Sunday, September 21, 2014

Philippines-France Defense Cooperation Agreement - Easing the Supply of Military Equipment for the AFP

Philippine president Benigno Aquino III's official visit to France from September 17 to 19, 2014, concluded with several discussions and deals with the French government and France-based multinational companies. In relation to defense and security, Aquino was able to push for the signing of an updated Defense Cooperation Agreement between France and the Philippines, as well as meeting with Airbus top officials.


President Aquino meets French president Francois Hollande in Paris.
Photo taken Mr. Christian Hartmann c/o Reuters.


France-Philippines Defense Cooperation Agreement (DCA)
The 2 countries already have a previous DCA and the one signed in France this week updates and further strengthen this defense agreement. This paves the way for the the French government to assist the modernization program of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), and for allowing French companies to supply the Philippines with weapons platforms, systems, and defense-related goods and services. This also allows the Philippines to tap French assistance in other defense-related issues like training and education, warship visits and military aircraft stop-overs, and others.

Previously, the Department of National Defense (DND) indicated that a DCA is important in paving the way for defense acquisitions with certain companies and governments where the supplier is based. Such examples of previous DCA signed by the Philippine with other countries are those with Canada, South Korea, Indonesia, and the United States. This paved the way for the AFP and DND to acquire military assets from the said countries, with the Bell 412 CUH and VIP helicopters from Bell Textron Canada, FA-50 Fighting Eagle jets from Korea Aerospace Industries, and Strategic Sealift Vessels from PT PAL of Indonesia.


What the French are (and possibly) offering:
Current defense acquisitions and awards made by the DND and AFP include the C-295 medium lift tactical transport aircraft from Airbus Military, based in France. Aside from Airbus Military, French or part-French companies like MBDA Systems, Thales Group, STX France, Dassault Aviation, Airbus Helicopters (formerly Eurocopter), Nexter Group, and DCNS have shown interest, are offering, or are competing for contracts to supply various defense systems to the AFP.

Airbus Military, aside from its offer to supply the Philippine Air Force's (PAF) requirement for Long Range Maritime Patrol Aircraft (LRPA), has reportedly offered "a newly designed aircraft for disaster management", which can be provided by the French government through a possible Official Government Assistance loan to the Philippine government. MaxDefense sources, and analysis of previous plans of the AFP points to an offer for 2 units of the Airbus A400M Atlas transport aircraft, which can be considered as a dual-use asset for combat support and humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) operations. MaxDefense previously tackled the need to more dual-use military assets for this requirement in a previous MaxDefense entry. Airbus has also recently won to supply the PAF with medium tactical transports with its C-295 aircraft.


Airbus was reportedly offering the A400M Atlas to the Philippines through the French government assistance.


STX France is one of the shipbuilders qualified to bid to construct the Philippine Navy's (PN) 2 new light frigates. Aside from that, STX France and other French shipbuilders like DCNS are offering or preparing for a possible tender for the long awaited Offshore Patrol Vessel requirement and other combat and support vessels for the Philippine Navy.


DCNS and other French shipbuilders are interested in upcoming projects for the Philippine Navy. Photo above shows DCNS' Gowind-class Offshore Patrol Vessel design.


MBDA Systems are currently offering assorted missile systems to the Philippine Navy for their upcoming and current naval and air assets, the Philippine Air Force, and to the Philippine Army (PA) for air defense systems. According to MaxDefense's PN sources, MBDA has a strong chance of getting some or all the missile system requirements for the upcoming new frigates. MaxDefense believes that the offers include the MM40 Exocet anti-ship missile, and any of their 3 naval anti-aircraft missile systems: the Mistral short range man-portable air defense missile, the vertical launch (VL) version of the longer ranged Mica missile, and the newer Common Anti-Air Modular Missile system (CAMM).

The Mistral is also being offered to provide air defense systems for the PN's current major naval assets; and the Lightweight Multirole Missile and Sea Viper for their AW109 Power naval helicopters and the upcoming ASW helicopters. They are also offering the Exocet anti-ship missile coastal battery version and Mistral to the PA for their missile system requirements. The PAF was also being offered to use the air-launched version of the Exocet missile for its upcoming LRPA acquisition.


A computer generated illustration of an AgustaWestland AW159 Wildcat fitted with both the Lightweight Multirole Missile (LMM) and the Sea Viper missile.
Photo taken from IHS-Jane's website.


The Thales Group has been also actively involved in offering its defense and security products, mostly on electronics, radars, sensors and surveillance systems, command and control systems, system integration and subsystems. It is involved and actively pushing its products for several of the AFP's current and upcoming projects, including the PAF's LRPA, surveillance systems, and aircraft subsystems; PN's new frigates & SSV, and ship upgrades for its current assets, GHQ-AFP and PA's C4ISR and battlefield radars system, and many others.


Thales' Captas towed array sonar might be one of the products being offered to the Philippine Navy.


Aside from new defense systems, the agreement paves the way for the French government to also possibly offer excess defense articles to the AFP. As a major military power that is experiencing some economic downhill like other European countries , it is expected that France has a lot of EDAs or systems that are about to be taken out French military service that they can offer at a lower price or as grants should the Philippines not be able to afford brand new systems.



A Georges Leygues-class frigate, which are to be withdrawn from French Navy service as more Aquitaine-class (FREMM) frigates come online. Used ships like this can boost the Philippine Navy's combat fleet in the face of Chinese aggression.
Photo taken from Wikipedia. 


This deal definitely helps the Philippine government pursue its plans to modernize the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and provide a closer defense relationship between the two republics.




Airbus A400M Atlas being offered?:


Comparing the 3 foremost large transport aircraft of the Western world: the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III (left), the Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules (middle), and the Airbus Military A400M Atlas (right).
Photo taken from Key Publishing website.


This can be considered as a surprise move by Airbus and the French government. If confirmed as offered through official French government loans, this could actually be a win-win situation both for the Philippines and France for several reasons. Aside from the announced reason of assisting the Philippine government in increasing and improving its HADR capability, the move can actually be considered as both economically and politically for the French government for the following reasons:

1. Accepting the offer means a successful sale for France. By loan or not, the Philippines will still be paying for them, thus can still be considered a positive economic news and export for France and Airbus. This will definitely make a small share of revenue and jobs for France. 

2. With lowered sales numbers for the A400M from its original buyers like Spain, Germany and the UK, and South Africa cancelling their previous orders, Airbus and the French government together with its partners are looking for ways to find other customers to acquire the aircraft and re-build the numbers it needs. Getting the Philippines to join its current customers is one way of reducing the burden of reduced sales and growing unit costs to cope up with the projected profit and cover development costs of the aircraft. If France decides to offer those it previously committed to buy but decided to cancel, it definitely helps France to share its burden to the Philippines.

3. Getting more customers to have A400M in their inventories will help market the aircraft further to other countries. This is a proven sales strategy that is also applicable to military aircraft. Being considerably more expensive than the smaller Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules and the soon available Embraer KC-390 from Brazil, only a few countries showed actual interest on the Atlas. Making it easy for countries to afford the aircraft by providing financial assistance may help increase the the number of users of the A400M. 

4. Airbus might be betting that having the A400M in PAF's inventory will definitely allow the Airbus to possibly get additional orders later on should the PAF replace the legacy C-130 Hercules in its fleet, or if money becomes a non-issue to enlarge the heavy transport fleet from its current numbers. 

5. The deal gives France the moral and political vote of confidence and support from the Philippine government and its people, while also gaining positive points to President Francois Hollande, his administration, and the French people for its generosity. 


If France really wanted to just assist the Philippines to have a reasonable capability to airlift goods and services during HADR operations, there are several other alternatives they could have offered instead of the hulking A400M. For ODA, they can offer the Airbus Military C-295 transport aircraft similar to what what the PAF ordered recently, although technically the C-295 is more of a Spanish product (being from CASA, now part of Airbus Military). France can also offer larger helicopters than what the PAF currently uses like the Airbus Helicopters EC725 Super Cougar which have good range and capable of airlift operations from hard to reach areas, although these are also expensive. The French government could also provide alternative means to aid the Philippines aside from ODA, like granting retired but still usable and immediately available assets like ex-Armee de l'Air C-160 Transall transport aircraft or Puma helicopters. 


Instead of the Airbus A400M, why not more of the smaller, more practical and already upcoming Airbus C-295? Although being a Spanish product, the French may prefer to sell something that they really can say as theirs.

Whatever the real reason is, the A400M is still a well-desired asset of any air force, and having them in PAF service is better than nothing at all. 



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MaxDefense is happy to report to its readers that it reached 2 million views last September11, 2014, or after 16 months and 9 days from its beginning. Thank you for your continued support of MaxDefense blogs!!
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UPDATES:
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September 22, 2014:
To clarify MaxDefense readers: Official Development Assistance (ODA) is not applicable to warfighting equipment. It is only applicable to promote economic development and welfare assistance. HADR operations can be considered a welfare assistance, thus only dual-use military equipment can be considered, which includes airlifters like the Airbus A400M. Fighter aircraft, frigates, and the like can't be considered for ODA loans.

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September 26, 2014:
MaxDefense realized that there are a lot of readers who are not familiar with the Airbus Military A400M Atlas. With this, MaxDefense refers you to these websites for further reading:

- Airbus Defense and Space website (official Airbus website for A400M)
- Military Factory website;
Global Security website;
- Military Today website;
- Flight Global website (news related to A400M)

MaxDefense suggests its readers to read more about the aircraft, its capabilities, and comparison to other similar aircraft like the Lockheed Martin C-130B-H and C-130J, Boeing C-17 Globemaster III, etc.

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September 27, 2014:
Project Philippines strikes again, copying some of the contents of this blog almost word per word. Any idea on who runs this copycat blog? 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Philippine Navy Interested with US-made SWATH Vessel, and Proposal for Other Alternatives

News of the Philippine Navy showing interest in an Alaskan borough-owned ferry has surfaced recently on several defense forums and groups after news reports from Alaska identified the Philippine Navy as one of the possible buyers. Currently the Matanuska-Susitna (Mat-Su) Borough owns the said vessel, M/V Susitna, and wanted to sell it off.


M/V Susitna during operational testing. Note the cargo hold is lifted during normal cruising.
Photo taken from Vigor Industrial website. 


The M/V Susitna:
M/V Susitna is actually a half-scale prototype for a proposed  Expeditionary Landing Craft (E-Craft) requirement for the US Navy, and was made by Alaska Ship & Drydock using a design from Guido Perla & Associates and concept from Lockheed Martin for the Office of Naval Research in 2010, and costed $78 million to build. It was reportedly planned as a "3-in-1" vessel, being a High Speed Catamaran that uses the SWATH (small waterplane area twin hull) design, with a variable draft system that allows the ship to shift from SWATH mode to barge mode by lowering or raising the center deck which carries the cargo, using an advanced hydraulic system. The ship was also designed with icebreaking capability (the first icebreaking SWATH ship in the world), and has the capability to beach and used on unprepared docks.


The MV Susitna is beachable, which is very important for use on damaged or unprepared docks.
Photo taken from gCaptain website.


Basic specifications of the ship are as follows:
Crew: 5 men
Range: 800nmi @ 16 knots, 1,600nmi @ 10 knots;
Length (overall): 59.54 meters;
Beam (overall): 18.29 meters;
Design Draft: 3.66 meters;
Design Displacement: 940 long tons (955 metric tons);
Maximum Speed: 20 knots;
Propulsion: 4 x MTU 12V4000 M70 (2,435hp each) Diesel Engines;
Radars: Kelvin Hughes Manta 30kw S-band, 10kw X-band;
Depth Sounders: Furuno FE700 echo sounder

The ship's payload details are as follows:
Center Barge (cargo hold): 160' x 35', approx. 5,400ft²  (around 501m²)
Capacity: 35 tons normal load
 * 129 passengers plus 20 standard vehicles or 1 tractor-trailer rig
 * No passenger, 1 M1A1 Abrams tank or multiple smaller combat vehicles


The lower and upper deck plans of the M/V Susitna.
Drawing taken from Mat-Su Borough Purchasing Division RFI document.


Most on the ship's basic specifications can be seen on the link HERE:

Although the ship was being evaluated by the US Navy, it was intended to be used as a civilian ferry for a local Alaskan government unit and service between the city of Anchorage to Port MacKenzie. But the ferry project failed and the ship was left with the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, who currently maintains it until a buyer can be found. It is reportedly being sold for only $6 million, just enough to help the borough pay for their bills and free them of maintenance costs.


The M/V Susitna before launching from Alaska Ship & Drydock's facility in 2010.
Photo taken from Valor Industrial website.


Enter the Philippine Navy:
MaxDefense has been monitoring this development for some time, and so far no confirmation was made by the Philippine Navy or the Philippines' Department of National Defense if they will acquire the vessel or not. So far PN sources confirmed that they have sent representatives to Alaska to inspect the vessel together with US Navy representatives last August 29, 2014. No word yet regarding their findings and evaluation. The presence of US Navy representatives might mean that the ship could be acquired with US Navy or government partcipation either through FMS, or will be possibly be shouldered by the US government under a US defense grant or part of its annual defense aid it gives to the country. No confirmation though on how the acquisition will be done should there be an agreement between the PN and the US government.

According to the PN sources, they are looking at the vessel due to its versatility and capability to deliver men and materiel directly to the beach, or on unprepared docks which are essential features of a capable transport ship during peacetime Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) operations and military and civilian supply missions, and in support of wartime amphibious operations. Aside from the ship's capabilities, the reported $6-8 million pricetag plus logistics support, training and other expenses, with regards to the technology it possess and its age (the ship is only 4 years old and was barely used), was a major factor of the PN's interest on the ship. Also, the PN sources confirmed to MaxDefense that the budget to acquire the ship, should it happen, will be from other sources and not from the AFP Modernization program. 

It should be remembered that the DND and AFP are looking to increase their HADR capability during the aftermath of the back-to-back disasters the Philippines faced in 2013 (Typhoon Haiyan and Bohol Earthquake), with calls for the AFP to have better capability to quickly respond to emergencies. The situation in the Kalayaan Group of Islands, with the absence of prepared docks and presence of Chinese Coast Guard patrol vessels, make the ship an effective platform for resupply missions. This vessel, if acquired, will be one of these dual-use equipment that can immediately be delivered to the PN should a confirmation be made soon. 


Parts of Samar were destroyed after Typhoon Haiyan hit the island. Unprepared or damaged docks, or beaches similar to that shown in the photo, can still be serviced by ships like the M/V Susitna.


Aside from the PN, there are many other interested buyers on the ship, mostly private corporations and oil companies, so a decision to acquire the ship or not will probably be made in a few months.


MaxDefense's Analysis:
The ship is actually cheap for the technology and capability it possess: a variable geometry, variable draft transport ship that is beachable, with ice breaking capability, and speeds of 20 knots, and almost new and barely used for $6 to 8 million (probably without transfer and other ancillary expenses). Findings during inspection of 3rd party valuation inspector found the ship in excellent condition. And best of all, it is readily available for transfer to whoever buys it. It would be best to compare the ship to its nearest equivalent to the Philippine Navy: the BRP Tagbanua (AT-296).


The BRP Tagbanua (AT-296) (above), the PN's newest transport asset, is the best platform to compare the M/V Susitna as they have almost comparable capabilities.


1. Price and Age:
The M/V Susitna originally costs $78 million in US taxpayer's money to construct, and they're selling it between $6 to $8 million ++ after 4 years of moored in cold Alaskan waters, barely used only for tests and trial runs, and for maintenance. The BRP Tagbanua was acquired by the Philippine Navy for a contract price of Php 178,900,000.00 (around $4.2 million in 2011). Both are almost the same age, with the M/V Susitna only more than a year older, still quite young for a used vessel. Based on this, the Alaskan ship is actually cheap considering that the price is not much different from the locally made and less technologically advanced BRP Tagbanua. It is also worth noting that Tagbanua is also actually cheap if compared to similarly but foreign built vessels of the same class.


Looking at the recent photo of the M/V Susitna above, it really does look immaculate.


2. Speed, Range, and Sea State Level:
The design of the M/V Susitna's hull was supposed to cut through the water more efficiently than standard transport ships, the Tagbanua included. The Susitna's maximum speed of 18 knots is barely higher than the Tagbanua's designed maximum speed of 15 knots, although it is expected that the twin-hull design of the US-made ship is more stable and less drag than the PN's LCU. The catamaran has a designed range of 1,600nmi @ 10 knots and is certified to operate to up to Sea State 3 although there were claims that the ship operated well in higher sea states. No range and sea state certification was found for the AT-296, although it is expected to be in the same range as the catamaran.

3. Payload:
This is where the M/V Susitna fails to beat the BRP Tagbanua. While the Susitna has a larger cargo deck of 501m² compared to the Tagbanua's 250m², the LCU beats in payload capacity as it can carry up to 110 tons of cargo versus the catamaran's measly 35 tons. With the catamaran having a higher displacement than the LCU, the design of heavy icebreaking hull is actually be a disadvantage since there's no use for this capability in tropical waters, while increasing the total weight of the ship and reducing its payload capacity as well.


The BRP Tagbanua's cargo deck is narrow and smaller than that of the M/V Susitna, yet it can carry heavier equipment unlike the catamaran. But the Susitna's capacity is good enough to carry lighter loads.
Photo taken from Rappler.


In this case, the Susitna may not be a good transport vessel for heavy equipment like tanks and bulldozers, although it could be a good asset to carry light vehicles and relief goods, or using the large deck to transport people for short distances. 

4. Fuel Efficiency, Maintenance:
The heavier M/V Susitna is powered by four 2,400hp MTU 12V4000 M70 engines, while the 40% lighter BRP Tagbanua is driven by a single Caterpillar CAT C32 ACERT 1,600hp diesel engine. You decide who drinks more fuel.

With more mechanical parts than a standard military or civilian transport ship, plus the vaunted advanced hydraulic lifting system for the cargo hold, it is also expected that the M/V Susitna may require more maintenance checks, spare parts, and a more complicated maintenance program that equates to more costs. 


Conclusion:
The M/V Susitna is a very nice ship to have, with technological features and extra capabilities that the PN might be happy to have. Technology-wise, having it means access for the PN to study for its self-reliance programs, and with the ship already awaiting a buyer, it is actually the best to have if the need is very immediate. In the case of the PN, they might be in a hurry to acquire an HADR-capable vessel very soon as the super typhoon season is fast approaching. 

Politically speaking, it is also worth looking at the US Navy's involvement in the acquisition. While we do not know how the PN intends to acquire the ship should they be interested, the US Navy might be instrumental to the acquisition, and it might be possible that they would grant the ship just to help the Mat-Su Borough get though with the pain of paying for its continuous upkeep without generating anything for the local government unit.

But it is also worth considering the PN's track record in terms of paying for acquisition and maintenance expenses. At the reported offer price, it is actually cheap, and the national government may already have the budget ready and only awaiting for the PN's approval. But the expected maintenance cost, coupled with the possible high operating cost might be a strong reason for the PN to decline the offer. MaxDefense's proposal is for the PN to only maximize the use of this ship in emergency situations, where money is not an issue when time is of the essence and lives are at stake.

MaxDefense believes that the PN should study this offer very well, although they must do it fast as there are many other possible candidates who might be willing to acquire the ship. 


The Australians have started taking out their Balikpapan-class heavy landing crafts. The PN could take them in if they are still in good condition.
Photo taken from Wikipedia.


Other proposals include the acquisition of other readily-available assets from other sources. The Australians have recently decommissioned their Balikpapan-class heavy landing crafts, which could be sold for cheap due to their age, while the Koreans have already started disposing some of their older landing crafts, with one example already reportedly recently donated to the PN. Also, it is expected that the Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN) is about to take-out some of their Go Jun Bong-class landing ship tanks to give way to newer ships that are coming in soon. The PN should take advantage of these assets not only to for HADR operations, but also to replace the already delapidated World War II US-made LSTs sisterships of the BRP Sierra Madre that the PN continues to operate. For long term, the PN must continue to acquire new LCUs similar to its BRP Tagbanua, which is said to have some identified flaws that could be rectified in newer derivatives of the ship class.


The PN is scheduled to receive a used Korean-made Landing Craft Utility from the ROKN. There are more of these in ROKN's stocks that are expected to be taken out of service very soon.
The PN should also take a closer look at the Korean Go Jun Bong-class LST to replace the PN's WW2-era LSTs. These are good long term solutions to replace old PN transport assets.
Photo taken from Wikipedia.


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UPDATES:
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September 7, 2014:
A recent news report from the Alaska Dispatch News indicated that the Mat-Su Borough is really in a hurry to dispose the M/V Susitna due to mounting upkeep expenses, and is hoping that the recent visit by Philippine Navy officials will bear fruit. Due to the ship being a previous project by the US Navy, it is expected that any acquisition of the ship by foreign governments may require it to be done through their supervision. 

It was also indicated that should the PN acquire the ship, it would be modified from a day-only vessel to an asset that has provisions for all-day operations, including enclosed passenger compartments for troops or civilian evacuees. This means that the costs of acquiring the ship may go up from the original $6 million, with the additional costs going to logistics support and spare parts, training of ship crew and maintenance teams, modifications based on Philippine Navy requirements, and shipping from Alaska to the Philippines. MaxDefense believes that this would probably double the total acquisition cost of the ship.