As required by the DND's Bids and Awards Committee (BAC), the bidders must be the manufacturers themselves, was able to complete a similar project within the last 10 years, and the product must be used by the armed forces of the country of source or at least by 2 other foreign armed forces. These requirements are actually standard to all acquisition projects made by the DND before. The pre-bid conference was scheduled on November 22, 2013, and the bid submission and opening was scheduled on December 5, 2013.
Another Supplemental Bid Bulletin released on November 28, 2013 adjusted some of the requirements of the project,which includes the following:
- reduction of the required number of years to have completed a single contract similar to this project to 5 years, instead of the earlier requirement of 10 years;
- the entire lot of 155mm towed howitzer should not be outsourced from subcontractors, and items were listed for clarification;
- training of end users on handling the artillery pieces will not require the manufacturer to provide ammunition;
- changes on the propellant charge and length of modular propelling charge specifications now according to manufacturer's specification instead of fixed by the DND;
- emphasis on packaging according to NATO standards of 8 projectiles per pallet encased in plastic cover;
Although not much information was released on the project,
Not known to many, the Philippine Army has some 155mm howitzers in its arsenal. It received a dozen M114 howitzers from the United States in 1972, and 14 M71 towed howitzers from Israel in 1983. Both models are still in use up until now, with the M114s recently seen in action in Mindanao. They are usually outshone by their smaller 105mm counterparts in media exposure and actual combat usage as the 155mm guns are rarely seen and used. This is because of the 155mm's more expensive ammunition and practicality by the AFP, difficulty in mobility, lack of sufficient 5-ton prime mover trucks in the PA to move them around, and being less in numbers. Most of the guns are also positioned in Luzon island area where combat operations requiring artillery support is almost non-existent, as compared in Mindanao.
|One of the Philippine Army's Soltam M71 155mm towed howitzer, which are in use since 1983.|
Photo taken from Timawa.net c/o 40niner_com.
So far, the PMC does not operate any 155mm howitzer in its arsenal, and are only using a few 105mm M101s and Oto Melara pack howitzers, thus any 155mm howitzer procurement will be a first time for the PMC.
Previous Attempts to Procure 155mm Guns:
There were several attempts by the DND, PA and PMC to procure 155mm guns for the past couple of years, and were delayed by several issues.
In 2008 there were plans to procure at least 12 units for the PA, including ammunition and prime movers as part of a 1st batch, and an additional 6 units in a 2nd batch. This plan did not come into fruition due to financial and budget concerns.
In 2010 another press release from the DND announced its plans to procure 6 units 155mm howitzers worth Php 186 million for the PA, and 2 155mm howitzer systems worth Php 230 million for the PMC. This also did not materialize after the Special Allotment Release Order (SARO) that would cover the cost of these projects expired at the end of 2010. Due to the cost differences between the systems planned for procurement by the PA and PMC, MaxDefense believes that the PA project that time only involves the actual guns, while the PMC's "system" may probably include a fire control system, ammunition and training equipment, and prime mover trucks. The PMC that time also lack 5-ton prime movers in its inventory. Again, this plan did not materialize.
|The PMC only operates 105mm howitzers, as seen in the photo above of PMC artillerymen firing one of their M101 guns during Balikatan 2013 exercises at Crow Valley.|
Photo taken from USMC official website.
As the project is not totally shelved, another attempt was made in 2012, this time involving ex-Italian Army FH-70 155mm howitzers. 25 units were planned to be procured together with several armored vehicles as part of a wider deal that includes the purchase of ex-Italian Navy 2 Maestrale-class frigates and several other Italian weapons systems. As the Maestrale deal sank, further attempts to get items scheduled for retirement from the Italian Army went down with it. Although MaxDefense sources is not yet totally ruling out the deal with the Italians as the DND and AFP are still keen in getting used wares from the Italian military as a separate deal from before.
|Italy offered around 25 units of used FH-70 155mm howitzers recently as part of a wider deal that includes 2 Maestrale-class frigates and M346 LIFT aircraft. Unfortunately, this deal sank with the Maestrale frigate deal.|
Photo taken from Wikimedia.
The Current 155mm Howitzer Acquisition Project:
The most recent attempt to procure 155mm howitzers for the PA and PMC was released by the DND in November, and will be procured through a bidding process. Compared to previous attempts, this current attempt involves 12 units, more than the total 8 units combined for the 2 services. The budget also appears to follow more the original budget allocated by the PA for its own requirements instead of following the PMC's previous budget, it is worth noting that the PA previously allocated an average of Php 31 million per gun, while the PMC allocated an average of Php 115 million per "system". Currently the average budget is just above Php 36.5 million or $844,000 apiece but now it includes the ammunition and an ILS package.
Surprising though is the decision to merge the PA and PMC's requirement, it was initially believed that the PA was looking for a standard field artillery system, while the PMC is looking for an ultra lightweight system, thus the larger budget for each gun in its previous attempt. According to a MaxDefense source within the DND, whoever wins this acquisition project may look forward to additional numbers that the PA and PMC may procure in the near future as the 2 services are now bent on increasing their 155mm field artillery capabilities. It was confirmed earlier that the AFP recently received a delivery of several trucks, including 5-ton prime movers from the US military, thus the problem on having a prime mover is already solved.
Budget is the Key, again:
MaxDefense believes that the budget allocated by the AFP and DND is too low, which at less than $800,000 per gun pales in comparison to the budget allocated by India to purchase M777 155mm lightweight howitzers for more than $6 million each including laser inertial artillery pointing systems, parts, training and ILS as part of its ultra lightweight 155mm artillery purchase for its mountain troops. Originally the budget allocated by India for ultra lightweight 155mm guns is around $4.2 million each on the average.
Take note that the M777A2 is the favorite of the PMC, and was even used extensively during previous exercises between the USMC and the PA/PMC. There were even speculations that the PMC and probably even the PA are eyeing the purchase of the M777A2 to simplify logistics, training, and integration of Philippine forces with those of the US military.
The video above shows Philippine Army artillerymen getting some hands-on training on the use of USMC M777A1 155mm lightweight howitzers during Balikatan 2013 Exercises.
According to MaxDefense sources, cheaper but brand new alternatives to the M777A2 system have been offered by Elbit Systems with a downgraded derivative of their Soltam ATHOS; and with Hyundai WIA (formerly Kia Machine Tools) with their KH-179 (which is closely derived from the US M114 gun). Due to the cost considerations, it is possible that Elbit Systems will take out several features of their ATHOS gun system like the automated features and auxiliary power unit.
|The Hyundai WIA KH-179 155mm field howitzer-medium in action during a ROK Army exercises on April 2013.|
Photo taken from Craving Korea blog.
MaxDefense was not able to get hold on the market price of the KH-179 when it was sold to Indonesia recently, but a MaxDefense source from the DND confirmed it to be "generally less than $1 million each". The KH-179 is in use with both the South Korean Army and the Indonesian Army, and can be transported by CH-47 Chinooks. As for the Elbit Systems Soltam ATHOS, MaxDefense sources also indicated that Elbit has offered a simplified system without an APU and its automated systems to put it in the same price range as the KH-179, although MaxDefense was also not able to get an average market price for the said gun. The only problem with that is this specific downgraded Soltam 155mm system is not in use with the Israeli military as it is, although the "tube" itself is in use with the Israeli military and several other foreign militaries. The technicalities is up for the DND to interpret, but it smells bad news for Elbit Systems.
|The KH-179 up-close, seen here used by the South Korean military. The KH-179 was heavily derived from the US M114 gun (which the Philippine Army has), although Kia Machine Tools (now Hyundai WIA) claims it to be an entirely indigenous product.|
Another possible offer can be the original M777 gun, with only optical fire control and without the automated features found on the later model M777A1 and A2 that makes the entire gun system expensive. But this can still be far fetched as it is still expected to cost above the allocated budget of the DND.
The PA and PMC may also possibly look at the 2nd hand market, but for now this is highly unlikely if bidders can come up with a product to suit the requirement and budget allocated for this project. But looking at 2nd hand equipment may be viable if this bid fails. Used howitzer assets can also be procured as a parallel acquisition program to immediately provide the PA and PMC with higher number of assets at the shortest possible time without eating too much of the meager budget.
A contract worth looking at for comparison is that between the United States and Thailand. In November 212, Thailand received 54 units of surplus ex-US military M198 155mm howitzers it purchased for TB 850 million ($27.7 million as of November 2012) to replace its ageing M114 guns (similar to what the PA uses). These were said to be refurbished and "enhanced" units, and cost at an average of around $513,000 per gun or 40% below the DND's budget for the PA & PMC requirement.
|An M198 155mm guns being unloaded during their delivery for Thailand as part of a TB850 million FMS package with the United States. These are to replace ageing M114 guns in RTA service.|
Photo taken from defense studies blogs.
Previously, the US government made offers to the Philippines to procure ex-US M198 155mm howitzers but the Philippine government then did not take the offer due to budgetary concerns. But that was then. This offer may still stand depending on the Philippines' willingness to spend for them.
How about the Self-Propelled Artillery Procurement?:
The ground services seems to take it one step at a time, first improving the artillery capability that will support its infantry units. MaxDefense sources confirmed that the requirement for self-propelled artillery to support mechanized and future armored formations was just temporarily shelved due to the more pressing needs to improve its current artillery formations. The military prefers to improve its mechanized and armored capability first before getting self-propelled artillery to support these units.
So we may not see the procurement of self-propelled artillery systems like the Elbit Systems Soltam ATMOS 2000, which was discussed earlier in another MaxDefense blog. Expect such changes to happen considering the rocky state of the defense capability of the Philippines, wherein everything needs to be modernized.
MaxDefense believes that with the limited budget allocated for each individual requirement (which was highlighted before in previous MaxDefense blog entries), it would be best for the DND and AFP to fund the most pressing needs of its current capabilities first before moving on to procure assets to make new capabilities. The PA's artillery formations is actually the most antiquated in the entire army, and its 155mm field artillery capability needs a boost as it lacks in numbers and is falling into obsolescence as well, and will need new systems to complement the current assets and ultimately replace them in the near future.
But both the PA & PMC must look ahead in the future as well. It is good news that the DND is actually looking at enhancing the M101 105mm howitzers of both services by refurbishment, improvement in manpower by enhanced training, and acquisition of computerized systems to improve accuracy, response time, and counter-fire capabilities. And it is also good to know that the DND has not yet shut its doors in considering used assets from friendly countries to boost the AFP's artillery capabilities with the limited budget they are getting. MaxDefense believes that these steps could actually speed up the improvements and must be pursued soon.