Monday, May 30, 2016

Discussing the Philippine Navy's First SSV, the Tarlac-class Landing Platform Dock

Finally, after years of waiting, the first Strategic Sealift Vessel (SSV) of the Philippine Navy is finally close to being commissioned and considered finally as the country's own. Officially known as the Tarlac-class landing platform dock (LPD), the first ship of the class is already in the Philippines. BRP Tarlac (LD-601) has been accorded with formal arrival honours at Manila's South Harbour on May 16, 2016 and was presented to the media for the Filipino people to be proud of.


BRP Tarlac (LD-601), the Philippine Navy's first Landing Platform Dock, photographed on a Philippine Navy helicopter as she was underway to Manila from a delivery trip from Surabaya, Indonesia.
Photo taken from the Philippine Navy PIO, cropped to focus more on the ship.


MaxDefense readers are advised to read earlier blog entries discussing the Strategic Sealift Vessel to guide its readers of prior events the lead to this ship's arrival:

"The Everchanging Plans for Acquisition of Amphibious Transport Vessels for the PN" dated June 4, 2013, discussed the previous acquisition plans of the Philippine Navy, that led to the formation of the acquisition of the Strategic Sealift Vessel as we call it now.

"Developments on Strategic Sealift Vessel Purchase for the Philippine Navy - Invitation to Bid Released" dated June 22, 2013. This announced the release of the Invitation to Bid for the Strategic Sealift Vessel project, paving the way for official offers to be taken in.

"A clearer picture on the Strategic Sealift Vessel of the Philippine Navy" dated August 28, 2013, focused on the released information about the ship's basic specifications. This confirms earlier speculations that the SSV is actually an LPD that is still close to the specifications of the earlier Multi-Role Vessel during Pres. GMA's administration.

"Strategic Sealift Vessel of the Philippine Navy Awarded to PT PAL" dated February 14, 2014. After a lengthy bidding process, the SSV Project was awarded to PT PAL (Persero) of Indonesia using a derivative of their Banjarmasin-class landing platform dock design.

"The Amphibious Warfare Capabilities of the Philippine Navy - Past, Present and Future" dated February 28, 2015 discussed the amphibious transport capabilities of the Philippine Navy from the past until then. The SSV was among those highly anticipated projects while the first ship of the class was under construction.

The SSV Project was among the most discussed project of the AFP Modernization Program, including here in MaxDefense.


The Completed Product and Delivery:

The ship departed PT PAL's shipyard in Surabaya, Indonesia on May 9, 2016 . Some news reports from Indonesia confirmed that BRP Tarlac was escorted to the Philippine border with Indonesia near Tawi-Tawi by an Indonesian Navy warship, and escort was handed over to a Philippine Navy ship to continue its voyage to Manila Bay.

MaxDefense could now create an updated analysis based on the completed product, unlike before when we base everything on the specifications and speculations.

The first question is, did PT PAL built a ship that meets the technical specifications provided by the Philippine Navy? In an interview with the Philippine News Agency, the ship's pioneer commanding officer Capt. Francis Alexander Jose confirmed that the ship did pass all technical specification requirements, including the sea trial before reaching Manila. He also mentioned in a separate interview that vibrations was low or in the acceptable level during maximum speed. So that somehow clears the main concern that everyone may be asking about workmanship quality and meeting requirements.

MaxDefense also received information from several of its sources that the ship performed well during its tests days before the final departure from PT PAL's shipyard in Surabaya, Indonesia, as well as during the almost a week trip to Manila, Philippines. It was also said to have comfortably travelled within its cruising speed of 13 knots to its maximum speed of 16 knots at long duration of time, and even reached 18 knots when needed. This could confirm that the ship can go beyond its designed speed, but considering the ship is light due to absence of heavy cargo, MaxDefense expects that there was allowances made so the ship can still reach 16 knots maximum even at maximum displacement.

Until there are official reports coming out from the Philippine Navy, we can only assume that everything is under control and can be settled as stipulated in the contract between PT PAL and PN.

Visually, the ship appears longer than what it looks like in illustrations and scale models presented by PT PAL during different events, especially on the flight deck and forward parts. No weapons were in sight during the delivery, as well as more advanced sensor aside from the civilian-spec Furuno X and S band navigation radars which are basic sensor requirements.This is understandable considering that the specifications indicated that the weapons and advanced sensors are to be provided separately by the Philippine Navy.

Aside from the ship itself, PT PAL delivered 2 small Landing Crafts - Utility (LCU) tied in the well deck, and 2 Rigid-Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIB) on davits. These LCUs were reportedly  subcontracted built by PT PAL, surprising since they normally do not manufacture such type of small water craft.


BRP Tarlac's small LCU (or LCM) as shown before delivery to PT PAL. Photo taken from Pakistan Defence Forum.


So far, these are the specifications released by PT PAL for the Tarlac-class LPD, as mentioned in their websites, display posters, and several other sources:

Dimensions: 123 meters length x 21.8 meters breadth x 5 meters draft
Crew: 121 officers and men
Speed:
 - Cruising Speed: 13 knots
 - Maximum Speed: 16 knots
Minimum Operating Range: 7,500 nautical miles @ cruising speed
Maximum Range: 9,360 nautical miles
Endurance: 30 days
Displacement:
 - Empty Weight: 7,200 tons
 - Full Load : 11,583 tons
Engines: 2 x MAN-STX diesel engines, each with 2,920 KW output, coupled to controllable pitch propellers
Capacity: over 500 troops & guests, plus vehicles and equipment
Helideck: for 2 medium (10-ton) helicopters
Hangar: for 1 medium (10-ton) helicopter
Navigation Radar: Furuno X & S band
Watercraft Carried:
 - 2 x 23-meter landing craft utility / landing craft medium on well deck
 - 2 x RHIB on port and starboard davits. Each RHIB can carry 9 men and run up to 35 knots


PT PAL's booth highlighted the Tarlac-class LPD/SSV during the Philippine Fleet's anniversary in Cavite Naval Base last month.
Photo taken from the Philippine Fleet's Facebook page.


These actual specifications are all within the specified requirements during the tender, and in some cases even exceeded the requirement especially on the ship's minimum dimensions and displacement.

There appears to be some discrepancies on the dimensions as well, as some sources indicate it at 120 meters length x 20 meters breadth x 5 meters draft. MaxDefense believes that the dimensions indicated in the chart above is closer to the actual dimensions, if not, are the actual dimensions. It is also unclear what diesel engine model was used, either MAN 9L28/32A as indicated in the original design, or the MAN 8L27/38 as indicated in recent . It appears that they actually used the more powerful 8L27/38 which produced 700KW more that originally designed, based on PT PAL's information boards during the Philippine Fleet's anniversary a few weeks ago.

Full load displacement is also debatable, as previous reports indicated that the ship has a maximum displacement of 10,300 tons, although the latest IHS Jane's Fighting Ships listed the Tarlac-class as having a full load displacement of 11,583 tons. It is highly possible that the figures are closer to what IHS Jane's reported due to several changes in the ship's design and specifications that were not made public after the initial reports were made in 2014-2015 based on the original design.



Weapons and Sensors:

One apparent observation by many people, including those who are not familiar with military matters, are the ship's lack of weapons, sensors, advanced communication, and electronic warfare systems when it arrived in Manila. The lack of electronics systems was apparent with the absence of antennas and radar scanners except for the Furuno X & S-band navigation radars.

For those who have not been following the project, the technical specifications indicated that the ship would be delivered without weapons and advanced sensors, but will have space, power requirements, and fittings for the following:

- 1 x primary gun at the "A" forward position
- 2 x secondary guns on top of the superstructure near the hangar
- surface search radar
- air search radar
- electronic warfare suite
- combat management system
- electro-optical fire control system

Manually-operated general purpose machine guns will be positioned around the ship as Philippine Navy finds it necessary.

So far, MaxDefense's sources confirmed that the Philippine Navy is looking at arming the Tarlac-class with at least a 76mm main gun in the forward position, and two RCWS 25mm guns as secondary. No confirmation yet on what brand or type of main and secondary guns to be used, but the PN is looking at Oto Melara's 76mm Compact or Super Rapid gun and BAE System's Mk.38 25mm Mod.2 or Mod.3 guns.


The BRP Tarlac has provided for mounts to install the secondary guns at the superstructure deck above the hangar.  The ship was also provided with a deck hole and below-deck space for a 76mm main gun in the forward "A" position area.
Photo taken from Gombaljaya via PDFF Forum.


The Oto Melara 76mm Compact gun is standard on the Gregorio del Pilar-class frigates and Jacinto-class patrol vessels. The Oto Melara 76mm Super Rapid, if selected, is new to the PN, but is expected to be the main gun of the upcoming new frigates to be built by the winning shipbuilder. The Mk.38 Mod.2 guns are standard on the BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF-16), although the Mk. 38 Mod.3 is a little different but has similarities to its older variant. There is a pending delivery of two Mk.38 systems ordered in 2015 for the BRP Gregorio del Pilar (PF-15) but it is still unclear if is the Mod.2 or Mod.3 variant, in 25mm or 30mm variant.


It is expected that the ship will be armed with a 76mm naval gun from Oto Melara. It is still unclear where it would come from, or if the PN will go for a new gun, a refurbished one, or transplanted from a PN ship.


Being a high-value target, high-priority asset, MaxDefense believes that the ship should have a more complex defensive weapon suite that will allow it to defend not only from small crafts and ships, but also against sea-skimming anti-ship missiles and aircraft. This will be composed of hard kill solutions like missiles and CIWS guns, and soft kill solutions like electronic jamming, support measures (ESM) and countermeasures (ECM), and modern chaff dispenser systems. MaxDefense proposes the installation of an Oto Melara 76mm Super Rapid gun instead of the older Compact model, upgraded to STRALES standard firing DART weapons against anti-ship missiles, at least two Simbad-RC very short range air defense system (VSHORAD) on each side of the ship, and at least a single Mk.15 Phalanx CIWS as a minimum requirement to defend the ship from anti-ship missiles. It may not be enough, but it should be at least a minimum requirement. Currently a new Phalanx Block 1B model costs upward of $13 million each based on a recent sale to South Korea, although the US could sell older model Phalanx previously used by decommissioned US Navy ships could be a good start that will definitely cost cheaper. Upgrades can be done later on as deemed necessary. MaxDefense was told that the Philippine Navy is interested on Phalanx for select PN ships, although it is unclear if the Tarlac-class are among those being eyed for installation.

If budget permits, MaxDefense proposes that the ship must have a multiple hard kill defensive missile system capable of defending the ship against multiple targets at longer ranges. Among those MaxDefense suggest are the Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM), or MBDA's Sea Ceptor/CAMM system and VL-Mica system. These systems are more effective hard-kill solutions against incoming anti-ship missiles as they are more accurate and have longer range compared to the Phalanx gun CIWS. But these are expensive options, and funding may become a hindrance again as usual for Philippine military acquisition programs.

The Philippine Navy previously mentioned that the Tarlac-class will have a surface-search radar, an air-search radar, Electro-Optical Fire Control System (EO-FCS), Electronic Warfare (EW) suite, and a Combat Management System (CMS). All these are still absent with the ship. But MaxDefense sources confirmed that the Philippine Navy might follow the systems to be installed on the new frigates for commonality and easy integration. Thus, it is expected that the PN will combine the surface search radar and air-search radar into a single, more modern 3D surface/air search radar system, as what they did to the new frigate. 

There is a strong chance that the Philippine Navy will pick the Thales Smart-S Mk.2 radar, and the Tacticos Combat Management System for the frigate, and if commonality becomes the norm, these are also expected with the Tarlac-class LPDs as well. EW suite is still a question until now.

Installation of a navalized navigation radar with secondary surface search and helicopter operation guidance capability is also possible to complement or replace the existing Furuno civilian-spec radars, but that is subject to further clarification. Possible candidates might be those to be used on the Jacinto-class patrol vessels, which are to be fitted by Ultra Electronics (using Kelvin Hughes Sharpeye naval radar) and SAAB (using an unknown model, speculatively something from Terma) as part of its own ship modernization programs (JCPV Phase 3A & 3B). The JCPV upgrade can also be the template for the EO-FCS to be used.

It is NOT expected for the ship to have a sonar system, so no need to push for that and leave them for surface combatants.


MaxDefense believes that as a minimum, the Philippine Navy should install a VSHORAD system for limited defense aginst aerial threats, like MBDA's Simbad-RC (above) firing Mistral missiles, and a CIWS to defend against sea-skimming anti-ship missiles and low level aircraft, like the Mk.15 Phalanx (below).
Photo of Simbad RC taken from MBDA's website, while the photo of Phalanx taken from Wikimedia.



Helicopter / Aviation Facilities:

Due to its specified requirement to have a helicopter landing deck for two helicopters, MaxDefense expected that PT PAL would probably use the dimensions of the Indonesian Navy (TNI-AL) Makassar-class LPD's helideck instead of the Banjarmasin-class, which has a longer deck for 3 helicopters. Each helideck grid appears to be smaller as opposed to larger LPD designs, although this is normal. In this design, helicopters need to be in a diagonal position when landing on the ship, instead of a usual parallel as seen on other LPD designs, specifically from Europe and US. Shorter helicopters like the BO-105 may be able to land parallel to the ship, depending on the skill of the pilot to center the helicopter on the deck.


BRP Tarlac (LD-601), with its helicopter deck and hangar visible. Note that the helicopter operations control station can be seen on top of the hangar.
Photo taken from PT PAL's website.


Helicopter deck weight capacity was designed for 10-ton medium helicopters, more specifically, the Black Hawk series which is currently the largest helicopter in the AFP inventory (Philippine Air Force's 250th Presidential Airlift Wing). Full load Black Hawks or Seahawks have a designed limit of around 10 tons, while other PAF and PN helicopters (UH-1D/H, W-3A, Bell 412, S-76, AW-109, BO-105, MD-520MG) are smaller and would not have problems with it. But it is unclear if the deck can be used for heavier helicopters, like the NH90, whose maximum take-off weight (TOW) is over 11-tons, the EC725 Caracal whose maximum TOW is over 12 tons, and the CH-47 Chinook whose maximum TOW is 25 tons. 

Load distribution of the deck might be designed to allow a single helicopter of greater than 10 tons weight to operate, although the limit is unknown and might not be released by PT PAL or the Philippine Navy. But future exercises with foreign allies will allow us to see this capacity. The US Navy and US Marines would probably cross-operate from the Tarlac-class' decks using their standard helicopters, which include the Bell UH-1Y, MH-60 Seahawk. If the USMC can demonstrate landing even a single V-22 Osprey into the BRP Tarlac, then it means the overall capacity of the helideck can accommodate helicopters in excess of 25 tons. Other friendly countries like Australia and Japan uses the Black Hawk/Seahawk series as well. although both also uses Chinooks in service. In comparison, Singapore's Endurance-class LPD is said to be able to land a Chinook in its helideck, although it is unclear is it is at full take-off weight.

The Tarlac-class' hangar is designed to accommodate a single 10-ton class helicopter, in line with the ship's helideck designed capacity. Currently, this is acceptable since the PN is still in the process of learning the complex operations of amphibious assault ships, but future SSV/LPD designs should at least increase the hangar space for at least two 10-ton helicopters to allow flexibility. This is possible by enlarging the ship to avoid reducing the space capacity for troops and cargo, and enlarging the hangar.


The Tarlac-class' hangar is very similar to the hangar of the Makassar-class, shown above, which is designed to accommodate a 10-ton class helicopter. The similarities between the two ship classes are very strong, with the ships being practically sisterships.
Photo taken from Gombaljaya c/o Timawa forum.

The Black Hawk has been the template of the Philippine Navy for several reasons. Aside from being the current largest helicopter in the AFP, it is also eyed to be acquired in more numbers by the Philippine Air Force to beef up its Presidential Airlift fleet. Being a command and control vessel in a secondary role, the country's leaders are welcome to use the ship during emergencies, and they are expected to arrive via helicopters of the PAF's 250th PAW.

Aside from that, the Philippine Navy is reportedly eyeing to acquire larger helicopters to be used on the Tarlac-class and all other future amphibious assault ship classes. And the Black Hawk series are among those being considered although larger helicopters are reportedly given more interest from the navy's leadership, supporting MaxDefense's guess that the ship can accommodate helicopters greater than 10 tons weight. 


The Sikorsky Black Hawk is the template used by the Philippine Navy for the Tarlac-class' helideck and hangar capacity, for a reason that is very leading.



Cargo Carrying Capability

The Tarlac-class has a side ramp allowing vehicle and troop access to the vehicle storage deck while the ship is docked. The vehicle storage deck also has direct access to the well deck at the rear of the ship, where two small LCU or LCM, named BRP 601-1 and BRP 601-2, are docked. 

There appears to be only 1 level of vehicle storage deck, and has a vehicle capacity good for a mix of armored vehicles, trucks, utility vehicles, and the amphibious assault vehicles.  

Total cargo capacity, including troops, vehicles, and cargo, has a total capacity for 2,800 tons. Accommodation for 500 troops is also provided.

For a ship of this size, the capacity is understandable and acceptable. But this also shows that the current Tarlac-class is still small compared to foreign LPDs, particularly the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN, aka the Chinese Navy) whose Type 071 which are almost double the size of the PN's pride. 


Using Peru's own Buque Multiporposito (Multipurpose Vessel) LPD, which is also another design based on the Makassar-class, the vehicle deck is directly accessible to the well deck where the LCU/LCM are located. Amphibious Assault Vehicles (AAV) can be launched directly to the sea as well. The Tarlac-class has a very similar layout as this one, although the vehicle capacity is said to be a little less to compensate for the larger number of troop and cargo accommodation.
The Makassar-class' well deck, with amphibious armored vehicles ready for launching. The Tarlac-class has a similar well deck layout and design, although the Philippine Navy will be more of a KAAV/AAV-7 user instead of BMP-3 as with its counterparts in the Indonesian Marine Corps.
Photo taken from Gombaljaya c/o Timawa forum.




Future Plans: More SSV

The Philippine Navy announced during the BRP Tarlac's arrival ceremonies 2 weeks ago that the armed service is looking at acquiring 3 more SSV on top of the two ordered from PT PAL. This is different from previous plans of the Philippine Navy.

Originally, the Desired Force Mix (DFM) released by the Philippine Navy in 2012 included plans to acquire at least 4 landing platform docks, although between 2013 to 2015, the plans were adjusted to just two LPDs (Tarlac-class), and a single Landing Helicopter Assault (LHA) ship. Currently, the plan now stands for 5 SSVs using LPD design, with the next 3 ships planned to be acquired within the Horizon 2 phase of the Revised AFP Modernization Program.

MaxDefense was informed by its sources that future LPD designs after the Tarlac-class would probably have the same design features but will definitely be larger, to provide more capacity for cargo, spaces for vehicles, and probably operate more helicopters simultaneously.

An option to build the next LPDs in the Philippines are among the planned programs of the Philippine Navy, probably in cooperation with PT PAL, although PT PAL has not yet announced who their local shipyard partner is for maintenance and possible technology transfer recipient. 


The Philippine Navy, according to MaxDefense sources, is looking at flat-deck amphibious assault ship designs, like those of the Korean Dokdo-class, for a possible future acquisition. But recent changes in the Philippine Navy's "wish list" is still unclear if such plans will still be pursued within the AFP Modernization Program's Horizon 1 to 3 phases up to 2028.
Photo taken from Military-Today.com.



Looking Forward to Commissioning:

BRP Tarlac, together with BRP 601-1 and BRP 601-2, are scheduled to be commissioned to the Philippine Navy on June 1, 2016, together with 3 former Royal Australian Navy Balikpapan-class Landing Craft Heavy (LCH), locally known as Ivatan-class,  whose PN names and hull numbers are still unknown as of this writing.

Meanwhile, SSV-2, expected to be LD-602, is still under construction, PT PAL previously announced that the ship will be launched by 4th quarter of 2016, and delivered to the Philippines by May 2017.

MaxDefense will continue to update its readers on the progress of the Tarlac-class fitting of weapons and sensors, which are expected to trickle down starting this year. MaxDefense expects the first weapons to be installed are manually-operated 50-caliber M2 machine guns, which are the most basic weapons systems found on almost every Philippine Navy ship and boat.