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Sunday, May 7, 2017

BRP Gregorio del Pilar misses Continuous Maintenance Availability, Emphasizes Need of Philippine Navy for More Warships

Last April 23, 2017, the Philippine Navy's Del Pilar-class frigate BRP Gregorio del Pilar (FF-15) was relieved of its duties with the Naval Forces West (NAVFORWEST) to undergo a Continuous Maintenance Availability in Subic, Zambales. She was replaced by her sistership BRP Andres Bonifacio (FF-17) who just came back from Langkawi, Malaysia after attending LIMA 2017 as the Philippines' representative to the event.

A few days later, MaxDefense received confirmation from its sources that BRP Gregorio del Pilar will be the Philippines' representative in the 50th Anniversary of the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN), which will hold its 1st Maritime Review, and will also be present at IMDEX Asia 2017 defense exhibition in Changi Naval Base, which coincides with the maritime review. The ship held its send-off ceremonies yesterday, May 6, 2017.

This means that BRP Gregorio del Pilar will not be able to go for its scheduled maintenance, and instead will be deployed to Singapore.

BRP Gregorio del Pilar during CARAT 2014.
Original photo taken from US Navy via Wikimedia Commons.

Continuous Maintenance Availability:

Every few years, a ship enters what we call a Continuous Maintenance Availability (CMAv), which is a maintenance procedure that can be done without the need for dry docking, and involves refreshing the ship's physical appearance, repairing or maintaining minor systems, conducting tests and maintenance of its machinery and electrical systems, and if possible, conduct upgrades.

MaxDefense believes that the scheduled CMAv on BRP Gregorio del Pilar is not the first time scheduled by the Philippine Navy since the ship was commissioned to service 6 years ago, and this is actually its second time to have CMAv as a Philippine Navy ship.

Also, this is not the first time the ship skipped its scheduled CMAv. MaxDefense sources confirmed that FF-15 has not been able to commit to its CMAv schedules due to operational deployments, mostly in support of patrols in the West Philippine Sea area.

BRP Gregorio del Pilar Skips CMAv:

The scheduled CMAv on FF-15 was actually planned as early as last year, so any deviation to the plan should have been made earlier if the ship is in need to reschedule its CMAv. But from April 23 to somewhere between April 29 to 30, changes were made by the Philippine Navy. That is not normal for a sudden change of plan, and it is possible that there should have been another ship originally scheduled to attend the activities in Singapore.

Send-off and arrival ceremonies for BRP Gregorio del Pilar (FF-15) and BRP Andres Bonifacio (FF-17), respectively, from assignment with NAVFORWEST, as FF-15 goes for its supposed CMAv.
Photo taken from NAVFORWEST's FB page. 

Being the current chairman of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Philippines has committed to play an active role in different regional activities, and that includes the Philippine Navy, which was confirmed by its Flag Officer in Command (FOIC), Vice Admiral Ronald Joseph S. Mercado during an interview @ LIMA 2017. This means that there is no way for the PN to miss this event in Singapore, and has to do everything in its capacity to send a ship to represent the country.

MaxDefense believes that there are no available ships in the fleet to attend the Singapore activities, and it has to make changes on BRP Gregorio del Pilar's schedules to allow such deployment. This actually supports MaxDefense's earlier statements that the Philippine Navy is in need for more ships in its fleet at the fastest possible time.

PN FOIC VAdm. Mercado during his interview with Malaysian media wherein he stated the PN's commitment for active participation and leadership in regional naval events this year, in line with the Philippines' chairmanship of ASEAN.
Photo taken from the PN's FB page.

Missed Installation of Mk. 38 Mod. 3 Machine Gun System:

The CMAv schedule for BRP Gregorio del Pilar was supposed to include the installation of a new weapons system, which is the Mk. 38 Mod. 3 machine gun system (MGS), which was ordered under Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programme with the US Navy since 2015. MaxDefense posted a blog entry regarding this development last month.

The MGS were delivered to the Philippines a few days ago, and installation of the entire system will take several days. This should have made the BRP Gregorio del Pilar the second Del Pilar-class frigate to have an automated Mk. 38 system as part of its capability. Currently, the ship is equipped with a manually operated Mk. 38 Mod. 1 at the tail end, and two manually operated 20mm Oerlikon guns at midships. The Mk.38 Mod. 3 will replace the Oerlikon guns.

Although the report from the US mentioned that the Mk. 38 Mod. 3 will be the 25mm caliber variant, MaxDefense there is a possibility for the Philippine Navy to have chosen the larger 30mm caliber variant. It may seem like a new caliber for the Navy, but it makes sense since the new frigate ordered from HHI were specified to have a 30mm machine gun system as well, making its availability inevitable.

This delivery means that the Mk. 38 Mod. 3 ordered by the Philippine Navy in 2016 will probably be for BRP Andres Bonifacio (FF-17), and is scheduled for delivery next year.

MaxDefense sources confirmed that FF-15 will finally have its CMAv once it arrives from Singapore late this month, including the installation of the Mk. 38 Mod. 3 gun system, and will probably be out of action for several weeks.

The Mk. 38 Mod. 3 machine gun system intended for the BRP Gregorio del Pilar (FF-15) is already waiting to be installed. The skipping of the ship's CMAv means the installation of this system will be delayed for a while.

Need for More Navy Ships:

Currently the Philippine Navy only has 15 major surface combatants in its fleet, composed of three (3) Del Pilar-class frigates, one (1) Cannon-class destroyer escort, two (2) Rizal-class, three (3) Jacinto-class, five (5) Malvar-class, and one (1) Cyclone-class patrol vessels.

The Cannon-class destroyer escort, BRP Rajah Humabon (FF-11), is currently used as a training vessel and is only used for patrol, training, and ceremonial purposes within the Manila-Subic area.

The BRP Rajah Humabon (FF-11) is currently in reduced operational capability and is being used as a training and ceremonial ship. It is expected to be the next ship to be retired by the Philippine Navy.
Photo taken from Wikimedia Commons.

The three Jacinto-class are mostly on port, also on their CMAv schedules, as upgrades are being made on its combat systems (JCPV Upgrade Phase 3A and 3B) and machinery system (JCPV Upgrade Phase 2 for PS-37). With the number of patrol ships going down as BRP Iloilo was retired from service in September 2016, there has no direct replacement made until now for these ageing patrol ships.

The only confirmed ship coming in within this year is the Pohang-class corvette, the former ROKS Chung Ju (PCC-762), whose crew will be coming in from different ships of the Philippine Fleet but mostly with experience with the Del Pilar-class frigates. There is no confirmation yet that the Philippine Navy will receive more Pohang-class ships from South Korea, although the MaxDefense sources confirmed that the Philippine Navy is actually pursuing to have at least three (3) ships of the class, depending on availability and approval of the South Korea government.

The only confirmed incoming warship as of now is the Pohang-class Flight III corvette ROKS Chung Ju (PCC-762) which is set to arrive in the Philippines by 4th quarter of 2017.

MaxDefense has also recommended the acquisition of the Joao Coutinho-class patrol vessels of the Portuguese Navy as a short-term solution to allow the retirement of more ageing Malvar-class ships, in which two are available for transfer anytime and has already been inspected by a team from the Philippine Navy. MaxDefense was informed that another inspection will be taking place soon, and will probably the final one before a decision is made to take in or turn down the acquisition plan. Should this offer be taken, the Philippine Navy may also opt to take a third ship, which is still in service with the Portuguese Navy but will be retired soon.

MaxDefense previously mentioned about the interests of the Philippine Navy in acquiring the Joao Coutinho-class patrol vessels of the Portuguese Navy. Up until now, the PN has not made any finality in its decision if they will or will not acquire the ships, two of which are available for grabs anytime.
Photo taken from

Americans Watching:

MaxDefense also received information that the assets that the US government provided are actually being monitored by the US government, specifically by JUSMAG Philippines. The feedback MaxDefense received is that they are concerned about the Philippine Navy's decision to skip the ship's CMAv, which makes them think that the Philippine Navy is not taking care of the assets being provided by the US to them. This might affect any future decision by the US government to provide assets to the Philippine Navy.

MaxDefense believes that this is actually a double edged sword. While it appears that the PN is getting a negative rating on maintenance of US-provided assets, it also allows the PN to support its request to be provided with more assets to allow the PN to meet all its operational requirements without pushing its ships beyond the limits. Based on previous information we received, the Philippine Navy is actually interested in acquiring a 4th Hamilton-class cutter from the US Coast Guard, while also looking at the possibility of acquiring more capable ships like the Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate, or any of its sub-class including the Adelaide-class frigates of the Royal Australian Navy.

Doing the Math:

As mentioned above, the Philippine Navy has fifteen (15) major surface combatants. Eight (8) of them are World War 2-era ships that need to be replaced by 2020, according to the Philippine Navy's own Sail Plan. That means there are only seven (7) ships (Del Pilar-class, Jacinto-class, and Cyclone-class) that will remain in service past 2020.

Just to keep up with the numbers, it means the Philippine Navy need to have 8 replacement ships by 2020. So far only 1 is confirmed coming (ex-ROKS Chung Ju). So we still need 7. If the PN opts to get the 2 Joao Coutinho-class patrol vessels that are currently on offer, the requirement is still 5 ships. The frigates awarded to Hyundai Heavy Industries only confirmed that one will be delivered by 2020, although MaxDefense believes that it won't be in service immediately. The other frigate will be delivered by 2021. If that goes according to plan, the requirement is still for 4 ships.

For Horizon 2, the Philippine Navy has requested for 4 new frigates, and 6 new Multirole Patrol Vessels/Offshore Patrol Vessels. Its still to be seen if an order will be made by 2018 or 2019, but if the Philippine Navy goes for the same bidding process as usual, expect an award 3 years after the bidding starts, so thats probably after 2020. Same is true for any additional frigates aside from those ordered from HHI. It means that new assets won't be able to replace the outgoing assets within the 2020 deadline, putting the PN at risk of reduced naval capability between 2020 and 2022-2023 should the PN strictly implement the retirement deadline.

Aside from replacing the World War 2-era warships, MaxDefense believes, and as discussed on the earlier pages of this blog, that the Philippine Navy needs more ships to also increase the ship numbers in the fleet to allow for greater presence in Philippine waters, and faster response to any requirement for naval support.

Used ships acquired to replace the World War 2 assets will remain in service beyond Horizon 2, allowing the PN to at least have the greater number it needs. If all procurement proposals MaxDefense made, and all other procurement plans go according to planned (which MaxDefense highly doubts), the Philippine Navy will have the following assets by 2025: 2 HHI-built frigates, 3 Del Pilar-class frigates, 2 to 4 new OPV/MRPV, 3 Pohang-class, 3 Joao Coutinho-class, 3 upgraded Jacinto-class, and 1 Cyclone-class. That's 17 to 19 ships, or just a little over the current numbers - still below the numbers that MaxDefense believes could make a difference to meet future requirements. This ship list is already the "best" option, meaning all options on Pohang, Joao Coutinho, and new OPVs were made.

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With this, MaxDefense's previous recommendations stand, that the Philippine Navy should consider acquiring used but still useful warships from friendly countries as a stop-gap measure to replace the World War 2-era warships in its fleet, and as a short to medium-term measure to increase the number of ships available for the Philippine Navy and increase its capability to meet all its requirements.


  1. No mention of Adelaide class and the fourth Hamilton at the final count. Seems a statement as it is and is quite troubling. Also looking forward for the blog re AFP plans to procure Russian defense articles

  2. Acquiring beyond 3 units of the pohang class would be a delight, especially for a navy that requires at least 12 corvettes in its fleet. 6 patrol variants (3 jcpv, 3 coutinhos), then 6 asw variants (all pohangs) will provide us the much needed sea-patrolling capabilities and firepower. And we're not talking about frigates yet.

    BTW how many units of the adelaide guided missile frigs does the PN intends to acquire?

  3. Are there any cyclone class from the US which will soon to be retired from service?

  4. Yes, the Americans are watching because we want to know if the Philippines are taking care of the Military equipment that is being handed down to them. It's going to be an indication whether or not the US Government is willing to give the Philippines anymore Military gear. If they can't take care of the Military gear now, what makes you think the US is gona allow Sweden to sell the Gripen to the Philippines or allow Australia to sell the Adelaide class Frigate . It's basically a test case to see if the Philippines are capable of taking care of the used US Military gear.

    1. Just like the test with the F-8 Crusaders, when the PhAF wanted F-165 or F-16s in the 80s

  5. Trivia: Max, there's a company in the USA that sells tags from retired warplanes and commercial airliners. The choices are astounding. You can have a piece of a retired B-17, B-25, Chinook, B-747, name it, the company probably has it. Why can't local companies do the same? The PN just retired BRP Iloilo. Pieces of it could have been fashioned into tags and sold to collectors. Tags sold by the US company are selling from $50.00 to more than $100.00. The piece of sheet metal ripped from BRP Tarlac could have been a bonanza to the PN if it saved it and have tags made out of it, with the help of a local company that specializes in computer-guided and aided precision cutting of metals. Just my two cents. Ignore if it is stupid.

  6. Didn't see you mention about the Ulsan-class. I believe there is at least one available and should be more available by 2020. Aren't we looking at this also is they are available?

  7. By the looks of things the phn is still in that stage of just getting by. 20 surface combatants? Singapore has 12 but has a land area just the size of Quezon City...and they have 6 subs. I hope the higher ups don't stop on these ships alone because if we do then it's no different from 30 years ago.

  8. In as much as I admire Sec. Lorenzana with his independent stand from the president, it is his job to look into this, it is in this area that former Sec. Gazmin has edge on him. Many or as much as 80% of the procurement in H1 was under Gazmin, even the frigates signing were intentionally delayed to give respect to the coming administration. In this administration, there is no major defense procuremeny except for the frigates which i personally credit to Pnoy's.

  9. Actually sailing to singapore could be the best thing to happen to BRP georgio del pillar, as maintenance could be done at singaporean shipyards, after the ceremonies has finished.

    1. why even bothered to spend more at Singapore shipyard if you can do t cheaper and create jobs at own's country? this is ship routine maintenance any decent shipyard can do it..

  10. Sir Max,

    When you stated that " the Philippine Navy may also opt to take a third ship, which is still in service with the Portuguese Navy but will be retired soon", other than the Baptista de Andrade and the João Coutinho, does PN looking for the retirement of one of the Vasco da Gama class, since it was built around 1989 and commissioning date was 1989-1990?
    As Santi Kampilan stated, is the PN not looking at the recently decommissioned Ulsan Class. It is a descent ASW/ASUW frigate. Or maybe because of the current state of the ship and the cost why is it not being eyed by PN.
    Im glad that the upgrades for the Jacinto Class has started.

  11. Sir max OT is the PN considering the israeli made Gabriel mk IV as anti ship missiles for its current fleet? Specially for the smaller Jacinto class and the sole Cyclone..these are smaller but very capable Ashm. Any news?

  12. A Philippine Navy in tatters will still not miss any society ball. They have forgotten their first mission is to defend the country, therefore maintenance cannot be circumvented nor installation of additional weapons. Going to Singapore cannot be called a "deployment." Where is the Navy's head?

  13. Sir Max,

    For your permission, I cannot comment at maxdefense@facebook, so I would post it here. Is the reason why there are limited news regarding the two HHI 2600 frigate from ROK is because of some importation issues they are encountering from Italy, since mostly of the weapons and sensor are from them? Could you give us just a hint of information if this is true? Would this be the bad news from the PIO as posted by Adroth or it could be really worse and the frigate project would be delayed worst cancelled.

  14. Sir ANS, good to see you here. The debates between Max and Adroth on Facebook is getting very interesting. I hope you have a Facebook account as you were one of the few who can put up a debate with Adroth.


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