|The two Gregorio del Pilar-class frigates of the Philippine Navy during naval exercises with the US Navy.|
Photo taken from the US Navy via Wikipedia.
There are earlier indications from MaxDefense sources that the separation of the new frigate weapons acquisition from the original frigate acquisition project can closely be attributed to other weapons system requirements of the PN. This includes the upgrade for the Gregorio del Pilar-class frigates and other weapons systems for upcoming PN naval assets.
Currently, the lead ship BRP Gregorio del Pilar (PF-15) is better armed compared to its sistership BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF-16), which as of this writing is headed to Northern Australia to participate in the bi-annual KAKADU 2014 exercises. Compared to the PF-16, the PF-15 is armed with a single Mk.38 Mod. 0 chain gun, positioned where the Phalanx CIWS was previously located. It is also armed with two 20mm Oerlikon guns, which the PF-16 currently lacks.
Latest information from the Philippine Navy suggests that the BRP Gregorio del Pilar will undergo the 1st phase of the up-arming program, which is to install two (2) BAE Mk. 38 Mod. 2 MGS (Machine Gun Systems), one each on the port and starboard midship decks. The Mk.38 Mod. 2 MGS is a remote-controlled weapons system mounting the 25mm M242 auto cannon, with a 2.5km range to defend the ship against small, fast surface threats. Although this can be considered as a Close-in Weapons System (CIWS), it is not designed to shoot fast aircraft and incoming anti-ship missiles like the Phanalx.
|The BAE Mk.38 Mod.2 25mm MGS are to be installed on the Gregorio del Pilar-class frigates, and probably with other upcoming naval assets.|
Photo taken from Wikipedia.
The gun systems are reportedly now with the PN, and were originally planned to be installed on the BRP Ramon Alcaraz, but the decision to shift to the leadship was made by the PN leadership. Any plans to install the same weapons to the PF-16 means that the PN would made an order with the US government, possibly under the US Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program similar to how the 2 earlier guns were acquired. No definite new orders were made yet, although MaxDefense expects the PN to acquire not just 2 MGS, since the upcoming new frigates and Strategic Sealift Vessles (SSV) requires similar systems as well. A bulk buy might be the course for the PN.
MaxDefense sources also confirmed that the PN is "strongly interested" in acquiring the Raytheon Phalanx CIWS for the Gregorio del Pilar-class an "a number of other ships". The Phalanx is the US Navy's premier short range hard kill system against anti-ship missiles and aircraft, and uses a 20mm 6-barrel M61 Vulcan gatling gun. It is the best CIWS system that can be fitted to the Gregorio del Pilar-class, as they were previously armed with this one each, but was removed as it was not part of the deal between the Philippine and US governments for the transfer of the ships to the PN. The Phalanx does not require lengthy deck penetration works, allowing for easy installation and avoid costly modifications.
|The Raytheon Phalanx mutli-barrel CIWS is eyed by the PN for its major naval assets.|
Photo taken from Wikipedia.
The PN's decision was due to considerations for ship survivability issues, as the greatest threats they expect to face would probably be from anti-ship missile attacks from surface, air, or sub-surface platforms, or torpedo attacks from submarines. Should they be acquired for the Gregorio del Pilar-class, the Phalanx would probably be installed on the ship's aft where the US Coast Guard previously installed a similar CIWS. The PN has even included the Phalanx in its training systems, including the new multi-mission tactical simulator, as an integral weapons system of the frigate.
The PN has long announced its desire to arm the frigates with anti-ship missiles (AShM) which would give them a long range striking capability against hostile surface assets. Surprisingly, the PN has not yet made a final decision on this part, even if they made their announcement of plans to acquire such systems as early as 2012. According to MaxDefense sources, the PN's top choise is the US-made Boeing RGM-84 Harpoon missile system, although they are also open to use alternative missile systems offered by other countries, with special mention of those from Israel.
|A Harpoon missile launched from the Australian frigate HMAS Warramunga. A similar system may find its way to the PN's Gregorio del Pilar-class frigates.|
Photo taken from Seaforces.org.
The Gregorio del Pilar-class is not a stranger to the Harpoon missile system as well, with the ships fitted by the USCG with the said system a few decades ago as part of their capability improvement in support of the US Navy during the late part of the Cold War. These were removed when the USCG's mission profile did not require the missiles, which are considered as offensive weapons. According to PN sources, their 2 frigates can easily be re-installed with the system, and will be mounted on the deck space between the 76mm main gun and the bridge area.
|The former USCGS Hamilton (WHEC-715), now the BRP Gregorio del Pilar (PF-15), with the two quadruple Harpoon missile launchers on its deck. This is preferably the best position should the PN acquire Harpoons for the ships.|
Air Defense systems, using short range man-portable anti-aircraft missile systems, are being planned as well, although it was also learned by MaxDefense that a possible bulk-acquisition for such systems for other current PN warships is being planned. Possible recipients of such missile systems include the lone Cyclone-class inshore patrol vessel BRP Mariano Alvarez (PS-38), the entire Jacinto-class offshore patrol vessels, and the reported upcoming former ROKN Pohang-class corvette. Among those looked at by the PN are the French Mistral from MBDA, the Korean Chiron from LIG Nex1, the American FIM-92 Stinger from Raytheon, and the Russian 9K38 Igla-S (these are among the weapons systems offered by Russia recently). These missiles would be mounted on a manually-operated multiple-missile launch platforms.
Although the frigates were also previously armed with anti-submarine torpedoes, plans to acquire such weapons for the Gregorio del Pilar-class are still unconfirmed as of this writing. The PN already made an indication of interest for such, but this would probably be at the back-burner as far as up-arming programs are concerned.
Surveillance and Detection Sensors:
The PN is actually also looking at improving the "eyes and ears" of the ships by installing surveillance radar systems that can detect threats from the surface and air. Currently the ships are installed with a commercial-spec'ed navigational radar system, and are equipped with the Mk.92 Mod.1 fire control systems. Previously, the ships were equipped with the AN/SPS-40 air search radar, which were removed by the USCG before handing-over the ships to the PN.
Previous information from sources indicated that the frigate may likely receive the same radar systems being planned for the upcoming new frigates. Since the PN has not yet decided on the new frigate's would-be shipbuilder, system integrator and systems suppliers, there is no final decision yet on what the PN may be getting for the Gregorio del Pilar-class. But the chances of getting at least a 3D search radar as indicated in previous MaxDefense blog entries are high.
Installation of missile systems on the frigates may also include the installation of new fire control radar systems, which may either complement or replace the currently installed gun-only Mk. 92 Mod.1 system.
Although the PN has highlighted the importance of anti-submarine warfare in its future capability, they may not immediately provide the frigates with an inboard sonar system although there are plans to have them on the entire class. There are no word yet if the PN may opt to go for a hull-mounted system, a towed array sonar, or for both systems to be available on the ships. It is possible though, that the PN may only opt for 1 of the possible systems. It would also probably be dependent on the type on sonar system to be used on the upcoming new light frigates.
|A towed-array sonar system like the CAPTAS system (above), may be considered by the PN for upgrading the ASW capabilities of the Gregorio del Pilar-class frigates.|
Photo taken from Thales website.
The Philippine Navy has already taken steps in pursuing these plans for the Gregorio del Pilar-class frigates, and it would not take long for them to finally award these systems to respective manufacturers. The PN and DND may opt to directly negotiate for the acquisitions, either through a Government-to-Government (G2G) or Foreign Military Sales (FMS) deal, or a direct commercial sale depending on the source of the systems.
These upgrades would also render the ships out of action for some months from patrol duties in the West Philippine Sea and other disputed areas. So MaxDefense expects these upgrades to be carefully scheduled and will be done on a one-by-one basis. Should the PN actually get the reported donation of a Pohang-class corvette, it would be expected to take some of the burden of the frigates' missions, and its presence would enable the PN to allow at least one of the frigates to be out of service for a few months.
It would be interesting to note that the upcoming new light frigates being tendered by the Philippine Navy would have a possible strong influence on the choices of weapons and surveillance systems to be acquired for the current frigates. As an early advice for those surprised by the split of the weapons from the new light frigate acquisition program, that was nothing new and was just formality to enable the PN to acquire the system it prefers for the new frigates, while freeing up the burden from the shipbuilders. This would be further discussed on upcoming MaxDefense blog entries regarding updates on the PN Frigate Acquisition Program.
August 23, 2014:
IHS Jane's recently reported and confirmed that the PN is already preparing the weapons and electronics upgrades for the Gregorio del Pilar-class. The report specified that the PN wanted the ships to have at least the systems it had during their service with the USCG, including having the Phalanx CIWS and Harpoon anti-ship missiles.