Friday, January 1, 2016

Great 2015 for the Armed Forces of the Philippines - Year Ender Report for 2015

As the year 2015 ended with the usual high spirits for everyone, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) did have much something better, in the form of more equipment that will help them do their duties to their advantage.

2015 was a very good year for the AFP, most notably with the arrival of new assets and improvement of facilities, as well as awarding of new projects that are expected to be in service in a few years time.

The AFP's 80th Founding Anniversary celebrations last December was highlighted by a showcase of new assets acquired, with most emphasis being given to the Philippine Air Force. With a depleted fleet, the PAF gained several brand new assets that are new to them.


The darling of all deliveries for 2015: the Philippine Air Force's first 2 FA-50PH lead-in fighter trainers / light combat aircraft from South Korea.



The Philippine Air Force - 2015's a Very Good Year:

Out of 11 projects of the PAF under the RA 10349 Revised AFP Modernization Program Horizon 1 phase for 2013-2017, 2 proceeded a few years ago and were partially delivered in 2015: the F/SAA/LIFT Acquisition Project awarded to Korea Aerospace Industries' FA-50PH Fighting Eagle lead-in fighter-trainer, and the Combat Utility Helicopter Acquisition Project awarded to Canadian Commercial Corporation for Bell Helicopter Textron's B412EP helicopters.

Out of 12 FA-50PH, 2 were delivered and accepted by the PAF in December, while the PAF also has taken hold of the entire order of 8 Bell 412EP helicopters a few months earlier. 


The PAF received its first 2 FA-50PH lead-in fighter trainers on December 2015, and were among those displayed during the AFP's 80th Anniversary parade.


The PAF has also received several projects that are part of the original RA 7898 AFP Modernization Program, wherein more are still in process or are to be awarded soon. Among those that made headway is the Medium Lift Fixed-Wing Aircraft Acquisition Project awarded to Airbus Military-CASA for their C-295M medium tactical transport aircraft, and the Attack Helicopter Acquisition Project awarded to AgustaWestland for their AW-109E Power helicopters.

Out of the 3 C-295M ordered by the PAF, 2 were already accepted by the PAF as of December 2015, while the last one was delivered and is undergoing local acceptance tests in the country. The PAF expects the 3rd C-295M to be accepted very soon. 

Also, all 8 AgustaWestland AW-109E Power armed helicopters were delivered in 2015 and were accepted by the PAF. All are being used to build-up experience and flight hours for the pilots of the 15th Strike Wing.


Some of the AW-109E Power armed helicopters as part of the aerial display during the 80th AFP Founding Anniversary Parade last December 2015 at Clark Air Base, Pampanga.
Photo taken from the collection of Col. Francis Neri's FB page.


The PAF also has several refurbished Dornier-Bell UH-1D Huey helicopters accepted earlier, and although one was lost due to weather conditions, all remaining aircraft are reportedly performing very well especially during support of combat and relief operations.

All new assets are being extensively used by the PAF to build-up the flying hours of its pilots and provide ample experience for the support teams and the entire organization in general.

Although moving in beyond 2015, several PAF projects also gained headway in the year, with the most relevant being that of the Light Lift Fixed-Wing Aircraft Acquisition Project awarded to PT Dirgantara Indonesia for their NC-212i light tactical transport aircraft. As of December 2015, the 2 NC-212i ordered by the PAF are in the advanced stages and will be ready for delivery in early 2016. One was even reported to have completed flight tests in Indonesia by PTDI test pilots.

The 2 C-130T Hercules heavy tactical transport aircraft being acquired by the PAF from the US Government has also made headway, with refurbishing works in full swing as per MaxDefense's sources, and will be ready for delivery in the early half of 2016. 

MaxDefense source has also confirmed that the awarding of the contract for the supply of 3 Air Defense and Surveillance Radar Systems will be proceeding by mid-January 2016, with the award expected to go to IAI-Elta Systems Ltd. of Israel for their ELM-2288 AD-STAR long range air defense radar system.




The Philippine Navy - Gaining Momentum in 2015 for Good News Beyond:

Although not as obvious as those made by the Philippine Air Force, the Philippine Navy has reasons to be in good spirit to end the year 2015. Although their modernization projects have not reached delivery status, there were many gains that were made that is as important as every other good news.

The PN received 2 ex-Royal Australian Navy Balikpapan-class heavy landing crafts from the Australian Government, and were immediately put to good use in support of the PN's duties to the country. 3 more units are being prepared, with the tender for their delivery, parts, and other related items already posted on PhilGEPS within the year.


BRP Batac and BRP Ivatan in Cavite a few months ago.
Photo taken from Wikimedia Commons.


Among the major acquisitions, the soonest we can see will be the Strategic Sealift Vessel acquisition project, which involves two (2) ships based on Indonesia's Makassar-class landing platform dock (LPD). As of December, the ship is already 80% complete based on PT PAL's reports, and that the ship will be launched by January 2016. SSV-1 is still unnamed and MaxDefense will update its readers on this as progress continues.


SSV-1 completing its mast installation as of November 27, 2015.
Photo taken from PT PAL.



Also moving forward are the Frigate and ASW Helicopter projects. It was confirmed that the DND is scheduled to conduct post-bid qualification inspections with the sole compliant bidder AgustaWestland for its offer to sell their new AW-159 Wildcat ASW helicopter to the Philippine Navy. This project was delayed as it was tied to the Frigate acquisition project, and its move forward signals that the Frigate acquisition project has definitely cleared several aspects and might be ready for the 2nd stage bidding by early 2016.

SSV-2, the second ship of the class, will also proceed keel laying once SSV-1 is launched. Several blocks of its structure were already built and are ready for joining.

AgustaWestland's AW-159 Wildcat helicopter is scheduled to undergo Post Bid Qualifications inspections early in 2016, somewhere around January.

Not reported in public media was an advancement of 1 project under the RA 10349 RAFPMP, wherein Rafael Advanced Defence Systems Ltd. of Israel awarded the MPAC Lot 2 Project a few days before the year ended. Very reliable MaxDefense source did not provide complete details of the deal, but it was understood that Rafael offered the Spike short range surface-to-surface missile in either Extended Range (ER) or the Non Line of Sight (NLOS) version, and the Mini Typhoon 12.7mm RCWS mount for the 3 MPACs being tendered separately as part of Lot 1. Delivery is expected to depend on the delivery of the 3 MPACs.

Another news that was not covered publicly was the impending departure of several officers and crew of the PN for South Korea to train and pick-up a Pohang-class corvette previous operated by the Republic of Korea Navy. MaxDefense sources confirmed that the group will depart for South Korea by early 2016. 


ROKS Mokpo (PCC-759) was identified by PhilGEPS to be the PN's new asset.


It was later identified by PhilGEPS that the ship being provided by the Koreans is the former ROKS Mokpo (PCC-759), a Batch II Pohang-class corvette. MaxDefense believes that the ship won't have its Exocet missile system due to age and other issues.

Reported first at MaxDefense was the arrival of the Landing Craft Utility provided by the South Korean government to the Philippine Navy. The craft, formerly Mulgae-class LCU-78 of the Republic of Korea Navy, is now undergoing repair and refurbishing works with a local shipbuilder, and tender announcements have been made recently for the supply of the ship's communications and electrical system parts. 


The former LCU-78 before repair and refurbishing was made. This was taken on June 2015 at Naval Base Cavite by a MaxDefense community member.


The visit of US President Barack Obama also highlighted further good news for the PN, with the commitment to hand-over the Hamitlon-class cutter USCGC Boutwell and oceanographic ship M/V Melville. Both ships are expected to be with the PN within 2016. The Boutwell will become the 3rd ship of its class with the Philippine Navy, the 2 others being the former USCGC Hamilton and USCGC Dallas which now serves as the BRP Gregorio del Pilar and BRP Ramon Alcaraz, respectively.


Although bidding schedules has been made, the project to upgrade the fire control and weapons systems of the Jacinto-class corvettes has hit some delays, although a bidding is scheduled to proceed for the Phase 3A of the project by mid-January 2016, while Phase 3B will be undergoing a negotiated bid process. MaxDefense has been vocal before on the separation of both projects since both have phases has identical scope of works. 


Other headway for the Philippine Navy involves its land force, the Philippine Marine Corps, wherein a joint acquisition with the Philippine Army for 12 units of 155mm Towed Howitzers were awarded in June 2015 to Elbit Systems Land & C4I of Israel, with a delivery of 1 year from then. 

Also, the PMC received parts of their share of the Remington R4A3 carbines to replace ageing M16A1 rifles in their inventory. More are expected to be provided to the PMC in 2016, including more Remington R3A3 rifles, the delivery of CAS 40mm Automatic Grenade Launchers from Singapore, and other related weaponry and equipment.

After some bidding issues, the DND has also started to proceed with the awarding of the Marine Forces Imagery and Targeting Support System (MITSS) to the previously considered lowest compliant bidder, Triton Communications. This is after Elbit Systems of Israel contested Triton's offer to the DND BAC as non-compliant as a total system to the requirement that the product should be in use by the manufacturer country's armed forces or two other foreign armed forces. More of this issue will definitely be announced by the DND by early 2016.

The awarding for 8 amphibious assault vehicles is also expected very soon, which involves the acquisition of KAAV version of the US-designed AAV-7A1 from South Korea's Hanwha Techwin (formerly known as Samsung Techwin). Sources has confirmed that this is among those scheduled for awarding by January 2016.


Hanwha Techwin of South Korea is awaiting for the awarding of the AAV Acquisition Project for the Philippine Navy, and is expecting such to happen in January 2016.




The Philippine Army - Not to be Left Behind:


While the focus on territorial defense duties means focusing on the air force and naval forces due to the archipelagic nature of the country, there are actually lesser projects given to the Philippine Army as part of the Revised AFP Modernization Program. But that does not stop them from modernizing some of their assets to perform better than ever.

The most obvious improvements are in the armoured capability of the PA, as there were several deliveries of used but still capable armoured vehicles for the Mechanized Infantry Division. Two contracts cover the delivery of M113 series tracked armoured vehicles, with Elbit Systems Land & C4I of Israel covering the supply of 28 refurbished and modernized M113A2+ vehicles, and another with the US government Excess Defense Article program for 114 used M113A2 vehicles.

Out of the 28, Elbit Systems has delivered 6 M113A2+ with the 12.7mm remote control weapons stations (RCWS) armoured personnel carriers, and 4 M113A2+ armoured recovery vehicles. MaxDefense also believes that at least 2 more M113A2+ allocated for the installation of a 76mm gun turret is already in the country. Elbit is scheduled to deliver the rest of the units within 2016.



Elbit Systems delivered 6 M113A2+ APC with 12.7mm RCWS, and 4 M113A2+ ARV, which were all present in the 80th AFP Founding Anniversary parade last December 2015.
Photos taken from the collection of Col. Francis Neri's FB page (above) and from a MaxDefense community member (below).



Meanwhile, the Philippine Army was able to receive 77 of the 114 M113A2 vehicles from the US mainland, and is expecting to receive the rest in another batch by early 2016. These M113s are in working condition, and arrived without weapons systems. The Philippine government paid for arming them with 12.7mm M2 machine guns and putting them in good working order. Most of the 77 vehicles were also part of the 80th AFP Founding Anniversary Parade last December 2015, and composed the bulk of the armoured formation.


M113A2 tracked armored personnel carriers on parade last December 2015.
Photo taken from the collection of Col. Francis Neri's FB page.


Other projects that have started moving without being covered by the media are the handheld and vehicle-installed radio systems, which were awarded to Harris Corporation of the US. Some of these vehicle-installed radios are seen during the demonstration of the RCWS-equipped M113A2+ vehicles late last year. 

As discussed earlier, the joint acquisition of 155mm towed howitzers and ammunition with the Philippine Marine Corps has also began moving, with awarding to Elbit Systems of Israel made midyear.

The project to acquire 60 Field Ambulances has also started to move, in favor of KIA Motors of South Korea for KM-451 light trucks, similar to those already in service with the Philippine Army. This enables commonality from the current fleet of vehicles operated by the AFP, as well as maximizing the local depot capability established by the PA with technical assistance from KIA. 

This is also in addition to the 717 KM-450 trucks ordered by the AFP for its Service Support units. 327 units were delivered by KIA in December 2015, 219 units of it going to support units under the Philippine Army.

The Night Fighting System has also moved beyond bidding preparation and a winning bidder is expected to be announced by January 2016. 4,464 sets of night vision monoculars, infrared aiming device and laser zeroing device for calibration are included in the project worth more than a billion pesos.




2015 was AFP Modernization Year:


2015 in general was a very good year for the AFP Modernization, as deliveries and commissioning of equipment was made at a pace never before seen in more than 40 years. With projects expected to be awarded in early 2016 to meet the government's deadline before the election spending ban, we will be seeing project awards to be made before Pres. Aquino steps down. This will definitely fuel further deliveries of materiel in 2016 and 2017. 

The transition to Horizon 2 phase will also be starting to show by 2016, as DND and AFP defense planners are expected to come up with proposals for their highlighted projects as submitted to Congress and Malacanang mid last year. There could still be minor changes on their acquisition plans, depending on the financial commitment backing by the next administration, although it is expected that the DND and AFP will be pushing hard for the new government to allocate more for defense.




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January 25, 2016:

The 1st Strategic Sealift Vessel of the Philippine Navy, codenamed SSV-1, was launched last January 18, 2016 as the BRP Tarlac (LD-601). Among those present during the launch were Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Philippine Navy Flag Officer in Command, Vice Adm. Ceasar Taccad.


BRP Tarlac during its launching ceremonies last January 18, 2016.

The ship was considered as 85% complete during its launch, and will be undergoing further completion of interior systems that does not need the ship to be in dry dock. 

The ship is expected to be delivered to the Philippines by May 2016, after completing its sea tests and all works.

The landing platform dock will arrive without its full compliment of weapons systems, which were listed on the project's technical specifications to include a 76mm main gun, two 25 to 30mm close in weapons systems, and several 50-caliber machine guns.

Its full sensor compliment will also not be installed yet, and only basic navigation surface search radars were in place during its launch. All these systems will be provided for by the Philippine Navy and will be installed in the Philippines at a later date.

Also during the launching of BRP Tarlac was the keel laying ceremonies for the 2nd ship of the class, codenamed SSV-2. It will have a hull number of LD-602, although naming will only be made next year.

The photo above shows the full length of the ship, taken days before the actual launching as it completes final touces on its external finishes.