Monday, September 14, 2015

Clarifications on the Rumored Submarines for the PH, and a Proposal to Jump-start the Philippine Navy's Submarine Program

Recent reports coming out from the Manila Bulletin indicated that the Philippine Navy plans to acquire submarines as part of the Php25 billion budget for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Modernization Program. The information was said to be quoted from Rep. Antonio A. Del Rosario of Capiz during the appointment of AFP officers last September 9, 2015.

Several defense-related social media pages quickly accepted this report as factual without looking closely at the details properly. And aside from that, there are also reports coming that the Philippine Navy will acquire submarines from Germany due to a faulty interpretation because of a PN officer now taking submarine warfare schooling in Germany. And with this, MaxDefense would like to clarify issue this to avoid misinterpretation or faulty information to be accepted by the public.


Recently there were reports saying the Philippines will be acquiring submarines very soon, from Germany. MaxDefense will debunk that claim with this blog entry.
Photo of Type 210mod submarine scale model taken from IHS Janes.


1. The Revised AFP Modernization Program Horizon 1 Phase


Before anything, readers must first understand what are the projects covered by the Revised AFP Modernization Program (RAFPMP) under the Republic Act 10349.

There are 33 projects that are to be implemented under the Revised AFP Modernization Program, distributed with 3 projects worth Php 7 billion, with the General Headquarters, AFP; 9 projects worth Php 9.5 billion under the Philippine Army, 10 projects worth Php 29.5 billion under the Philippine Navy (which also includes the Philippine Marine Corps), and 11 projects worth Php 44.9 billion under the Philippine Air Force.

Out of 33 projects, 2 projects were approved before July 2015, while 1 project, the Shore-Based Missile System (SBMS) acquisition project, was deferred by the president since it is still being pushed for replacement with infantry-related projects that is still being studied by the President as of this writing. So in total, 32 projects out of 33 are already approved as of July 2015.

For further reading, readers are advised to refer to a previous MaxDefense blog discussing the RAFPMP Horizon 1 phase, which includes the list of projects included in the Horizon 1 program.

"What is the Philippine Government's Score on the Implementation of the Revised AFP Modernization Program" dated 25th July 2015.

For Horizon 1, it does not include any submarine acquisition. All naval projects included in the Horizon 1 phase are already approved and are not expected to be cancelled to give way for a submarine acquisition project. The SBMS, being a Philippine Army project, would definitely not be transferred to the Philippine Navy that easily as PA projects would be given priority with the said project. Besides, any changes in the acquisition plan would require time-consuming congressional approval, that may not even be favorable to the AFP Modernization.


Frigates, check. MPAC, check. AAV, check. Submarines, none. The Horizon 1 phase of the Revised AFP Modernization does not include any submarine, new or used, in its acquisition plan. And there is no budget for them either even if they suddenly decided to put it there without compromising a lot of approved projects.




2. The 2016 Budget for the (Revised) AFP Modernization Program

Let's try to take a look at the budget allocated by the national government for the RAFPMP's  Horizon 1 phase.

For the year 2016, the Department of National Defense (DND), through the Department of Budget Management (DBM), has proposed to Congress a budget of Php 25 billion specifically for the RAFPMP. This is said to be used to pay for the acquisition of big-ticket items under the Horizon 1 phase of the RAFPMP.

But this does not include the Php 10 billion worth of un-programmed funds, which was originally allocated for year 2015 but was unused due to the pending approval of modernization projects that was only approved in July 2015. That means that there is a total of Php 35 billion that is allocated for projects until 2016.

Based on the DND's submitted endorsement to Congress during the hearings for the DND budget, it did not include any submarine acquisition funding as part of Horizon 1 phase. Instead, there were no changes from the original list that was discussed here before.

So now the question is, where did Rep. Del Rosario got his information that a submarine acquisition is included in the RAFPMP?




3. The Horizon 2 & 3 Phases of the RAFPMP:

Aside from the Horizon 1 phase, the Revised AFP Modernization Program include the Horizon 2 and 3 phases, which cover the years 2018-2022 and 2023-2027, respectively.

Both Horizon 2 and 3 acquisition plans were among those submitted by the AFP and DND to Congress in August, and is said to be worth a total of around Php 1 trillion (US$22.3 billion). 

Originally, the proposed project list by the Philippine Navy only includes new submarine acquisition in the Horizon 3 phase of the modernization program. But there were some changes made recently during deliberations within the Navy's planning and command officials that may have enabled a proposed submarine acquisition within the Horizon 2 phase. 

MaxDefense believes that should a submarine acquisition be included in the Horizon 2, it will not be new, and may only involve 1 or 2 units at best.


Previously it was said that Japan may offer their retired submarines to the Philippines to enable the PN gain experience and knowledge in submarine and anti-submarine operations. It is difficult to say if this is possible or not, and that still depends on whatever agreement Japan and the Philippines will have in the coming few years.




4. So where did the Submarine Issue came?

Rep. Del Rosario has a copy of this proposed acquisition program from Horizon 1 to 3 from the AFP, and he might have incorrectly quoted that the submarine acquisition as part of the Horizon 1 phase. This is a normal thing for politicians who are not former military men or are not familiar with these military equipment. It could be an honest mistake from the politician, so MaxDefense won't really put the blame on him.

As for Manila Bulletin, the headline is actually not misleading. There is truth that the Philippine Navy plans to acquire submarine. The problem is the content of the news report. Looking at this paragraph from the news report with the link provided HERE:

"Asked by Bulletin whether the country has indeed added a submarine or submarines to its shopping list, Del Rosario replied in the affirmative. The planned submarine acquisition is under the proposed P25-billion AFP modernization program. That program, according to Del Rosario, includes airplanes and helicopters."

Bulletin only asked if it is in the shopping list, but on which shopping list? Was it the entire RAFPMP? Or just Horizon 1? Also, the second sentence (in underline) appears to be slapped-in by the editor and not necessarily quoted directly from Rep. Del Rosario. This is very common in the press, to the point that it becomes incorrect or inaccurate. MaxDefense believes that the press was at fault as well based on this point.


Lastly, the error might be on the interpretation of the readers. The news indicated that there is a PN officer now schooling on Submarine Warfare in Kiel, Germany, but it never indicated that the Philippine Navy is acquiring submarines from Germany. 

An MaxDefense reader said something in our Facebook page, with the context similar to this: Going to school or training with a certain country does not necessarily mean acquiring equipment fro the same country. 

For those who do not know, there were already several PN officers who have gone to foreign naval schools to study Submarine and Anti-Submarine Warfare. I met one who studied in Australia before, and he's probably among those few who pioneer the introduction of submarines to the PN. But training officers and men does not necessarily meant acquiring anything from that country very soon. There is no binding agreement between the Philippines and its defense partners that needs the AFP to buy anything in exchange for the training they provided.


Assuming that the Philippines will buy German submarines just because a PN officer is schooling in Germany shows poor judgement and lack of understanding to whoever posted that in social media.




5. Clearing Earlier Assumptions made in the Social Media:

There are several posts MaxDefense went through these past few days, many are asking what type of submarine the PN will acquire, while the rest are funny posts that are either unrealistic or was posted with lack of understanding of the issue.

First of, the Philippines will not be buying anything nuclear in nature. Nuclear propulsion or nuclear-armed submarines are totally off the list. The PN has not yet even reach infancy in submarine operations, and it would be best for it to take small steps using less complicated systems like diesel electric propulsion. Aside from this, nuclear submarines are very expensive to acquire, operate, maintain, and repair.

For those who don't know, the 1987 Philippine Constitution's Article II Section 8 states that the country pursues a policy of freedom from nuclear weapons, which means that no nuclear weapons should be commissioned, used, or even stored in the country. 


Nuclear powered, nuclear armed submarines? Let's be more realistic in our projections.
Photo taken from Wikimedia Commons.




Secondly, those proposing for submarines from Europe. Although submarines from Germany, Sweden and France are considered at the top of the pyramid due to quality and performance, they are also expensive to acquire. 

Let's take the Philippines' ASEAN neighbors' recent submarine acquisition plan as examples. For those who are very familiar with their country's submarine acquisition plans, you are free to send your corrections and feed-backs.

a. Indonesia recently acquired submarines from South Korea, when in 2011 the Indonesian Ministry of Defence awarded a contract for 3 submarines to DSME based on the Chang Bogo-class attack submarines it previously built for the Republic of Korea Navy. The contract cost was said to amount to US$1.07 billion, which on the average costs around US$360 million each submarine. But the contract includes a technology transfer allowing state-owned shipyard PT PAL (the same shipyard building the Philippine Navy's SSV) to build the 3rd submarine in their yard in Surabaya.


Indonesia ordered 2 units of the upgraded version of the Chang Bogo-class submarines.
Photo taken from Military-Today.com.


b. Vietnam acquired 6 Kilo-class submarines from Russia, which was reported to cost around US$2.1 billion, excluding the infrastructure investment to support the submarines, and ammunition like torpedoes and land-attack missiles which expected to increase the total cost to US$3.2 billion. For the submarines alone, the average cost based on the reported contract is around US$350 million each. All submarines were/will be built in Russia.


A Vietnamese Kilo-class submarine. A total of 6 units were ordered from Russia.


c. In 2013, Singapore ordered 2 submarines from ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS) of Germany, and is said to be worth around US$1.36 billion, or an average of US$680 million per submarine. The submarine was designated as the Type 218SG.

d. Thailand recently conducted a submarine tender with offers from China, South Korea, and Germany. China's offer was reportedly chosen, but a contract is not yet signed between the 2 parties. China offered a derivative of their Type 039A (aka Type 041) called the S26T, with an agreed total cost reaching  around US$1.1 billion total or an average of US$367 million per submarine. Germany was said to have offered both the Type 209/1400mod and Type 210mod, and only offered 2 units to fit the budget allocated by the Thais. MaxDefense estimates the cost to be around US$500 million per submarine. South Korea was said to have offered a highly spec'd version of their Chang Bogo-class which is actually a Korean-made Type 209 submarine designed by Germany, with an offer costing nearly US$500 million per submarine. No details were provided regarding the offers made by Germany and South Korea if the amount they quoted include other essentials aside from the submarines themselves.


Thailand chose the Chinese S26T submarine which was derived from the Type 041 design. But the choice is still in peril as the government decided to put the acquisition on-hold.


e. Malaysia's Scorpene-class submarine deal with France and Spain was made in 2002, and was said to have costed around US$745 million for 2 submarines, or an average of US$373 million each in 2002 price. But this was 13 years ago and inflation may have already increased the cost 2-fold. The latest offer of Scorpene-class submarines were made with Poland and estimates put each submarine exceeding US$550 million each.


Based on the quotes made to the Philippines' regional peers, European submarines appear to cost a minimum of around US$500 million each. 

Experience dictates that the Philippines acquire its military equipment with strong emphasis on acquisition cost as the highest factor in coming up with a decision. And with the availability of cheaper alternatives from South Korea, it is highly possible that any submarine acquisition will follow the same pattern. Even if China could offer something cheap and highly capable (on paper) submarine, the poor relations between the Philippines and China naturally points away from acquiring from its projected future enemy.


South Korea's Chang Bogo-class submarines appear to be the cheapest alternative in the diesel-electric attack submarine market today, excluding those offered by China. The cost factor is a strong parameter in every Philippine defense procurement, instead of performance and quality.
Photo taken from Military-Today.com.


So can we say goodbye European submarines now? Not really yet. With possible changes in the procurement system being pushed, as well as possible adjustments in the budget and acquisition plan, it is too early to say for now. But realistically speaking, MaxDefense's believes that as long as there are cheaper alternatives from Asia, and Asian-made submarine would have a strong chance of being chosen.


Thirdly, the Philippine Navy does not have enough officers and men who have submarine warfare schooling, and definitely almost null in experience. Prior to any impending acquisition of submarines, we should be seeing an increase of PN personnel being sent to foreign submarine warfare schools for training. So far, there are no confirmations that there was such undergoing such training or schooling aside from the officer reported by Manila Bulletin to be in Kiel, Germany. It might be possible that another 1 or 2 officers are undergoing the same training in Germany or somewhere else, but the numbers won't be significant enough for a possible submarine acquisition very soon.

Lastly, the Philippine Navy has not started any plan to improve its facilities for submarines and submarine training and maintenance. Aside from the Submarine Office opened by the PN a few years ago, nothing has been reported of any other facility that focuses on submarines. Even the recently submitted Horizon 1 base improvements for the PN does not show anything related to submarines. 

In contrast, Thailand has constructed a submarine training center complete with simulators and training equipment even before a submarine can be delivered. 




Conclusion:

These indicators clearly show that the Philippines is still years away from actual submarine acquisition, and with the usually slow movement of its modernization program, MaxDefense believes that a proper diesel electric attack submarine within the PN's fleet could only be possible by year 2022 at the earliest.

An alternative that MaxDefense proposes to jump-start any plan to acquire submarines is for the Philippine Navy to start small, using smaller coastal submarines that are easier and cheaper to acquire, maintain, and operate; will need a smaller crew; and can be used with the PN's existing port facilities. 

Such plans were already being eyed 20 years ago, with earlier plans to acquire midget submarines, designated as "Shallow Water Attack Submarine" (SWAT) designed by Italy's Cosmos S.A. and made in Pakistan by Karachi Shipyards. Although such plans were scuttled, a newer, more modern alternative could be considered, in view of the the better position of the Philippine Navy now than before in terms of collaboration with friendly navies with submarine experience, schooling, and financial capability to fund an endeavor.

An example of such is South Korea's proposed KSS-500A coastal submarine, which was also among those alternatives offered to Thailand. Simpler than the Chang Bogo-class attack submarine, it is actually designed to operate well in shallow waters like the areas around the Kalayaan Group of Islands. Its small dimension only needed 2 groups of 5 men to operate, and can also be used for troop insertion and SpecOps operations. It can operate out at sea for 3 weeks, and is expected to cost around less than half of a Chang Bogo-class submarine.


South Korea has a new littoral submarine design, the KSS-500A, that is being offered to countries like Thailand and the Philippines who have limited experience and budget in acquiring submarines.
Photo taken from Asia Security Watch website.


This proposal is in addition to any plan to acquire full-pledged diesel-electric attack submarines, since budget for coastal small submarines can be prepared separately within the Horizon 2 phase. MaxDefense proposes a fleet of 3 small submarines to make sure an availability of at least 1 and at most 2 submarines in the country's western frontiers at any time, and its continued service after the procurement of larger submarines as indicated in the Horizon 3 plans.

Small as they are, it would be the safest route the Philippine Navy can take as it immediately immerse them into submarine operations, help identify the risks and issues that it may face, and give them the experience and capability it needs for the present and future requirements. With the South Korean defense secretary arriving today 14th September 2015, MaxDefense hopes that the strengthening of defense cooperation may include those related to improvements in naval capabilities, and discussions on submarines too.

As part of the proposal, the Philippine Navy must also start close cooperation with its defense partners and friendly neighbors and start sending officers and men to school in submarine and anti-submarine warfare. These schooling should not just be in theory, but also with practical at-sea phase similar to those given to submarine-bound crew. Non-submarine bound officers and specialist crewmen of the Philippine Navy should also be given advanced ASW schooling as well, since ASW is related to submarine warfare as part of a bigger naval defense system where submarines, surface ships, aircraft, and sensors are inter-operating with each other. Vietnam, who has just recently been considered as a strategic partner of the Philippines, as well as Japan, South Korea, Australia, and fellow ASEAN neighbor Singapore could be considered for such navy-to-navy agreements.