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Friday, June 14, 2019

Philippine Army orders Several Levels of Unmanned Aerial Systems from Israel for C4ISTAR Requirements

Recently, Israeli business media outlet Globes reported that the Israeli defense company Elbit Systems Ltd. Is nearing a US$180 million deal with the Philippine Army to supply various types of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), and that a deal would be signed in the coming weeks.

Also mentioned that the UAVs to be supplied are Elbit’s Hermes 900 and Hermes 450 large UAVs, and Skylark 1 and Skylark 3 tactical UAVs.

The Elbit Systems Skylark 3 fixed wing tactical mini UAV, among those offered to the Philippine Army.
Photo taken from Elbit Systems' website.

The Philippine Army’s Proposed Unmanned Aerial Systems Acquisitions:

The Philippine Army has always included the need acquire Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) as part of its proposed acquisitions under the Horizon 2 phase of the Revised AFP Modernization Program (RAFPMP). In all instances that such proposal were submitted or presented by the Philippine Army to the higher ups, the PA UAS Project was always packaged as an integral part of the Philippine Army C4ISTAR System Project, and included in as part of several lots intended to provide the Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) part of the network.

The Philippine Army categorized the Unmanned Aerial Systems of different sizes into Tiers or Levels, which are divided into the following:

Tier I / Level 1 Multirotor UAS: uses mini vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) multirotor mini unmanned aerial vehicles. These could be issued to company or battalion level units and would be acquired by the plentiful. It would have a range of more than 5 kilometres and endurance of at least 30 minutes.

Tier I / Level 1 Fixed Wing UAS: Tactical Mini UAS, which could be using vertical take-off and landing multirotor or hand-launched winged mini unmanned aerial vehicles. These could be issued to brigade level units. It would have a range of up to 30-40 kilometres and an endurance of more than 1 hour.

Tier II / Level 2 Fixed Wing UAS: Tactical Small UAS, using catapult-launched winged unmanned aerial vehicles. These are large enough to be supported by vehicle-mounted systems and would be used by division level units. It could have a range of around 100 kilometres and endurance of up to 6 hours. These UAVs also have a sizeable payload of cameras, infrared targeting systems and a variety of sensors, and would be great platforms for use for targeting for artillery or air strikes.

Tier III / Level 3: Large Tactical Medium Altitude Long Endurance UAS: these types utilizes large fixed wing long distance UAVs that fly for hundreds of kilometres and are most likely operated by specialized surveillance or aviation units. They are also capable of carrying a significant load of sensors and cameras, and are to be utilized to stay aloft for a long period of time over a theatre of operation, or for surveillance over large areas.

As early as 2015, the Philippine Army was already preparing the program to acquire multi-tier Unmanned Aerial Systems, and has actually identified its requirements early on, with minor changes only made over the years. A program to acquire three tiers of UAS was proposed to be allocated a budget of less than Php4 billion.

The Proponents and their Product Offerings:

From the start, it already appears that the plan was to designate the project for procurement under a Government-to-Government (G2G) mode with the Israeli government. This can be seen on the options the Philippine Army chose from during the project’s evaluation phase.

Three (3) Israeli companies competed for the selection process. Aeronautics Defense Systems Ltd., Elbit Systems Ltd., and Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) MALAT Division.

For Level 1, Aeronautics offered the Orbiter 2, Elbit with the Skylark 1-LEX, and IAI MALAT with the Bird Eye 400.

For Level 2, Aeronautics submitted the Orbiter 3, Elbit with the Skylark 3, and IAI MALAT with the Bird Eye 650D.

For Level 3, Aeronautics pushed for the Aerostar TUAV, Elbit with the Hermes 450, and IAI MALAT with the Searcher Mk. III.

Above is the selection made by the Philippine Army's TWG for the UAS Acquisition Project. Three Israeli proponents offering 3 types of UAS during the initial pre-selection phase of the project. A forth category was added later on.
Photo exclusively shared to MaxDefense by a source from the DND.

Surprisingly, in earlier evaluations by the Philippine Army’s Technical Working Group on the UAS Acquisition, IAI MALAT’s offerings were rated with the highest scores for all Levels of UAVs, with Elbit Systems’ offerings scoring a far second.

Despite the results, all companies continued to pursue the project, with some even demonstrating their products to Philippine government officials.

In fact, MaxDefense got exclusive coverage on the demonstration by Aeronautics Defense Systems on their Orbiter 3 light tactical UAV at Clark Airport on April 2017, just a few months before the Battle of Marawi happened. Aside from Philippine Army officials, other government agencies were also present to see the demonstration.

MaxDefense covered the demonstration made by Aeronautics Defense Systems in Clark on April 2017, a few months before the Battle of Marawi.

Experiences from 2017 Battle of Marawi:

In early 2017 just before the Marawi City attacks, Pres. Duterte was updated in a Command Conference by the Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana, wherein the proposed Philippine Army Unmanned Aerial Systems Acquisition Project was gone up to Php8.115 billion for 3 lots of different level/tier of UAS. Back then, the PA’s Technical Working Group (TWG) already prepared the pertinent documents while the DND is to release the Acquisition Decision Memorandun (ADM) and getting approval for the project from the president so the project would be funded by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).

Then Marawi City terrorist attacks happened. 

This event saw several units of the AFP in action, and the AFP was forced to adapt by issuing emergency acquisitions of commercially-available quadrotor UAVs for surveillance in urban operations, while being supported by RQ-20 Puma mini tactical UAVs and larger tactical MQ-1C Grey Eagle MALE UAVs of the US military and AP-3C Orion surveillance aircraft of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) to provide a bigger picture to the joint task force operating in the area.

A DJI Mavic quadcopter UAV operated during the Battle of Marawi in 2017.
Photo taken from GMA News.

The Philippine Army requested for UAVs to be acquired as part of the proposed Emergency Acquisitions, but the national government junked all proposed acquisitions when the Battle of Marawi ended in October 2017.

A US military RQ-20 Puma tactical light UAV during the Battle of Marawi.
Aside from UAVs, manned surveillance aircraft were used in the Battle of Marawi. This is a Lockheed AP-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft of the Royal Australian Air Force taken during the siege.
Photo from GMA News' Raffy Tima.

After the Marawi crisis, many of the Philippine Army’s ground units involved were equipped with dozens of commercially spec DJI Phantom 4 and Mavic UAVs purchased hastily during the crisis off-the-shelf from commercial UAV dealers in Manila. These Chinese-made UAVs were designed for photography and hobby use, but were effective in extending the eyes of small ground units especially on hard to see and hard to reach areas. The only disadvantage was that they were designed to fly only for a few minutes, and operation of these UAVs have to be quick and precise.

It appears that the experiences by the Philippine Army in the Marawi City crisis made them re-open the planned UAS acquisitions, changing a lot of the plans to instead give emphasis on acquiring military-spec rotary VTOL UAVs that are effective in close quarter or urban operations, have longer endurance and better sensors than commercial off-the-shelf UAVs, and will be operated by ground units as small as platoon or company level.

Plans for Level 2 and Level 3 UAS remained the same.

So why go Elbit?

With mini VTOL multirotor UAVs being cheaper than mini fixed-wing hand-launched UAVs, the PA was able to reduce its budget for the Unmanned Aerial Systems Acquisition Project.
Another evaluation was made by the Philippine Army Technical Working Group on the UAS Project, with the same candidates as before from Aeronautics Defense Systems, Elbit Systems, and IAI MALAT. 

But for the Level 1 Mutirotor UAS, only Elbit Systems was able to offer with their Thor Multirotor UAS.

Another reason for the change could probably be in related to the PAF's decision to go for Elbit's UAS solutions like the Hermes 450 and Hermes 900. Commonality and interoperability just swayed to Elbit's favor with the PAF getting them, making a choice of using Elbit for the PA's requirement just suddenly making more sense.

These are probably the reasons why Elbit Systems was able to get the project, as the DND decided to go with Elbit Systems’ offer for all UAS Levels.

Also, the Philippine Army reduced the Approved Budget of Contract (ABC) for the project from Php8,115,000,000.00 to just Php8,000,000,000.00, due to reasons still being determined by MaxDefense.

The Philippine Army Unmanned Aerial Systems Acquisition Project:

Due to OPSEC reasons, MaxDefense won’t specifically mention the exact quantity of UAVs involved in the acquisition.

The Department of National Defense (DND) released a Notice of Award to Elbit Systems Ltd. to supply and deliver the Levels 1 to 3 Unmanned Aerial Systems to the Philippine Army under a deal worth Php8,000,000,000.00 last May 2019, while the Contract Signing for the project was done in Manila only this week.

To support this, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) released a Special Appropriation Release Order (SARO) last 23 May 2019, with reference no. SARO-BMB-D-19-0003824 dated 22 May 2019 worth Php5,399,625,000.00 - which is the initial amount the DND would pay while the rest of the amount will be paid via MYOA based on accomplishment milestones by Elbit Systems.

Contrary to belief of many, the SARO that was released last May 2019 regarding Unmanned Aerial Systems Acquisition Project was not related to a similarly named project of the Philippine Air Force that was signed last year, but rather a new one for the Philippine Army.
Photo taken from DBM SARO sheet.

1. Elbit Systems THOR Mutirotor VTOL Mini UAS – the most plentiful in terms of number of UAVs ordered by the Philippine Army. The Thor is a quad-copter-type UAV, one of the newest products in Elbit Systems’ line of UAVs, and is ideal for low altitude observation and taking footage.

The Thor is ideal in operations on urban areas, as it can fly around corners and hide within the urban terrain, and is operable even on non-line of sight conditions. It is also very portable due to its size, and can be transported by 1 man in a portable hard backpack as shown on the photo below.

Several hundred units were ordered by the Philippine Army.

The Elbit Systems THOR multirotor mini UAV. Photo taken from Elbit Systems' website.

2. Elbit Systems Skylark 1 – LEX Fixed Wing Mini UAS – the system uses a small fixed-wing mini UAV that is good for covert aerial intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions in support of in theatre operations. 

It allows units to get high-resolution real-time surveillance videos in both day and night operations. Its effective range of operating within 40 kilometers of Line of Sight with the operator, plus its ability to use secured and encrypted communications allows it to be used on low to medium threat environment with ease.

Several dozen units were ordered by the Philippine Army.

The Elbit Systems' Skylark 1-LEX mini fixed wing tactical UAV. Credits to original sources of photos.

 3. Elbit Systems Skylark 3 Fixed-Wing Light UAS – first unveiled by Elbit Systems in 2016, it was intended to support brigade or division level units, it has an operating range of up to 100 kilometers from the operator, and an endurance of up to 6 hours flying time. It is capable of carrying up to 10 kilograms of payload, usually electro-optical infrared cameras, sensors, and surveillance equipment.

It is also highly capable in providing target detection and classification, which allows units to properly identify enemy units while also allowing the use of data for artillery and airstrike coordination.

Due to its size, it is required to be transported using light land vehicles, and launched by a pneumatic launcher, similar to the Insitu ScanEagle UAVs operated by the Philippine Air Force and the MAG Super Swiper II UAVs of the Philippine Marine Corps.

Several units were ordered by the Philippine Army.

The Elbit Systems Skylark 3 light tactical UAV. Credits to original sources of photos.

4. Elbit Systems Hermes 450 Tactical Medium Altitude Long Endurance UAS – this UAV is one of the most successful large UAVs in the market, and has been used in combat missions especially in the Middle East.

The Hermes 450 allows a wide variety of payloads while being able to operate over larger areas over long period of time. Aside from surveillance, the Hermes 450 allows other capabilities including target acquisition, use of synthetic aperture radar for remote sensing and imaging, intelliegence gathering including Electronic Intelligence (ELINT), Communication Intelligence (COMINT) and Signal Intelligence (SIGINT), Hyper-Spectral imaging, and other requirements.

Another advantage of the Hermes 450 is that the Philippine Air Force (PAF) also ordered it as part of their own Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Acquisition Project, which means commonality and inter-operability between the two branch services of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

The Elbit Systems Hermes 450, which was already ordered by the Philippine Air Force as part of their own Unmanned Aerial Systems Acquisition Project. Top photo is an actual Hermes 450 bound for the PAF during its testing last year, while bottom photo was taken from submitted offer to AFP. Both photos exclusively shared to MaxDefense by sources from the Philippine Air Force and AFP.

This new UAS acquisition is increasing the number of UAVs in service with the entire AFP. It would be remembered that the Philippine Air Force received the Insitu ScanEagle 2 UAS from the US government several months ago, with the Pentagon announcing another 8 units coming soon. The Philippine Marines also received the MAG Super Swiper 2 light tactical UAVs in 2017. The ScanEagle 2 and Super Swiper 2 UAVs are the same category as the Skylark 3 UAV ordered by the Philippine Army,

The Philippine Marines also has a few RQ-11 Raven tactical hand-launched mini UAVs that are similar to the Skylark 1-LEX ordered by the Philippine Army. These were granted by the US government as part of US Military Assistance to the Philippines.

The Philippine Air Force and the Philippine Marines also have Level 2 UAVs in service, the Insitu Scan Eagle 2 (top) and the MAG Super Swiper 2 (above), respectively. Photos credited to original owners.

Clarifications on Earlier Media Reports from Israel's Globes:

MaxDefense wishes to clarify the report made by Israeli business news outlet Globes, wherein it mentioned that the Elbit Systems was about to sign a US$180 million deal with the Philippines to supply the Hermes 450 and Hermes 900, and the Skylark 1 and Skylark 3 UAVs to the Philippine Army.

The report was partially right, since the deal between the Department of National Defense (DND) and Elbit Systems involved the delivery of Hermes 450, Skylark 1 and Skylark 3 UAVs to the Philippine Army.

But it appears that the contract amount was too high, which Globes indicated to be at around US$180 million (around Php9.5 billion), when the contract amount was only around Php8.0 billion (around US$154 million).

Instead, MaxDefense believes that Globes included the contract amount of other Philippine Army and AFP C4ISTAR sub-projects that are being negotiated with the Israeli Ministry of Defense, which may also be awarded to Elbit Systems. This would be discussed in a separate blog, or may not be discussed at all due to its confidentiality.

The US$160 million UAV deal that Globes also mentioned in the report was the Philippine Air Force's Unmanned Aerial Systems Acquisition Project, which was signed last year between the DND and Elbit Systems as part of a Government-to-Government deal between the Philippines and Israel. This is the deal where the Hermes 900 and Hermes 450 were ordered. And possibly where the mix-up of details happened.

In the meantime, MaxDefense will continuously monitor this project as the phase of movement will be happening quick as the Notice to Proceed and Opening of Letter of Credit would probably happen soon, considering the DBM already released the full amount of the project's cost.

Project Summary:
Philippine Army C4ISTAR Acquisition - Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Level 1 to 3 Acquisition Project

Note: Edited as of 19 June 2019:

* End User: Philippine Army (multiple units)

* Quantity: 3 lots (1 lot for each Level)

* Modernization Phase: Horizon 2 phase Priority Projects of RAFPMP

* Project ABC: Php8,000,000,000.00

* Acquisition Mode: Government-to-Government (G2G) deal with Israeli Government

* Source of Funding: GAA Funds through AFP Modernization Program Trust Fund, to be paid via Multi-Year Obligation Authority (MYOA)

* SARO Release: 

    - SARO-BMB-D-19-003824 dated 22 May 2019 worth Php5,399,625,000.00 (initial and partial amount), released 23 May 2019

* Winning Proponent: Elbit Systems Ltd. (Israel)

* Product for Delivery: 

    - Elbit Thor Multirotor VTOL Mini UAS (Level 1)
    - Elbit Skylark 1-LEX Mini UAS (Level 1)
    - Elbit Skylark 3 Tactical Small UAS (Level 2)
    - Elbit Hermes 450 Tactical Long Endurance UAS (Level 3)

* Contract Price: Php8,000,000,000.00

* First post by MaxDefense: 16 March 2018


First edit and release: 14 June 2019
Copyright MaxDefense Philippines


  1. Sir hasn't the Philippine Army been able to produce small scale drones on its own and were used in the battle of Marawi ?

  2. Good! Congratz AFP, basta huuwag kayong bbli ng Chinese Sh@#t products. Ok!! Congratz uli.


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