|An Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate of the US Navy. Several of the class are available for transfer to allied countries like the Philippines.|
Photo taken from Wikimedia.
The Philippine Navy (PN), through its Desired Force Mix (DFM) white paper released in 2012, plan to have a fleet of at least 6 anti-aircraft warfare (AAW) frigates and 12 anti-submarine warfare (ASW) corvettes in its arsenal in a time frame covering around 15 years. But currently it only has 3 old gun frigates, and is still grasping to purchase 2 brand new light frigates that appears to be underfunded at around Php 9 billion ($208 million) per ship considering the capability the PN is requesting the ships to have. These new ships would only be in service with the PN several years from now, estimated between early 2017 to early 2018 if the PN chooses a design that is still to be realized, or it could be a little earlier if the PN chooses an existing design. Thus the PN will have to make do with what it has while it waits for the new ships to be fully operational.
|The PN is actually looking forward to have Anti-Aircraft Warfare Frigates in its future arsenal. The Royal Netherlands Navy's De Zeven Provincien-class frigates is an example of a typical AAW frigate.|
Photo taken from Wikimedia.
At this rate, the PN will be short of capable surface combatants for the organization to effectively do its missions, and have the minimum deterrence and capability to defend Philippine waters and EEZ. Also the PN would not be able to attain its desired capability and numbers since the committed ships for commissioning is not enough. Even without following the said white paper plan, there is obviously not enough combat ready ships in the PN's fleet.
To beef up its fleet, the PN should consider obtaining used but still capable frigates and corvettes, which can be obtained from allies and friendly countries. Currently there are a number of friendly countries that plan or have already started decommissioning their naval assets that can still be useful with the PN, and are definitely more capable and younger than its current assets. Many of these ships, especially those from the US are dropped before they reach their original scheduled retirement.
After making a U-turn on the Italian offers, and bypassing offers from France and other European countries, there is another frigate class that was always rejected by the PN's top brass but is the only relevant choice right now:
The US Navy's Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate, also known as the OHP-class.
The OHP frigates were designed and built for the US Navy as fast fleet anti-submarine warfare escorts, with capability for limited area air defense and platform for anti-ship missiles. They are required to move fast to keep up with nuclear powered aircraft carriers which usually run at around 30 knots when required. But it lost its missile capability with the removal of its single Mk. 13 arm-type missile launcher. It has hangar space for 2 SH-60 Seahawk shipboard helicopters.
|Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates are great anti-submarine platforms but in its current state it does not even have sufficient surface and anti-aircraft combat capability and will need weapons upgrade.|
Photo taken from Wikimedia.
In contrast, the PN's frigate requirement based on it's DFM white paper is for an "Anti-Aircraft Warfare Frigate", as the designation suggests it would be general purpose surface combatant, with emphasis on anti-aircraft warfare but with sufficient anti-submarine and surface warfare capability. There is another requirement for the PN for corvettes that are general purpose but with strong emphasis on anti-submarine warfare. The corvette's requirements are actually closer to the OHP-class' strengths, although the OHP-class does not have sufficient air and surface warfare capability in its current guise.
At more or less 25 years old average, the ships are definitely old per Western standards, but that is expected from used warships, besides they are still younger than most PN major assets which are more than twice that age. With proper refurbishing and modernization these ships would be able to meet the PN's requirements for another 15 years, which is the stipulated parameter for purchasing used materiel for the AFP according to the Philippine government's Administrative Order (AO) No. 169. Sec. 3.2.3.b.
The OHP-class is currently being retired by the US Navy while being replaced by the newer Littoral Combat Ships (LCS). A number of ships are available for transfer to allied countries like the Philippines, and there are even some countries previously offered by the US government that did not took the opportunity for many reasons. Thailand may pass on an offer for 2 ships as they decided to instead purchase a new frigate from South Korea.
Of all countries that have available used warships for transfer to other navies, the US Navy currently leads the market.
This has been the major reason why previous offers for the Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates were always declined by the PN. The ships are powered by 2 General Electric LM2500-30 marine gas turbines in a Combined Gas and Gas (COGAG) configuration. Although gas turbines are light, compact and provide a higher output, it consumes more fuel as compared to diesel engines, and the OHP-class uses these turbines even on cruise speed and economy speeds.
|The General Electric LM2500 marine gas turbine, 2 of this powers the Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates making it a gas guzzler in Philippine Navy standards which mostly has a diesel-powered fleet.|
Photo taken from GE Energy website.
According to Globalsecurity.org and FAS.org, the average operating cost of an OHP frigate in 1996 was $16 million a year. That was when the OHP-class still has its Mk. 13 single-arm multi-purpose missile launchers with SM-1MR Standard surface-to-air missiles and Harpoon anti-ship missiles.
It should be taken into consideration though, that the PN operates at a lower cost as compared to the USN. Points to consider are lower manpower costs, lower services and maintenance costs, less operating tempo, less rigorous training programs and attendance, and longer maintenance duration. Thus it is expected that the PN can operate the OHP-class frigates at a lower cost than reported. But it would still definitely be higher than the operating cost of the Gregorio del Pilar-class frigates that the PN currently has due to the higher fuel costs.
It should be taken into consideration that the entry of the 2 CODOG-powered frigates into PN service already pushed the gasoline, oil and lubricants (GOL) expenses to record levels.
The OHP-class frigates in the current neutered state is nothing more than a large anti-submarine platform, with no missiles but still retaining its anti-submarine suite plus more close in weapons. The absence of the Mk. 13 arm-type missile launcher due to obsolescence and standardization of US Navy missile delivery systems will actually push any buyer to take a look at alternative ways to up-arm the ships.
Taiwan's OHP-class known as the Cheng Kung-class, are still equipped with the Mk. 13 launcher although they have a separate boxed launcher for the locally developed Hsiung Feng II anti-ship missiles and some are reportedly already equipped with the "carrier killer" Hsiung Feng III missiles. Pakistan's sole OHP-class ship, the PNS Alamgir, is also reportedly armed with Harpoon missiles in boxed launchers. Thus the concept of installing an anti-ship missile system without relying on the Mk. 13 missile launcher is possible.
For air defense, the ship was also dependent on the Mk. 13 launcher, but there are also programs made by other countries to increase it's capability without relying on the said arm launcher. Australia installed an 8-cell Mk. 41 vertical launch system (VLS) for Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles (ESSM), located forward of the Mk. 13 launcher (which was still retained) of their Adelaide-class frigates (Australian version of OHP-class frigates). This was done as part of the Royal Australian Navy's (RAN) SEA 1390 FFG Upgrade Program. The Turkish Navy's (TDK) G-class frigates (ex-USN OHP-class frigates) also did the same upgrade of installing a Mk. 41 VLS as what the Australians did. As for the PN, the absence of the Mk. 13 launcher means that there is more space available at the ship's A-position which can be used to install a VLS or other missile-launching system, in addition to the space where RAN and TDK installed their Mk. 41 VLS.
|The Royal Australian Navy's HMAS Sydney, upgraded with an 8-cell Mk. 41 VLS located forward of the original Mk. 13 arm-type missile launcher.|
Photo taken from Wikimedia.
Besides weapons, the ships are known to be capable to receive new upgrades for the combat management system, radar systems, and other combat electronics if necessary, as demonstrated by similar upgrades done by Australia, Turkey, Taiwan and Spain on their OHP-class ships.
The only issue here that will be detrimental for any Philippine Navy undertaking for OHP-class is the cost of upgrades and returning anti-aircraft and anti-ship missile systems to the downgraded ships. Below let us assume that the PN will only opt to improve the ship's anti-ship and anti-aircraft weapons systems, and continue using the same sensors, combat management system and secondary weapons:
|An 8-cell Mk. 41 VLS installed in an Adelaide-class frigate (Australian Oliver Hazard Perry-frigate derivative).|
Photo taken from Wikimedia.
Mk. 41 VLS Tactical System:
Each Mk. 41 VLS will have 32 ESSM rounds quad-packed to 8 Mk.25 VLS canister.
- The 8-cell VLS system itself costed around $16.3 million dollars in a contract with Spain in 2006. It is expected that the current price would be higher now.
- Thailand paid $18 million in a contract involving 9 ESSM missile rounds, 3 Mk. 25 quad-pack canisters, 4 shipping containers, spares and repair parts, support and testing equipment, publications and technical documents, personnel training and training equipment, US government and contractor engineering, technical and logistics support services and other technical services related to the product.
- Additional requests for further ESSM may be cheaper on the average per missile, but MaxDefense estimates the deal for 32 missiles to be worth around $50-60 million.
- MaxDefense estimates for the entire Mk. 41 tactical VLS system with full-load 32 rounds of ESSM would cost around $80-90 million.
|The Boeing RGM-84 Harpoon Blk. II anti-ship missile is the US Navy's foremost surface warfare missile.|
Photo taken from SeaForces website.
Standard anti-ship missile load-out for frigates is at least 8 missiles.
- A 2012 US order for Block II missiles and associated hardware went on average of $1.6 million per missile.
- The US, being the primary user, is expected to have complete knowledge and support system for the Harpoon missiles. The PN currently lacks this, and it is expected that the 1st order for Harpoon missile systems will probably cost a lot to include logistics support, training and technical services, spares and repair parts.
- A 2009 request from Egypt for 20 RGM-84L Harpoon Blk.II missiles, 5 4-shot missile batteries, spare and repair parts, and all other associated support mechanisms costing a total of $145 million.
-Based on the Egyptian contract above, on average it would cost more than $60 million for each ship with 8 missiles and associated support and logistics package. This is reasonable considering the Philippine Navy is again a first time user of the type.
So just with the 2 missile systems, it would cost around $140-150 million per ship.
Does the PN have other options? So far MaxDefense believes that other friendly countries can provide an alternative for the PN that would probably cost less than what the Americans have to offer. A budget of probably less than $100 million per ship using Israeli systems could make a possible PN Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate as capable as an American-upgraded one.
Only problem is, if the Americans would include clauses in the transfer contract to only upgrade the ship using American products and services. This is the same problem highlighted in the Hamilton-class frigates that the PN plans to upgrade in the near future.
Timeline and Availability:
Another problem seen by MaxDefense is the timeline of availability of the ships. So far the US government has not offered a single OHP-class frigate to the Philippine government, and offers and US Congressional approvals usually take a year or two to obtain. Transfer and training of crew to a US-spec OHP-class frigate would require at least 8 months to more than 1 year, using PN crew that has prior experience with the Gregorio del Pilar-class frigates. The complexity of the OHP-class for PN crew will require a longer training period as it needs to cover not just the usual operational conversion training, but also basic training especially for the weapons and sensors system operators. Bringing the ship for upgrades and modifications to increase capability, including the crew training to handle advanced systems would probably take another 8 months to 1 year based on conservative estimates. So that would be a total minimum of 3 years!
|Would it be not better to instead purchase a new frigate, like the Incheon-class from South Korea, which costs almost the same and can be obtained in almost the same time as an upgraded 25 year-old OHP-class frigate?|
So if the Philippine government would request for a ship or two during the visit of President Barack Obama this October, probably we could only see a partially upgraded OHP-class frigate in Philippine service by late 2016, or just after President Aquino's term.
So the question now is, would it be practical to have Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates in the Philippine Navy?
Based on the parameters above, MaxDefense believes that getting the frigate is not feasible, for the following reasons:
- Obtaining them as-is would render it a large gunboat similar to the current guise of the Gregorio del Pilar-class frigates with only anti-submarine warfare as its main focus. For its current capability the purchase and operating costs are too high.
- Not only is it expensive in its current guise, but it also lacks the endurance if employed as an offshore patrol vessel.
- Receiving them as-is and undertaking an upgrade program for it would cost too much as well, almost as much as a brand new light frigate with similar or even greater capability.
- Not only will the upgrades cost too much, the time needed to complete the purchase from request until end of upgrade would also take too long, canceling the very reason why the PN should obtain used warships.
As a short term goal, the Philippine government should try to deal with other friendly countries with frigates or corvettes that are scheduled for retirement but is capable enough in its current guise to not undertake immediate, lengthy and expensive upgrades. MaxDefense sees a number of countries that the Philippine government can turn to, like South Korea for its Pohang-class corvettes, Italy for its Maestrale, Soldati/Artigliere and Minerva-class ships, Germany for its F122-class frigates and Spain. The government should also continue in their push for capable assets that could be acquired cheap, like more Hamilton-class cutters to beef up naval presence and replace older PN assets. The viability of more Hamilton-class ships was discussed in earlier MaxDefense blogs.
While obtaining used assets that could still be in service for several more years, the Philippine government must also invest in building new frigates and corvettes according to its naval white paper as a medium to long term solution in increasing naval capability. This must not be taken fore granted by the Philippine government if it is indeed serious in putting more value to defending the country's sovereignty and territory in the coming future without keeping the navy at bay due to lack of assets and support.
Is it a totally lost cause to have Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates?
Actually not yet.
We still don't know what the Americans will practically offer to the Philippine government in the next few months or years. If the Americans could provide a ship or two for free, including transfer, training, initial support, and at the same time provide a subsidized operating budget, then the Philippine government should say yes, as this would enable it to reduce the cost issues that is currently the main reason of it's impracticality with the Philippine Navy.