Sunday, January 25, 2015

Finally, the Philippine Navy's BRP Ramon Alcaraz got its Mk.38 Mod.2 Guns

After a long wait, the Philippine Navy's BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF-16) finally got its 25mm Mk. 38 Mod. 2 close-in weapons system installed. It was reported more than a year ago that the PN's foremost naval asset will be receiving these 25mm gun weapon stations after a US report that there were 2 orders for the systems for the Philippine Navy. This is the Philippine Navy's first Mk. 38 Mod. 2 system, and the first Hamilton-class ship to have such mount.


The BRP Ramon Alcaraz in Cebu. For those with very good eyesight, the Mk. 38 Mod. 2 gun platform on the port side can be seen on this angle. It is just behind the red-colored RHIB.
Photo taken from Cebu Daily News / Inquirer.net


Since the report regarding the acquisition of this gun system involves only for 2 units, it was even anticipated that the PN would either arm one gun system each to the BRP Gregorio del Pilar (PF-15) and the BRP Ramon Alcaraz, or only 1 of the ships will have both guns. Previous statements coming from Navy officials even pointed out that the older Gregorio del Pilar was the chosen ship to get both guns, without mention if the Ramon Alcaraz will also be getting as well.


The actual Mk.38 Mod.2 gun on BRP Ramon Alcaraz. This looks like on the starboard side.
Photo taken from Geminirecon @ Timawa Forum.
The port side of the ship also shows the presence of the Mk.38 Mod.2 weapons mount.
Thanks to one of our MaxDefense reader who wants to remain anonymous, who went inside the ship and took some photos.


Rear photo of the gun showing the ammunition loading system.
Photo shared by a MaxDefense reader.


But here we now have some evidence that the BRP Ramon Alcaraz was indeed fitted with the guns. Several online social media sources, including those from MaxDefense readers who shared their photos confirming that there are indeed 2 guns in the said ship, both fitted on the midship port and starboard deck sides. The ships was available for viewing to the public as it was docked in Cebu after providing naval and air security during Pope Francis' visit in Tacloban City last week.


An Mk. 38 Mod.2 weapons system installed on a US Navy vessel.
Photo taken from Wikimedia,


It is worth noting that aside from the Oto Melara 76mm Compact main gun, the PF-16 has no other weapons before the installation of the 25mm chain guns other than several 50-caliber machine guns. Meanwhile its sistership PF-15 has two 20mm gun at the superstructure midships and a manually-operated Mk.38 Mod.0 chain gun at the ship's tail end.




The BAE-Rafael Mark 38 Mod. 2 Close-in Weapons System:

For the uninitiated, the Mk. 38 Mod. 2 gun system is a remote manually controlled 25mm gun station commonly found on US Navy ships. Produced by BAE Systems and Rafael and of Israel, two units were ordered as part of a larger order made by the US Navy. This is the newer and remote-control capable version of the Mk. 38 Mod. 0 gun system which is used by the Philippine Navy on several of its Andrada-class patrol boats, the Cyclone-class BRP Gen. Mariano Alvarez, and the secondary gun mounted on the aft of the PF-15. It uses a 25mm Bushmaster M242 chain gun and was designed to protect the ship at close range from small fast surface and slow aerial threats. US Coast Guard personnel were reportedly part of the installation team as the PN doesn't have the adequate experience to do the job on their own. For further information, MaxDefense recommends the manufacturer's website (link HERE).


A closer look of the PN's new Mk.38 Mod.2 gun mounted on the BRP Ramon Alcaraz.
Thumbs up to the PN and to our friend who went there and share these photos to us.


Each of the gun mount has its own EO system that allows the gun to be used on day & night and all weather conditions. Controls of the gun is done on a console with its own video feed screen, and the gun is trainable by joysticks. 


An example of what the Mk.38 Mod.2 control console looks like.



Aside from the Mk. 38 Mod. 2, the other remote-operated close-in weapons system the Philippine Navy currently uses is the MSI 25mm Seahawk mounted on the Jacinto-class patrol corvettes, which also uses the same 25mm M242 Bushmaster gun.

With the entry of this system into the Philippine Navy, it is expected that the same system might be acquired to arm several types of upcoming ships, including the Strategic Sealift Vessel which has already started construction and requires at least 2 mounts per ship, and the new light frigates which are being tendered. 


Other Interesting Finds on the Ship:
Aside from the installed guns, there are other points of interest that MaxDefense wants to share here:

A photo of the display console of the ship's Kelvin Hughes MantaDigital surface search and navigation radar system was also made available again. Until more capable radar systems become available for the ship, this would remain as the main eyes of the ship. 


A PN crew member discuss the use of the surface radar display console to the visitors.
Photo shared by one of our MaxDefense readers who wants to remain anonymous
.

Another interesting photo involves the shipboard AW-109 naval helicopter. It appears to be a normal now to see the helicopters paired together with the frigates. It may also be interesting to take note on how the aircraft is restrained on the flight deck when not in use. 




The AgustaWestland AW-109 Power naval helicopter on the ship's flight deck.
Photo shared by one of MaxDefense's readers.


Finally, although already confirmed before, the Philippine Navy has changed the Philippine Fleet's sub-unit's name where the frigates are assigned under their recently made restructuring program based on capability. Previously known as Patrol Force, it is now known as the Offshore Combat Force, in anticipation of the greater role the unit will undertake in the near future as more assets arrive. Its logo can been seen on the PF-16's superstructure near the Mk.38 Mod.2 guns. The other Philippine Fleet units that were also renamed as the Littoral Combat Force (formerly the Coastal Patrol Force), and the Sealift & Amphibious Force(formerly the Service Force).





With the BRP Ramon Alcaraz having its close-in gun systems, we now wait for its sistership BRP Gregorio del Pilar to have a similar weapons system, as well as for the 2 ships to get their highly-anticipated long-range surface and air search radar systems, and the defense/offensive missile systems as discussed in previous MaxDefense blog entries. With the year 2015 still in its infancy, expect more news on the upgrade of the 2 ships, especially with the impending awarding of the PN's new frigates coming very soon.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

More on the Philippine Air Force C-130T Acquisition: Is the PAF Acquiring Aerial Refueling Tanker?

The US Embassy released information last January 9, 2015 that the Philippine Air Force has completed a second inspection of two C-130T that are being offered for transfer to the aforementioned armed service. Photos from the US Embassy press release shows the Philippine officials with one of the aircraft with number 022, and was said to be in Joint Reserve Naval Air Station Fort Worth in Texas. The press release also indicated that the Philippine government, through Maj. Gen. Victor Bayani, has already signed the Letter of Offer and Acceptance signifying the approval to procure the inspected aircraft. Expected delivery was placed by 1st quarter of 2016, although no exact month was specified. 


PAF and US officials during the 2nd inspection of C-130T aircraft at Fort Worth, Texas.
Photo taken from US Embassy in the Philippines website.




Upon further checking with open sources, it appears that the said aircraft (#022) is not a US Navy aircraft C-130T as earlier expected, but is a US Marine Corps unit, with tail number 163022, and is actually a KC-130T multipurpose transport-tanker aircraft. It is also assumed that the second aircraft may also be the same type and may come from the same source. A second photo from the press release also showed the interior of one of the aircraft being inspected, and it does not have the updated glass cockpit done on the US Navy C-130T aircraft. Too bad that the photos provided by the US Embassy in the Philippines did not show the wing portion to confirm if the underwing refueling pod are still there.


More photos from the inspection of aircraft no. 022. Note the analog cockpit on the aircraft, whereas the expected US Navy aircraft were already modified to use glass cockpit types.
Photo taken from US Embassy in the Philippines website.


These KC-130T are actually former C-130H aircraft converted to be aerial refueling-capable in support of US Marines air operations. Open sources like C-130.net indicated that the 163022 was built in 1984, and was modified to be able to carry the probe-and-drogue refueling system which is currently used by the US Marines aviation assets like the F/A-18C/D Hornet and AV-8B Harrier as well as CH-53 Super Stallion large helicopter series. This is the same system used by the Saab's JAS-39 Gripen. But this system is different from those used by the F-16 Fighting Falcon and F-15 Eagle fighters, which uses the Flying Boom system. (More of these can be found in open sources for further information.)


KC-130T "022" with the wing-mounted aerial refueling system on the far end of the wings.
Photo taken from usamimi.info website.


Being KC-130T Means....
For the uninitiated readers, the "K" in the KC-130T designation means it is a tanker-capable aircraft in US military parlance. So it means the Philippine Air Force is acquiring an aerial refueling capable aircraft. BUT it doesn't necessarily mean the PAF is acquiring tanker aircraft.

What's the difference? 

The KC-130Ts (or we can currently call C-130T until further notice) might be aerial refueling-capable aircraft, but it is still unknown and unconfirmed if the deal to acquire them include having the refueling system intact and usable upon the aircraft's hand-over to the PAF. But not having the aerial refueling system does not mean the PAF cannot have them in the future. With the aircraft already made to be capable of such, any future decision by the PAF to return the aircraft to tanker-capable status is very much possible and easy, as compared to other C-130 aircraft without this current capability.


A KC-130 probe and drogue underwing refueling pod. The PAF may opt to have the aerial refueling system retained when they acquire the USMC C-130T.
Photo taken from Wikimedia.


Having them retained, which is very much possible, means that the PAF will be having an added capability of aerial refueling, a first in its history. 


How About Transport Missions?
Being a multi-purpose transport aircraft, it will retain its cargo-carrying capability for other purposes, including Humanitarian and Disaster Relief (HADR) operations. This is possible by removing the fuel tank system in the cargo hold, in which the KC-130 can easily be converted from a tanker aircraft to a standard transport aircraft, with almost the same load and space capacity as a regular C-130 Hercules. The underwing refueling pod can remain even when doing transport duties.


The KC-130's fuselage fuel tank, which can easily be carried or removed from the aircraft's cargo space to convert the C-130 from a tanker to a standard transport aircraft. This is the same unit used by the US Navy and US Marine Corps on their KC-130s.
Photo taken from ar-15.net.


Why Need for an Air Refueling Tanker Capability?
The Philippine Air Force currently has no aircraft capable of aerial refueling. But they can use the aircraft to train the organization in tanker and aerial refueling operations in anticipation of future requirements. Training early is actually good as it takes time to learn and master this system, and doing it early gives them this needed time to learn and be capable of using the system well by the time the first aerial refueling receiving aircraft arrive in PAF's inventory. This can be done by having aerial tankers participate to support US military aircraft during joint US-Philippines military exercises like Balikatan, while doing standard military and HADR transport missions. Its rapid fuel transfer system can also be used in ground operations when necessary, which can be both applicable in combat and HADR support operations.

Some of the incoming new assets for the PAF can be specified or modified to be capable of receiving fuel using probe-and-drogue aerial refueling. This includes the Airbus C-295 medium tactical transport aircraft, and probably the KAI FA-50 Fighting Eagle lead-in fighter trainers. Particularly for the FA-50 with its limitations in terms of range, endurance, and load capacity, having the capability of aerial fueling can extend its reach and enable it to carry more at long distances like in the possible conflict areas in the West Philippine Sea. Future maritime patrol aircraft (MPA), airborne early warning & control aircraft (AEWC), and multirole fighters (MRF) that the PAF aspires to acquire in the next few years can also benefit from such capabilities, especially with these assets are also expected to operate in the vast Philippine EEZ and ADZ.


With its small size, MaxDefense believes that the FA-50 Fighting Eagle must be given the capability to refuel on air, with installing a refueling probe system. It is possible that the PAF has already considered this requirement.






So, is the PAF acquiring aerial refueling tankers? Possibly, but still unconfirmed. But even if the PAF won't be getting the aircraft with the aerial refueling system intact, this is the closest they can get from having one, as making them have one is due to the inherent capability the aircraft already have for as long as support and budget is provided. So why not? Here are some examples of which platforms are compatible with the KC-130's probe-and-drogue system:


So let's see, who can use the probe-and-drogue aerial refueling system of the KC-130?
The Gripen can....


...Super Hornets also can use them....
(Photo taken from chinalakealumni.com)
...legacy F/A-18C Hornets also are compatible...
(Photo taken from Wikimedia)
...even the C-295 is OK with it!