Your 1st for Philippine Defense

Austal leads Philippine Navy's OPV Acquisition Project!

SecDef Lorenzana confirms Austal is still the preferred OPV supplier for the PN

The Philippine Navy commissions its 2nd Jose Rizal-class frigate!

The Philippine Navy welcomes BRP Antonio Luna (FF-151), its newest frigate!

The Philippine Navy selects Shaldag Mk. V for Fast Attack Interdiction Craft!

The DND has awarded the FAIC-M Acquisition Project to Israel Shipyards

The Philippine Air Force wants more Black Hawk helicopters!

The Philippine Air Force asks for more Black Hawks to allow the retirement of their Bell UH-1 Huey fleet

The Philippine Army orders the Sabrah Light Tank System from Israel!

Israel's Elbit Systems was declared the winner to supply light tanks to the PA

The Philippine Air Force receives full order of Hermes 900 and Hermes 450 UAVs!

All 9 Hermes 900 and 4 Hermes 450 MALE UAVs have been received by the PAF!

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Philippine Air Force Options for Aerial Refuelling: Probe-and-Drogue or Flying Boom?

Since we’ve been discussing about aerial refuelling tanker aircraft this morning, might as well expand the discussion further into the Philippine setting.

Currently the Philippine Air Force is not in need of any air refuelling tanker aircraft, since all of its current air assets do not have aerial refuelling capability.

But this can change in the next few years, especially with the PAF already serious in its acquisition of Multi-Role Fighters like the Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Block 70/72 Viper and the Saab JAS-39C/D Gripen. Both aircraft have built-in aerial refuelling capability, although they use different methods in doing so.

A KC-135 Stratotanker providing fuel to F-16s using the Flying Boom method.
Photo taken from US Air Force archives. To

Right Method for Every Aircraft:

There is a correct method of aerial refuelling for every aircraft.

The F-16 Viper, as well as its older Fighting Falcon variants uses the Flying Boom method, while the JAS-39 Gripen (all variants) uses the Probe and Drogue method.

A closer shot of the Gripen with it's extended probe receiving fuel from an article refuelling tanker using the Probe and Drogue method.

Meanwhile, while the KAI FA-50PH Fighting Eagle does not have aerial refuelling capabilities, KAI has already developed the DART system that was offered to the USAF as part of its T-50A variant. Although the T-50A was not selected, the technology is already there and just needs further development and certification. The DART system uses the Flying Boom method as well, similar to the F-16. Also, KAI has previous plans to incorporate aerial refuelling capability to the T-50/FA-50 family using an installable Probe, to allow the Probe and Drogue method.

So, in selecting the PAF’s future aerial refuelling tanker, one has to consider the aircraft which will require it. If the PAF selects the F-16 Viper, then it is logical that the PAF needs to consider the Flying Boom system. But if the PAF selects the JAS-39 Gripen, then it has to go for Probe and Drogue system.

Currently, the cheapest aerial refuelling option is for the PAF to acquire used and refurbished Lockheed KC-130H/T Hercules heavy tactical transport-tanker aircraft from US stocks. But this option is limited only to Probe and Drogue refuelling method (as the KC-130 does not employ the Flying Boom). This is only possible if the PAF chooses the JAS-39 Gripen as its MRF.

 A KC-130 Hercules conducting aerial refuelling ops for a couple of JAS-39 Gripens.
Photo taken from the Swedish Air Force.

The Flying Boom options:

But if the PAF goes for the F-16 Viper, it has no choice but to drop the KC-130 and instead go for platforms that support the Flying Boom refuelling method:

* Currently the cheapest is going for refurbished former USAF KC-135R Stratotankers. But these aircraft, based on the old Boeing 707, are at the end of their service life and isn’t feasible unless for short time gap filler use.
* The most feasible based on MaxDefense’s option is to consider converted airliner-based aircraft like converting used Airbus A320 or the larger A330, or Boeing’s 737 or 767 family. Israel’s IAI made such offer to the Royal Australian Air Force a few years ago and has done the same for other markets.
* High end option includes going for brand new Airbus A330 MRTT or Boeing KC-46 Pegasus.  But considering the high acquisition cost, MaxDefense doesn’t recommend this.

An F-16 conducting aerial refuelling from an anrticulated "flying" boom.

The good thing with airliner-based options like the A330 and B767 is that they can also be fitted with the Drogue system on the tanker’s wings, allowing for 2 aircraft to refuel at the same time. This while also retaining the articulated Boom at the aircraft’s body. This means the PAF won’t have difficulty choosing its future aircraft plans based on aerial refuelling requirements.

Not only fighter aircraft will benefit from having an Aerial Refuelling capability. Other PAF aircraft can also be given the capability to refuel in mid-air should it become available, including the Airbus C-295 and Lockheed C-130 Hercules, the future Long Range Patrol Aaircrafr, and even the Sikorsky S-70i Black Hawk helicopter.

The CARTS - A Future Possibility for F-16 Vipers:

But going for F-16 Vipers doesn't mean aerial tankers with Probe and Drogue systems won't work. An (expensive) option for the PAF is to consider installing the joint US-India-Israel developed Aerial Refuelling Tank System (CARTS), although this is still something that is not yet in the market.

The CARTS during testing. Despite it's advantages, it's not yet available in the market.
Photo taken from

MaxDefense's Conclusion:

In the long term point of view, MaxDefense recommends the use of refurbished converted airliner aircraft to have both the articulated boom for Flying Boom refuelling method, while also have the wing-mounted Drogues for Probe and Drogue refuelling method.

A Boeing 767-based aerial refuelling tanker shows it's ability to use the Probe and Drogue refuelling system by refuelling the probe-equippee Saab JAS-39 Gripen.

Not only are these aircraft used as aerial refuelling tankers, they are also freighters that can carry palletized cargo for military and peacetime operations.

But if the PAF settles with the Saab JAS-39C/D Gripen, it can do with refurbished KC-130H/T Hercules for the short and medium term. This allows the PAF to spend less for such capability while also maintaining compatibility with it's existing C-130 fleet.

Its now up to the Philippine Air Force on when they will be needing such capability based on their modernization program. Originally, the PAF has a requirement for at least 2 to 3 aerial refuelling tanker aircraft under its Horizon 3 modernization phase.

Achievable? Yes, as long as the PAF can defend the funding for its Horizon 3 modernization program.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Delivery Imminent for the Philippine Air Force's 2 new Elta ELM-2288ER AD-STAR Air Defense Radars

The Philippine Air Force (PAF) will be receiving two brand new ELM-2288ER AD-STAR Extended Range long range ground based air defense and surveillance radars very soon. This is after the delivery of both radars were delayed by several months based on the contract signed by the Philippines' Department of National Defense (DND) and Israeli defense technology company IAI Elta Systems Ltd.

MaxDefense received first hand information that the two radars, which were supposed to have been delivered last 2018, will be received by the Philippine Air Force in a very short time.

An example of IAI Elta's ELM-2288 AD-STAR air defense radar. In the ASEAN region, it is currently being used by the Philippine Air Force and the Vietnamese armed forces.
Credits to original source of photo.


The Department of National Defense, on behalf of the Philippine Air Force, awarded the contract to supply three (3) Air Defense and Surveillance Radar Systems to Israel's IAI Elta Systems Ltd. on December 2014 under a Government-to-Government (G2G) deal between the Philippines and Israeli defense ministries.  

The project is part of the Horizon 1 phase of the Revised AFP Modernization Program as government by Republic Act 10349 (RA 10349).

IAI Elta Systems offered their Elta ELM-2288ER AD-STAR Extended Range air defense radar system, plus also offered a free Elta ELM-2106NG tactical air defense radar as part of the deal.

The deal is worth Php2,680,000,000.00, although MaxDefense expects the actual peso cost to increase due due to the devaluation of the Philippine pesos against the US dollar since the contract was signed in 2014.

It was reported that the Opening of Letter of Credit (LOC) only happened on January 2016, or 13 months after contract signing.

Usually the Opening of LOC is the basis for the start of the contract implementation, as it guarantees the supplier that they would be paid for being able to deliver the products.

IAI Elta Systems was able to deliver the 1st unit of the ELM-2288ER AD-STAR Extended Range radar, and also the ELM-2106NG tactical radar, ahead of the contract delivery date. But the same cannot be said of the two other AD-STAR ER radars.

Last 24 November 2018, MaxDefense posted in its Facebook community page that the delivery of both radars were already delayed, since the PAF and DND are expecting the second ELM-2288ER AD-STAR radar by May 2018, and the third unit by November 2018. Prior to the post, MaxDefense received confirmation from reliable sources that IAI Elta was indeed delayed, to the dismay of the DND and PAF.

It appears that the Israeli Ministry of Defense (IMOD) and its International Defense Cooperation Directorate (SIBAT) assisted the Philippines in facilitating the delivery and avoid further issues.

Now, MaxDefense got confirmation that  the delivery of 2 radars to the PAF is imminent, and will be arriving at the same time. These radars will be installed on current radar stations of the PAF which underwent rehabilitation and reconstruction works to allow them to operate the Israeli radars. One radar will be installed at the Gozar Air Station in Lubang Island, Mindoro, and another one in Salakot Air Station in Palawan.

An old photo of Gozar Air Station in Lubang Island, Mindoro, as taken during the 1960s. The facility has undergone reconstruction works as it fell into poor state leading to 2016 due to under funding of the PAF.
Credits to original source of the photo.

The IAI Elta ELM-2288ER AD-STAR Extended Range Air Defense Radar:

The IAI Elta ELM-2288ER AD-STAR is a long range air defense and air surveillance radar system made by Israel's IAI Elta Systems Ltd. The radar was first introduced in 2011, and is considered as a 3D solid-state S-band long range radar system designed to be a low-cost, high performance replacement to legacy radar systems like those used by the PAF.

According to its posted specific, the ELM-2288ER has an instrumental range of at least 480 kilometer, although MaxDefense believes it could be more that that considering manufacturers usually downplay their claimed maximum performance and only show the real values to the end-user as classified information.

It is being marketed in the ASEAN market, with successes particularly with the Philippines and Vietnam which both purchased the AD-STAR radar system. So far the Philippine Air Force operates one unit installed in the PAF's Paredes Air Station in Pasuquin, Ilocos Norte.

With the introduction of the 2 pending deliveries to the Philippine Air Force, it is expected that the PAF will be able to see all air activities in the western and north-western side of the country facing the disputed territories and interests in the West Philippine Sea, and boundaries with Vietnam, China, Taiwan and Sabah.

Gozar Air Station and Salakot Air Station are among those that are being rehabilitated to allow the use of these facilities for meeting the PAF's goals.
Photo taken from PAF report on Flight Plan 2028.

What's Next:

With the delivery delays affecting the 3 radar units under the Horizon 1 phase, there is a strong chance that the issue could be considered by the DND and PAF technical team as a risk during considerations of getting more radars from IAI Elta Systems, and may have effects on their bid for the upcoming Air Defense Radar acquisition project under the Horizon 2 phase.

As part of the Horizon 2 phase, the PAF is looking to acquire another 5 units of long range air defense and surveillance radars to complete the radar coverage of the entire Philippines and it's surrounding EEZ.

The proposed budget for this new radar requirement is projected to cost around Php5,500,000,000.00.

MaxDefense previously received information from our sources that IAI Elta is currently competing with  Lockheed Martin and Mitsubishi Electric, and some other radar suppliers from Europe including Saab, Thales, and Leonardo.

But since the PAF is already a user of the IAI Elta ELM-2288ER, it could be a benefit that might help IAI Elta to receive follow-on orders from the DND and PAF. 

So far, IAI Elta Systems believe that the PAF would still position their product on the top of the PAF's shortlist which is expected to be out within this year.

Meanwhile, it would take several weeks from delivery for the radar systems to be installed to their intended locations, and the entire system might take months before it can be considered operational. 

The advantage at the moment is that personnel of the PAF's 580th Aircraft Control and Warning Wing are already exposed to using the system that was delivered in 2017, thus the transition would be easier compared to 2 years ago.


Air Defense Surveillance Radar System acquisition project 

End User: Philippine Air Force (580th Aircraft Control and Warning Wing)
Modernization Phase: Revised AFP Modernization Program Horizon 1 phase
ABC: Php2,680,000,000.00
SARO Release: to be updated
Status as of this writing: Deliveries ongoing
Selected Proponent: IAI Elta Systems Ltd. Israel
Contract Price: Php2,680,000,000.00

U P D A T E S:

14 March 2019:

When MaxDefense posted this blog entry last January 2019, we mentioned that the delivery of the two remaining Elta Systems ELM-2288ER AD-STAR air defense and surveillance radar systems were "imminent".

But "imminent" means very soon, but how soon was it really?

Actually, MaxDefense was just not very specific on the actual status of delivery of the radars due to operational security concerns that may affect the delivery and safety of the materiel for delivery.

When MaxDefense said "imminent", the radar systems were actually already in the Philippines and just awaiting for the Philippine Air Force to receive the delivery and take them to the radar sites assigned to receive the radars.

Now we can safely say that the radars could already be installed by now, although it would take some time before these could be considered operational. Further system checks, tests, and training and familiarity of personnel are required before these can be considered operational and ready to serve as part of the air defense system of the country.

Expect more news on these new radar systems in the next few months.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Finally, PN's Pohang-class Corvette Coming Home Before Mid-Year, to be named BRP Conrado Yap (PS-39)

After all the self-inflicted delays, the transfer of a Pohang-class corvette to the Philippine Navy (PN) is indeed finally happening before the middle of 2019.

Aside from the press statement made by the Philippine Navy's Flag Officer in Command (FOIC) Vice Adm. Robert Empedrad confirming that the Pohang-class corvette donated by the South Korean government will be delivered by March or April 2019, MaxDefense was also able to obtain similar information from several defense and naval sources.

Based on the FOIC's statements alone, the assigned officers and crew members of the ship will be departing for South Korea before the end of January 2019. MaxDefense sources added that there are still possible delays, although the full deployment of all crewmembers to South Korea will definitely be completed before February 2019 ends.

The Pohang-class combat corvette ROKS Chungju (PCC-762), which was transferred to the Philippine Navy and will be named BRP Conrado Yap (PS-39).
Credits to original source of the photo.

The Ship: ROKS Chungju (PCC-762)

The ship involved, the former ROKN Pohang-class combat corvette ROKS Chungju (PCC-762), one of the four Flight III ships of the class. She was commissioned with the Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN) in 1987 and served the ROKN until 2016.

She is 88.3 meters long, with a beam of 10 meters and draft of 2.9 meters. Displacement is at 1,220 tons full load. The ship was rated for a crew of 118 personnel.

The ship is powered in a Combined Diesel or Gas (CODOG) configuration, with two (2) MTU 12V956 TB82 diesel engines and one (1) GE LM2500 PB gas turbine engine, all running 2 Kamewa controllable pitch propellers. She is rated to run a maximum speed of 30 knots using the gas turbine engine, and has an endurance of up to 20 days. It is also rated  with a maximum range of 4,000 nautical miles @ 15 knots cruising speed using diesel engines.

Prior to retirement, the ship was equipped with the following systems:
a. Weapon Systems:
- 2 x Mk. 72 Oto Melara 76mm/62 Compact main naval guns
- 2 x Otobreda twin 40mm/70 secondary naval guns
- 2 x Mk.32 triple 324mm torpedo tubes, compatible with Mk.44, Mk.46 and MU90 torpedoes
- 1 x Mistral firing station for MBDA Mistral or LIGNex1 Chiron VSHORAD missile
- 2 x Mk. 9 Depth Charge Racks (6 bombs each)
- 6 x 12.7/50 heavy machine guns

The Flight III ships were not equipped with anti-ship missiles, unlike the Flight II (MM38 Exocet) and Flights IV & V (Harpoon). The Flight III was configured more for Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW).

b. Sensor Systems:
- Ferranti WSA 324 combat data system
- Raytheon AN/SPS-64(V)5B surface search radar
- Singaal (now Thales) LIOD optronic director
- Signaal (now Thales) WM28 fire control radar,
- Raytheon AN/SQS-58 hull mounted sonar
- ULQ-12(V)1K electronic support measures

After retirement, the ROKN removed several systems, mostly obsolete but others are because they are for use only by the ROKN. These include the following items:
- 1 x Mistral firing station for MBDA Mistral or LIGNex1 Chiron VSHORAD missile,
- 6 x 12.7/50 heavy machine guns
- ULQ-12(V)1K electronic support measures
- several others that we won't be mentioning anymore

It also appears that the Mk. 9 Depth Charge racks are no longer there.

The Philippine Navy recommended the replacement of removed systems especially on navigation and communication systems. And although they did not appropriate funds to acquire a new Electronic Support Measures (ESM) and Mistral firing station, the ship is now proven to be able to accommodate such subsystems. The current planned acquisition of Radar-ESM by the Philippine Navy for the Del Pilar-class Frigate Upgrade project, as well as the planned use of MBDA Mistral missiles on the upcoming new frigates could be a basis for future upgrade on the Pohang-class corvette.

Another item for installation by the Philippine Navy is a deck crane for a 7-meter Zodiac-type RHIB.

The Department of National Defense and the Philippine Navy are also in coordination with the South Korean Ministry of Defense on the acquisition of 76mm, 40mm, and 12.7mm ammunition, heavy machine guns, spare parts, supplies, and others. Should the DND and PN fail to secure the transfer of ROKS's existing stock of ammunition, it is expected that the DND and PN might shell out additional funds and purchase directly from Poongsan Corporation, which is the ROKN's supplier of naval gun ammunition.

The ROKN removed the Mistral firing station from the ROKS Chungju after its retirement from service. But the point that this was installed means the PN can also install a similar system once the ship is in their possession. The PN is an upcoming user of the MBDA mistral VSHORAD missile, as it is among those to be used on the new frigates being built in South Korea by Hyundai Heavy Industries.
Credits to original source of photo.

More details can be found on our older MaxDefense blog on the Pohang-class corvettes, which can be found below. Please note that prior to the ROKS Chungju, originally the South Korean government offered the older ROKS Mokpo (PCC-757) which is an older Flight II unit with some differences on design and subsystem as the Flight III units.

"Overview on ROKN's Pohang-class Corvettes, and Transfer of 1 ship to the PN" - dated 08 June 2014.

Another photo of ROKS Chungju (PCC-762).
Credits to original photo source.

Capt. Conrado Yap, and the new BRP Conrado Yap (PS-39)

As early as 2018, it was already floated by the Philippine Navy that the ship should be named after gallant Filipino military leaders or men that served in the Korean War as part of the Philippine Expeditionary Forces to Korea (PEFTOK). Another option was to name it after famous Filipino generals, leaders, or chieftains.

In the end, the final choice as approved by the Philippine Navy was BRP CONRADO YAP (PS-39).

As early as 3rd quarter of 2018, MaxDefense already received information from our sources that the most likely name to be used on the former ROKS Chungju is BRP Conrado Yap (PS-39). This became the basis of the illustration we requested one of our contributors to make. Take note "addition to the Fleet in 2018" was written on top as it was anticipated before that the ship will be delivered before December 2018.
Thanks to one of our contributors and a MaxDefense community member for providing this illustration to us last year.

Capt. Conrado Yap O-1914 Philippine Army, is considered as the most decorated Filipino soldier during the Korean War. He posthumously received a Philippine Medal of Valor, the country's highest military honour, as well as a US Distinguished Service Cross, for gallantry in action as part of the Tank Company, 10th Battalion Combat Team (10th BCT), Philippine Army. They fought the China People's Volunteer Army's 44th Division  in the Battle of Yultong in South Korea during the Chinese First Spring Offensive in April 1951.

 Capt. Yap was born in Zambales, and is a member of Philippine Military Academy class 1943.

This isn't the first time that the name "Conrado Yap" was used in the Philippine Navy ship. Prior to the Pohang-class corvette, the Philippine Navy has the BRP Conrado Yap (PG-840) , the lead boat of the Conrado Yap-class fast patrol boats, which were also transferred by the South Korean government to the Philippines in 1993.

Capt. Conrado Yap was the commanding officer of the Tank Company, 10th Battalion Combat Team (10th BCT), Philippine Army. Considered as the most decorated Filipino soldier in the Korean War, he was killed in action during the Battle of Yultong against the China People's Volunteer Army's 44th Division.
Photo taken from Wikipedia.

A photo of Capt. Conrado Yap with an M4 Sherman medium tank of the Philippine Army. This appears to be taken in Manila before deplyoyment to Korea.
Photo taken from the AFP historical photo collection of Lt. Col. Francis Neri's Facebook page.

Retirement of BRP Rajah Humabon (PS-11)

In preparation for the expected delivery of the Pohang-class corvette ROKS Chungju, the Philippine Navy scheduled the retirement of its sole Cannon-class destroyer escort and former flagship BRP Rajah Humabon (PS-11).

While the crew of BRP Rajah Humabon are not automatically reassigned to the upcoming Pohang-class corvette, this would allow the Philippine Navy to allocate manpower and rotate assignments from different active navy ships. This is because the crew of the Pohang-class will come from different ships of the Philippine Fleet.

The delay of the arrival of the ROKS Chungju actually affected the operational capability of the Philippine Navy, as they initially expected the timing of BRP Rajah Humabon's retirement and its ROKS Chungju's arrival from South Korea to have only a small gap.

BRP Rajah Humabon (PS-11) during Passing Exercises with a Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) destroyer. She was retired in preparation of accepting her replacement, the Pohang-class corvette ROKS Chungju.
Photo taken from JMSDF's Facebook page.

Status as of January 2019:

Based on information MaxDefense gathered from public statements, as well as from our defense, naal and industry sources, the ROKS Chungju is already undergoing repair and rehabilitation works in STX's yard in South Korea.

Major works involved will include overhaul of the diesel engines and generators, replacement of navigation, communication equipment and other obsolete and non-working systems, rehabilitation of ship's guns, electrical, plumbing, sanitary and mechanical systems, repair of hull, superstructure and cabins, and repainting of the ship.

Separately, the Philippine Navy conducted bidding last August 2018 on different lots corresponding to different works involved in the corvette under the "Procurement of Relevant Requirements for the Transfer of Pohang-class Corvette from the Republic of Korea to the Philippine Navy" project, with the following details:

Lot 1: Logistical Requirements - awarded to Apo Philtrade and Trading Services Inc.

Lot 2: Weapons, Communications, Electronics, Information System (WCEIS) Requirements - awarded to STX Singapore (on behalf of STX South Korea)

Lot 3 - Machinery and Other Related Repair - awarded to Keumha Naval Technology Inc (KHNT)

The ship's assigned crew from the Philippine Navy will depart for South Korea in batches within January and February 2019, and will undergo training, familiarization, and work supervision while the ship is being prepared.

Expected delivery of the ship will be sometime between March and April 2019, although there is still a chance of delay but not as much as previous ones, considering project and deployment costs will go high if this happens.

Until then, MaxDefense hopes that everything would proceed as scheduled, and no further delays to hamper the project. Additional updates will be provided by MaxDefense as project continues until rehabilitation works completion, commissioning, and delivery to the Philippines.

Philippine Navy officers and men visiting STX's shipyard in South Korea, while the Pohang-class corvette ROKS Yeosu (PCC-765) undergoes rehabilitation works before its transfer to the Vietnam People's Navy (now the VPN's HQ-20).
Photo taken from Philippine Navy's Facebook page.

What's Next:
MaxDefense previously mentioned that the Philippine Navy is eyeing the acquisition of at least 2 more Pohang-class corvettes from South Korea, to complement the upcoming BRP Conrado Yap.

Based on the PN's assessment, it would be practical for them to have at least 3 ships of the class to support its relevance to the fleet's inventory. This makes support, training, maintenance, and logistics easier, while also improving the capability of the Philippine Navy.

MaxDefense also previously mentioned in its Facebook posts that the Department of National Defense and the Philippine Navy are currently negotiating with the South Korean defense ministry on the possibility of transfering 1 or 2 more Pohang-class corvettes. MaxDefense was informed by sources that the request for a 2nd ship was already sent last year to Korean authorities, awaiting for a final reply or approval.

Take note that submitting a request may also result to a disapproval, so a 2nd Pohang-class for the PN isn't final yet.

MaxDefense posted this illustration in June 2018, as provided by one of our contributor who made the scaled illustrations for sharing by our page. This shows how the Pohang-class (below) sums up compared to the Del Pilar-class frigate and AgustaWestland AW109 Power naval helicopter (top) and Jacinto-class patrol vessel (middle).
Photo shared to MaxDefense and allowed for posting.


Procurement of Relevant Requirements for the Transfer of Pohang-class Corvette from the Republic of Korea to the Philippine Navy

End User: Philippine Navy (Offshore Combat Force, Philippine Fleet)
Modernization Phase: Revised AFP Modernization Program Horizon 2 phase
ABC: Php250,000,000.00
SARO Release: SARO-BMB-D-18-0013408 dated 07 June 2018
Status as of this writing: all 3 lots with total ABC share of Php 169,689,831.23 awarded to 3 contractors. Works ongoing.
Selected Proponent: STX South Korea (shipyard), Apo Philtrade and Trading (Lot 1), STX Singapore (Lot 2), Keumha Naval Technologies (Lot 3), plus others.
Contract Price: Php250,000,000.00 total

Friday, January 4, 2019

With Del Pilar-class Frigates Scheduled for Upgrades, Here Are Proposals to Address Ship Shortage of the Philippines Navy

On 29 August 2018, the Philippine Navy's flagship BRP Gregorio del Pilar (FF-15), a Del Pilar-class frigate, was steaming en route to Palawan from patrols in the West Philippine Sea when it was grounded on the shallow water surrounding Hasa-Hasa Shoal in the Kalayaan Island Group.

According to reports received by MaxDefense on the incident, among those damaged were parts of the hull, although the main problem was on the starboard side Controllable Pitch Propeller of the frigate, although the port side also incurred minor damage.

On 04 September 2018, the frigate was pulled out of the shoal, and was towed to Subic Bay for assessment and repairs. It was also noted that the US Navy, through its Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) will provide assistance as the ship is covered by the PMS 326 International Fleet Support Program wherein ships provided by the US will be provided assistance by the US government.

While the last media statement released by the Philippine Navy last October 2018 mentioned that the BRP Gregorio del Pilar will be operational soon, MaxDefense received a not-so good news on its actual status.

One of the Hamilton-class cutters, similar to the BRP Gregorio del Pilar (FF-15) frigate of the Philippines Navy, as seen here with a Maestrale-class frigate of the Italian Navy. The Philippine Navy faces an upcoming shortage of major naval assets and both class of ships we're proposed within the Navy to beef up the fleet.
Credits to the original source of the photo.

The BRP Gregorio del Pilar (FF-15) as it was grounded in the Hasa-Hasa Shoal in Kalayaan Island Group last August 2018.
The ship is still under repair and isn't expected to be back until late 2019 or 2020 if upgrades are not done on her.
Photo taken from Philippine Navy sources.

Credits and taken from Concept News Central.

How is the BRP Gregorio del Pilar?

Based on information we received, the frigate was already out of dry dock but is just docked but is clearly non-operational. (MaxDefense would defer naming it's current location due to OPSEC reasons), and has only completed repairs on the minor damages including the hull breach.

But no considerable work has been done yet on the major damage which is on the starboard propeller. Apparently the damaged parts were only removed from the ship last November 2018, and has not been shipped to the US for inspection and assessment by the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM), and the entire process of shipping, assessing, repair or replacement, re-shipping to the Philippines, installation, testing and commissioning, may take several months to do.

Thus, it is safe to assume that BRP Gregorio del Pilar will be out of action for most or even the entire year 2019.

A good barometer will be the Nigerian Navy frigate NNS Thunder (F90), which is a sister-ship of BRP Gregorio del Pilar as it is also a Hamilton-class ship. It was grounded also in 2016, and although we do not have complete details on the damage, it took 2 years for the Nigerians to bring her back to service. This was because of lack of spare parts that stretched its stay in the dry-dock as it wait for parts to arrive from abroad. The BRP Gregorio del Pilar may also experience the same issue.

And with FF-15's absence, the PN is left with its other 2 Del Pilar-class frigates, as well as two of the three the Jacinto-class patrol vessels (PS-35 and PS-36) which are expected to fully return to service by 2019 (PS-37 will undergo a lengthy dry-dock works to do the JCPV Phase 2 works and is expected to be active again by late 2019 or early 2020).

Del Pilar-class Frigate Upgrade Project:

Aside from the repairs of BRP Gregorio del Pilar (FF-15), another upcoming reason for the rest of class to be non-operational for some time will be the upcoming Del Pilar-class Frigate (DPCF) Upgrade Project, which was planned to proceed in 2019.

It would be remembered that MaxDefense previously posted about the said project, whose Invitation to Bid was released just this month. The project's bid opening has been rescheduled to 15 January 2019, based on the Pre-Bid Conference held just before Christmas.

Among the works included in this project is for the winning bidder to supply and install a new Combat Management System (CMS), a Radar Electronic Support Measures (R-ESM), a Hull-Mounted Sonar (HMS), as well as integration of the government-supplied equipment like the Saab AN/SPS-77 Sea Giraffe AMB 3D radar, Identification Friend or Foe (IFF), FLIR SeaFLIR 230 EO/IR system, and all existing subsystems of the frigates.

The diorama above from the Philippine Navy shows the upgrades that the Del Pilar-class Frigates will have, including those to be made using US FMS/FMF projects and AFP Modernization project.
Photo shared exclusively to MaxDefense.

The works are expected to last for several months or even more than a year for each frigate, and the works will involve the removal of the frigate from active status, which means a reduced capability for the Philippine Navy for a time.

Since BRP Gregorio del Pilar is already dry-docked due to the grounding repair works, it is but logical for it to be the first to undergo the upgrade works. But this means an extended time of being offline, which means any upgrade work will guarantee that BRP Gregorio del Pilar could be out of action for the entire 2019 and even most of year 2020.

MaxDefense believes that the Philippine Navy will implement the upgrade to just 1 ship at a time, as doing it altogether would be disastrous to the Philippine Navy's operational capabilities and deployment plans considering its very modest fleet composition.

Retirement of World War II-era Warships:

Another problem that the Philippine Navy needs to tackle is their deadline to retire the fleet of World War II-era warships that are still in service.

Currently there are still 2 Rizal-class minesweeper frigates (MSF), and 5 more Malvar-class patrol craft escorts (PCE) in service, both classes of which were considered as corvettes in the Philippine Navy. Both classes are nearing almost 80 years in age, and cannot continue serving any longer.

It would be remembered that based on the Philippine Navy's own Sail Plan 2020 and recent press releases and statements, they intend to retire all World War II-era warships by 2020, which is already next year.

Their replacements, the upcoming Corvette and Offshore Patrol Vessel acquisition projects, are still in the planning and pre-procurement stages and won't be completely delivered to the Philippine Navy until 2023 at best, that's if the contract for both projects would be signed by 2019. It would normally take 3-4 years for the Corvettes, and probably the same for the OPVs to be delivered after contract signing and finalization of Critical Design Review (CDR).

The Philippine Navy placed a deadline for retiring all their WW2 ships by 2020, that's next year. Between now and then, the only ships coming online are 2 new frigates and a Pohang-class Corvette. Which isn't enough to cover the loss of assets.
Credits to original source of photo.

Delays in Jacinto-class Phase 3 Upgrade and Repair of BRP Artemio Ricarte (PS-37):

This is among the less considered reasons on why there is an obvious shortage of ships in the fleet.

Not only are the Phase 3 Combat systems Upgrade of the Jacinto-class patrol vessels delayed due to unexpected administrative issues, but the delay in the implementation on the Machinery Repairs of BRP Artemio Ricarte (PS-37) has effectively taken out the entire class from service in 2018, and may also be out of action for the whole year of 2019.

MaxDefense expects the upgrades on BRP Emilio Jacinto (PS-35) and BRP Apolinario Mabini (PS-36) to be fully completed early this year, although MaxDefense expects PS-37 to be out of service for almost the entire year.

Based on reports we received,it may take at least a year to do the machinery repairs, and the work has not yet started as of this blog entry's writing.

Delays in Pohang-class Corvette Transfer, Repair and Delivery:

This is another issue that was very much discussed in our pages last year, the delays in the delivery of the Pohang-class Corvette ROKS Chungju.

As we mentioned before, the funding release for the Php250 million needed to allow the transfer of the ship to the Philippine Navy from the South Korean government took so long, and the entire process afterwards also was sluggish.

As of this writing, even the deployment of PN personnel to South Korea has not yet started although they intend to leave within the 1st quarter of 2019 and have the ship delivered to the Philippines by 2nd quarter 2019.

Still, the delays we're staggering for such a simple project, an example of why MaxDefense is fearful on the implementation of any plan to keep the PN well equipped despite the shortage of assets.

Proposals for the Fleet:

Despite the arrival of a Pohang-class corvette next year, it was concluded that the Philippine Navy will indeed face a shortage of major naval assets in 2019 up to 2020. Thus, several proposals are raised on how to deal with the ship shortage.

Among those proposed were the acquisition of used platforms using emergency funds, grants, military assistance, or special support from the government.

"But isn't it Pres. Duterte's policy not to acquire 2nd hand military equipment?"

While it is the president's policy, it appears that the AFP is not following it either.

It would be noted that the Philippine Air Force is scheduled to acquire 2 refurbished C-130 Hercules heavy tactical airlifters from the US, while also paid for 2 OV-10G Combat Dragon and 2 OV-10A Bronco light attack aircraft, all refurbished and also from the US.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Army is also in the process of acquiring used M113A2 armored personnel carriers that will be the platform for their upcoming Mortar Carrier acquisition project.

So what difference is it for the Philippine Navy to acquire 2nd hand equipment if that's the only solution for a Navy that needs additional assets urgently but lacking in sufficient funds.

1.  Additional Hamilton-class Cutters from the US Coast Guard:

The most anticipated proposal is for the acquisition of additional Hamilton-class cutters from the US Coast Guard, considering the Philippine Navy already has sufficient experience with the type, and will have no problem accepting another unit of this ship class.

Currently there are still three (3) Hamilton-class cutters in service with the US Coast Guard and are expected to be retired soon as their replacements become available. These are the USCGC Mellon (WHEC-717), USCGC Munro (WHEC-724), and USCGC Midgett (WHEC-726).

But are they readily available for transfer to any country?

According to Cmdr. Chuck Hill's blog discussing on the Hamilton-class ships, the USCG may retire USCGC Midgett in 2019, USCGC Mellon by 2020, and USCGC Munro by 2021. These were taken from the Office of Ship Disposals Annual Report posted in 2016.

Based on the information above, it appears that this is possible if the Philippine Navy and Department of National Defense (DND) submit a request to Pentagon, and approved by the US government. Any proposal for additional Hamilton-class ships should be supported by JUSMAG Philippines, which MaxDefense believes won't really be a problem.

It would also be noted that many other countries including Vietnam, Sri Lanka, and Nigeria might be competing with the Philippines for the ships, considering Sri Lanka just received one recently, while Vietnam also has 1 with the coast guard and would probably request for additional units too.

The US Coast Guard Hamilton-class cutter USCGC Midgett (WHEC-726) is said to be scheduled for retirement in 2019. The US will definitely offer it to a foreign government. Chances are, the Philippines may be among those who will submit their interest to acquire the ship, and may be competing with Vietnam and Sri Lanka.
Photo taken from Wikimedia Commons.

2. Request for Addtional Pohang-class Corvette:

MaxDefense previously posted several times in its Facebook page and in some of its blog entries that the Philippine Navy is interested in acquiring more Pohang-class corvettes, in addition to the one already donated and is being refitted in South Korea at the moment (ROKS Chungju).

Philippine Navy force matrix reports in the past showed that to become relevant and meaningful, the fleet should have at least 3 ships of the same class, and this also applies to the Pohang-class corvette. Having one ship of the class would make it irrelevant in terms of maintenance, logistics and support.

The good news is, apparently the Philippine Navy already requested for a second Pohang-class corvette with the South Korean defense ministry, and current proposals by the Navy's top officials are for the Philippine Navy through the DND to request a third unit as well.

A second Pohang-class corvette was already requested by the Philippine Navy through the DND from the South Korean Ministry of Defense. Apparently, there is no approval or reply yet on the request. But should it be approved, it is only but logical for the Philippine Navy to request for a third unit as well, to complete their projected force matrix involving the Pohang-class. But the PN and DND should work faster in securing funding that would be used for the transfer of the said ships, as the transfer of the first ship, the ROKS Chungju, was terribly delayed due to red tape and slow process in the Phlippine government's funding request and releases.
Credits to owner of the photo.

It should be noted that among the discussions made by the South Korean and Philippine defense ministries in the previous SK-PH Defense Joint Committee Meeting a few months ago is for South Korea to donate another Pohang-class corvette to the Philippines in return for the acquisition of the KAI KUH-1 Surion utility helicopter by the Philippine Air Force. But recent turn of events may not point to this anymore  as the PAF selected America's Sikorsky S-70i Black Hawk instead.

It is still unclear if the South Korean defense ministry approved the requested second Pohang-class corvette, which will be a gauge if a future request for a third ship is possible.

But MaxDefense has concerns regarding this. It should be noted that the donation of the 1st Pohang-class corvette suffered tremendous delays due to red tape and funding difficulty with the Philippine side, resulting to negative feedback from the South Korean side. The Koreans may not be very keen in providing another corvette if the Philippine side will not take immediate action to provide funding and start the refurbishing and training activities like what happened with the ROKS Chungju. Non-approval of the second unit request will speak a lot on how the South Korean side view the Philippine side's seriousness considering they can't even hasten the allocation and release of a measly amount for a donated warship.

3. Interest in the Oliver Hazard Perry-class Frigates from the US or Adelaide-class from Australia:

Another offer that was made years ago and was reconfirmed recently is from the US government, for the Philippines to accept some of their retired Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates that are currently mothballed and awaiting its fate in the US mainland. Apparently the offer is for at least 3 ships to be given for free to the Philippines, but the Philippines will be paying for the reactivation and rehabilitation of these ships, which could cost around $60-100 million per ship depending on the ship's condition and the systems to be fitted in, or probably more if the PN includes several more subsystems with it.

The US still holds several Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates in mothballed status, ready to be sold, scrapped or sunk. The US apparently offered to provide at least 3 of them, but the Philippines will have to pay the costs of bringing them back to operational status, and modernized to a level acceptable to the Philippines and US standards.
Photo taken from Foxtrot Alpha page.

Based on MaxDefense's information, the US might also be willing to shoulder part of the expenses and to be billed on the annual military assistance program of the US to the Philippines.

MaxDefense previously mentioned that the offer was made as late as when US Defense Sec. James Mattis and 2 other US Cabinet officials wrote to Pres. Duterte regarding the US offer to sell arms to the Philippines. While the focus of Pres. Duterte's announcement about the offer was on the fighter aircraft and attack helicopter angles, the frigates were also among those in the list. Advance information about the offer was made as early as during the Rim of the Pacific Exercises in Hawaii several months ago.

In addition to the American offer, it was also noted that the Philippine Navy took some interest in the Adelaide-class frigates of the Royal Australian Navy, which are essentially Australian-operated Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates with better weapons and sensor fit, and probably less beaten up than their American counterparts. HMAS Melbourne (FFG 05) and HMAS Newcastle (FFG 06) are still in service and could be retired and offered for sale very soon. But since they are quite new (only commissioned in 1992), they might be only available for sale by 2022 and beyond. Another hull, HMAS Darwin (FFG 04) was already stripped and won't be possibly for sale to other navies anymore.

The Adelaide-class frigate HMAS Melbourne (FFG 05) darting its way on a rough swell. The ship is still in active service but is expected to retire soon as more Hobart-class destroyers become online. The only problem is it might not be available for sale in 2019 or 2020, as they are expected to serve longer.

The problem with this offer is that the Philippine Navy is "allergic" to ships that do not use diesel engines as its main propulsion. Both the Oliver Hazard Perry-class and the Adelaide-class uses an all gas turbine propulsion, which is something the Philippine Navy is trying to avoid. The PN believes that should they take the offer, the ships would end up as port queens as they would not be able to afford to operate them as often as they wanted.

And while the cost of ships are pretty acceptable, the lengthy preparation for the ships means that they can probably be delivered only after 2 years from signing the agreement. Which won't really help the PN address is ship shortage issues at the earliest possible time. But their arrival would be beneficial in the medium to long term plans of the Philippine Navy to improve its capabilities especially in anti-submarine warfare, which are the ship's greatest asset.

4. Returning Interest on the Maestrale-class frigate of the Italian Navy:
This might be surprising to many, but MaxDefense has sufficient information that confirms the return of interest of the Philippine Navy with the Maestrale-class frigates of the Italian Navy.

It would be remembered that the prior to the decision to acquire new frigates, the original proposal was for the Philippine Navy to acquire at least 2 of the Maestrale-class frigates after their retirement from Italian Navy service. But it was later decided to go for new frigates after shipbuilders submitted their proposals to the Philippine Navy, and the Philippine Navy backed out of their almost-complete deal with the Italians, which made relations sour.

It would be noted that the Italian Navy has retired 3 of their 8 Maestrale-class frigates: the lead ship Maestrale (F570), Aliseo (F574), and Euro (F575). Apparently all 3 are still intact and are to be sold off to other countries. Another one, the Espero (F576) was already released from active duty last 31 December 2018, and is expected to be formally retired in 2019 and may have the same fate. MaxDefense recently posted on the Italian Ministry of Defense's confirmation that the Aliseo will indeed be for sale.

The Aliseo (F574) is among those placed on sale by the Italian Ministry of Defense to other countries. It still remains to be seen how much are the Italians willing to let go of the ship, considering they are considered old and would only be of interest to countries who are in either urgently needing ships, or cannot afford new ones.
Photo taken from K B's Flick page.

The Maestrale-class are actually the best used frigates that the Philippine Navy can acquire - it uses a Combined Diesel or Gas (CODOG) propulsion, are newer, more modern, and better equipped than the Hamilton-class, and are cheaper to sustain than the Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates.

Currently many of its subsystems are obsolete and may need replacement soon. This is where the Philippines is expected to spend a lot if they decide to acquire one or some of the Maestrale-class frigates. Previous assessments made by the Philippine Navy inspection team also noted this 6 years ago, so definitely the same assessment could be raised again.

But the Philippine Navy may opt to continue using thes ship's current subsystems as long as they work. If the Italians are able to work with it for the next 3 years (the Italian Navy plans to retire the last of the class by 2023), then definitely the Philippines can do the same. Upgrades for the subsystems can be done once the Philippine Navy receive their new frigates, corvettes and offshore patrol vessels. Anyway, the Philippine Navy can't do anything either since budget for any upgrades aren't expected to be available soon.

The main issue will be the having to convince the Italians that the Philippine Navy is serious should it enter into a deeper understanding with the Italians in acquiring the ship.

It should be remembered that, short of a contract, the deal was already considered a done deal by the Italians. And the Filipinos backing out was an outrageous for the Italians.

The Italians may have lost trust of Filipinos especially in this deal, and they might not take Filipino interest in the ships very seriously. And with this, the Philippine Navy may just need to work extra harder to even just make the Italians listen.

Another issue is the purchase price: would the Italians play hard to get again with these frigates and price them unreasonably high for its age and condition? Or will they be more considerate this time since the ships have aged almost 6 years more since the time the PN has been talking to them about these ships? And also considering the previous acquisition of Italian-made products like the helicopters from AgustaWestland / Leonardo by both the PN and PAF in the past few years.

There is already an impending plan by the PN to visit the ships in Italy for inspection within the next month or two.

6. For the Philippine Coast Guard to Step Up Further to Cover the PN's Deficiencies:

Another proposal raised by the Philippine Navy is for the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) to stand up and cover the deficiencies of the Philippine Navy, considering they are modernizing their fleet as well, even faster than the Philippine Navy. The PCG is expected to receive a brand new 84-meter Offshore Patrol Vessel from OCEA of France by August 2019, which is to be named BRP Gabriela Silang, which could be used by the PCG for long range patrols in place of the BRP Gregorio del Pilar.

It would also be noted that the PCG has shown interest in ordering a second 84-meter OPV from OCEA, while also has an impending project to build 2 new 90+ meter long Offshore Patrol Vessels from Japan. Both these would only be probably available for service by 2021-2022.

It would be difficult for the PCG to step up that quickly considering most of the modernization projects underway with the PCG only involves small boats, mostly less than 18 meters in length, and are only applicable for inner coastal operations. MaxDefense will discuss one important modernization project of the PCG in a future blog.

The Philippine Coast Guard is expected to receive its ordered 84-meter Offshore Patrol Vessel from France's OCEA, which will be called the BRP Gabriela Silang (8401) by August 2019. But it may not be enough to cover the PN's deficiencies although it still helps compared to having nothing at all.
Photo taken from OCEA's website.

7. To Delay the Implementation of the Del Pilar-class Frigate Upgrade Project:

There were also some who prefer to delay the implementation of the Del Pilar-class Frigate Upgrade Project until more ships become available. This means that the PN would only focus on repairing the damaged BRP Gregorio del Pilar and put her out to sea as fast as possible, while all other ships of the class will continue as they were.

This actually doesn't solve the dilemma that the PN has over the BRP Gregorio del Pilar for the year 2019, considering she will be out of service whether they do the upgrade or not.

This also means that the potential cost of upgrading the old frigates will go up, and the budget allocated now won't be enough once they start with the project in 2020, while also making the budget allocation get expired since the current funding rules only allow the allocation to be available within 12 calendar months. Should the fund expire, the Philippine Navy will have no choice but to request for funding again from the DND, which in turn will submit the request to DBM.

MaxDefense believes that this is not a smart proposal at all.

Solutions are Abound, so What's Next?

While there are several proposals, all of them require a common denominator to be implemented.

First of, how good is the Philippine Navy in being decisive in making a united decision, and for it's leadership to be strong enough to push forward it's needs?

Currently the PN's leadership is more of a "yes" man that relies too much from what was asked of him to do? And not what the organization needs to do. Can this be changed especially when the organization's requirements are at stake?

Second is the financial capability to back such plans.

The funds to acquire even used ships isn't small, and it isn't normally easy even for the national government to come up with funds in a few months time. If we follow the usual procedure, it would probably take almost a year or more before funding becomes available, then the negotiations between the two sides will probably take several months more.

And lastly and equally important, is the ability of the Philippine government to have that political will to provide these assets, as its Navy face shortage in naval assets for this and next year.

Will the DND be very supportive of such plans, without thinking of personal interests? Will Pres. Duterte be open to the proposal of acquiring used assets despite his "No Second Hand" Policy? And if he is, would he use his position to allow a swifts process of funding and procurement? Or will his people look at this again with personal interests in mind? Or will Pres. Duterte have his hard headed ways again and continue to feed his ego by believing that his policies are always right?

In the end, what matters is that the Philippines Navy needs help, and while they do not say it, it's really easy to see that the reduction of two major warships from it's minuscule fleet size would have a negative impact to the overall naval capability of the country.

While present solutions aren't really as good as what everyone hopes for, the PN is already caught in a situation that was the effect of under-investment in the military for the last 40 years. All we can do is find ways to solve it until the system stabilizes and the positive effects of modernization and investment in the military can be felt at a longer term.


Del Pilar-class Frigate Upgrade project 

End User: Philippine Navy (Offshore Combat Force)
Modernization Phase: Revised AFP Modernization Program Horizon 2 phase
ABC: Php1,540,000.00
SARO Release: to be updated
Status as of this writing: Limited Source Bidding to proceed, tentative bid opening 15th January 2019
Selected Proponent: None yet
Contract Price: none yet, to be updated.

Philippine Navy Modernization Projects

Philippine Air Force Modernization Projects