The project is actually divided into 2 lots: Lot 1 involves the acquisition of the boat itself, considered to be good enough as a regular MPAC, and Lot 2 is for the acquisition of a remote weapons system (RWS) and a missile launching system. More of Lot 2 will be discussed later on, in the meantime, MaxDefense will focus on the current project, which is Lot 1.
The Multi-Purpose Attack Craft:
The Multi-Purpose Attack Craft (MPAC) is a fast boat used by the PN for different missions, which includes insertion and extraction of troops, maritime patrol, maritime law enforcement, and other purposes that the PN finds the boats capable of doing. Currently the PN has six MPAC in its arsenal, divided into 2 sub-classes. Being minor assets, they are not named in the PN fleet, but are only know according to their hull number. Based on the PN's hull numbering system, the boats are currently designated as Assault Landing Crafts with designation as "BA".
The current classes of MPAC in the PN are around 15 to 17 meters long, has a maximum speed of around 40 to 4 knots using
|The first ship of class of the MPAC Mk. 1, BA-482, during tests.|
Photo taken from the Philippine Navy's website.
|The first ship of the MPAC Mk. 2, BA-485, during the presentation to the media a few years ago.|
The first sub-class, locally known as the "MPAC Mk. 1", consists of hull number BA-482, BA-483, and BA-484, are designed and built for Filipino company Propmech Corporation by their subcontractor Lung Teh Shipbuilding Co. Ltd. of Taiwan, with propulsion system, fit-out, local sales,and support provided by Propmech. It is 15 meters long, has a maximum speed of 40 knots, and is entirely made of aluminum.
|The MPAC Mk. 1's plan and cross section details.|
Photo taken from Lung Teh Shipbuilding Co. Ltd's product brochure.
A second sub-class locally know as "MPAC Mk. 2", consists of hull number BA-485, BA-486 and BA-487. They are physically bigger at 17 meters long, and has improved performance like a higher maximum speed of 45 knots. It also made modifications to address shortcomings found on the Mk. 1 like position of gun mounts and access, aerodynamic design, location of ballistic protection armor, and other minor issues. Like its predecessor, the Mk.2 boats were also designed and made by Propmech and Lung Teh.
|The MPAC Mk. 2's plan and cross section details.|
Photo taken from Lung Teh Shipbuilding Co. Ltd.'s product brochure.
Both sub-classes are armed with a single 12,7mm M2 machine gun and two M60 7,62mm machine guns, with the smaller guns positioned frontward. The Mk.2 also has an improved field of fire as compared to the Mk. 1, with the machine guns moved to a higher position near the boat's bridge.
The PN's MPAC Mark 3:
With the continuous experience gained by the Philippine Navy in using both 2 different types of MPACs in service, it was able to again come up with a redesign of the type, with a few changes on the MPAC Mk. 2, and additional weapons and sensors systems that will further expand the role of the MPAC from merely an insertion and patrol platform, into a small surface combatant.
Based on the Technical Specifications released by the DND, the changes include improvements on the safety features and ballistic protection, at the same time the installation of 12.7mm heavy machine gun in a remote weapons stations (RWS), plus a missile launching systems that will be provided separately by the Philippine Navy. Doing so means increasing the loading capacity the boats can carry while retaining the same agility and performance as the regular MPACs. This might be possible with the reduced required passenger capacity for the boarding team from 20+ men to just a minimum of 8 men. Although more can be made, it would probably be used by the designers as basis, as increasing the capacity to more than 8 men means increasing the design of the boat.
The reduced boarding team capacity also means using the space for the RWS and its operators, and storage for ammunition. This also means the troop insertion will become a minor role for the boats, as it becomes closer to a small fast missile craft rather than an MPAC.
The increased ballistic protection may include adding more armoring on locations that previously do not have this feature. It may also mean increasing the armor plate thickness, or improving the slope or material used on locations that were already armored in the MPAC Mk. 2, thus increasing the total weight of the boat without passengers and crew.
Use of Remote Weapons Stations and Missile Launching System: The installation of the remote weapons systems, which was rated to be weighing only a maximum of 800 kilograms, which appears to be a single system that will both carry and integrate a 12.7mm heavy machine gun and missile launching system. MaxDefense believes that the DND & PN are actually leaning on having Rafael's Mini Typhoon stabilized naval RWS gun-missile mount. Including the ammunition, the total weight of the ammo and weapons system is 1,500 kilograms.
|The Rafael Mini Typhoon naval RWS mount as shown with a Spike missile launcher.|
Photo snipped from Rafael Mini Typhoon brochure.
This RWS system can be mounted with a Philippine Navy-standard Browning M2 machine gun, and Rafael's own Spike ER or Spike NLOS surface to surface missile, which has a navalized variant. If this would be the choice, MaxDefense hopes that the DND and PN choose the NLOS variant of the missile, which has a reported maximum effective range of 25 kilometers as opposed to the Spiker ER which only has an effective range up to 8 kilometers.
Not only Spike NLOS a better weapon than the Spike ER, it is also a missile that can be used by the Philippine Navy for other purposes. With the PN also embarking to acquire a naval helicopter with anti-surface and anti-submarine capabilities, the Spiker NLOS can be a good candidate. It is further bolstered by the PN's possible choice of the AgustaWestland AW159 Wildcat helicopter, which was also chosen by the Republic of Korea Navy with the capability to fire the Spike NLOS. That makes 2 possible platforms where the Spike NLOS can be used.
|The Spike NLOS missile from Rafael.|
Aside from a RWS mounting, the boat will still feature at least 2 manually-operated machine gun mounts for 7.62mm general purpose machine guns, probably on the same location as those found at the MPAC Mk. 2.
Requirement to be Locally Made:
The PN has been the most interested armed service to have its assets built locally, in line of its goal of partial self-sufficiency as part of its long term goals. A requirement for the project are for bidders to build the boats locally, unlike the earlier MPACs that were actually built aborad (Mk.1 was built in Taiwan, and it is still unclear if Mk.2 was built locally by Propmech, or was built in Taiwan by Lung Teh Shipbuilding for Propmech).
The size of the boats are reasonable enough to be built locally, as it does not represent a large technological leap for local shipbuilders. As a country that is considered the 4th largest shipbuilding country in the world, it is expected that this should be attainable with high degree of success and quality.
Is it the Platform Best for use in the West Philippine Sea?
The MPAC has shown its versatility in several occassions, as a troop insertion and special operations boat, as an inshore patrol boat, and as a fast search and rescue platform. But it will always be limited by its size in many capabilities, like in the sea state it is going to operate, the range and endurance in operation, weapons and load it can safely and optimaly carry, and in the comfort in which the crew can operate.
Arming the boat with a missile system may represent a leap of capability for the Philippine Navy, but this technological capability can only be used on threats that are inshore or within a few kilometers away from land. It can't be used well to operate in offshore waters with high sea state, and where most of the armed threats the country is facing can be found.
The missile system it may use is a good one, but is small and not enough to really stop large patrol vessels or frigate-sized ships the neighboring countries are fielding in case a shooting war starts. The missile system is designed for lower ranges and will need the missile MPAC to get close to its target, and if the target is a missile armed corvette or frigate, it would definitely be fired upon first several kilometers away before the MPAC reaches its optimal launching distance.
In short, the missile-armed MPAC is not optimized for the West Philippine Sea.
For the West Philippine Sea and other offshore threats, it would still be best for the Philippine Navy to invest on vessels that are at least designed to operate in high sea states without degradation of the weapons and sensor system's performance, and has enough size and endurance to stay longer and carry a larger, more powerful anti-ship missile system.
So is the MPAC Mk.3 a Bad Investment?
Not really. After all these shortcomings, MaxDefense does not discount the plan to arm its latest generation MPAC with missiles. The boats can be a good platform to use in patrols near the borders between the Southern Philippines and Sabah, where pirates and illegal activity has always been rampant. Its speed and size can be of good use in this area, and it can easily be based on the thousands of small islands with ease.
The Philippine Navy needs more small patrol boats and MPACs to guard its southern corridors, while it would be best for the Philippine Coast Guard and the Philippine National Police Maritime Group to patrol the archipelagic waters of the country.
Another suggestion of using the MPAC is operating from the Kalayaan Group of Islands. But the lack of a decent port facility in any of the islands occupied by the Philippines might be detrimental to this plan. But having missile armed MPACs ready for deployment once these facilities are available is better than having nothing at all.
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So far, the last publicly announced communication made by the DND regarding the Lot 1 of this project is the temporary suspension of the project until further notice. But MaxDefense believes that this project has only hit a temporary issue that has also affected several other projects of the AFP Modernization Program.
MaxDefense is hopeful that the government will finally clear all the obstacles hindering the DND and PN from continuing the program to acquire its needed equipment, including this latest MPAC endeavor.