Friday, May 29, 2015

Updates on the PAF's Long Range Patrol Aircraft Acquisition - It looks like the P-3C Orion afterall

Since the failure of the 1st bidding attempt for the Philippine Air Force's (PAF) Long Range Patrol Aircraft (LRPA) acquisition project, the Department of National Defense (DND) has not restarted the bidding for a second attempt, which is the most possible direction the DND would be going to. None of the possible bidders made it through the submission of bids, even after Elbit Systems and IAI Elta, both from Israel, submitted their Motion for Reconsideration for the DND to consider their bids.

The other contenders for the project were Saab Asia Pacific, L3 Mission Integration, Lockheed Martin, PT Dirgantara Indonesia, and CASA-Airbus Defense and Space. This project and bid failure was previously discussed in an older MaxDefense blog entry's update section dated August 11, 2014 (bottom part).

With China's aggressive expansion in the West Philippine Sea, including the Kalayaan Group of Islands and the Philippines' own Exclusive Economic Zone, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has been dependent on the limited surveillance capbilities of the PAF's Fokker F-27 Friendships, C-130 Hercules, and N-22B Nomads, as well as the Philippine Navy's BN-2 Islander fixed wing aircraft. All of these are not designed for maritime patrol and surveillance and are actually tactical transport aircraft. Aside from these assets, the AFP has become dependent on the information provided by the US military through the US Navy's P-3C Orion and P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircrafts. Both types are rotationally stationed at Clark Air Base in Pampanga in support of maritime patrols at the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea area.


The Lockheed P-3C Orion is currently the most prolific MPA asset of the US Navy.



Without a truly capable maritime patrol surveillance capability, this type of aircraft has become one of the most sought-after equipment for the AFP Modernization Program. With the recent updates on the policies of the United States government, as well as other friendly countries like Japan and Australia, other options have been made available to the DND & AFP to fill-in this requirement. But one thing is certain: all options from these countries revolve around the Lockheed P-3C Orion MPA.


Previously the PAF operated F-27MPA Maritime Patrol Aircraft like the one shown above, but were retired only after a few years after losses and lack of maintenance.



The Lockheed P-3C Orion:
Ever since the PAF sought for a replacement for its Fokker F-27MPA Maritimes in the late 1980s, they have always been fixated at the possibility of acquiring the Lockheed P-3 Orion from the Americans. This was especially true they try to compare themselves with other American allies in the Western Pacific region like South Korea, Japan, Thailand, Australia and New Zealand, who all have this aircraft in their inventories. The aircraft's ruggedness and flight performance, proven surveillance capabilities, compatibility and interoperability with the Philippines' main ally and strategic partners made it a very logical choice.


Among other ASEAN militaries, only Thailand operates the P-3 as its primary MPA asset.
Photo copyright Analayo Korsakul c/o Airliners.net. 


Its surveillance systems are designed to detect and monitor surface activities, as well as detecting submarines underneath the sea. Aside from being a surveillance platform, it also has the capabilities to carry and launch US-standard anti-submarine torpedoes and anti-ship missiles, as well as depth charges which makes it an all-in-one platform for naval purposes.

Although bristling with all the bells and whistles that the PAF and PN dreams off, there are also downsides on the Orion, mainly on its airframe and design age, and operating costs. Being an aircraft model based on the 1950s Lockheed Electra turboprop airliner, the design has become out of date. And with the "Charlie" model built by Lockheed in the 1970s to 1980s, the airframes are now reaching almost 40 years old on the first batches. Its 4-engine configuration using the Allison T56, which is the same as those used by the Lockheed C-130H in PAF service, are also expected to consume more fuel than smaller, newer 2-engined aircraft like the CASA-Airbus C-295 already in service with the PAF. There were already previous reports wherein the PAF was having difficulty operating C-130s because of fuel consumption, so operating the P-3C won't be any different.

Spare parts will also be another issue, as it is only available from the US, and partly from Japan (being a licensed builder of the type), and new parts will surely be on a decline as the type is already out of production, and most major P-3 operators are already shifting to newer models like the USN and RAAF to the P-8A, and the JMSDF to the P-1. These were actually among the reasons why the DND decided to go for a public bidding process to acquire MPA for the PAF. But for some reason, the decision to reconsider the plan to acquire P-3C might mean some positive changes in the defense planning and budget allocations for the PAF recently that may not be available to the public.


An illustration of the Lockheed P-3C Orion showing its design features.




Recently, there were several news reports of the Philippine government's agreements with the US and Japanese government for military assistance including possible transfer of excess defense articles. And the most reported equipment being prioritized for transfer are P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft.


A JMSDF P-3C (left) and a USN P-3C (right) fly overhead a USN Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Houston (center) during Exercise Keen Sword 2011.
Photo taken from Wikimedia Commons.



The Main Option: US Navy Lockheed P-3C:
With the US Navy being the main user of the P-3C, and is slowly shifting to the new Boeing P-8A Poseidon to replace the old workhorse, the US is the most possible source of excess P-3C for the PAF. It is believed that this request, among with other equipment, were discussed by Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and his American counterpart Ashton Carter in Hawaii mid this week. Some DND and PAF sources told MaxDefense recently that there was a request for between 2 to 4 P-3C Orions to the Americans for use and deployment to WPS patrol missions, although it is also unconfirmed yet if it was the Americans who made the offer. They are expected to operate together with USN P-3C and P-8A aircraft based in Japan but are temporarily stationed at Clark Air Base.

The most possible option is for the Americans to transfer aircraft that are stored by the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center (AMARC) in the continental United States, and refurbish it as part of a Foreign Military Sales (FMS) deal. But there is a possibility, due to the urgency of the requirement, for the DND to push for a "hot transfer" of the aircraft, meaning a direct transfer of a servicable unit to the PAF with refurbishing to follow later on, to speed-up the process. 


USN P-3C Orions rotationally based at Clark Air Base. A hot transfer can be made by directly handing over a fully-serviceable aircraft to the Philippine Air Force while the aircraft is in the Philippines.
Photo taken from Wikimedia Commons.




The Secondary Option: Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Kawasaki P-3C Orion:
Aside from the Americans, another possible option of sourcing P-3C are those from Japan. Built under license by Kawasaki starting in 1978 up to 1997, the P-3C used by the JMSDF are said to be among the most well maintained and newest airframes in the world. Japan currently operates the second largest fleet of P-3C Orions in the world, but will be slowly shifting to the longer ranged, newer, jet powered, and homegrown Kawasaki P-1 aircraft. 

Being among the most affected by the aggressiveness of China, Japan is a more willing partner in strengthening the capability of the Philippine armed forces, in the hope that a strong AFP can be an effective force in a common goal of containing China's expansion efforts, and to be a strong partner for stability in the region. Japan has always been open in providing the necessary aid to its friendly neighbors, and with its recent changes in policy of exporting weapons and arms, the Philippines are among those expected to be on the receiving end. Recent press releases already indicated the request by the Philippine government for excess P-3C Orions from the Japanese Ministry of Defense, an indication that such possibility is becoming reachable.

It should be of important note that Pres. Aquino is scheduled to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe next week, and among those expected to be discussed is the framework on the transfer of defense equipment and technology to the Philippines.


The JMSDF is the second largest operator of the P-3C Orion. Theirs were built under license locally by Kawasaki Heavy Industries. The P-3C in the JMSDF are scheduled to be slowly replaced by the new Kawasaki P-1.
Photo taken from Wikimedia Commons.


MaxDefense sources also indicated a short term request for around 2 to 4 P-3C Orions are among those included in documents provided by the DND to Japan's Ministry of Defense of possible arms for transfer or sale to the Philippine government. But sourcing from Japan might not bear immediate fruit, due to the timing of replacing their fleet by the new home-grown Kawasaki P-1 which will not be made in a fast pace, and due to political reasons related to their recent shift of policy in defense and security. But Japanese sourced P-3C can be a very good option in the long run, as more units can be made available to the PAF, either as spares source or as additional aircraft to meet its longer term goal of having at least 6 long range MPA in the PAF's inventory.


A JMSDF P-3C Orion MPA.
Photo taken from Today's Atsugi blogsite.




The Dark Horse: Royal Australian Air Force AP-3C Orion:
A possible 3rd source of P-3 Orions can be those from Australia, another friendly country with an interest in the stability of the West Philippine Sea. The Royal Australian Air Force has already started reducing the Orion fleet and replacing it in the next few years. Their aircraft, called the AP-3C, is an upgraded version made by L-3 Communications with new mission systems, radar, and accoustic systems.

Previous reports indicated that the RAAF have retired at least 2 AP-3C aircraft at the end of 2014, and these might be available for transfer subject to approval by the Australian and US governments. Aside from the 2 retired aircraft, the RAAF is expected to retire another batch of aircraft starting December 2015 until 2016. The RAAF will start receiving their recently ordered Boeing P-8A Poseidon starting 2017, and the AP-3C are expected to be fully retired from RAAF service by 2019.

Should the 2 retired aircraft be made available for the Philippines, it would be possible to have the aircraft by next year, and could be among the fastest options available to the PAF. 



AP-3C Orion MPA of the Royal Australian Air Force.
Photo taken from Air Force Technology website.




PAF and PN Training in Modern MPA Operation:
The Philippine Air Force and Philippine Navy have been ramping up their chances in gaining experience with working on modern MPA from the US Navy, as well as the Royal Australian Air Force. The USN have been flying P-3C and P-8A from Clark Air Base for some time now, and has allowed PAF and PN personnel to go with them at several occassions. Their recent announcement to continue and even increase their sorties on maritime patrol in the WPS and SCS could also provide Philippine personnel some flight time aboard these aircraft. 

Recently, the RAAF also deployed their AP-3C to the Philippines during Balikatan Exercises 2014, and gave PAF and PN officers and men a chance to observe and learn from standard maritime and anti submarine patrols, and see the capabilities of the aircraft.


PAF personnel aboard a RAAF AP-3C Orion as observers during Balikatan Exercises 2014.
Photo taken from the Australian Defence Magazine.


Filipino officers with US Navy aircrew aboard a P-8A Poseidon aircraft during one of its patrols in the West Philippine Sea.
Photo taken from Rappler's website.



With Japan possibly trying to get access to temporarily and rotationally base some of their surveillance aircraft in the Philippines (which definitely includes the P-3C), it is not far fetched that the JMSDF would be giving PAF and PN personnel the training and experience they need in MPA operations, as part of the agreement. This is in addition to those already provided by the US Navy.



MaxDefense's Opinion:
The P-3C, although the platform is aged, is still a capable maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare platform that is at par or even exceed the capabilities of newer models like those offered to the Philippine Air Force last year. Being the standard MPA of many of the country's security and strategic partners, having them in the short and medium term goals (2015-2022) could be beneficial to meet the immediate requirements sought after by the AFP and the Philippine government as a whole. They are also the fastest possible option right now to fill-up the gaps in the capability of the Philippine military.

Being at par with modern standards, the P-3C is also a suitable bridge to build up the knowledge, experience, and capability of the Philippines and catch-up with the rest of the world, while preparing for more capable platforms in the future.

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The DND and AFP must not only look at the short and medium term goals. Ultimately, the P-3C will need a replacement by a newer and more capable model in the long term (starting 2022 and beyond), and while the P-3s are expected to serve for at least 15 more years with the PAF (as stipulated by the law), the Philippine government should not be complacent again as it did in the past when it forego a chance to replace the Fokker F-27MPA and lose the knowledge and capabilities the PAF once had.

MaxDefense would be closely monitoring the upcoming meeting between Pres. Aquino and PM Abe next week, as it might have some positive implications for this acquisition project.






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UPDATES:
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June 8, 2015:
With the visit of Pres. Aquino to Japan resulting to agreements that will help pave the way for Japan to transfer defense equipment to the Philippines, among those being touted as requested by the Philippines DND are for anti-submarine surveillance aircraft. Although unnamed, it would definitely imply to the P-3C Orion built by Kawasaki, wherein Japan has been retiring a number for quite some time now. Some press reports sourced from Japanese media also directly indicated the P-3C as offered by Japan. The reports also indicated that radar systems were also among those considered for transfer, although not much information was provided on what type.

According to MaxDefense sources, the Philippines and Japan are working for the transfer, either by grant (assistance) or heavily discounted sale, of somewhere between 2 to 4 P-3C aircraft, depending on the finalized discussions that are expected to proceed within the year. The aircraft could be sourced from earlier retired units stored in Japan, and/or from existing fleet aircraft that are scheduled to be retired either late this year or by next year through hot transfer. But be wary of erroneous posts being circulated online by some so-called defense groups that confirms the transfer of 4 P-3C from Japan. Be aware that all these are still being discussed and there is no finalized agreement yet on the proposed transfers. Until a final agreement is reached, everything discussed here can only be considered as plans and proposals.

There are worries that the US might restrict or block the transfer of the aircraft, or certain important parts or systems of the aircraft, but MaxDefense sources from the DND confirmed that the US government and Department of Defense are not expected to restirct or block the aircraft's transfer from Japan to the Philippines. In fact, the US government is also looking at providing US-built P-3C through Foreign Military Sales or Foreign Military Assistance aside from those offered by Japan. More worries are actually on the ability of the Philippine Air Force to absorb the P-3C, as the PAF (and Philippine Navy too) will need some time to train and master the operation and maintenance of the aircraft, which might be too advanced for the PAF and PN to immediately be proficient in.

Aside from P-3C, the DND is said to have included in their papers submitted to the Japanese MoD of what else could be transfered to the Philippines, which may include HADR capable equipment, which includes transport aircraft like JASDF C-130H Hercules, and JGSDF UH-1H and UH-1J Huey helicopters.


===============
June 25, 2015:
The Department of National Defense (DND) finally confirmed their intention to acquire used Lockheed P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft from Japan. These was made by the DND's spokesperson, Dr. Peter Paul Galvez, on June 25, 2015. He said that those being considered are from the excess defense article sources of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF), the operator of the P-3C in the Japan SDF.

Another news report came out within the day, sourced from an anonymous DND official, saying that the DND was interested to acquire around 4 to 6 units of ex-JMSDF P-3C Orions, a number that is far greater than what was earlier confirmed by MaxDefense sources of around 2 to 4 units. But the report's source was negative on the possible inclusion of US-made surveillance systems, particularly the anti-submarine warfare (ASW) suite which is the most important system of the aircraft, due to possible US government rejection of such transfer to the Philippine armed forces. It's absence from the aircraft system would reduce the aircraft to be only capable of surface warfare and surveillance which is a far cry from a modern maritime patrol aircraft's capability.  

MaxDefense believes that this would be a test to the Philippines' close relations with the United States, and to the meaning of being a Major Non-NATO Ally. The ASW suite is the cornerstone of the P-3C's capability, and it's absence from the aircraft system would reduce the aircraft to only be capable of surface warfare and surveillance, which is a far cry from a modern maritime patrol aircraft's capability. This would not enable the Philippines to use the aircraft to detect submarines entering its territorial, archipelagic, and EEZ waters. The only solution aside from pushing the US to allow the ASW suite's transfer is to acquire them from Japanese or other sources. This is possible, but this would definitely cost the Philippine government, and would delay the deployment of the aircraft despite the urgency because of the threat from China.

The ASW system's absence could also mean that the US does not entrust the Philippines with such capability. Considering that the P-3C is not the US military's premier maritime patrol aircraft anymore with the introduction of the newer and more capable Boeing P-8A Poseidon, this could definitely be damaging to the relationship between the allies, and could be used by those left-wing opposition groups who are against the AFP Modernization, the VFA & EDCA with the US to support their reasons to reject these agreements and push their own unhelpful cause.

Aside from pursuing the acquisition of P-3C Orions, the DND also confirmed that the Long Range Patrol Aircraft (LRPA) project for the Philippine Air Force is still a go, although the bidding could not proceed because it was among those pending due to Malacanang's decision not to abruptly sign the Revised AFP Modernization Act for reasons still not confirmed by both the DND and the Office of the President. This project is said to run astride with the P-3C Orion acquisition, alhough the concept of operating two types of MPA aircraft is still questionable.

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Philippine Navy embarks on the acquisition of missile-armed Multi Purpose Attack Craft (MPAC-M)

The Philippines' Department of National Defense (DND) has recently released the Terms of Reference for the Multi-Purpose Attack Craft (MPAC) acquisition project (Lot 1) for the Philippine Navy (PN). The Approved Budget for the Contract (ABC) is Php 270 million for 3 brand new units, The boats shall be delivered together with mission essential equipment and integrated logistics support (ILS) package for the first 2 years.

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.


Larger vessels that can carry larger missiles and can operate at deeper waters are advisable for the West Philippine Sea area, rather than using small missile-armed MPACs. The minimum size would be similar to the Korea Navy's Gomdoksuri-class fast attack craft (above), although something larger would be better.
Photo taken from Korea Defense Network website.



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.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Philippine Army to Acquire Night Fighting Systems to Improve its Night Fighting Capabilities.

On March 31, 2015, the Philippines' Department of National Defense (DND) has recently completed the pre-bid conference for the Night Fighting System (NFS) Acquisition Project for the Philippine Army (PA). The turnout of interested entities was very good, with a mixture of local and foreign companies showing up, although it is expected that not all will be participating in submitting a bid once the bid submission proceeds, depending on their capability to supply the products, meet the deadline, and meet the profit they require.

The Invitation to Bid released by the DND recently indicates that the PA will be acquiring 4,464 sets of the NFS, probably bound for the PA's Special Operations Command (SOCOM), with an Approved Budget for Contract (ABC) worth Php 1.116 billion. The winning bidder must deliver the products within 180 calendar days (6 months), consisting of Night Vision Monocular that can be mounted on helmet and individual weapon, an Infrared Aiming Device to be mounted on the weapon, and a Laser Zeroing Device for calibrating the aiming devices.


NVD product displayed by UDMC & Nivisys during last year's ADAS 2014 Defense Exhibition.
Photo taken from UDMC's website.


These system gives the infantry the capability to fight at night or in low light environments, which is crucial for Special Operations and to give superior advantage against enemy forces without such capability like the insurgency and terrorist forces operating within the country.

The Philippine Army have limited numbers of night fighting systems, and are mostly confined to the PA's SOCOM operators. Four thousand sets is enough to provide an entire brigade with the system for each operator, and enabling the PA to distribute its older systems to other field units that may require such equipment.




1. Nightline Inc.
The Texas-based company is no stranger to the DND and Philippine Army. They previously supplied the PA with 2,351 M914A monocular night vision devices for the Special Operations Command. The M914A is a variant of the US military-spec AN/PVS-14 which is the most common NVD in the US military today.

It is expected that Nightline will be offering their most common products: for the Night Vision Monocular, they might offer either the NL914A (which is similar to the M914A they supplied before), or their newer NL914B which can be powered by either 3 standard 1.5V AA batteries, or a single 3V CR123 battery.


Nightline's NL914B, which is an enhanced version of the types used by the PA's SOCOM.
Photo taken from Nightline's website.


For the Infrared Aiming Device, they currently offer 3 types, the DBAL-A2, DBAL-A3 and the DBAL-I2. The DBAL-A2 is the same as the US Military AN/PEQ-15A), while the DBAL-A3 is an enhanced version which includes dual remote cable ports. Meanwhile, the larger DBAL-I2 is an older model, a variant of the US Military AN/PEQ-2A which is being used by the Philippine Army.


Nightline's DBAL-A3 infrared aiming device.
Photo taken from Nightline's website.


For the Laser Zeroing Device, Nightline offers the MBS-AA & MBS-1WE borelights. The MBS-AA is more suitable for rifles and machine guns, while the smaller MBS-1WE is applicable for pistols and rifles.

MaxDefense expects Nightline to offer the NL914B, DBAL-A2, and the MBS-AA for this project.



2. United Defense Manufacturing Corporation (UDMC) - Nivisys LLC Partnership:
Local firm UDMC has been actively promoting its products for the past few years, and its partnership with American company Nivisys LLC might be a big break for them. UDMC does not make their own night vision devices, but Nivisys is a known manufacturer of such products. Both companies were present in last year's ADAS 2014 defense exhibition.


A PAF Staff Sergeant inspecting UDMC-Nivisys' weapon mounted NVD systems mounted on an AR-15 type rifle during last year's ADAS 2014 defense exhibition.
Photo taken from UDMC's website.


Nivisys'product line include their version of the AN/PVS-14A monocular NVD, and they have larger weapon mounted systems like the AN/PVS-22 and AN/PVS-27. Another is the MUM-14, which is smaller and simpler than the rest of the product line. For the infrared aiming device, Nivisys offers the GCP-2 IR tactical aimer/pointer which can be hand-held or mounted on individual and crew-served weapons.


MaxDefense believes that UDMC-Nivisys may offer the AN/PVS-14A and GCP-2 to the DND.



3. Intertrade Asia Pacific Corp. - Theon Sensors S.A. Partnership
MaxDefense believes that they were wrong named in the recent news report on this project, and MaxDefense has reasons to believe that the company they meant was Greek company Theon Sensors S.A.

Theon offers several types of monocular NVD under the NX-122 series. The latest version is the NX-122C, might be the best they can offer to the DND. 


Theon Sensor's NX-122C monocular night vision device.
Photo taken from Theon Sensors S.A.'s website.


Their website didn't indicate any product offering for the infrared aiming device and the laser zeroing device, which is part of the entire system. It could either be they will be supplying the product made by another company, or they will going with a collaboration with a company that manufacturers MILSPEC laser devices.




4. Armasight Enterprises
This company, based in the United States, provides a wide variety of night vision systems and accessories, and focuses entirely on similar systems unlike its other larger competitors. They pride themselves of having people with experience to NVS, with staff being previous employees of larger companies or competitors.


Armasight's PVS-14, which comes in different versions as listed in their product website.
Photo from Armasight's website.


They also have their own versions of the AN/PVS-14 which appears to also be their main product line of monocular night vision goggles. Their infrared aiming devices offered include the Drakos and Drakos 2, which have similarities to the AN/PEQ-15 used by the US Military.




5. Exelis Inc.
American company Exelis Inc. is a leading defense and security company, with several offerings on their product lines including several variants of night vision devices. 

Their most common is their version of the AN/PVS-14, and a lesser capable but probably cheaper variant which they call the Night Enforcer PVS-14 used for law enforcement duties. Not much information is available though if they have their own manufactured Infrared Aiming Device and Laser Zeroing Devices.



6. System Nomics Philippines Inc. - Aselsan A.S. 
Local company System Nomics Philippines will be fronting for the Turkey's largest defense company Aselsan A.S. Aselsan produces different night vision products although MaxDefense believes their strength lies on military electronics and munition systems. 


Aselsan manufactures their license copy of the AN/PVS-18 / M983 NVD (above).
Photo taken from L-3's website.


Aselsan manufactures the A100 monocular NVD, and license built copies of the M983 and M983A monocular systems based on the L-3 Warrior Systems AN/PVS-18. No information though if Aselsan manufactures infrared aiming and laser zeroing devices. 

Not much information is available though if they have their own manufactured Infrared Aiming Device and Laser Zeroing Devices. But it is possible for System Nomics to acquire these items from a different manufacturer.



7. Spartans 3 Trading Corporation:

This is the first time MaxDefense heard about this company. According to its official website, it appears to be a Filipino company whose expertise is supplying rescue and safety equipment, and traffic equipment and accessories rather than night vision equipment or firearms. 

Their website didn't list any night vision equipment in their line of products, so it would be difficult for MaxDefense to determine what they will be offering. Definitely they will either be sourcing this from a night vision system manufacturer, or they have partnered with one and will act as a local sales representative.



8. Elbit Systems:
This large Israeli defense company has been actively participating in several major AFP projects, with the most recent being the 155mm Towed Howitzer project. Through their subsidiary Elbit Systems - ITL, have several products that they could offer.

There's the Mini N/SEAS which can be used as a monocular or binocular by combining 2 similar units together, or the newer and more compact XACT-NV32 mirco compact night vision monocular. This was only released by ITL in 2012, and is among the newest model in the possible offerings.

Elbit Systems - ITL Mini N/SEAS (above) and the XACT-NV32 (below).
Photos taken from Specshop Poland and ASD News websites, respectively.


For the laser aiming device, they might be offering the AIM family, specifically the AIM 1-SLR. It appears to be smaller than most offerings that follow the US AN/PEQ-2 model, and can be mounted on AFP-standard weapons like the M16 and M4 family.





As MaxDefense does not have a copy of the Technical Specifications on this project yet, we can only assume that these are among the possible products the bidders may offer. It is also still unclear who among those who went to the pre-bid conference will continue on and submit a bid on the bid submission date, which is now rescheduled to May 28, 2015 after requests from the bidders to extend the deadline.

MaxDefense is hoping for a very competitive bidding for this project as the number of bidders and the big names involved suggest the strong interest in this project. It would be best if the DND and PA chose not only according to the pricing, but also checking the reliability and lifespan of these products.

This blog entry will now serve as the update page on this project, and all news reports or new information regarding this project will be posted at the update section of this entry.



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UPDATES:
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August 19, 2016:

MaxDefense was given confirmation by sources from the Philippine Army that the acqusiition of 4,464 sets of Night Fighting System was awarded to Aselsan Elektronik Sanayi Ve Ticaret A.S. of Turkey, after being declared as the lowest calculated responsive bidder. Their bid amount was Php 712.069 million, or almost Php 404 million lower than the Approved Budget of Contact (ABC) of Php 1.116 billion.

The contact was already approved by the DND and Philippine Army, with the Notice to Proceed already released as of July 2016. It is expected that the partial deliveries will start by 2nd quarter of 2017, while the balance will be delivered by either 4th quarter of 2017 or 1st quarter of 2018, subject to the opening of Letter of Credit.

It was previously reported in the news last January 2016 that Aselsan was declared the lowest bidder by the DND, although the report erroneously claimed that Aselsan does not have experience in manufacturing night vision equipment, which is not the case as shown on the example MaxDefense made on its blog entry (see above). A more realistic statement is that Night Fighting System is not the core competency of Aselsan, but they do have experience in manufacturing such systems.

MaxDefense will be providing future updates regarding this project as information comes in. For more information, please read the blog entry from the top.


Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Is the Philippine Navy's BRP Gregorio del Pilar (PF-15) having its Mk.38 Mod.2 guns installed soon?


One of our MaxDefense reader recently confirmed that the BRP Gregorio del Pilar (PF-15), the Philippine Navy's flagship, is currently dry-docked in Subic Freeport. According to him (who wishes to remain anonymous), the ship has already been in dry dock for the past 2 to 3 months, and was docked for some time in Subic before entering dry dock. 


The BRP Gregorio del Pilar (PF-15), the Philippine Navy's flagship. The Navy is planning to have Mk.38 Mod.2 secondary 25mm autocannons fitted on the ship soon.


Below are photos he took recently, and although the dry dock is far from his point of view, it is very obvious that the ship inside the dry dock is indeed a Gregorio del Pilar-class / Hamilton-class ship. To the untrained eyes, the double mast can be clearly seen on the first photo.




Both photos taken recently were taken at Subic Freeport. Although very small, it shows the BRP Gregorio del Pilar (PF-15) dry docked.
Photo taken and shared by one of MaxDefense readers.


Several months ago (last year), MaxDefense posted a news article from PTV-4 and Philippine News Agency (PNA) regarding the BRP Ramon Alcaraz and its new Mk.38 Mod.2 25mm remote weapons station. In that article, it confirmed that the BRP Gregorio del Pilar was scheduled for dry docking betweem February and June of 2015. This might be the scheduled dry docking indicated in the said news report. It is also impossible for its sistership, the BRP Ramon Alcaraz, to be dry docked this time as it just recently had its turn late last year.

The interesting part is that the report confirmed that the BRP Gregorio del Pilar is also scheduled to have Mk.38 Mod.2 25mm RWS installed during its dry docking. Originally, reports surfacing about the Philippine Navy acquiring Mk.38 Mod.2 guns from BAE was only for 2 units. So far, 2 units were already installed on the BRP Ramon Alcaraz last year.




The BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF-16) already got its Mk.38 Mod.2 guns last year, and both guns were visible during its port visit to Cebu early this year.
Photo above taken from Timawa.net, photo below taken by an anonymous MaxDefense reader.


So did the Philippine Navy receive 2 more Mk.38 Mod.2 guns from the US? If yes, are the guns being installed on the PN's flagship now?

Only time will tell. It is expected that the PN will be bringing out the ship to the public again once it goes back to sea. And by then we can confirm 100% if such upgrade is indeed made on the ship.



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UPDATES:
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May 11, 2015:
The Philippine News Agency released an updated, as reported here by PTV News, confirming the undocking of BRP Gregorio del Pilar within this week. But it did not confirm the installation of any new system to the ship other than "preserve hull condition and servicing of machineries" which is typical to any drydocking activity.

MaxDefense will wait for any new information or photos after the drydocking which will confirm if there are anything new on the ship or not.