Tactical Equipment, has partners in the Israeli defense industries through its mother company, Joavi Philippines Corp.
Photo taken from Joavi Philippines website.

Vector Aerospace is a Canadian company that operates in several countries, and is said to be another leading MRO provider. They claim to have more than 2 decades of support experience for various Bell helicopter models including the UH-1 series. They also offer customizable upgrades program for the UH-1, which is useful considering that the requirement is to include supplying upgraded UH-1H helicopters besides the standard model. It is possible that Radom will use US-sourced UH-1H aircraft should they be chosen by the DND.

Canada-based Vector Aerospace also specializes in refurbishing and upgrade of Bell helicopters including the UH-1 series.
Photo taken from Vector Aerospace' website.

Similar to previous bid attempts, MaxDefense believes that not all 4 prospective bidders may submit a bid, so we expect less than 4 bid submissions by August 30, 2013 deadline. MaxDefense will be closely monitoring any updates regarding the bidding of this project, as this project has already been delayed after several promises by the DND to have the helicopters usable by the last mid-term elections. 

===== UPDATES:
=====
September 9, 2013: 
There were actually 4 more bidders for the Supply of UH-1H project: the 4 others beside those indicated in MaxDefense blog are:

5. Rice Aviation Services (USA) / Eagle Copter Ltd. (Canada) joint venture;
6. Serpenair Group Inc. (Philippines) / Bell Helicopters (USA);


Bid submission and opening date and only 1 bidder, a joint venture of US-based Rice Aviation Services, Inc. and Canada-based Eagle Copter Ltd. submitted a bid. This lone bid was found ineligible after failure to comply on documentation requirements. The DND then announced that they would enter into negotiated bidding with the interested parties.

=====
January 3, 2013:

As posted on MaxDefense @ Facebook page, a notice of award was given to the joint venture of US-based Rice Aircraft Services and Canada-based Eagle Copter. A contract will follow soon. They are required to deliver the 1st batch of helicopters within 6 months or by around June 2014. Rice Aircraft Services-Eagle Copter JV got the contract through a negotiated bid after the bidding for this project failed 3 times in the past. More from the news HERE.

=====

Saturday, August 17, 2013

PN's Strategic Sealift Vessel and its relation to the sinking of MV St. Thomas Aquinas

The recent accident involving the passenger ferry MV St. Thomas Aquainas and the cargo ship Sulpicio Express Siete off Cebu City is a very unfortunate event, with still hundreds reported missing besides the dozens of confirmed deaths. According to news reports, the 2 ships collided just near the Cebu port, with the cargo ship's bow hitting the passenger ship on its side, sinking the ferry in just less than 30 minutes (some latest reports put the time as early as 10 minutes) More details about the accident could be found in local and foreign news, and won't be elaborated much in this blog.


The ill-fated passenger ferry MV St. Thomas Aquinas. The ship is probably even larger than the PN's specified Strategic Sealift Vessel (SSV).
Photo taken from Shipspotting.com c/o Bermejo Imaging.
The cargo ship Sulpicio Express Siete, with its bow damaged.
Photo taken from Reuters.


So what is the relation between the MV St. Thomas Aquinas ferry tragedy with defense issues that are usually highlighted in MaxDefense blogs?

The Philippine Navy's current transport ship project, the Strategic Sealift Vessel (SSV), as well as the currently on-hold Multi-role Vessel (MRV) project, as well as the passenger ferry MV St. Thomas Aquinas are all designed and built/to be built using commercial shipbuilding standards.


The damaged bow of the cargo ship Sulpicio Express Siete.
Photo taken from Associated Press.


The SSV will probably be built according to commercial standards due to the need to drive down costs and fit the allocated budget. The current SSV project budget is Php 2 billion per ship, and will probably cost even less depending on the winning bidder. As compared to similar-sized LPDs, which cost thrice or more to build such using naval shipbuilding standards, which are constructed to ensure high survivability in combat and ability for the ship's structure to survive impacts and attacks. It is worth mentioning that the original SSV project actually involves the purchase of a used Japanese Ro-Ro ferry very similar to the ill-fated MV St. Thomas Aquinas (as discussed here).


The initial Strategic Sealift Vessel project was actually based on a Japanese passenger Ro-Ro ferry very similar to the ill-fated MV St. Thomas Aquinas.
Photo taken from MarineTraffic.com.

As an example: the Indonesian Navy's Makassar-class LPD and Royal New Zealand Navy's HMNZS Canterbury (L421) are all based from commercial car ferry designs, and it is highly probably that the SSV will also be based on such platform. Daewoo International / Dae Sun Shipbuilding of South Korea and PT PAL of Indonesia, both builders of the Makassar-class LPD, are both vying to win the contract for the PN's SSV project (and probably the MRV project should it proceed in the future) using a derivative of the Makassar-class LPD. 


PT PAL's SSV proposal for the Philippine Navy is actually a derivative of the car ferry-based Makassar-class LPD.

As a military transport, the SSV is projected  to be used to transport the Philippine Marine Corps' expeditionary forces in combat conditions, and is expected to be targeted by opposing forces. It is expected that the ship would have a far greater threat parameters than a standard merchant vessel. But the SSV, like any normal sea vessel, must also survive accident impacts unlike what happened to MV St. Thomas Aquinas, which just plunged to the bottom of the Cebu Strait immediately after impact. It must be capable of surviving even after serious flooding of several compartments, enough for it to still move away from danger and keep its passengers and crew safe. 

Indonesian Marinir (Marines) troops and tanks for transport using the TNI-AL's Makassar-class LPD. The Philippine Marine Corps will use the SSV in the same manner, including in combat conditions when necessary.
The Philippine Navy's SSV project planners must give importance to the survivability aspects of the SSV regardless of cost implications. Sinking in just 10 to 30 minutes after impact could mean that the ship design may not have incorporated the provision of multiple compartment design to effectively control flooding, plus possibly the lack of or inefficiency of crew to control flooding on the hull. The PN must be aware of what happened to the MV St. Thomas Aquinas and ensure that faults on the ship will be remedied and addressed the SSV design or any future naval ships in its fleet.






Friday, August 16, 2013

9 Potential Bidders for the Philippine Navy Strategic Sealift Vessel (SSV) Program

For the upcoming bidding to supply 2 brand-new Strategic Sealift Vessel (SSV) for the Philippine Navy (PN) worth Php 2 billion each, there were 9 potential bidders, these are entities that bought the bid documents from the Department of National Defense (DND). The following are the said companies/entities that might submit bids on August 29, 2013 (click on the company name to view their official webpages):

1.  ASTARTEZ Defense and Rescue Solutions (Philippines) - Coastal Industries Pte Ltd (Singapore/Vietnam) Joint Venture;
2. Daewoo International Corp. / Dae Sun Shipbuilding & Engineering Co. Ltd. (South Korea);
3. Keppel Philippines Marine, Inc. (Singapore/Philippines);
4. Larsen and Toubro Ltd. / L&T Shipbuilding (India);
5. PROPMECH Corp. (Philippines)
6. PT Citra Shipyard (Indonesia)
7. PT PAL (Indonesia)
8. Stone of David (Philippines);
9. STX Offshore & Shipbuilding Co. Ltd. (South Korea)

Let us get to know these companies, below are MaxDefense' initial information about them:

ASTARTEZ Defense and Rescue Solutions is a company based in Paranaque City, which specializes in supplying small arms, tactical and rescue gear and personal combat equipment, and has no experience in shipbuilding or marine products. The company has identified its marine component joint venture as Coastal Industries Pte. Ltd., said to be a Singaporean-Vietnamese company. MaxDefense tried to find anything about this foreign company but have failed miserably. MaxDefense will try to find out more about Coastal Industries Pte. Ltd.


Daewoo International Corp. and Dae Sun Shipbuilding & Engineering Co. Ltd. are large South Korean companies, and prides itself of being the designer and builder of the Makassar-class Landing Platform Dock (LPD) for the Indonesian Navy (TNI-AL), and is currently involved in supplying the Peruvian Navy with a similar ship under is "Buque Multiproposito" project. It was known before that they offered the Philippine Navy with a Makassar-class derived design for the PN's Multirole Vessel (MRV) project before, and is believed to be offering a smaller derivative for the SSV project. Due to their previous cooperations with Hanjin, it may be possible for Daewoo / Dae Sun to tap Hanjin's Subic Shipyard for local production as it would be more palatable to DND officials due to its ability to convert the project as a local investment. 


Daewoo / Dae Sun have previously offered the Makassar-class LPD for the PN's MRV project, before it was put on hold in favor of the smaller SSV. They may offer a derivative of the Makassar-class for the SSV.
Photo taken from Timawa.net forums c/o Adroth.


Keppel Philippines Marine Inc. is the local subsidiary of Singapore conglomerate Keppel Corporation. It has shipyards in Batangas and in Subic, and has been involved in several projects of the Philippine Navy in the past, including the refitting and refurbishment of the PN's 2 Gregorio del Pilar-class frigates before their commissioning. Due to some tie-ups with Singapore's ST Engineering Ltd., there is a possibility that Keppel Philippines will be using ST Engineering's designs including the Endurance 120 series which was reported previously in MaxDefense to have been offered separately by ST Engineering. Having a local shipyard that can do the work is also an added advantage for KPMI.


Keppel Philippines may probably cooperate with ST Engineering to use the Endurance 120 series design for the SSV.
Photo taken from ST Engineering website.


Larsen & Toubro Ltd. is one of India's largest conglomerates, and its subsidiary L&T Shipbuilding has been actively involved in India's naval shipbuilding industry. It's latest involvement is in the construction of India's first indigenous nuclear-powered submarine, the INS Arihant, which it was the prime integrator. It also prides of having the largest naval shipyard in India. Their representatives were spotted in Cavite Naval Base early this year and are speculated to be involved in other projects of the Philippine Navy. 


L&T Shipbuilding is recently involved in the construction of India's first indigenous nuclear powered submarine, the INS Arihant. But no indication that they were able to build an SSV or similar platform before.


The Philippines' PROPMECH Corporation is one of the active marine suppliers of the Philippine Navy in recent years, being involved in upgrading several of the PN's patrol boats, and have been successful in delivering the 1st (supply) and 2nd batches (supply and build) of Multipurpose Attack Craft (MPAC) and the largest locally made PN ship, the BRP Tagbanua (AT-296). In building AT-296, PROPMECH got the services of Philippine Iron Construction and Marine Works, so it is expected that they will carry out the same arrangement. 
PROPMECH has previously delivered the PN"s newest LCU the BRP Tagbanua (AT-296).


PT Citra Shipyard is an Indonesian company, with their shipyard just opposite Singapore in Batam Island. MaxDefense doesn't have much on the shipbuilding experience of this company, but their website indicate that they have built numerous commercial barges. MaxDefense will try to find out more about this company, stay tuned on this blog's commentary section.


PT Citra's website indicate that they are specialized in building commercial barges, like this one.
Photo taken from PT Citra's website.


PT PAL is Indonesia's largest naval shipbuilder, and has extensive experience in building amphibious transport vessels for the Indonesian Navy. They are the recipient of the technology transfer deal from South Korea's Dae Sun Shipbuilding to locally build some of Indonesian Navy's Makassar-class Landing Platform Docks (LPD). PT PAL has already offered the PN their own LPD design derived from the Makassar-class, and has also previously offered their proposal for the SSV. So far they are the only entity that we have some familiarity on their SSV proposal.
PT PAL previously offered the DND and PN it's SSV proposal. MaxDefense believes that the PN based the specifications for its SSV on PT PAL's offer.


Stone of David, if MaxDefense is not mistaken, is actually a tactical equipment supplier, and is an active bidder for individual weapons & personal protection systems (please correct us if we are wrong on this). Due to its inexperience in shipbuilding and marine industry, it may be possible that they will have either a joint venture or sub-contractor to do the ships on their behalf. So far MaxDefense is unaware of who their appointed shipbuilder will be so we cannot assess what it can do.


Is MaxDefense correct? We believe the Stone of David company that is interested in the SSV project is the same Stone of David that supplies handguns and personal protection gear.
Photo taken from Stone of David's FB page.


South Korea's STX Offshore & Shipbuilding is the world's 4th largest shipbuilding company, and has extensive experience in building large commercial vessels (supertankers, etc) and they also have designs that will suit naval requirements. STX through its European subsidiaries, has been involved in building the French Navy's Mistral-class amphibious assault ships. No doubt that they can carry out the PN's SSV project. Like Dae Sun and Daewoo, it might be possible for STX to have shipbuilding agreements with Hanjin Subic Shipyard to build the ships in the Philippines if necessary to make their offer more acceptable.


As the world's 4th largest shipbuilder, STX Offshore & Marine, through its European subsidiaries, was also greatly involved in the construction of France' Mistral-class amphibious assault ships.


Surprisingly, there were a number of expected bidders that did not bought the bid documents. These are Spain's Navantia which previously offered the Athlas 8000 to the PN for its MRV project. Another is Australia's Austal, which has a shipyard in Cebu that can be used as an offset for the project. European companies are also absent, which may have found the budget for the SSV as unattractive for profit. American shipbuilders are also absent, like the Singaporean-owned VT Halter Marine which built the PN's Bacolod City-class LSVs.

Navantia did not purchased the bid documents, but they still have time to do so. They have been offering the Athlas 8000 to the PN for some time now.
Photo taken from Navantia's website.


 As the submission of bids is still scheduled on August 29, 2013, there is possibility that other entities may be interested in procuring the bid documents and submitting a bid besides the 9 that bought earlier. MaxDefense will be closely monitoring any updates regarding the bidding of this project, as this is a major procurement item that would increase the capability of the PN.

Of the 9 prospective bidders, MaxDefense believes that there will be several entities that would not submit the bid, so we expect less than 9 bid submissions on the deadline. The schedule of the SSV project has already been delayed by 1 1/2 months so it is hoped that this won't be a failed bid.

For reference about the PN's SSV program, you may refer to MaxDefense' previous blog here: 
Developments on Strategic Sealift Vessel Purchase for the Philippine Navy - Invitation to Bid Released. (http://maxdefense.blogspot.sg/2013/06/developments-on-strategic-sealift.html)



===================================
Updates:

August 29, 2013:
Of the 9 potential contenders for the SSV project, only 2 submitted their bids: PT PAL Indonesia (builder of Banjarsamin-class) and Daewoo-Daesun of South Korea (builder of Makassar-class). But after further examination, the DND only qualified the bid of PT PAL, while Daewoo-Daesun was disqualified. It is still a hanging project as PT PAL needs to pass the post bid qualifications, which may start soon.

More of the news here and here.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Navantia Offers the Avante 1800 to the Philippine Navy - Just another offer for now

A Spanish news report released on the 1st week of August indicated a recent product offer from Spanish shipbuilder Navantia to the Philippine Navy (PN) for the Avante family of patrol vessel. It was said that a delegation from the company made the offer last July, specifically for the Avante 1800 series. It also described the ships as armed with a 76mm gun, 23-35mm guns, 12.7mm machine guns, an 8-cell VLS launchers for anti-aircraft missiles, 2 quadruple anti-ship missile launchers, and 2 triple torpedo tubes. More on the ship's specifications HERE.

Navantia's Avante 1800 corvette design.
Photo taken from Navantia's product brochure.

Although the news sounds juicy indeed, it is actually nothing more but just another sales pitch by Navantia, similar to the usual news we have locally and to boost company image in light of Spain's declining economy.

It should be noted that the Spanish government and Navantia have been monitoring the PN's modernization efforts for several years now, and this year alone it was reported earlier that Navantia has indeed made offers to the Philippine Navy and Department of National Defense (DND) that include the Avante 1800 patrol vessel and the Athlas 8000 landing platform dock (LPD). MaxDefense believes that the Avante 1800 is a standing offer for possibly several requirements of the PN, which may include Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPV), combat corvettes, and frigate. Meanwhile the Athlas 8000 LPD is supposed to be an offering to fill the Multi-role Vessel (MRV) requirement of the PN which is now on-hold in favor of the smaller Strategic Sealift Vessel (SSV).

All these offers do not constitute a sale, but are just to assist the DND and PN in making the guidelines in formulating their required specifications, budget, schedule and probably list of involved proponents. But that is where all this matters. The offers made by specific shipbuilders usually depend on the initial information they receive from the proponent, which is the DND and PN.

South Korea reportedly offered the Incheon-class frigate to the DND and PN.
There might be changes in the offer to fit the tight budget the DND allocated.

Take note that South Korea already offered the Incheon-class frigate or its derivative by Hyundai Heavy Industries, while Singapore was also said to have offered a frigate design supposedly the New Generation Frigate design from ST Engineering. Both are full-fledged light frigate designs. But the issue is, why would Navantia offer a patrol vessel / corvette design to the PN when they are planning to purchase frigates?

ST Engineering's New Generation Frigate (right) is Singapore's offering to the PN Frigate Program, scale model shown at IMDEX Asia 2013. This is based on an enlarged Fearless-class patrol vessel.

It could only mean two things: either Navantia could only offer the Avante 1800 to fit the budget allocated by the DND, or Navantia is offering the Avante 1800 for another ship requirement of the Philippine Navy.

Looking back on previous announcements, the DND placed its "initial budget" at Php 18 billion for 2 brand-new ships with "frigate capabilities". There are lingering sentiments that this budget is not enough, even to a point that a recent editorial from IHS Jane's Defence Weekly by James Goldrick already indicated that the budget "...cannot be enough to provide sophisticated combatants...". Previous MaxDefense blog regarding the new frigate program provided some of the possible choices that may fit the DND budget, but as the Philippine peso continue to depreciate, the value in Euro or US Dollar decreases and will continue to erode the capabilities that may be included in the ships. 

Navantia possibly thought of maximizing the capability to provide "frigate capabilities" but using a smaller, cheaper platform to minimize hull cost. In comparison, Navantia's other Avante family ship class, the Venezuelan POVZEE Guaiqueri-class, is even based on the larger Avante 2200, but does not have heavy weaponry and sophisticated sensors. Navantia could have offered the same platform to the PN but the budget may not be enough for an up-armed Avante 2200.

Navantia could have offered the larger Avante 2200, which the Venezuelan Guiaqueri-class corvette was based, but it instead offered the smaller Avante 1800. Why?
Illustration taken from fav-club website.

Another possibility is that the DND and PN are on the lookout for a corvette or offshore patrol vessel design for a separate program that they will push for approval and purchase also within the Aquino administration . Previously the US Navy Sea Systems Command issued a Request for Information (RFI) to manufacturers for a possible Philippine Navy OPV requirement, and specifications released by the USN-SSC makes the Avante 1800 hit the spot. There were old reports in 2010 that the PN is actually looking to purchase up to 4 anti-submarine corvettes with a 2,000-ton displacement, and even in the PN's Desired Force Mix it indicated a requirement for ASW corvettes and OPVs. Initial submissions made by the DND for funding within the first 5 years of the revised AFP Modernization also include at least 2 OPVs. So it's not far-fetched that the Avante 1800 could be for other requirements and not the PN Frigate Program.

But for now, let us take the Avante 1800 offer as just that - an offer that does not mean a sure sale to the PN. MaxDefense will provide updates on the Philippine military modernization scene should relevant information comes in.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

What went wrong with the PZL W-3A Sokol purchase as Combat Utility Helicopters?

The Philippine Air Force's new darling, the AgustaWestland-PZL Swidnik W-3A Sokol helicopter, received some serious flak when it was made as an example by President Benigno Aquino III of an irresponsible purchase by the defense department from the previous administration. In his State of the Nation Address (SONA), he said that the door gun was blocking the door opening for mounting and dismounting troops in a combat situation, thus is unsuitable for its intended role as a combat utility helicopter.


Philippine Air Force W-3A Sokols of the 505th Search and Rescue Group at Clark Air Force City.
Orders for more units is starting to become impossible due to some issues on the door opening.

The Department of National Defense (DND) also made a follow-on statement a few days later saying that the Sokol was indeed flawed for the said mission, and instead will be assigned as a search and rescue (SAR) helicopter for the PAF's 505th SAR Group. DND Secretary Voltaire Gazmin even said that the 8 Sokols ordered from Poland will be the last order of its type, effectively killing hope for possible additional Sokols for the PAF in the near future.


One of the PAF W-3A Sokols during testing in Poland.

But is there really something wrong with the W-3A Sokol? Was it not really up to the PAF's standards as what was described by the president?

Budget and Pricing:
In 2008, the DND initiated a bidding for 8 Combat Utility Helicopters (CUH) with a budget of Php 3 billion (US$68 million), including an Integrated Logistics Support (ILS) package. The helicopters are to complement the venerable Bell UH-1H Huey, and may become its successor in the future. The new CUH shall be brand new, capable of night operation, capable of 3,000 lbs. minimum payload with full fuel, with side door gun mounts for M60D machine guns, and fast access for troops.  An initial bid failed with the only bidder, AgustaWestland was declared ineligible. A rebid was launched in the same year, with AgustaWestland and PZL Swidnik being the 2 bidders, but it failed again and made the government go for negotiated purchase.

As the DND went to negotiated purchase, only PZL Swidnik participated and has made the cut and a contract worth Php 2.86 billion for 8 PZL W-3A Sokol helicopters was made.


Reportedly AgustaWestland separately offered the AW109 helicopter to the PAF, but it did not met specifications although it met the budget.
Photo taken from deagel.com.

It was known that there were several companies interested in participating in the first bid attempt but did not submit a bid due to to the payload requirements that exceed the meager budget allocated by the DND. MaxDefense sources pointed that there were only a limited candidates that meet the specifications and budget allocated by the DND, as helicopter models like Bell's 412EP, Sikorsky's S-76, AgustaWestland AW139 and Eurocopter EC155 Enlarged Dauphin all far exceed the budget of approximately $8 to 8.5 million apiece. Only PZL Swidnik was able to deliver a product that can meet both the DND's specifications and budget, clearly winning the deal. If the DND allocated a larger budget that time, MaxDefense believes that the DND and PAF would have a lot more choices and may have even opted for another model.


Technical drawing of a W-3 Sokol with dimensions.
Drawing taken from PZL Swidnik webiste.


A comparison between a Bell 412 and AgustaWestland AW139 showing dimensions.
Drawing taken from EMQ Helicopter Rescue website


Door Opening Size:
The Sokol's design was derived from the old Soviet Mil Mi-2 Hoplite light helicopter. Soviet helicopter designs differ from those of Western ones, which include the absence of wide opening side doors. The Sokol have sliding doors on both sides but unlike most Western designs like the Huey, they are narrow and not aligned with each other with the port side at the forward part of the cabin, while the starboard side door is at the rear of the cabin. 

Just looking at the technical drawing above, it already shows how small the port side door is.

According to information provided by PAF sources, the Sokol's port side door opening is at around 36-37 inches (3 feet) wide. The starboard side door opening's width might not be totally different. In comparison, the UH-1H Huey used by the PAF has a sliding door opening 74 inches (more than 6 feet) wide, and have a maximum of 92 inches (more than 7.5 feet) wide when the forward suicide doors are opened. As expected, the Bell 412 has almost the same door opening dimensions as its older stablemate. But surprisingly the larger and newer Sikorsky S-70/UH-60 Black Hawk has a door opening size of 68 inches (more than 5.5 feet) wide only, or less than that of the Huey but still larger than that of the Sokol. The door opening size difference is too large between the Huey and Sokol, that it's even obviously easy to compare just by looking at the helicopters itself.

A technical drawing of a UH-1H cargo compartment showing dimensions.
Drawing taken from Globalsecurity.org.
Surprisingly, the Black Hawk's door opening is smaller than the Huey's at 68 inches wide, but still wider than that of the W-3 Sokol.
Drawing taken from GlobalSecurity.org.

From the beginning the PAF should have known the helicopter's door sizes and they could match it with their required door opening specifications, unless if the DND did not include such provision. Missing this provision on the requirement specifications will indeed make the Sokol eligible for the program, not the fault of PZL Swidnik and the Sokol helicopter.


Door Gunner:


A PAF W-3A Sokol shown with the swivel-mounted door gun. The size of the door with regards to the crew can be seen, as well as the gun's position. Make your own analysis based on this photo.

The DND specified that an M60 mount shall be installed on both door openings, which is usually a standard set-up on combat utility helicopters. PZL Swidnik was able to meet such requirement, but as discussed earlier the door opening is quite narrow at only 3 feet wide, and with the door mounted gun in operation, the gunner himself becomes an obstruction, not to mention the gun's swivel mount and the gun as well. 


This Sokol shows a machine gun mounted on the side window, keeping the door clear from obstruction.

An option done by other Sokol users was to mount the machine guns on the fixed side windows, and slinging them using a modified mounting attached on the sidewall on top of the window. This is not a permanent solution nor the best solution as the gunner's view is obstructed and the fixing is not as tough as the standard door mounted type. A video in Youtube of Polish W-3 Sokols in action in Iraq can be seen below. Take note of the said mountings: 




This is not the first time that such door gun position issue has happened. A similar case is present on PAF's Sikorsky S-76 helicopters, which were originally designated by the PAF as helicopter gunships and some as rescue helicopters. When the PAF opted to install door guns, the not-so-wide side doors of the S-76 is also present as the swivel mounted door guns and gunner were also blocking the door opening. But unlike the case of the Sokol, it was not much of an issue since the S-76 were not used as combat utility helicopters, so it is not expected to carry troops into combat as often as the UH-1H Huey.
The door gun of the gunship configuration of the Sikorsky S-76 in PAF service. Note the fixed swivel-type mount blocking the narrow side door openings as well.
Photo taken from Philskies.net forum.


Compare the Sokol and S-76 door openings to this PAF UH-1H Huey, with its doors opened and gunner present. Take note the space on the gunner's right hand side.

So in this issue brought out by the government, MaxDefense believes that there is absolutely nothing wrong with the PZL W-3A Sokol helicopter. It is a very nice helicopter, and is a great addition to the PAF. Even PAF pilots attested to its capability and power in previous news interviews. It was able to comply to the specifications and budget set by the DND and PAF.

So what's the problem?

In MaxDefense' opinion, the problem is not the helicopter, but from the DND and PAF. There were actually 2 problems that MaxDefense sees in this deal: one is that the specifications "probably" did not include the door opening size and space considerations of mounting the door gun plus enough space for troop insertion or extraction while the gun is in use; and two, the government did not allocate enough budget to make the bidding more competitive by opening it to more helicopter manufacturers and models. 

The solution? 

The DND and PAF's solution was to transfer the W-3A Sokols from combat utility helicopter duties to search and rescue missions. But MaxDefense believes that there are issues on this decision as well. In search and rescue, wide doors are also very important to have faster access for stretchers or rescuers using the hoists. Rapid egress and ingress is also required. So the same problem will happen when using the Sokol for SAR missions. Also, if the PAF decides to place them for SAR duties, it must allocate funds to "re-dress" the helicopters for such missions. Currently the Sokols are still covered by the manufacturer's warranty that keeps the PAF from making the changes from its combaat utility set-up.

A Czech W-3 Sokol in SAR configuration. Compared to the PAF's Sokols, the Czech model is well equipped for such missions, which includes powerful search light, rescue winch, a high visibility paint scheme, and probably some modifications on the cargo hold for stretcher accommodation.
Photo taken from Aviapacific website.
Instead, MaxDefense' opinion is for the Sokols to be used for other missions, specifically as a VIP transport or support helicopter for the Presidential Airlift Wing. VIP helicopters don't need the wide door opening requirement. Besides, the Sokol is a twin engine helicopter, is night flying capable, and is currently in basic configuration. These requirements are also needed for VIP helicopters. Once it's warranty is over, the PAF could easily refit its Sokols for VIP transport, and replace the Bell 412EP and complement the lone S-70A Black Hawk. MaxDefense sources indicate that the Presidential Air Wing is actually looking for new VIP helicopters, and MaxDefense believes that this is the right aircraft. The Office of the President could pay for the helicopter's transfer to the Presidential fleet, including refitting, and transferred budget could be used to re-open a bid for new, more compliant combat utility helicopters.


A Polish Air Force W-3 configured for VIP transport duties. This type of mission does not require wide door openings, unlike the combat utility or search and rescue missions which require them.

As for the 3 remaining PAF PAW Bell 412EP's, these helicopters would be better off as rescue helicopters with proper refitting for such duties. Or they could even be the basis of a possible deal to make the Bell 412 as the PAF's new combat utility helicopter to replace the venerable UH-1H Huey. MaxDefense sources indicate that the Bell 412EP is indeed a strong competitor should a new bidding for combat utility helicopter proceeds.


MaxDefense' opinion is for the PAF W-3A Sokols be reconfigured and transferred to the Presidential Air Wing as its new VIP helicopter transport, replacing the Bell 412EP which in turn can be made into rescue assets, or even a basis for a deliberate choosing of the Bell 412 as the next PAF CUH.