|One of the two Bacolod City-class of the Philippine Navy. The 2 ships are currently the most significant and one of the newest amphibious naval assets of the fleet.|
Post War Surge:
Philippine Naval Patrol:
After World War II, the newly formed Philippine Naval Patrol (PNP, forefather of the Philippine Navy) acknowledges this by making priority to build-up its Amphibious and Sealift transport capabilities. Requests were made to the US government for the transfer of mothballed landing ships used during World War II, with several Landing Ships Tank (LST) and landing crafts transferred to the PNP in 1947. Some of the ships were even used to transport troops and supplies from the Philippines and Japan to South Korea in support of the Philippine Expeditionary Forces to Korea in the 1950s.
New Philippine Navy:
As the Philippine Offshore Patrol became the Philippine Navy, more former US Navy LSTs were transferred through the years. The Philippine Navy's amphibious capabilities peaked in the late 1970s, with the fleet having more than 20 LSTs, several Medium Landing Ships (LSM) and landing crafts of all sizes, and a few amphibious support vessels. All these assets were hand-me downs from the US government, or were former South Vietnamese Navy units handed-over by the US to the Philippines after escaping the fall of South Vietnam in the late 1970s.
|The Philippine Navy's landing ship tank BRP Benguet (LT-507), which was the former USN USS Daviess County (LST-692). She was launched in March 1944 and is still in active service 71 years later.|
Photo taken from Navsource.
Aside from amphibious support and transport duties, these vessels double up as patrol vessels, deployed in support of securing the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) including areas of interest like the Kalayaan Group of Islands, and for Search and Rescue Operations. They were even used as offshore helicopter landing platforms for Philippine Air Force (PAF) and Navy helicopters, as naval gunfire provider during operations near waters, and for naval blockades against rebels and terrorists escaping from military ground operations.It once had the largest amphibious warfare fleet in Southeast Asia, all together capable of deploying several brigades worth of troops and warfighting assets.
|The BRP Tausug (AT-25), a Landing Craft Utility (LCU) of the Philippine Navy. This is also a former US Navy asset handed-over to the Philippines.|
Photo taken from Wikimedia.
Decline in Amphibious Capabilities:
With the US bases in Clark and Subic permanently closed down in 1991, the continuous military support by the US government for the Philippine Armed Forces came to a halt. With this also affected the Philippine Navy's capabilities to have their ships repaired, spare parts acquired, and financial assistance to support ageing assets. One by one, most of the naval assets of the Philippine Navy, including most of its amphibious warfare fleet, were left for disrepair, and most were either cannibalized to maintain other ships or were sold as scrap.
|The BRP Davao Oriental (LT-506) in 1991. The ship was sold as scrap a few years later.|
Photo taken by Edison Sy, taken from Navsource.
|The BRP Agusan del Sur (LT-54) in 1986 when it was offered for sale.|
Photo taken by Edison Sy, taken from Navsource.
The only new asset the Philippine Navy got in the 1990s were two Logistics Support Vessels (LSV), now called collectively as the Bacolod City-class LSV, from the US government as part of their military assistance bundled with the US bases rents. This was not enough to replace dozens of assets that were retired after long years of service. Additional assets acquired in the past few years include two locally-made Large Utility Landing Crafts (LCU), now called the BRP Tagbanua and BRP Manobo.
Currently, the Philippine Navy's amphibious capabilities are far less capable than it was decades ago. Of the dozens of ex-US Navy World War II era LST, LSM, Landing Crafts Utility (LCU), only a struggling few remain in active service while only a few new assets replaced all the retired ships of the past.
Current Amphibious Warfare Capabilities of the Philippine Navy:
The PN of today have the following amphibious warfare vessels in its inventory:
Landing Ship Tank:
Only the BRP Laguna (LT-501) and the BRP Benguet (LT-507), both former US Navy World War II era tank landing ships remain in PN service. Both are becoming more difficult to maintain, as they require several dock repairs due to poor hull condition and ageing mechanical and electrical systems. Both are in working condition but require replacements very soon.
|The BRP Laguna (LT-501) docked probably in the Visayas region. 2 of the class remain in service with the Philippine Navy.|
Logistics Support Vessels:
|The BRP Bacolod City (LC-550), the lead ship of the Bacolod City-class LSV, during the at-sea phase of the Balikatan 2008 military exercises.|
Photo taken from US Navy c/o Wikipedia.
Utility Landing Crafts:
The PN operates two large utility landing crafts (LCU), both locally made but of different design. The BRP Tagbanua (AT-296) was built by Philippine Iron Construction and Marine Corporation with Propmech as its integrator. The ship was a product of a PN project for a new class of LCU that is expected to form the backbone of the intra-theater sealift capability and a cheaper alternative to the LST and LSV. Unlike the Tagbanua, the other ship BRP Manobo (AT-297), came in to service quietly and was based on a different design. Both ships are relatively new, being both being commissioned during the term of President Aquino.
|The BRP Tagbanua, the newest amphibious transport asset of the Philippine Navy.|
The PN also operates smaller utility landing crafts that were handed over by the US government decades ago. Of the many that once served the PN, only three ships remain: the BRP Subanon (AT-291), BRP Bagobo (AT-293), and BRP Tausug (AT-295). All are of the US Mark 6 design that were first put to action during World War II.
|One of the Philippine Navy's six Multipurpose Attack Craft. These are used by the PN as patrol and insertion assets.|
Looking at the Future: The Multirole Vessel Saga:
Fast forward to the mid 1990s when the AFP Modernization Act of 1995 was passed into law, part of which were the plans to acquire amphibious vessels to replace those old ones still in service with the PN. Although no specifics were made, the idea points to helicopter capable amphibious landing platforms, either a helipad-equipped landing ship tank, landing ship dock (LSD) or landing platform dock (LPD).
1990s - The Singaporean Endurance-class LST/LPD:
Plans for a helicopter capable platform was further reinforced with the Republic of Singapore Navy's introduction in the late 1990s of the Endurance-class landing ship tank, which is actually more of an LPD with an LST bow opening. The Philippine Navy sent officers to learn more about the ship as planning dictates towards something similar for its own acquisition plans.
|One of the Endurance-class LPD of the Republic of Singapore Navy.|
Photo taken from Wikipedia.
Hopes were high on a possible contract for a unit or two with ST Engineering, until lack of funding shot down the plans. The quoted pricing made by the Singaporeans moved up as the Philippine government failed to quickly act on the funding, until the PN can't afford the ship anymore. This was the first of several attempts by the PN to get its hands to a modern amphibious warfare vessel.
The PN continuously looked for ways to acquire a similar vessel but has always looked at the Endurance-class as its basis, until a cheaper alternative came along.
Late 2000s - Arroyo Administration's Multirole Vessels, and Strategic Sealift Vessel Part 1:
During the term of President Gloria Arroyo, plans were made again to acquire at least 1 Multirole Vessel (MRV), which is actually an LPD bundled together with the essential Humanitarian and Disaster Relief (HADR) and combat capable equipment which includes a mobile hospital, lorries, landing crafts and amphibious assault vehicles. Several models were taken into consideration, including the Spanish Galicia-class, the Singaporean Endurance-class, and the Makassar-class built by the Koreans for the Indonesians.
An MRV package (1 ship plus all ancillaries) was worth Php 5 billion, as set by the Department of National Defense after their own study and evaluation. Eventually the Philippine Navy planned to get two, both from South Korea possibly using a derivative of Daesun's Makassar-class design, and will be paid by Multi-Year Obligation Agreement (MYOA) which is an financial assistance plan that allows the Philippine government to pay for the product by installment for a few years.
|The PN's MRV project during the term of former president Gloria Arroyo.|
Photo taken from Timawa.net.
The plan was eventually cancelled as President Benigno Aquino III assumed office and a new policy on re-checking all deals entered by the Arroyo administration was made. The new administration believed that the MRV deal was overpriced and places the Philippine government at a disadvantage.
(More of the MRV project on the link here.)
Aside from the MRV, the Arroyo Administration also started a plan to acquire a so-called Strategic Sealift Vessel (SSV), the first time the term was used in a project. The plan calls for the acquisition of a Japanese second-hand civilian Roll-on, Roll-off (Ro-Ro) vessel for troop and vehicle transport around the archipelago and is an interim solution until an MRV will be available for the Philippine Navy. The proposal was made by the Center for Naval Leadership and Excellence, and a specific vessel was already eyed awaiting for approval and funding for the PN.
|A Japanese Ro-Ro Vessel similar to this was planned for acquisition as the initial Strategic Sealift Vessel project.|
Photo taken from MarineTraffic.com.
The project was also shelved due to the Philippine government's failure to immediately fund the project, and the eyed vessel was sold to another entity. No further attempt was made to look for another Ro-Ro vessel, and instead a new plan was made that calls for the integration of the MRV and SSV project into one, and this is what we now call the Strategic Sealift Vessel (SSV) project of the Aquino Administration.
(More of the SSV Ro-Ro on the link here)
Early 2010s - The Current Strategic Sealift Vessel:
The cancellation of the previous MRV and SSV projects paved way to a revised project, closely resembling the MRV project but without the package for ancillaries included which were decided to be acquired separately. This is now the Strategic Sealift Vessel that we know now.
Instead of a government to government route, the DND decided to hold a tender for the 2 ships with a budget of Php 4 billion. The technical specifications released were closely aligned to the Makassar-class LPD used by the Indonesian Navy. Several bidders gave interest although only ultimately only 2 entities submitted - Korea's Daesun which is the original builder of the Makassar-class, and Indonesia's PT PAL which built the Banjarmasin-class, itself a product of Daesun's technology transfer agreement with PT PAL. The Indonesian company later on won the bidding after Daesun's bid was disqualified for lack of supporting documents.
|This was said to be the final design of the Philippine Navy's SSV.|
Photo taken from kontan.co.id website.
The Philippine Navy's specs for the SSV was previously discussed in an older MaxDefense blog, with the link provided HERE. Compared to the previous MRV project, only the 2 landing crafts will remain as part of the contract, while the rest like the Amphibious Assault Vehicles were offered for bidding later on (which was won by South Korea's Samsung Techwin with the KAAV-7).
The first of class, which is still unnamed, held the first steel cutting ceremony last January 22, 2015, and the is expected to be delivered to the PN on or before May 2016. The second of the class is expected to start construction by mid-2015 and will be delivered by mid-2017. The Philippine Navy's Desired Force Mix whitepaper previously indicated the need for 4 SSVs, so it is probable that the PN will order 2 more similar ships in the future.
|Photo taken from the 1st steel cutting ceremony of "SSV-1" last January 22, 2015.|
Photot taken from suarasurabaya.net website.
Additional Used Amphibious-Capable Assets:
Aside from the two Strategic Sealift Vessels and their complementary landing crafts, the Philippine Navy were able to seal deals from friendly countries to transfer or sell their excess landing crafts.
The first that came out is from South Korea, with a donation for an unnamed landing craft utility. MaxDefense believes it is a retired Mulgae-class LCU of the Republic of Korea Navy. There are still unconfirmed news that a second unit is being requested, although the news for the Korean transfers are still shady as of this writing.
|MaxDefense believes that the Koreans will transfer one of their retired Mulgae-class LCU, similar to the photo above.|
Australian Balikpapan-class LCH:
The second batch of upcoming assets comes from Australia, with the donation of two retired Balikpapan-class Heavy Landing Crafts (LCH), the former HMAS Brunei and HMAS Tarakan. Both were donated by the Australian government and will be fully refurbished and delivered to the Philippine Navy by May 2015. In addition, the Australian government offered to sell three more retired Balikpapan-class LCH, the former HMAS Balikpapan, HMAS Wewak and HMAS Betano, with the offer accepted by the Philippine government at salvage prices.
|Several Balikpapan-class heavy landing crafts during an amphibious assault exercises under the Royal Australian Navy. The Philippine Navy will be receiving a total of 5 units.|
Photo taken from the Royal Australian Navy website.
With all these incoming assets, it's still not too late for the Philippine Navy. There are even plans to acquire more transport and amphibious assets from other countries, both new and used, due to their capability to transport goods during humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) operations. Being amphibious warfare assets, their primary mission is to bring in troops and assets by sea during combat operations, so these assets are very important for an archipelagic country like the Philippines.