Since the news is already out, MaxDefense will try to analyze this purchase with pieces of information we have on the acquisition project.
|The Philippine Army still uses the M68 90mm recoilless rifle together with a few dozen of the smaller and older M18 57mm recoilless rifles. A new requirement for rocket launchers to replace them is in the pipeline.|
The PA currently has several US-made recoilless rifles in service that it uses for hard and soft target assault, including bunkers, strucutres, and vehicles. These are composed of the shoulder-fired M18 57mm and M68 90mm recoilless rifles, and pad-mounted 75mm M20 and 105mm M40 recoilless rifles. In addition, the PA also uses much more modern types, the German-designed Armbrust bought from Singapore and the American M72 LAW, both disposable aim-and-shoot rocket launchers that are used by the PA's mechanized infantry and special operations operators.
|The PA also uses the Armbrust rocket launcher, but this is a disposable one-shot system. The PA is looking for a reuseable system which is more cheaper in the long run.|
Photo taken from Wikipedia.
Due to the size and weight of the M18 and M68 recoilless rifles, they are difficult to carry and bring along operations that require infantry to maneuver in distances. Most of the time it requires at least 2 soldiers just to carry around the weapon and ammunition. Not only are they heavy, they are also long, and requires 2 persons to fire and reload. Imagine its effects to fire teams that will require maneuvers like scaling hills and miles of walking carrying these antique behemoths. They would also impede troops that are mounted on space-devoid vehicles like armored vehicles. With the PA's aim to increase the firepower of its standard infantry squad, it is necessary to provide them with a lightweight system that is also easy to use and maintain, and can be used several times instead of throwing away after a single shot.
Initial AFP reports indicate that there are actually 2 batches of rocket launcher acquisitions: a first batch of 355 units with 4,800 rounds of ammunition and a budget of around Php 95 million, and another batch of 744 units plus ammunition on a later date with a budget of around Php 407 million. Both batches are to be purchased under the US Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program, thus would be sourced from the Americans. With the budget allocated, it appears that each rocket launcher system will cost around Php 500,000, or around $11,500 which is actually small when viewed from a weapon cost's perspective.
Due to this budget, there could only be a few American-sourced re-useable systems that can be considered. MaxDefense initially thought it to possibly be the Shoulder-launced, Multipurpose Assault Weapon, aka SMAW, which was based on the Israeli B-300 system. But it appears that each of these launchers may cost as much as 10 times as the budget allocated by the PA. MaxDefense sees only 1 such weapon that may fit the budget: the RPG-7.
"But isn't the RPG-7 a Russian weapon?" Yes it is, but with its production license available for everyone to use, even the Americans found it interesting to produce. Enter Airtronics USA, a not so well known small arms and spare parts manufacturer that supplies the US Department of Defense and several foreign armed forces, including the Philippine armed forces. It produces several variants of the M203 40mm grenade launcher, M4 carbine, M2 machine gun, its versions of M16-based designated marksman rifle (DMR) and M5 carbine, RPG-7 based rocket propelled grenade launchers and magazines for M16-based rifles.
|Airtronic USA's RPG-7(USA) may be considered by the PA as this fits the requirements and budget that they allocated.|
Photo taken from Airtronic USA's website.
Information provided by MaxDefense sources indicate that the AFP uses M203 40mm grenade launchers and M4A1 carbines for the PA SOCOM made by Airtronics USA with the latest deliveries only a few years ago. Airtronics USA has developed their own versions of the Russian RPG-7 which they market as the RPG-7 USA and the lighter and simpler Mk. 777. The RPG-7 USA is actually an RPG-7 with several components found on M16-based rifles, like a quad-rail system, AR15-type pistol grips and fore-grips, and an M4-style collapsible stock.
|Another Airtronic USA product that may fit the bill is the Mk. 777 system, which is lighter than the RPG-7(USA) but is cheaper and has less lifespan.|
Photo taken from Airtronic USA's website.
MaxDefense believes that the PA chose to acquire the RPG-7(USA) for this project, on the basis of source of product, budget, and reuseablility.
1. Source - being an FMS, it is expected to be an American product. Currently the US Armed Forces only uses the Swedish-made AT4, the Israeli-based SMAW-D (aka M141 by the US Army) and M153 SMAW of the USMC, and the obsolete M72 LAW. There are also missile systems like the FGM-148 Javelin and FGM-172 Predator systems. And there's the RPG-7 (USA) and Mk. 777 that the US military doesn't use but is produced by the US defense industry.
2. Reuseablity - of the products above, only the SMAW, Javelin, Predator, RPG-7 (USA) and Mk.777 are reuseable.
3. Cost - with what the PA allocated, missile systems would definitely be out of the running. The SMAW may also not fit even if the launching system may fit the budget because of the cost of ammunition. Thus only the RPG-7 (USA) and Mk. 777 remains.
With the latest information from the Philippine Army spokesman that 400 launchers plus ammunition will be purchased as compared to the earlier 300+ units in previous news reports indicates that there were indeed changes in the previous acquisition plans. It is still worth checking if the final numbers will still be the same. MaxDefense sources indicated that although the manufacturer and product is unknown, the PA already confirmed that the first batch has already been finalized and will be delivered starting the middle of this year.
If the RPG-7 series is indeed chosen, this would be an interesting development since the weapon is something unexpected to be chosen by the PA even if such RPG weapons are already in the market for several decades.
August 23, 2016:
MaxDefense received some updates on ongoing projects of the Philippine Army, and among those covered are for the acquisition of Rocket Launcher Light (RLL) which covers the acquisition of RPG-7.
There are currently two projects involving the RLL acquisition, the first is under RA 7898 which involves the acquisition of 335 rocket launchers and 3,272 rockets (called RLL Phase 1), while the second project is under RA 10349 (Horizon 1) involving 744 rocket launchers and will commence immediately upon the implementation of RLL Phase 1. It is expected that both projects will be awarded to the same company for commonality and practicality reasons.
Originally we covered that the Philippine Army could be acquiring the RPG-7USA made by Airtronic USA, since both projects actually involves the Joint US Military Assistance Group (JUSMAG) and will be done through Foreign Military Sales (FMS).
A few months ago, MaxDefense, in its Facebook page, confirmed that the deal with Airtronic USA was called off for unknown reasons, and no updates were made afterwards.
Its only now that MaxDefense was given an update through the Army's program updates, that the Rocket Launcher Light acqusition project is still a go, but as confirmed before, will not involve Airtronic USA. Instead, it would still be an FMS but there is a decision made involving a US-accredited, Bulgarian-based manufacturer, which MaxDefense believes is Armaco JSC based in Sofia, Bulgaria. Armaco appears to be the largest, if not, the only legitimate arms manufacturer in Bulgaria capable of manufacturing the RPG-7 and its ammunition.
It turns out that originally, the ammunition for the RPGs would also be sourced from Bulgaria, and it was decided that the RPG-7 would be better sourced from the same manufacturer as well instead of separating the acquisition between two separate suppliers (one for launcher, one for ammunition).
Armaco JSC manufactures their own variant of the RPG-7, which followed the type's original design rather than making innovations like what Airtronic USA's PSRL-1 (which is the new name of RPG-7USA) has like Piccatiny rails, sights, and use of lightweight materials.
As for the deal itself, processing of the FMS deal is still ongoing, and no award has been made as of this writing. But it is expected that an award will be made before the end of the year, and it is expected that deliveries could only be completed by 2nd quarter of 2018. Originally it was expected that the Philippine Army would have its first RPG-7s by as early as 2016 and replace its old and heavy recoilless rifles.
Since this project is still un-awarded to any supplier, MaxDefense expects more updates to be made available within the year.