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!

Monday, March 25, 2019

A Quick Look at the Philippine Army's planned Procurement of Manned Air Assets

With the Philippine Air Force (PAF) now closer on getting their new fleet of S-70i Black Hawk Combat Utility Helicopters from Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. & PZL Mielec, its only a matter of time before the first batch of deliveries as promised by Sikorsky-PZL Mielec to the PAF and Department of National Defense (DND) as part of the delivery agreement.

But there is an interesting development in the AFP Modernization that involves the Black Hawk helicopter, which was never discussed in MaxDefense before.

The Sikorsky HH-60M MEDEVAC Black Hawk.
Photo taken from Flickr.

On 21 March 2019, the Philippine Army (PA) celebrated its 122nd Founding Anniversary in its headquarters at Fort Bonifacio in Metro Manila. As part of the celebrations, several Army and AFP units, as well as defense companies and suppliers also set-up their booths in the plenary hall lobby. 

Among them was the Philippine Army's Army Aviation "Bagwis" Battalion (AABn). This is the sole aviation unit of the Philippine Army.

The photo below is very important as it gives a summary of what the AABn is looking at having under its planned modernizaton, which calls for new assets to be acquired to expand its limited capabilities.

This was displayed in the PA's Army Aviation "Bagwis" Battalion booth during the 122nd Founding Anniversary celebration of the Philippine Army.
Thanks to a MaxDefense contributor for providing us the photo.

The display below declared their plans to acquire the following:

* For Medical Evacuation: Sikorsky HH-60M Black Hawk - for rapid in-flight medical evacuation, disaster relief, search and rescue, and humanitarian assistance;

* For Special Missions Airplane: Cessna Grand Caravan - for airborne command and control, aerial reconnaissance, target acquisition, and airborne air traffic control;

* For Trainer Helicopter: Robinson R-44 - for initial helicopter pilot training, equipment transition training, and flight proficiency training.

The display did not mention anything on quantities to be acquired, budget, program schedule, or any other important details aside from the desired equipment.

Sikorsky HH-60M MEDEVAC Black Hawk:

The PA AABn mentioned specifically the Sikorsky HH-60M Black Hawk, which is the MEDEVAC version of the Black Hawk helicopter currently in use by the US Army.

While it uses the "HH" prefix like another Black Hawk variant known commonly as the Pave Hawk, the HH-60M is not a Pave Hawk. Instead, it is a version of the latest UH-60M US-spec Black Hawk helicopter, with additional modifications to allow Medical Evacuation (MEDEVAC) of injured troops. In short, it is a Battlefield Air Ambulance. 

This variant uses an integrated electronically-controlled litter system that could carry six (6) patients, as well as an onboard oxygen-generating system for onboard patient care. It is also modified to have plastic bubble windows, an integrated ECG and other medical equipment, as well as a built-in external rescue hoist.

After everything else, it is essentially similar to any UH-60M Black Hawk utility helicopter. And it can still be used for other missions aside from MEDEVAC.

The US Army is scheduled to receive more UH-60M beyond this decade, as it standardize it for their MEDEVAC requirements.

The Sikorsky HH-60M MEDEVAC Black Hawk as used by the United States Army. Credits to the original owner of the photo.

Cessna Grand Caravan:

Although the PA AABn was not very specific on the Grand Caravan model or variant, MaxDefense believes that this is definitely the Cessna 208B Grand Caravan ISR, similar to what the Philippine Air Force's 300th Air Intelligence and Security Wing (PAF 300th AISW) is using.

Based on the PAF's Grand Caravan ISRs, the aircraft are equipped with air surveillance systems like an Electro-Optical/Infra Red (EO/IR) camera, battlefield communications systems, and other equipment.

It can be used as a battlefield "eye in the sky" where it has a bird's eye view of what's happening on the ground, allowing it to provide tactical information to the units on the ground and in the command post, while also providing coordination with other units. 

Aside from that, it can conduct its usual roles which include surveillance and intel gathering,

Based on the contract involving the PAF's Grand Caravan ISRs, the US government paid almost US$9 million to upgrade each of the new aircraft to ISR-capable platforms with the L3 Wescam MX-15 EO//IR camera, Harris RF-7800M-MP and RF-7800H-MP networking and high frequency military radios, and other related systems. This is on top of the aircraft platform's cost.

The Philippine Air Force has been operating their Cessna 208B Grand Caravan ISR aircraft since 2017, and its possible that the Philippine Army is also planning to having similar aircraft of their own. The PA AABn could easily cross-train and qualify using the PAF's aircraft and assets should they become serious in acquiring similar platforms.
Photo taken from and credited to Agence France Presse (AFP).

Robinson R44:

The introduction of a training helicopter is actually the basic requirements for any budding air arm that will focus on operating a fleet of helicopters. In this case, the AABn may have chosen the Robinson R44 made by the Robinson Helicopter Company of Torrance, California.

The R44 is commonly used as a trainer helicopter by several military air arms, and is also in use by the Philippine National Police and several private companies and aircraft owners in the country.

It is cheap, easy to fly, reasonably easy to maintain and sustain, and support for the helicopter is locally available. Selecting it as the future training helicopter of the Philippine Army makes sense based on the attributes above, although MaxDefense believes that cost may have also driven the selection. 

MaxDefense believes its more practical to get a slightly larger and more expensive helicopter which it could use not just for training but also for other non-combat use.

The Robinson R44 Raven II is commonly used as a trainer helicopter by flying schools and military air arms. 

MaxDefense's Opinions:

How Accurate Can Wish Lists be?

While this is obviously a "Wish List" rather than an actual acquisition program, it is normal for a service branch to post such when it is at least 50% confident that it may happen.

Before the Philippine Army Army Aviation Battalion posted the photos of their desired assets to be acquired, MaxDefense believes that they may have already made their homework, and was already able to conduct a market study, and even received information from manufacturers and suppliers of similar type of aircraft. 

It is highly possible that these selected aircraft were based on the studies and deliberation made within the unit's Technical Working Group (TWG) and even the Philippine Army's senior leadership as well.

Its just a matter of submitting the recommendation of the Philippine Army leadership to the DND for such plan to move further from just planning.

A. On the acquisition of training helicopters:

The requirement for training helicopters, specifically the Robinson R44 only shows that the PA AABn is committed now to create its own helicopter fleet that will require constant training of personnel for helicopter flying. 

If the PA AABn was only interested in flying a few helicopters, they could have just cross-trained larger military aviation units like the Philippine Air Force, or even the Philippine Navy's Naval Air Group (PN NAG), both of which have training programs for helicopter training.

Thus, MaxDefense believes that the PA AABn may not stop with the helicopter requests they have shown on the poster, and may even ask for more helicopters for other purposes in the future.

Previous RAFPMP Horizon 1 to 3 plans submitted by the Philippine Army in the past actually plans for the AABn to be expanded into a regiment separate from the Mechanized Infantry Division, and with its own Multi-Purpose Medium Lift Helicopters, Armed Reconnaissance Helicopters, and Light Attack Helicopters to provide support to other PA ground units. 

These remains to be seen though if such plans can be made possible even during the Horizon 3 phase of the Revised AFP Modernization Program. These plans are ambitious although attainable if only the Philippine government provides the support the PA and AFP needs for their modernization plan.

The Philippine Army's Army Aviation Battalion may also look at the Enstrom 480 as an alternative to the Robinson R44. The Enstrom 480 is used as a training helicopter by the Japan Ground Self Defense Force (JGSDF) and the Royal Thai Army (RTA).
Photo taken from Wikipedia.

On the acquisition of HH-60M MEDEVAC Black Hawk:

Speaking of helicopters, selecting the Sikorsky HH-60M MEDEVAC Black Hawk as its future Combat Air Ambulance makes sense, considering the Philippine Air Force is on its way to standardize the Black Hawk as its new combat utility helicopter. Although they may be made by different factories (PAF's S-70i Black Hawk is made by PZL Mielec in Poland, while the HH-60M is made by Sikorsky's US plant), it shares similar parts and has similar attributes. 

MaxDefense's only concern is the cost, since the US-made Black Hawk, especially the latest one may cost significantly higher than its Polish-built sibling, unless if the Philippine Army, and by extension the DND are planning to request these helicopters from the US as part of their annual US Military Assistance program.

It is only logical as well that should the PA AABn look for a combat utility helicopter or special operations helicopter, it may just look again at the Black Hawk family.

It won't be surprising if the PA AABn also request for Black Hawks for a possible future requirement for Combat Utility Helicopters. Credits to owner of photo.

On the acquisition of Cessna 208B Grand Caravan ISR:
As for the Cessna 208B Grand Caravan ISR, MaxDefense also believes that the PA AABn is also bound to receive some from US Military Assistance program, especially that there are indeed talks within the DND that a request for more of these aircraft was made with its counterparts in Pentagon.

If the Philippines gets an allocation of even just 3 aircraft, the PA AABn may be able to get at least 2 aircraft out of the total. This would at least allow 1 aircraft to be available at any time, and 1 aircraft to be in maintenance at any given time. Of course if the PA AABn can get more, the better.

The PA AABn may also opt to purchase more Cessna 208B Grand Caravans in standard fit on its own without relying from US Military Assistance, to replace its old fleet of Cessna 421 and Beechcraft Queen Air, all of which are probably non-operational at the moment. These are used for air transport requirements of the Philippine Army without relying on air transport services from the Philippine Air Force.

It would be worth remembering that in 2015, Cessna brought their 208B Grand Caravan aircraft to Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, the PA AABn's home, to demonstrate the aircraft to the unit's leaders and pilots. MaxDefense posted this in its Facebook page back then, which can be accessed HERE.

Philippine Army AABn officers getting briefed on the Cessna 208B Grand Caravan utility aircraft during a demonstration in Fort Magsaysay in September 2015. Even before then, the PA AABn has already set its sights on the Grand Caravan as its potential future utility aircraft.
Photo taken from PA AABn's Facebook account.

Since there is not much available information on these plans except for the information gathered during the 122nd Founding Anniversary of the Philippine Army, as well as limited information from previous Horizon 1-3 modernization plans, it may take some time before MaxDefense would be able to provide more details for these projects.

Also, there is no budget allocated within the Horizon 2 phase of the RAFPMP for these proposals, so there are three possible scenarios that could make these requests delivered:

a. They could include these as part of the Horizon 3 phase of the RAFPMP, 

b. They could push hard and make it happen as part of the proposed 2nd List of Horizon 2, which is already being prepared by the AFP in case there are more funds available from the government within the 2019-2023 timeframe.

c. Majority of the acquisitions will be made by the US government on behalf of the Philippine Army as part of US Military Assistance program.

MaxDefense believes that, in the case of the HH-60M Black Hawk and Cessna 208B Grand Caravan ISR, there is a strong chance that the US government may indeed assist the Philippine Army in one way or another. 

As mentioned earlier, these projects won't happen soon so we'll have to wait longer.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Contract Signing for PAF's Combat Utility Helicopter Project to happen very soon

The Philippine Air Force (PAF), through its former Commanding General Lt. Gen. Galileo Gerard Kintanar Jr. announced in late 2018 that the Technical Working Group (TWG) for the Combat Utility Helicopter (CUH) acquisition project under the Horizon 2 phase of the Revised AFP Modernization Program (RAFPMP) has selected the Sikorsky S-70i Black Hawk as its top choice. This was after the project's TWG evaluated it against other competitors which include the Leonardo AW139M, Korea Aerospace Industries KUH-1 Surion, Russian Helicopters Mil Mi-171 Hip, among others.

The Sikorsky PZL Mielec S-70i Black Hawk International. Photo c/o Lockheed Martin.

The Combat Utility Helicopter acquisition project under the Horizon 2 phase calls for the supply and delivery of 16 units of new Combat Utility Helicopters, including the specified Integrated Logistics Support (ILS) package that includes the spares and logistics support, training and conversion requirements, and mission essential plus support tools and equipment. The Approved Budget for Contract (ABC) is worth Php12.1 billion, or around US$230 million. It remains to be seen if the budget will increase to allow the PAF to be able to pay for its selected product.

Sikorksy S-70 Black Hawk helicopters of the Austrian Air Force. The PAF has selected a newer version of the helicopter to be its next Combat Utility Helicopter.
Photo taken from Photo Nexus.

It did not take long for Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana to back Lt. Gen. Kintanar's announcements, that the Department of National Defense (DND) supports the PAF's selection of the American-designed helicopter for the CUH acquisition project. He even mentioned that the Black Hawk is a proven platform, in use by the US Army and many other militaries around the world.

So it is actually surprising that, its already 4 months and no announcement has been made by the DND on the formal awarding of the project to the Black Hawk's manufacturer Sikorsky, or its mother company Lockheed Martin.

Procurement Process:

After the PAF and DND confirmed the selection of Sikorsky's S-70i Black Hawk as its top selection, the TWG and the DND's Bids and Awards Committee (DND-BAC) proceeded with the Post Qualification Inspections (PQI) to determine if Sikorsky and its Polish subsidiary PZL Mielec both comply to their submitted documents and requirements, and if their product complies with the technical specifications.

As early as January 2019, MaxDefense was informed that Sikorsky & PZL Mielec did pass the PQI by the PAF TWG and DND-BAC, thus it is eligible to proceed with the project and receive a Notice of Award (NOA) from the Philippine parties.

The Sikorsky-PZL Mielec S-70i Black Hawk.
Photo taken from and credited to Rob Lovesey @ Flickr.

Finally a Good News:
After a long wait, finally there is good news on this project.

Based on information MaxDefense received from reliable sources, the Notice of Award (NOA) for the project was already released in favor of Sikorsky Aircraft Corp.- PZL Mielec last February 2019, and Contract Signing will be happening very soon, 

The event may happen anytime, and could even be as early as within today if the DND has made the entire process quicker than expected.

Drafting the contract may take time, as it involves both parties to agree on the contents of the contract, including the clauses and appendices on requirements, schedules and programs, inclusions and exclusions, items for clarification, any side-agreements, warranties and after sales support, modifications to suite the end user, and other necessary requirements.

Based on experience using the PAF's previous contracts, it may take from as short as one (1) month from NOA release, to as long as almost a year to complete. In this case, MaxDefense expects the contract to be ready for signing within 2 months from NOA release.

MaxDefense was informed that the deal will be a Direct Commercial Sale (DCS) mode of procurement instead of the lengthier Foreign Military Sales (FMS) with the US government, and will mostly involve PZL Mielec being the manufacturer of the helicopter.

Notes from Previous Announcements:

a. Training: 

It would also be remembered that the PAF and the DND confirmed during the Defense Budget 2019 hearing with the Senate that training of pilots will be conducted with Sikorsky in Florida, USA. This is despite the helicopters and aftersales support being provided by its Polish subsidiary PZL Mielec.

This allows for easier training of PAF air and ground personnel due to the use of English as medium of instruction, which was said to be a problem when the PAF previously awarded a similar CUH acquisition contract to PZL Swidnik for the W-3A Sokol utility helicopters under the old RA7898-supported AFP Modernization Program.

b. PAF being an Experienced Black Hawk operator:
Another benefit that is worth raising here is that the PAF is actually a long time user of the Sikorsky S-70 Black Hawk, as it has been one of the first Black Hawk operators outside the US when it acquired a couple of S-70A-5 Black Hawk from Sikorsky in the mid 1980s. At least one of the Black Hawks remain in service with the PAF as a Search and Rescue platform of the PAF's 505th Search and Rescue Group.

The PAF is a long time user of the Sikorsky S-70A Black Hawk. One unit remain in service with the 505th Search and Rescue Group.
Photo taken from Defense of the Republic of the Philippines Facebook page, credits to Patrick Joseph.

c. Early Delivery:

The PAF and DND also confirmed during the said hearing that Sikorsky-PZL Mielec has committed to deliver the first batch within 6 months. MaxDefense believes that this timeframe is based on the Opening of the Letter of Credit, which is usually the case for most AFP modernization projects.

MaxDefense will provide more updates regarding this project as more information comes in. Considering that the project is moving forward without any more expected roadblocks from people with influence from now on.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

IAI Elta Systems complete delivery of ELM-2288ER Air Defense Radars for the Philippine Air Force

Note: To new readers, please refer to older blog entries regarding this project, the last one published last 24 January 2019. To read it, please refer to the link below

"Delivery Imminent for the Philippine Air Force's 2 new Elta ELM-2288ER AD-STAR Air Defense Radars" - first posted 24 January 2019.


The IAI Elta Systems ELM-2288 AD-STAR air defense and surveilance radar system.
Photo taken from Asia Pacific Defense Journal.

Last January 2019, MaxDefense reported that the delivery of the two remaining Israeli-made ELM-2288ER AD-STAR Extended Radar air defense and surveillance radar systems was "imminent". Back then, the delivery of the said radars were already behind schedule due to issues within the manufacturer Elta Systems Ltd.

Based on updated information from MaxDefense sources, we can now confirm that the Philippine Air Force (PAF) already received the two AD-STAR long range air defense radars, and MaxDefense expects that these radars should already be installed at the radar stations they were assigned to be fixed.

With this, the physical delivery of the three (3) ELM-2288ER radars under the Philippine Air Force's Air Defense Radar acquisition project under the Horizon 1 phase of the Revised AFP Modernization Program can be considered as complete, although Elta Systems could still be under contract to provide installation, training, and aftersales support to the Philippine Air Force.

The radars were acquired under a Government-to-Government (G2G) deal with the Israel's Ministry of Defense, which in turn has Elta Systems as the proponent.
These radars are assigned with the 580th Aircraft Control and Warning Wing, the unit under the Philippine Air Force that is in charge of air defense and surveillance radar systems. 

The AD-STAR radars will form part of the Philippine Air Defense system that comprises radars, fighter aircraft, and in the future may also include airborne early warning and conrol aircraft (AEW&C), ground based air defense systems (GBADS), and interconnectivity with air surveillance or radar equipment, and anti-aircraft systems of the Philippine Navy and Philippine Army.
Photo taken from the 580th ACWW's Facebook page.

When MaxDefense posted the blog last January 2019 where we mentioned that delivery of the two radars was imminent, the radars are not really that far from the Philippines. In fact, the radars were already in the territorial waters of the Philippines, although not yet in the hands of the Philippine Air Force.

Just a few days after we posted the blog, we received confirmation that the two radars were already received by the PAF and were en route for delivery to the Mt. Salakot Air Station in Palawan, and to Gozar Air Station in Lubang Island, Mindoro.

That was almost 2 months ago.

By now it is expected that both radars should already have been installed, although there could be integration works still ongoing, and its highly possible that both radars are not yet operational. It may take some more time, maybe a few more months, before the radar systems are ready and integrated into the Philippine Air Defense Control Center.

A typical example of what a radar mount and control structure looks like. MaxDefense believes that they could have made the building a little bigger in anticipation of space requirements, and probably more robust and modern looking.
Photo taken from the PAF 580th ACWW's Facebook page.

The IAI Elta Systems ELM-2288ER AD-STAR Extended Range radar:

The IAI Elta Systems ELM-2288ER AD-STAR Extended Range long range 3D air defense and surveillance radar has a claimed instrumented range of 480 kilometers, although it has a claimed typical fighter aircraft detection range of around 420 kilometers.

Based on the photo below, it appears that the entire western seaboard of the Philippine mainland would have air defense radar coverage with minor overlaps.

MaxDefense believes that a redundant system should also be in place, with a different bandwidth and capability cover these areas 24/7 even when one of the radar system is down for maintenance, or from damage.

This is from an old Flight Plan 2028 document during the Horizon 1 phase period, which shows the planned locations of 7 proposed air defense radars in the country. The latest version of the PAF's radar proposal now covers 8 locations, thus the PAF is planning to acquire 5 more long range air defense radars within the Horizon 2 phase.
Photo taken from PAF's old website.

Photo above shows the estimated coverage of the three Elta Systems ELM-2288ER AD-STAR Extended Range radars once they are all operational. It was assumed that the radars have a maximum range of around 450 kilometers. The coverage of the Elta Systems ELM-2106NG tactical radar, which MaxDefense believes is in Wallace Air Station in La Union, can also be seen.
Photo shared by a MaxDefense contributor who wish to remain anonymous.

Horizon 2 Radar Acquisition Plans:

With the air defense radars ordered as part of the Horizon 1 phase already delivered, we now look forward to the planned acquisition of more air defense radars under the Horizon 2 phase.

In previous blog entries and Facebook posts, MaxDefense confirmed that there is indeed a program to acquire five (5) long rage air defense radars under the Air Surveillance Radar System acquisition program. The project was allocated an Approved Budget for Contract (ABC) worth Php5.5 billion, which on the average, is greater than the allocation made during the Horizon 1 phase.

MaxDefense previously reported that among those contending for the project include IAI Elta Systems with the same ELM-2288ER AD-STAR Extended Range from Israel, Lockheed Martin with their AN/TPS-77 long range air defense radar from the United States, the Mitsubishi Electric FPS-3 air defense radar from Japan, Thales Ground Master 400 from France, and offers from Saab, and companies from India and UK.

It now remains to be seen on how the Philippine Air Force will go through with their next batch of radar acquisitions, with experience now with them after the initial purchase.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

The Del Pilar-class Frigates: Upgrade Recommendations to Avoid Reclassification as OPV

In an article by the Manila Bulletin published on 24 February 2019, it included excerpts from an interview with Philippine Navy Flag Officer in Command (FOIC) Vice Admiral Robert Empedrad discussing about the Del Pilar-class frigates.

The FOIC mentioned that the Del Pilar-class frigates are actually not classified as frigates, due to the absence of certain combat features that can be found on frigates from other navies.

Emphasis was given by the FOIC on the lack of heavy weapons, including anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles and torpedoes. Currently, the Del Pilar-class frigates are only armed with guns, with the most capable being the Mark 75 Oto Melara 76mm/62 caliber naval gun.

So does it mean to say that the Philippine Navy's Del Pilar-class frigates will not be considered as frigates anymore, and will be downgraded into something else?

BRP Andres Bonifacio (FF-17), one of the Del Pilar-class frigates of the Philippine Navy, as it enters Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii to participate in Rim of the Pacific 2018.
Photo taken from DVIDS.

What Does the Philippine Navy's Own Classification Standard Say about Frigates?

In 28 April 2016, the Philippine Navy released a new Classification, Name, Number, and Categorization of PN Ships, Crafts, Aircraft and Ground Equipage. This is now considered as the Philippine Navy's standards for asset classification. (MaxDefense will discuss more of this new classification standard in a later blog).

In it are the following descriptions:

"Frigate (FF) - it is a surface warfare ship designed for either anti-submarine or anti-air warfare. It has a displacement of 2,000 to 5,000 tons. A frigate can operate beyond the EEZ and participate in naval operations in a high threat environment."

Based on the above description, the Del Pilar-class was designed to allow the conduct of anti-submarine warfare, but it currently lacks the features. Also, it is currently not designed for anti-air warfare. While it has a displacement within the range provided to describe a frigate and also can operate beyond the EEZ, it cannot participate in naval operations in a high threat environment due to its lack of necessary sensors and weapons for offensive and defensive purposes.

Thus, based on the PN's own classification standard, the Del Pilar-class is indeed not a frigate. And thus, PN FOIC Vice Adm. Robert Empedrad is correct. But does being correct based on the ship classification system mean that it is a logical move?

Is a Downgrade on the way?

Last February 2019, MaxDefense found out that the Philippine Navy leadership has already directed the implementation of re-categorizing the Del Pilar-class ships from being "Frigates" to "Offshore Patrol Vessels".

Currently there is no specific category for Offshore Patrol Vessels in the PN Ship Classification Standard, but based on how things were made in other ships, it is expected that the upcoming changes will be made:

* BRP Gregorio del Pilar: from FF-15 to PS-15.
* BRP Ramon Alcaraz: from FF-16 to PS-16.
* BRP Andres Bonifacio: from FF-17 to PS-17.

It is just a matter of time for the Philippine Navy to announce the changes in its classification of the three ships, which MaxDefense expects to happen within the year.

Once this happens, the Philippine Navy will officially have zero frigates, which is a first since the Philippine Navy continuously maintained similar-type vessels (classified as destroyer escorts) in 1967 (the RPS Datu Kalantiaw).

Is a Downgrade Unavoidable?
Was it really necessary for the Philippine Navy to downgrade the Del Pilar-class from frigates to offshore patrol vessels?

From a technical standpoint, it appears to be logical for the PN to reclassify the ships as Offshore Patrol Vessels.

But the real question here is, can the deficiencies be solved or not to avoid such downgrade from happening?

Currently, the Philippine Navy has an ongoing upgrade project for the Del Pilar-class frigate, which is simply called as the Del Pilar-class Frigate Upgrade Project. It is part of the Horizon 2 phase of the Revised AFP Modernization Program, and has an allocated budget worth Php1.54 billion. 

Infographics on the Philippine Navy's ongoing Del Pilar-class Frigate (DPCF) Upgrade project. Photo shared exclusively to MaxDefense.

Currently both MaxDefense sources and FOIC Vice Adm. Empedrad confirmed that the lowest bidder is a UK-based company. Of the 3 invited bidders under the Limited Source Bidding mode of procurement, only Ultra Electronics is UK-based (the others being Sweden-based Saab Group, and South Korea-based Hanwha Defense Systems). Based on our information, Ultra Electronics is scheduled to undergo a Post-Qualification Inspection (PQI) in a few weeks time. Until an award is made on any proponent, MaxDefense won't be discussing much as it as there is no basis on who wins the job.

The point of this project is to improve the Del Pilar-class frigate's ability to see and hear, which is the most important upgrade for any military ship. A warship cannot fight what it cannot properly see or hear, so this is an important step prior to any modernization of a warship's firepower. But having the sensor upgrade is not enough for the ships to be considered as frigates.

Once its done with the sensors, it is more logical to undergo an upgrade that would improve its capability to fight. A weapons upgrade should follow next.

But even Vice Adm. Empedrad mentioned that it would take a lot of money for the Philippine Navy to invest in weapon systems for the Del Pilar-class frigate. Which means that the issue is a now a monetary problem rather than anything else.

So, can the dilemma of the Del Pilar-class frigates be solved? YES, IT CAN BE SOLVED. It's only a matter of giving priority in providing funds to upgrade the ships to include long range and accurate weapon systems, hard

BRP Ramon Alcaraz (FF-16) together with Pakistani Navy tanker PNS Nasr and Royal Australian Navy frigate HMAS Newcastle in Exercise KAKADU 2014. 

MaxDefense's Recommendations:

Once the frigates are upgraded to allow them to see and hear air, surface, and sub-surface targets better than ever before, there is no doubt that weapon system upgrades should be considered and made. In fact, a weapons upgrade can be made almost simultaneously with the sensors upgrade, which will allow for the savings in drydocking costs instead of doing such upgrade in another timeframe.

Among those weapons that MaxDefense believes could help improve the capabilities of the Del Pilar-class and keep them classified as frigates are the anti-submarine lightweight torpedo tubes, anti-ship missiles, and at least a short range air-defense system. A gun-based close-in weapon system (CIWS) is optional.

But this means some subsystems that were not included by the PN in its upgrade of the Del Pilar-class frigates will need to be updated to support some of the weapon systems.

MaxDefense believes that the best template that the Philippine Navy could follow is the Colombian Navy's upgrade of its Almirante Padilla-class frigates, which are close in capability as the PN's own Del Pilar-class frigates.

Greek naval blogger D Mitch of Naval Analyses has an extensive discussion on the Almirante Padilla-class frigate upgrade, which can be found in their page.

Among those that MaxDefense recommends to be done of the Del Pilar-class ship are actually very similar to the upgrades made on the Colombian Navy frigates, which are as follows:
1. Replace the OTO Melara Mk.75 Compact 76mm/72cal. main gun with the new OTO Melara 76mm Super Rapid with STRALES system

This enables the ship to improve the firepower delivery of the ship by increasing the rate of fire the main gun can do. But the main reason is because of the STRALES system. This new system allows for all-weather engagement of multiple surface and aerial threats with high accuracy by combining the stand-alone guidance system with the new DART guided munition family.

The STRALES was designed to allow more accurate firepower that is not only effective against ships at short ranges, but also against fast small boats, aircraft, and even as a close-in weapon system against incoming sea-skimming anti-ship cruise missiles. The STRALES upgrade makes the standard OTO Melara 76mm Super Rapid gun into a multi-purpose weapon system for almost all types of threats except subsurface ones.

2. Replace the ageing Mk. 92 Fire Control Radar with a new model. 

The Mk.92 is already ageing and would need a replacement to support new weapon systems. Currently it is supporting the OTO Melara 76mm Compact gun, and if the gun is replaced with the new Super Rapid STRALES gun, using a new FCR would definitely allow the PN to maximize the use of the new gun.

The new FCR could also support other recommended gun and weapon systems, including the OTO Melara 76mm Super Rapid STRALES gun to improve its accuracy and response times.

An example of Fire Control Radar that could be considered is Saab's CEROS 200 FCR, since the Del Pilar-class frigates will be using Saab's Sea Giraffe 3D radar which would be a better match for the FCR.

3. Install a new anti-ship missile system.

A warship's primary purpose is to fight other warships. And in this day and age, the best way to do it is by using anti-ship cruise missiles that can engage enemy ships from more than 100 kilometers away.

The Philippine Navy already has the South Korea-made SSM-700K C-Star anti-ship cruise missile prepared for ordering soon to arm the new Jose Rizal-class frigates. It is also currently in talks with another missile supplier to build up the Philippine Navy's land-based anti-ship missile batteries (which MaxDefense will discuss in a separate blog). 

Having a minimum of two twin missile launchers (for a total of 4 missiles) would be the minimum recommended quantity for the Del Pilar-class although it is better if the Philippine Navy can afford two quadruple launchers instead. The Philippine Navy planners should consider that in any war, the perceived enemy is expected to have more ships to fight against, and it would not take long for these missiles to be expended, thus the recommendation for more missiles.

Since the Del Pilar-class were originally armed with the Harpoon anti-ship missiles during its service with the US Coast Guard, MaxDefense doesn't find any problem in installing anti-ship missiles again, even if its not necessarily the Harpoon.
The MBDA Exocet MM40 Block 3 anti-ship missile was originally the favoured anti-ship missile system of the Philippine Navy for its Jose Rizal-class frigates, before shipbuilder HHI overrode the decision. It is still among the best choice in the market today.
Photo taken from MBDA's website.

4. Install a new twin or triple lightweight anti-submarine torpedo launchers.

With the upgraded Del Pilar-class frigates having a new hull mounted sonar for use to detect submarines, while also working with other ASW-capable ships and aircraft of the future Philippine Navy fleet, it is only logical for the Philippine Navy to arm the Del Pilar-class frigates with anti-submarine torpedo launchers.

The Philippine Navy will need a lot of platforms that can conduct anti-submarine warfare since it appears to be the core competency that the Philippine Navy is being formed into. Even if the Del Pilar-class frigate's ASW detection capability is not very impressive, the ship still needs a weapon to allow it to hunt submarines without relying on helicopters or aircraft.

Like anti-ship missiles, the Del Pilar-class doesn't have any problem with having the trainable triple torpedo tubes, since they were used to be armed with such system at a certain time during their service with the US Coast Guard.

A triple torpedo launching system like the one above was already installed on the Del Pilar-class frigates at a certain period of their service with the US Coast Guard. As the ships are being upgraded to have anti-submarine detection capability, it is only logical to arm the ships with anti-submarine weapons to allow for hunting.
Photo taken from

5. Provide for even a short-range air defense system:

While it is expensive for the Philippine Navy to provide a new air defense missile system for the Del Pilar-class, it is still relatively cheap and reasonable to provide at least a short range air defense system (SHORAD) as a minimum to defend the ship not just from helicopters or aircraft, but most of all from anti-ship missiles. While the presence of the OTO Melara 76mm Super Rapid with STRALES is already a good solution, having a SHORAD as a redundant system allows for the ship to have more options in defending itself especially on cases where the STRALES won't be available.

A good example here would be MBDA's Simbad-RC with Mistral SHORAD missiles, which is a standard system in the Jose Rizal-class frigates. Installing 2 of these in each Del Pilar-class frigate would allow for better air defense than totally nothing at all.

The Simbad-RC with Mistral SHORAD missiles is among the most affordable and easiest to install air defense solutions in the market today. It would be better for the Del Pilar-class to have these for air defense and to counter anti-ship missiles than having nothing at all.
Photo taken from MBDA's website.

Is spending on million dollar upgrades logical?

There are concerns from some groups within the Philippine Navy, and also from groups outside the organization who question the logic of spending millions of dollars worth of weapon systems on 50-year old ships. Why would the PN spend that much on ships that are expected to retire in less than 15 years from now? What would the PN do with these upgrades if the platform itself is already on the way to the scrapping yard?

Makes sense actually.

But MaxDefense believes that unless the Philippine Navy plans to acquire other used warships that are newer or younger than the Del Pilar-class frigates, the PN actually has no choice but to make do with what they have.

Why would we compare the Del Pilar-class frigates to ships that the Philippine Navy doesn't have, and doesn't intend to acquire?

Now, if the Philippine Navy does intend to acquire used warships that are younger than the Del Pilar-class, then that is another story. If this is the path the PN wanted to go to, then MaxDefense agrees on just downgrading the Del Pilar-class frigates into Offshore Patrol Vessels, and not have the weapon upgrades that were mentioned in this blog.

Instead, the upgrades should be made on these younger used warships, as they are expected to serve the Philippine Navy longer than the Del Pilar-class.

If the Philippine Navy decides to acquire younger used warships than the Del Pilar-class, then it makes sense for any upgrades to be made on these ships as they are expected to serve longer than the Del Pilar-class. MaxDefense previously received information that the PN is planning to inspect one or two Maestrale-class frigates in Italy within 2019, most likely the Aliseo, Euro, or Espero.
Photo taken from Navy Today.

It remains to be seen though if the Philippine Navy with proceed with its plans to consider used warships from friendly countries, especially that there appears to be scheduled inspections to Italy and other countries within this year.


To sum everything up, while the Del Pilar-class frigates currently lack the firepower and capability to be considered as frigates, up-arming them can be done to meet the requirements of the Philippine Navy. It requires a large financial investment, which could be debatable considering the age of the ships.

But it can be done. Its just a matter of how the Philippine Navy and the Philippine government can provide support especially financial support for the organization to allow itself to meet its requirements. 

While MaxDefense believes that the Del Pilar-class frigates are still capable assets, MaxDefense also believes that it would be better for the Philippine Navy to instead consider acquiring younger used frigates from friendly countries, like the Adelaide-class from Australia, Maestrale-class from Italy, among others, and spend the upgrades for these ships instead.

Also, changes should be made on the Philippine Navy's classification standard. The system should differentiate an Offshore Patrol Vessel from a Corvette. It should also allowing to differentiate older gun-armed ships from missile-armed ships (i.e. gun armed frigates as "FF", missile armed frigates as "FFG").

Philippine Navy Modernization Projects

Philippine Air Force Modernization Projects