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.
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.
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.