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Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Philippine Army to convert its ACV-300 APC to Infantry Fighting Vehicles

In a bid to improve its firepower delivery capability, the Philippine Army's Mechanized Infantry Division (PA MID) has embarked on several upgrade projects for its existing fleet of armored vehicles.

Currently PA MID has an ongoing project called the M113 Firepower Upgrade project under the Horizon 1 phase, contracted to Israel's Elbit Systems Land & C4I, which improved the weapon stations of the M113A2 tracked armored personnel carrier by having 44 existing vehicles installed with the company's Dragon 12.7mm Overhead Remote Control Weapon Stations (ORCWS) and other related equipment and computer systems, while converting 5 other existing vehicles into Armored Mortar Carriers armed with the Soltam Cardom 81mm Recoil Mortar System (RMS).

Another project that was only recently finalized is the Horizon 2 phase's M113 Mortar Carrier Upgrade contracted also to Elbit Systems Land & C4I to supply 15 refurbished M113A2 tracked armored personnel carriers converted into Armored Mortar Carriers armed with the Soltam Cardom 120mm Recoil Mortar System (RMS), and also providing an upgrade kit to convert the 5 Soltam Cardom 81mm RMS from the M113 Firepower Upgrade project into 120mm mortars.

In this blog entry, we will discuss another PA MID project that is part of the Horizon 2 phase of the Revised AFP Modernization Program (RAFPMP) that we are expecting to move in the next couple of months - the M113 APC Firepower Upgrade (not to be confused with the earlier M113 Firepower Upgrade from the Horizon 1 phase).

The FNSS ACV-300 (now ACV-15) with a M242 Bushmaster 25mm gun on a BAE-FNSS Sharpshooter one-man turret. Photo taken from FNSS' website.


The Philippine Army's ACV-300 (ACV-15) tracked armored vehicles:

The Philippine Army currently has a small fleet of Turkish-made ACV-300 (now ACV-15) Advanced Armored Personnel Carrier (AAPC) acquired from Turkish company FNSS. 

These vehicles were acquired less than 10 years ago under the old AFP Modernization Program covered by RA 7898, and are considered to be the youngest armored vehicles in the Philippine Army, despite the procurement made before those assets acquired during the Horizon 1 phase.

Six (6) units were acquired from FNSS, are was supposed to be the first batch of a proposed new fleet of new tracked armored personnel carriers for the Philippine Army. While the performance of these vehicles were great, the Philippine Army realized that they are in need of hundreds of armored vehicles, yet their budget is only good for a few dozen.

Instead of purchasing more ACV-300s from FNSS, the Philippine Army decided to use the budget to acquire upgraded M113A2s (which were contracted to Elbit Systems Land & C4I), and to request the US government for used M113A2 tracked armored vehicles under the US Excess Defense Articles (EDA) program. Part of the funds for the new APCs were used for logistics, repair, and shipping 114 M113A2 armored vehicles from the US to the Philippines.

Some of the Philippine Army's ACV-300 tracked armored personnel carriers made by Turkey's FNSS. These are planned for conversion to Infantry Fighting Vehicles. Photo taken from old forum.

While the ACV-300 appear to be similar to the M113 series of tracked armored vehicles, it is in fact closer to the FMC Armored Infantry Fighting Vehicle (AIFV), more commonly known as the YPR-765 after the Dutch examples, which has some minimal improvements over the M113 family, like additional armor, sloped rear section, and enclosed turret/main weapon. 

The PA MID ACV-300 tracked APCs are armed with an 12.7mm M2 heavy machine gun on an armored ACAV main mount. Aside from the six APCs, the PA MID also has 1 unit of Armored Recovery Vehicle acquired separately under an earlier deal.

A cross-section of the ACV-300 (now called ACV-15 by FNSS), in this case with the Sharpshooter turret armed with M242 Bushmaster 25mm gun. Photo taken from FNSS website.

Gun Calibre Options:

When the PA MID originally proposed the M113 APC Firepower Upgrade, the original plan was to install the M134D Minigun 7.62mm Galting gun to at least 32 units of M113A2 and ACV-300 tracked armored personnel carriers, with a proposed budget of Php288,000,000.00.

Prior to this, the Philippine Army actually requested for the procurement of at least 8 M134D gatling guns as an emergency procurement for installation on the M113 fleet, while the Battle of Marawi against Maute terrorists was happening. 

The Marawi campaign ended without getting approval for this emergency procurement plan. Instead of forgetting the plan, the MID decided to request for more M134s Miniguns and not settle for just 8 units.

The original plan was to acquire the M134D 7.62mm gatling gun and install them on at least 32 units of M113A2 armoured personnel carriers. The experiences from the Marawi crisis made military planners change their plans.

But changes were made by the MID's Procurement Board after the AFP released its collection of learnings from the Battle of Marawi in 2017, when the MID used several of its newest assets including the M113A2+ Infantry Fighting Vehicle armed with the 25mm gun mounted on an Elbit Systems UT25 unmanned turret. Among the learning made during the conflict was that the 12.7mm heavy machine gun as well as all other smaller gun calibres are practically ineffective in urban warfare, especially in penetrating concrete walls or structures that the enemy uses for protection.

This is the same for the M134D Minigun. While the rate of fire is impressive, the machine gun's munition cannot penetrate brick/block and concrete walls and structures.

One of the Philippine Army's older M113A1 armored personnel carriers tested with an M134 7.62mm Gatling gun. Results from these previous tests from several years ago were said to be not favorable, with the Philippine Army deciding to retain the standard M2 12.7mm heavy machine gun due to its greater range and power, as well as the M134's use of considerable amount of ammunition. Photo taken from old forum.

The Philippine Army also tested their newly acquired M113A2 IFVs armed with the 25mm guns on UT25 turret, and found them able to penetrate some, but not all concrete walls. But the difference with the 7.62mm and 12.7mm machine gun rounds is very apparent.

While the learnings lean more on going for a larger calibre gun than the 25mm, economies of scale kicks in since the Philippine Army does not have other quick-fire medium calibre guns in service aside from the 25mm (which are found on the AIFV, M113A2 IFV, and Simba IFV). While the 30mm calibre is desired, it was decided to stick to 25mm instead, although options to move to the 30mm round in the future will be made open.

Manned or Unmanned Turret Options:

Going for a 25mm gun means requiring for a turret mount to be used, instead of just an armored cupola. In this case, the Philippine Army has two (2) options: either going for an unmanned turret similar to the Elbit Systems UT25 turret installed on the M113A2 IFV, or it can go for an electrical-powered manned turret similar to the one installed on the AIFV YPR-765.

Based on proposals submitted to the Philippine Army TWG, the unmanned turret option is obviously more expensive than the manned turret, although the cost difference is not too far from each other despite the extra cost for the electronic weapon station to control the gun and turret.

But it appears that there were also learning from the Battle of Marawi campaign wherein pros and cons of both manned and unmanned turret were realized. MaxDefense will defer discussion of these learning for lack of authorisation to do so. But we can safely say that manned turrets have their own benefits over unmanned turrets, and that is among the reasons why the Philippine Army TWG decided to recommend the use of manned turrets.

Two AIFVs with manned turrets (top), and an M113A2 IFV with the UT25 unmanned turret (above) during military operations. Both options were considered for the M113 APC Firepower Upgrade project.
Credits to original source of both photos.

Manned Turrets:

With the decision to go for manned turrets, there are a few who are possible suppliers for such products. Among those expected to have submitted their proposals include Turkey's FNSS, being the manufacturer of the ACV-300 vehicles, and other companies who had experience working with the Philippine Army like Elbit Systems and IMI Systems, and and other newcomers like Italy's Oto Melara - Leonardo, Israel's Rafael Advance Systems, South Africa's Denel Vehicle Systems among others.

MaxDefense believes that FNSS and Elbit Systems, as well as IMI Systems (which is now part of Elbit Group of Companies) have the best chance of bagging the project. 

Currently FNSS is expected to offer the BAE Sharpshooter 1-man turret, which is currently the standard 25mm turret for the FNSS ACV-300/ACV-15 and ACV-19 armored vehicles. Meanwhile Elbit Systems may offer a derivative of the Elbit MT30 manned turret, which is similar to the UT25 unmanned turret used by the Philippine Army.

The BAE-FNSS Sharpshooter turret. Photos taken from FNSS' old website.

The Elbit Systems MT30 manned turret shares the same basic structure as the UT30 unmanned turret. Photo taken from Elbit's website.

What's Next:

Apparently the Philippine Army Technical Working Group for this project may have already finalized the technical specifications of the project, and what's left is for the procurement phase to proceed.

So far there is no final confirmation if DND decided to have the procurement through Public Bidding, Limited Source Bidding, or Government-to-Government Negotiated Procurement. MaxDefense sources believe that there is still a chance that it could be procured via Public Bidding, which opens the project to anyone who can comply with the requirement.

We are waiting for the the Acquisition Decision Memorandum (ADM) which will determine the mode of procurement for the project.

MaxDefense will create a new portal on its website that will focus on updates regarding this project. With the Philippine Air Force given more priority in 2019, the Philippine Army would be lucky if they can push this project to start the procurement phase within 2019. If not, MaxDefense expects this project to proceed in 2020.


M113 APC Firepower Upgrade Project

* End User: Philippine Army (Mechanized Infantry Division)

* Modernization Phase: Horizon 2 Phase of RAFPMP
* Project ABC: Php288,000,000.00
Acquisition Mode: TBA, possibly Public Bidding
* SARO Release: TBA
* Winning Proponent: TBA
* Contract Price: TBA
* First post by MaxDefense: 22 September 2018


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