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!

Saturday, August 31, 2019

After delays, the DND finally selects the Philippine Air Force's next Attack Helicopter

Despite earlier reports from our sources that the Philippine Air Force (PAF) has placed the project on hold until a decision is made, it now appears that the Attack Helicopter Acquisition Project under the Horizon 2 Priority Projects is now on the roll again.

In our last blog entry regarding the project, MaxDefense mentioned that while the offer from Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) was the forerunner of the project and was nearing getting the award from the Department of National Defense (DND), the project was instead shelved due to Turkey's issues on possible supply disruptions for parts made or supplied by US-based companies. This was after Turkey proceeded with its procurement of S-400 Triumf long range air defense systems from Russia despite US and NATO warnings.

With Turkey already out of the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter Program, it became apparent that Turkey's relations with the US has not fallen as far as what was expected.

So what has this got to do with updates on the PAF's Attack Helicopter Acquisition Project? A lot. 

So which one will become the PAF's next attack helicopter? Apparently the DND has spoken and made the decision this month. Credits to all photos used in this collage.

As the plans for T129 ATAK went down....

It would be remembered that Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) was said to have been declined by the US for an export license of US-made LHTEC T8004A turboshaft engines to power new-built T129 ATAK attack helicopters built by TAI for the Pakistani armed forces.

This prompted fear within the DND and Philippine Air Force that the export license rejection could also affect helicopters that are bound for the Philippines despite the Philippines not having the same problem when its LHTEC-powered AW159 Wildcat anti-submarine helicopters were built by Leonardo for the Philippine Navy.

It was also feared by the Philippine side that the spat between the US/NATO and Turkey over the latter's decision to order the Russian-made S-400 Triumf long range air defense missile system would place Turkey under sanctions based on the US government's Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) since Rosoboronexport, the state agency that processed the deal for the S-400 system is among those in the CAATSA's Black List. 

Turkey's acquisition of the S-400 Triumf air defense system has put it in conflict with the US and NATO. Photo taken from Anadolu Agency.

Other political and economic issues between US and Turkey has also come out as possible concerns that may prompt the US to halt exports of T129 parts to Turkey.

This prompted the DND and PAF to stop awarding the Attack Helicopter Acquisition Project to Turkey's Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI), and instead for them to re-evaluate its decision to acquire the T129 ATAK from Turkey. In short, with the spat between the US and Turkey possibly escalating especially with Turkey receiving its ordered S-400 missile systems and US kicking Turkey out of the F-35 program, the PAF's chances of having the T129 ATAK was "practically dead".

With the planned awarding of the project to TAI placed on hold earlier this year, the Philippine Air Force's Technical Working Group (TWG) for the project was asked by the DND to re-evaluate the other offers made. It would be easier and quicker for the PAF to re-evaluate previous offers rather than resetting the entire program.

Although a re-evaluation has been made, the DND and PAF had continuous  discussions with TAI, which was hell-bent on re-assuring the DND and PAF that going for the T129 ATAK is still the best choice.

The companies and products that were re-examined by the PAF include the following:

1. Rosoboronexport of Russia offered to supply the Russian Helicopters Mil Mi-28N Havoc Night Hunter attack helicopter, while also offering the Mil Mi-35 Hind.

2. Bell Helicopters offered refurbished AH-1W Super Cobra formerly used by the US Marine Corps. It has also made an alternative offer using brand new AH-1Z Viper.

3. Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. offered the Rudra light armed helicopter, an armed variant of the Dhuruv light utility helicopter made for the Indian armed forces.

4. Airbus Helicopters offered the H145M light armed helicopter, with the latest Airbus HForce platform-interchangeable onboard weapon system. This gives the light helicopter its teeth and a strong reason to be considered after several countries took it in as a cheaper alternative to attack helicopters.

5. Sikorsky Helicopters pitched the S-70i Battlehawk armed helicopter. Sharing the same platform as the S-70i Black Hawk, the Battlehawk features the same performance while being modified with modular systems that transforms the utility helicopter into an assault armed helicopter capable of missions similar to those of an attack helicopter.

6. Leonardo Helicopters pushed with their AW109M light armed helicopter. This is an improved version of the AW109E Power supplied a few years ago for an earlier requirement for "Attack" Helicopters. It features a more powerful engine and better avionics. Apparently, Leonardo also has an option to offer an armed version of the larger AW139M depending on the final specs the PAF would release for the project.

Along the sidelines, TAI continued to pursue the project with their T129 ATAK attack helicopter.

The Airbus H145M with HForce weapon system. If not only specification were changed, the H145M was originally the leading choice made by the PAF for its Attack Helicopter project. Credits to original source of the photo.

The Offers to the PAF and DND:

Interesting pitches from Leonardo and Sikorsky were made, which made use of the issues of commonality with existing and future PAF platforms.

Leonardo insisted that the AW109E in service with the PAF and Philippine Navy Naval Air Wing (PN NAW) use common parts and logistics train with the slightly improved AW109M, which means easier sustainment instead of adding a new model to the fleet. Not to mention affordability as it allows the PAF to acquire up to 24 units with the budget it allocated for the project.

An AW109E Power armed helicopter of the Philippine Air Force. Leonardo is banking on affordability, commonality and ease of integration into existing system to market their AW109M to the PAF since the PAF already uses the AW109E. Credits to original source of photo.

Meanwhile, Sikorsky also used the commonality route on offering the S-70i Battlehawk, which is essentially an upgraded S-70i Black Hawk combat utility helicopter with modular systems to allow it to be converted into a gunship in a short time, and return to utility role afterwards and when needed. Sikorsky believed that for the Philippines that does not have any threat from enemy tanks or armored formations, while being threatened more by lack of enough rotary assets, natural disasters and terrorism, having a modular platform like the Battlehawk makes more sense for now.

The Sikorsky S-70i Battlehawk during a defense expo. Credits to original source of the photo.

Airbus Helicopters' pitch for their H145M was based on the ability by the PAF to field more combat helicopters than more expensive attack helicopters, while being superior to other light armed helicopters like the AW109M and Rudra. Airbus has yet to sell a helicopter to the Armed Forces of the Philippines, despite the H145 in civilian variant ordered already by the Philippine Coast Guard.

India's HAL made use of their affordability, being cheaper than both the AW109M and H145M while offering the same capabilities. MaxDefense sources mentioned that while affordable and promising, there are fears on using the Rudra, which shares the same platform as the Dhuruv light utility helicopter that were involved in serious accidents in the past years involving Indian and non-Indian military units.

Russia's Rosoboronexport's pitch used the improving Philippines-Russia ties, proven Russian technology and weapon systems, and being more affordable than comparable Western equivalents. Russia also mentioned their willingness to provide more to a potential new customer who is unfamiliar with Russian weapon systems. But apparently, PAF prefers to start with something simpler, like a transport or utility helicopter when ordering aircraft from Russia. This is where the interest in the Mil Mi-171Sh comes to mind.

The Mil Mi-28N Havoc Night Hunter during a Russian defense expo. Photo credited to John Yates, taken from his Flick account.

Finally Bell Helicopters anchored their offer on refurbished AH-1W Super Cobras instead of new AH-1Z Vipers. According to MaxDefense sources, Bell Helicopters believed that the PAF may not be able to afford to have a relevant fleet of Vipers and that having the AH-1Ws instead would make more sense and realistically make it more possible for Bell to win the project. 

This is apparently the same reason made by Boeing when they originally offered the AH-64E Apache Guardian to the PAF but did not really made a serious pitch later on.

The Bell AH-1W Super Cobra, this example with the US Marine Corps. Photo taken from / Anthony Osborne.

While these helicopter manufacturers were all using the opportunity again after the PAF and DND has re-opened the opportunity for everyone, it appears that the TWG has already something in mind even before it started re-evaluating its option.

Feedback on the Competing Products:
Let's start on the HAL Rudra. MaxDefense sources mentioned that while being the most affordable in the offerings, there are fears on using the Rudra, which shares the same platform as the HAL Dhuruv light utility helicopter that were involved in serious accidents in the past years involving Indian and non-Indian military units.

The HAL Rudra appears to be a promising offer, but PAF has been cautious considering it shares the platform with the Dhuruv which were involved in accidents in the past. This would put the helicopter's rejection in a similar reason as the PAF's rejection of the KAI Surion for the CUH acquisition project. Credits to original source of photo.

Regarding Leonardo's AW109M, issues were raised on the ability of Leonardo to provide after-sales support, due to the poor service both the PAF and PN-NAW. This has been the issue Leonardo has been getting a year after the PAF received their AW109E Power light armed helicopters a few years ago. 

Issues on Russia's offer for Mil Mi-28N Havoc Night Hunter or even the Mil Mi-35 Hind are more on issues of compatibility and inter-operability with the mostly NATO-standard Armed Forces of the Philippines, and fears of "birthing difficulty" especially for an advanced combat system for a first-time Russian arms user like the PAF. The PAF believes the attack helicopters represent a major asset that they cannot afford doing trials on inter-operability. Another issue raised was CAATSA, which has been discussed thoroughly on MaxDefense posts in the past.

The Bell AH-1Z Viper was too expensive, and even if the PAF gets financial support for the US, it still believes that investing a huge amount of money on attack helicopters would rather be better used in acquiring other needed assets like light combat aircraft and transport aircraft. MaxDefense sources were told that with the PAF's budget, Bell can only provide a maximum of 3 to 4 units, compared to Leonardo's offer of 24 AW109M and Airbus' 20 H145M helicopters.

Thus the top 3 potential replacements to the T129 ATAK attack helicopter were the S-70i Battle Hawk, Bell AH-1W Super Cobra, and Airbus H145M.

The Sikorsky S-70i Battlehawk includes a belly-mounted gun mount that can be aimed at using the pilot's helmet similar to those found in purpose-built attack helicopters. 

While the S-70i Battle Hawk appears to be the best option being brand new, modular, and heavily armed, it appears that the PAF has issues with its selection for the attack helicopter project. Airbus' H145M represents a scaled down version of the S-70i Battle Hawk, being smaller but with the same concept of modularity to become general purpose and not just fixed as a combat helicopter.

But the PAF has made it known that their preference is for a purpose-built attack helicopter. Emphasis was given on agility, speed, "diving" capabilities (something that has bothered MaxDefense since we found out about this), use of a nose-mounted helmet sighted gun, tandem-seating, and heavy armaments.

While the S-70i Battle Hawk has heavy armaments and nose-mounted helmet sighted gun, it fails to meet requirements on speed, flight agility, tandem seating and "diving" capabilities. Meanwhile the Airbus H145M may be more agile than its Sikorsky competitor, it suffers the same issues of not meeting what the PAF is looking for.

So in the end, the last one standing was the refurbished Bell AH-1W Super Cobra.

While all other alternatives to the T129 ATAK were out of the shortlists, only the Bell AH-1W Super Cobra remained in the end. This example is with the US Marine Corps. Photo taken from / Nathan Havercroft.

The refurbished Bell AH-1W Super Cobra offer:

With the offer for refurbished Bell AH-1W Super Cobra appearing to be the best option for the PAF, this too became too hard for the PAF to swallow.

First of, this is the only offer that does not involve brand new assets. These helicopters were originally from the late 1980s to early 1990s which means they are originally more or less 30 years old before refurbishing. 

Secondly, it shares semblance to the upcoming Bell AH-1S Cobra attack helicopters that the PAF is about to receive from the Kingdom of Jordan. Despite being newer and with twin engines compared to its older stablemate, the AH-1W Super Cobra shares several similar features and components.

Bell and some groups within the PAF are using the acquisition of AH-1S Tzefas Cobra from Jordan as a reason to select the AH-1W Super Cobra. Credits to original source of photo.

Thirdly, the US government has expressed its support should the PAF decide to go for the offer of refurbished AH-1W Super Cobras. It has assured also the DND that going for the helicopters, which are being sold under US Foreign Military Sales (FMS) would not be blocked.

And lastly, the AH-1W Super Cobra was among those eyed by the Philippine Air Force as a wish list should the US provide any assistance to the Philippines in terms of excess defense articles.

PAF personnel checks on a US Marine Corps AH-1W Super Cobra during an exercise in the Philippines. Photo taken from Aiirsource Military's Youtube page. 

But despite these, the most lingering issue is the purchase price. Despite being used old units, they are still expensive.

Based on MaxDefense sources, for the budget of Php13.8 billion for Attack Helicopters, Bell can only offer not more than 8 units. This a strong issue considering the PAF has put premium in considering that other helicopter manufacturers like Russian Helicopters or TAI can offer the same number of brand new attack helicopters and would have been better options if only not meeting certain fixed criteria or issues.

Apparently the US government may add a few more units as part of their assistance but this remains confidential according to our sources.

The DND Makes its Decision:
After receiving the recommendations from the Philippine Air Force TWG, and discussing with different helicopter manufacturers and governments supporting their respective companies, our sources confirmed that the DND, through Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana, has made a decision on what the agency would acquire to be the PAF's next Attack Helicopter.

Based on the revised Acquisition Decision Memorandum released by the DND and signed by Sec. Lorenzana recently, the decision is to proceed with Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) offer with still the T129 ATAK attack helicopter.

Also, the project would remain as a Government-to-Government (G2G) deal with the Turkish government, and will proceed as plan based on the discussions made between the two countries since last year.

Apparently, the PAF TWG has not made objections regarding this decision, and has started preparation to support the DND-Bids and Awards Committee in finalizing the documents prior to the release of Notice of Award.

A wooden model of the T129 ATAK attack helicopter as presented to Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana by the Turkish delegation during a defense cooperation agreement meeting last December 2018 in Manila. Credits to original source of photo.

So What Happened??
Not much information was provided to MaxDefense on how the DND came up with the decision. It appears that both the DND and its Turkish counterpart would want things to be hush hush on this matter.

But what MaxDefense has been told is that the Turkish government and Turkish Aerospace Industries has assured the DND and the Philippine Air Force that there will be no problems in securing export licenses for US-made parts and subsystems, including the LHTEC-sourced engines and other avionics. 

So far, even MaxDefense has noted that no reports of CAATSA-related sanctions against Turkey or any Turkish company has been made public yet. While MaxDefense sources also believe the same, this remains to be something that time can answer.

The Turkish government also assured the DND that they will be open to possible use of soft loans to increase the numbers of the PAF's orders, from the current 6 to 8 units based on the PAF's budget, to at least a full squadron with the help of soft loans.

In addition, Turkey has also assured the DND and PAF that they are willing to supply Turkish-made munitions for the T129 ATAK attack helicopters, including the Roketsan UMTAS anti-tank missile and Roketsan CIRIT laser-guided 70mm rockets. It is also possible that the T129 ATAK could be wired to allow the use of the Israeli-made Rafael Spike-ER or Spike-NLOS anti-tank missiles which the Philippine Air Force plans to acquire to arm its Spike-ready AH-1S Tzefas Cobra attack helicopters.

Turkey's CIRIT laser guided rocket made by Roketsan was among those committed by Turkey to be open for sale to the PAF. Photo taken from Roketsan's website.

The question now is, was this the best decision made by the DND for this project? 

Its still a matter of time before anyone, even those from the defense departments of both Turkey and the Philippines, if the US will allow the export of US-made parts for the T129 helicopter, especially the LHTEC T800 series turboshaft engines.

If this fails, the PAF would definitely have huge delays in its Attack Helicopter acquisition project as any plan to reset the project would mean a possible delay of at least 2 more years or more.

Who would have thought that after everything that happened with Turkey, the DND and PAF would still go for the TAI T129 ATAK attack helicopter? Photo credits to Pavel Leuchter, taken from Airplane Pictures. So far this is one of the best photos of the helicopter, if not for the watermarks.

MaxDefense's Opinion - Totally Different from what the PAF has currently in mind:
So far, the decision to get the T129 ATAK attack helicopter was supported by MaxDefense before the issues between Turkey and the US came out. This can be seen on our previous reports where we mentioned our support to the end user's decision to select the T129, as well as Sec. Lorenzana's approval and support for the decision.

But the Turkey-US spat is something that we cannot really set aside. Until a strong confirmation coming from the US guaranteeing their openness to allow Turkey to import US made parts for T129s for the Philippines, anything is possible.

Turkey has not yet made any developments to use an alternative engine from France, nor has made any strong progress on using turboshaft engines it is developing locally for the T129 and other Turkish-made helicopters.

MaxDefense also believes that the offer made by Bell for refurbished Super Cobras was too expensive. Since these are old helicopters, we were hoping that the US would even be offering them cheap to allies like the Philippines.

Russia's Mil Mi-28N seems to be the best alternative in terms of affordability, firepower and availability but the issues of interoperability and compatibility with existing AFP systems, as well as interoperability with allies like the US and partners like Japan and Australia would be an issue later on. Then there's CAATSA.

Honestly, MaxDefense believes that the Philippine Air Force's 15th Strike Wing should move away from Attack Helicopters and let the Philippine Army (PA) have such assets. Instead, MaxDefense believes that the 15th Strike Wing should look far ahead, away from just providing local close air support using short range slow aircraft, and instead look at the possibility of acquiring strike aircraft for territorial defense.

The PAF 15th Strike Wing should look beyond and instead acquire light combat aircraft capable of anti-shipping missions like the FA-50 Fighting Eagle and Tejas Mk1. Both aircraft should be armed with air-launched anti-ship missiles, while Attack Helicopter acquisitions should be made by the Philippine Army instead. Credits to original source of photo.

MaxDefense believes that the 15th Strike Wing would better of with jet aircraft capable of anti-shipping missions using air-launched anti-ship missiles in support of the Philippine Navy. Affordable surface attack aircraft like the KAI FA-50PH Fighting Eagle, or even other light combat aircraft in the market like the HAL Tejas Mk.1 and Mk.1A with anti-shipping capability using Brahmos NG air-launched missiles are better alternatives to attack helicopters. For Php13.8 billion, MaxDefense believes that the unit can have at least 6 light combat aircraft each armed with 2 air-launched anti-ship missiles and a few more extra rounds, plus ILS and support requirements. 

With both South Korea and India willing to assist the Philippines, it is possible to have both countries help to allow the PAF to acquire aircraft and anti-ship missiles. An example could be the BrahMos NG air-launched missile, which can be equipped on the Tejas Mk.1 or Mk.1A and on the FA-50PH, in the later's case after upgrades allowing such capability.

The BrahMos NG, carried by affordable jet powered light combat aircraft like the FA-50 or Tejas Mk1 are examples of what the PAF should have with the 15th Strike Wing instead of attack helicopters

Meanwhile, MaxDefense believes that the Philippine Army must be the one operating attack helicopters, especially that its plan to elevate its Aviation Battalion into a regiment is becoming more possible than ever.

Having the PA operate attack helicopters makes more sense since they do not have to rely on the PAF for close air support especially on crucial moments where coordination between two separate service branches could delay decision making and deployment.

First posted on 31 August 2019
Copyright MaxDefense Philippines

Sunday, August 25, 2019

The Philippine Navy's Pohang-class corvette, and plans to acquire more from South Korea

After MaxDefense posted bits and pieces of information and dropping hints in the past year on the plans to acquire more surplus Pohang-class corvettes from the South Korean government, Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana finally confirmed what we have been saying all along - that the Philippine government is indeed negotiating with its South Korean counterparts to transfer at least two (2) more surplus Pohang-class corvettes.

This was confirmed by Sec. Lorenzana during the arrival ceremonies of the Philippine Navy's first Pohang-class corvette, the BRP Conrado Yap (PS-39), considered as the Philippine Navy's first purpose-built corvette.

The first Pohang-class corvette of the Philippine Navy, the BRP Conrado Yap (PS-39), formerly the ROKS Chungju (PCC-762). Snipped photo originally from the Philippine Navy.

The Introduction of the Pohang-class to the Philippine Navy:

The BRP Conrado Yap (PS-39) is the first Pohang-class corvette of the Philippine Navy. It was approved for transfer to the Philippine Navy since 2016, but due to delays and funding issues, the Philippine Navy was only able to start the actual transfer process in 2019.

The ship, formerly known as the ROKS Chungju (PCC-762), is a Pohang-class Flight III corvette formerly used by the Republic of Korea Navy. The Flight III were configured for anti-submarine warfare (ASW), equipped with two Oto Melara 76mm/62 cal. Compact naval guns, two Otobreda twin 40mm L/70 naval guns, two Mk.46 triple torpedo tubes, 2 Mk.9 depth charge racks, and at least four 12.7mm heavy machine guns. It also has a mount for a MBDA Simbad launcher for the Mistral VSHORAD missile system, although the PS-39 do not have the mount as it was taken out by the ROKN before handing over the ship to the PN.

The ROKS Chungju was the replacement provided by the South Korean government after the Philippine Navy rejected the acceptance of another Pohang-class corvette offered to them in 2011, the Flight II corvette formerly known as ROKS Mokpo (PCC-759). The PN rejected the ship after inspections by the PN in 2014 found the ship in very poor condition, and would not be beneficial since many of its subsystems were non-operational and would require a lot of work and money to refurbish.

Meanwhile, when the PN inspection team checked the former ROKS Chungju, many of its subsystems are obsolete but are still in good working condition, and the ship require minimal work to refurbish. The Philippine Navy spent Php250 million to repair, refurbish and fit-out the ship to acceptable standards, although the South Korean government agreed to pay for the drydocking works at STX Shipyard as part of the grant.

The ship was formally handed-over to the Philippine government, and commissioned with the Philippine Navy on 05 August 2019 in Jinhae Naval Base in South Korea.

Three more Flight III ships were built aside from the ROKS Chungju, although all of them were transferred to other countries with two going to Vietnam, and one to Egypt.

Currently, the Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN) still has fourteen (14) Pohang-class Flight IV and V corvettes that are available for transfer once retired from service.

Aside from the Philippines, some other countries received surplus Pohang-class corvettes from South Korea, including Peru (1 x Flight II), Vietnam (2 x Flight III), and Egypt (1 x Flight III)

More on the Philippine Navy's Pohang-class Corvette Transfer Project can be found on the Resource Page on MaxDefense's AFP Modernizastion Portal:

"Pohang-class Corvette Transfer Project of the Philippine Navy"

Changes from ROKS Chungju to BRP Conrado Yap:

Several items were removed by the ROKN prior to hand-over, including:

* Simbad MANPADS firing station for MBDA Mistral and/or LIGNex1 Chiron VSHORAD missile system;
* Several low frequency radios used for secured communications;

* Beacon distress radio;
* Satellite navigation system;
* ULQ-12(V)1K electronic support measures (ESM) suite;
* Electronic Position Indicator Radio Beacon;
* RFID receiver

Left Photo: BRP Conrado Yap. Right Photo: ROKS Chungju. Color Legend: Red- removed; Orange - changed; Green - added.
Credits to Iohanssen Kamputhaw for the infographic and information.

Refering to the photo above, the following were among those noted as changes when the ship was delivered to the Philippine Navy (Thanks to one of our naval contributor Iohanssen Kamputhaw for providing these infographic and info):

1. Midship satcom antenna removed;
2. Forward (above bridge) dome-type navigation radar installed;  
3. RHIB crane was changed. New RHIB was also procured;  
4. A secondary S-band was added and mounted on new skeleton tower.  

5. Primary S-band may have also been replaced (if Bid Documents for Lot 2 was followed)

Refurbishing works on the ship prior to official hand-over included the following:

* W6 level overhaul of the MTU main diesel engines;
* W6 level overhaul of the MTU ship diesel generators;
* HF Radio, UHF Base and Handheld Radios;
* Marine and Airband Radios;
* Navigational Equipment

First Purpose-Built Corvette:

The BRP Conrado Yap (PS-39) was considered by the Philippine Navy as its first purpose-built corvette, since previous ships identified as corvettes were originally built for a different purpose.

The Rizal-class and Malvar-class patrol vessels, which were previously considered and counted as corvettes by both local and international publications, were actually originally the Auk-class ocean minesweepers and Patrol Craft Escorts (PCE) of the US Navy, respectively. Due to the change in role they received while in service with the Philippine Navy, they were considered as corvettes based on size and weight class. Back when these ships were introduced, the term "offshore patrol vessel" was not yet used to describe navy patrol vessels, and corvettes were usually armed with the same gun complement as these ships.

The Jacinto-class patrol vessels were also considered as patrol vessels by the UK Royal Navy during their service with the Hong Kong Naval Squadron. Being more capable than the Rizal-class and Malvar-class "corvettes", these ships were also classified as corvettes being less capable than corvettes of its time which were equipped with anti-submarine, anti-aircraft, and missiles for surface warfare.

While the BRP Conrado Yap is not armed with missiles, it is considered a corvette, with emphasis of surface warfare and anti-submarine warfare. It was designed to combat North Korean gunboats and small ships by high volume of gunfire from its 76mm and 40mm guns, while also equipped with a hull-mounted sonar, torpedoes and depth charges for rudimentary ASW operations working in tandem with more capable ASW platforms.

A Flight IV Pohang-class corvette.

Training Ship:

The BRP Conrado Yap (PS-39)is also expected to be a training and transition ship for future ship crew of the upcoming Jose Rizal-class frigates, which are expected to start delivery to the Philippine Navy by 2020.

Along with the Del Pilar-class ocean patrol vessels and Jacinto-class offshore patrol vessels, the PS-39 would allow crew members to operate subsystems that are the closest thing that the Philippine Navy has in its fleet to those installed on the new frigates. This is especially true for the hull mounted sonar system, as the PS-39 has the only working ship-mounted ASW sonar in the fleet.

Personnel from the PN's Naval Sea Systems Command led by its chief Rear Adm. Rommel Galang conducts checks on the BRP Conrado Yap (PS-39) to orient personnel on the ship's subsystems. Photo taken from the NSSC's Facebook page.

Plans to Acquire 2 More Pohang-class:

Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana confirmed that they are negotiating with the South Korean government for the transfer of two more surplus Pohang-class corvettes to the Philippine Navy. Based on how he mentioned it to the media, it appears that the South Korean government was actually offering to transfer these ships to the Philippines.

But this is not the case.

It was known within the DND and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) that the BRP Conrado Yap (PS-39) was meant to be a "sweetener" for the acquisition of twelve (12) KAI FA-50PH Fighting Eagle light combat aircraft for the Philippine Air Force (PAF), and eight (8) Hanwha Defense KAAV-7A1 amphibious assault vehicles for the Philippine Marine Corps (PMC).

Originally, the Philippine Navy already requested for the transfer of another one or two Pohang-class corvettes since 2017 after the contract for the Frigate Acquisition Project was signed in October 2016. Back then, the DND and PN were hoping that the South Korean government will give them the ships as a "sweetener" for buying not just the HDF-2500 frigates from Hyundai Heavy Industries, but also for including several Korean-made defense products like the LIGNex1 SSM-700K C-Star anti-ship missile, and later on the finality to use the Hanwha Systems Naval Shield Integrated Combat Management System (ICMS).

Surprisingly, if the proposal to transfer two more Pohang-class corvettes are indeed being pushed as "sweeteners", having them come before closing a deal means that the Koreans are being safe in making sure a deal is indeed closed first before any promised sweetener can be actually delivered.

According to MaxDefense sources, among the promises made by Hyundai Heavy Industries to the DND and PN was that they would assist in the transfer of surplus Pohang-class corvettes to the Philippine Navy. So the two ships could be from this commitment.

Remember when MaxDefense posted if there will be a BRP "Fidel Ramos" in the future? That was in reference to the ongoing negotiations to transfer more Pohang-class corvettes to the Philippine Navy, since Pres. Fidel V. Ramos was actually a Korean War veteran as well, and the Philippine Navy is expected to name Pohang-class corvettes it receive after distinguished Filipino soldiers who serviced during the Korean War in the 1950s.

So expect additional Pohang-class corvettes to be named after Korean War heroes or distinguished soldiers or officers.

The BRP Conrado Yap (PS-39) is shown here with two other Pohang-class corvettes, most likely recently retired Flight IV ships which can be identified by the different radar dome on the mast (more circular which are found only on Flight IV and V ships of the class). Surprisingly, the Otobrerda 40mm twin gun mount at the B position was removed for both ships, with one even have it replaced with an old 20mm gatling gun mount found only on Chamsuri-class patrol boats. Photo taken from the Philippine Navy website.

Flight IV and V Pohang-class Corvettes:

Since there are no more Flight III Pohang-class corvettes available for transfer to the Philippine Navy or any other navy, it is expected that the South Korean government will be using Flight IV and V ships of the class. The ROKN has started retiring Flight IV ships with the former ROKS Jinhae (PCC-766) already retired from service since December 2017. Another famous Flight IV ship is the ROKS Cheonan (PCC-772) which was sunk by a North Korean submarine on March 2010.

Compared to the Flight III Pohang-class corvette like the BRP Conrado Yap (PS-39), the Flight IV and V ships of the class are improved versions and are armed with two twin Harpoon anti-ship missile launchers in addition to the standard weapons of the Flight III.

The Flight IV and V also has the following difference from the Flight III ships:

* Radamec 2400 optronic director instead of the Signaal LIOD;
* Addition of a Marconi 1810 surface search radar replacing the Signal WM-26 fire control radar on the main mast dome;
* Two twin Harpoon anti-ship missile launchers between the rear Otobreda 40mm mount and funnel;
* Installing a Marconi 1802 fire control radar on a pedestal between the two Harpoon ASM launchers.

Above is an infographic on the different Pohang-class variants, with Flight II, III, IV and V shown. Flight I is not actually a Pohang-class corvette so it was not included here. The Pre-upgrade infographic was provided to MaxDefense by 40niner.

Other updates made on the Pohang-class Flight IV and V corvettes by the ROKN in recent years include the following:

* Replacement of the AN/SPS-64 surface search radar with the Radartech SPS-300K surface search radar
* Installation of SLQ-261K torpedo acoustic countermeasures
* Upgrade of the Raytheon AN/SQS-58 hull-mounted sonar
* Installation of SLQ-201K Electric Support Measures suite

While these improvements were made on the Pohang-class Flight IV and V corvettes, MaxDefense does not expect the ROKN to include the SLQ-261K torpedo acoustic countermeasures and the SLQ-201K ESM suite should they transfer the ships to anyone. These are ROKN-only items that they could re-use in other ships, although the SPS-300K radar could be retained as it does not cost too much for them to re-acquire.

The Rule of Three:

The Philippine Navy currently has a rule on ship acquisitions which includes the Rule of Three, which means the organization has to have at least 3 ships of similar class in the fleet.

This is to make sure that there is at least 1 ship of the class available to operate anywhere in the country 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

While it is possible that all three ships of the class can be operational all at the same time, there are times when 1 ship will need to be in service, while the other is being prepared to replace the one that is currently on station.

Philippine Navy Flag Officer in Command (FOIC) Vice Adm. Robert Empedrad confirmed this during media interviews during the arrival ceremonies of BRP Conrado Yap last 20 August 2019, wherein he mentioned that even the South Korean government knows that the Philippine Navy usually operate 3 ships of the same class, like in the case of the Del Pilar and Jacinto-class ships.

This gives the PN a reason to indeed ask the South Korean government to allow the transfer (or even sale) of at least two more Pohang-class corvettes, to allow the PN to have at least 3 ships of the class.

The three Jacinto-class patrol vessels. Photo taken from Kalasag Ng Lahi defense page.

Potential Problems on Acquiring 2 More Pohang-class Corvettes:
It should be remembered that it took 2 years for the Philippine Navy to make a Horizon 2 Priority Project like the Pohang-class Corvette Transfer Project turn from funding request, pre-procurement, procurement phase, and completion. The main reason why the BRP Conrado Yap only arrived in August 2019 when it other countries took possession of the their granted corvettes later than the Philippines but were able to bring it home to their respective countries quickly.

Since there is no budget allocation within Horizon 2 Phase Priority Projects to cover the costs related to the transfer of two more Pohang-class corvettes, it means the Philippine Navy will have to resort to including it in the 2nd List of Horizon 2 Phase Projects that is still being formed by the AFP and PN.

Another faster option is to consider it as an emergency procurement and for the Philippine Navy, with assistance from the DND, to go straight to Pres. Duterte to request for funding. All the president has to do is ask the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to find ways to fund the transfer, which would most likely cost between Php500-600 million depending on the ship's condition.

Possibly More Pohang-class Corvettes in the Future?

Aside from the two additional ships being negotiated by the DND and PN with their South Korean counterparts, it is highly possible that the Philippine Navy may acquire more Pohang-class corvettes in the future.

This was also highlighted by PN FOIC Vice Adm. Robert Empedrad, who mentioned to reporters last 20 August 2019 that aside from the commitment to provide 2 more Pohang-class corvettes, he also asked the Koreans if they can provide more and, we quote, "there was a positive response".

With more Pohang-class corvettes on the way to retirement in the next few years, it is not impossible for the Philippine Navy to receive more, considering a sweetener for the two new corvettes reported earlier as being planned to be awarded to South Korea's Hyundai Heavy Industries. 

Despite old, these ships are obviously far more capable than the World War 2 era warships still used by the Philippine Navy.

MaxDefense hopes that three more Pohang-class corvettes to form another squadron can be acquired.

South Korea still has more than a dozen Pohang-class corvettes that could be provided or transferred to other countries like the Philippines. Chances are, the Philippine Navy could get more on top of the two already being negotiated. Credits to original sources of the photos.

Wait, What "Corvette Squadron"?

Just to add a new development in the Philippine Navy:

Last June 2019, PN FOIC Vice Adm. Empedrad proposed for the creation of squadrons within the Philippine Fleet, which means ships would be formed into squadrons of two or three ships, similar to what other countries have in their fleets. An example of regional navies that do this is the Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN), the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN), and the Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN).

Example, if the PN has three Pohang-class corvettes, it means all three could be lumped together to form an "Anti-Submarine Warfare Corvette Squadron". Since the Jacinto-class and Del Pilar-class already have three ships each, it is expected that all the Jacinto-class patrol vessels would be lumped into a single squadron. The same is true for all Del Pilar-class ocean patrol vessels.

Three Pohang-class corvettes of the ROKN, most likely forming a squadron.

Another possibility is mixing one or two types or classes of ships to form a TEMPORARY or task force squadron, which is already being done by the Philippine Navy for some time. Example, a Jose Rizal-class frigate can be paired with a Jacinto-class patrol vessel and a Del Pilar-class ocean patrol vessel to form a squadron of different capabilities. Or a Jacinto-class patrol vessel can be paired with two Tomas Batilo-class fast attack crafts. Normally this is the case in the ROKN, wherein a more capable ship is paired with less capable ones to form a patrol squadron.

An example of a mixed ship squadron, this one showing a Flight III Pohang-class paired with a Gomdoksuri-class large patrol boat and a Chamsuri-class fast patrol boat. 

It remains to be seen if this would be approved by the General Headquarters, Armed Forces of the Philippines, and be implemented soon.

If yes, this further increases the reason why the acquisition of two more Pohang-class corvettes is inevitable and should be pursued.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Discussing the Philippine Coast Guard's Maritime Disaster Response Helicopter Projects

In this specific blog entry, we invited again one of our contributors who focus on projects of the Philippine Coast Guard, to write on behalf of MaxDefense Philippines. We would like to again thank our contributor and MaxDefense community member "Herbie" for making this effort for our community.

Herbie has been following the Philippine defense, modernization, and asset acquisition for more than a decade, and has been a MaxDefense community member for almost 6 years. This is his second time to write as a guest writer for MaxDefense, and is a prime example of our openness to people with interests and knowledge to share in our efforts.


As the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) continues to improve its capabilities to meet the challenges as the premier maritime law enforcement, and search and rescue agency of the Philippine government, it is has moved to improve its aviation capabilities including acquisition of new assets.
In this case, the PCG aims to complete what they call the "Maritime Disaster Response Helicopter" Acquisition Project which aims to replace ageing assets while also expanding its aviation capabilities.

One of the PCG's ordered Airbus EC145T2 helicopters undergoing test flight in Germany with PCG aircrew. This helicopter is scheduled to arrive no later than January 2020. Photo taken from Scramble Magazine.


The Maritime Disaster Response Helicopter Acquisition Project involves the acquisition of seven (7) multi-role helicopters to strengthen and expand PCG's maritime disaster response capabilities during maritime incidents, natural disasters and calamities. It also involves the training of pilots and technical crew, procurement of mission equipment and tools and spare parts for five (5) years. *

The helicopters will be deployed in PCG's proposed six circles of influence with a 200 nautical mile radius - Northern Luzon, National Capital Region (NCR) / Central Luzon, Palawan, Central and Eastern Visayas, Southwest Mindanao and Southeast Mindanao. The light helicopters shall perform SAR missions and shall mainly be deployed aboard the 56-meter San Juan-class SAR Vessels in the present inventory of the PCG employing the mother-ship concept immensely expanding the coverage area of operations. 

One of the early documents to state this Maritime Disaster Response Helicopter requirement is the “RA008-02: Formulating a National Transport Plan” that dates back to March 2010. It was commissioned by the Philippines – Australia Partnership for Economic Governance Reforms (PEGR) group and was initiated by the Australian Government. It stated that the Philippine Government work for the “Development maritime disaster response capabilities.” The indicator to achieve this objective is a target of 8 “Number of multi-purpose maritime helicopters” (including 1 for training). It was estimated to cost PHP 5.836 billion during that time.

The above document initiated by the Australian government in 2010 called for the acquisition of 7 Multi-Purpose Maritime Helicopters plus a Training Helicopter. Photo taken from AusAID website.  

That March 2010 National Transport Plan cited the Feasibility Study on the PCG Helicopter Acquisition Project that was completed the previous year by the Transport and Traffic Planners (TTPI) Inc. This would show that the number of units was carefully studied with relevant data at that time. 

A separate 2010 Australian program, Building the Resilience and Awareness of Metro Manila Communities to Natural Disasters and Climate Change Impacts (BRACE Program) Annex 3 stated the project to have a planned funding source from Germany-Caiyon with a PHP 5.8 billion cost. The procurement of seven Maritime Disaster Response (MDR) helicopters was detailed in this program.

As the PCG was still waiting for the NEDA approval of this project since at least September 2009, by 2011, the former DOTC was given a budget of PHP 1,545,567,000 for two helicopters as was reported in various news outlets at that time. 

From 2011-2013, the project had a budget courtesy of a German loan, from Credit Agricole, for a total of PHP 5,409,485,000. But for some reason, the DOTC didn’t purchase the helicopters using the German loan.

The breakdown of funds per year are as follows:

2011 - Php1,545,567,000;
2012 - Php3,397,984,000;
2013 - Php465,935,000

From 2014 to 2015, there was still no movement for the approval in the NEDA-ICC level. The final approval will still be done by the NEDA Board. 

Around 2014, the PCG presented a paper in an International Conference that showed that there are two categories of helicopters the PCG was looking at: light and medium. 

For the light helicopters, the Bell 429, Bell 430, A109E, EC145 (H145), and MD902 were the candidates for this requirement. 

Among the models being proposed for the PCG's Light Multi-Purpose Helicopter are (from top to bottom): Bell 429, Bell 430, Agusta (now Leonardo) AW109E Power, Eurocopter (now Airbus) EC 145, and MD Helicopters MD902. Credits to original sources of the photos.

A comparison table for the Bell 4129, A109E, and EC 145.

For the medium helicopter requirement, the S-76C++, Bell 412EP, and AS365 N3 were the potential models for this category. The presentation also showed that it must prioritize interoperability with PCG Search and Rescue vessels. 

The proposals for the PCG Medium Helicopter are (from top to bottom): Bell 412EP, Sikorsky S-76++, and Eurocopter (now Airbus) AS365 N2 Dauphin. Credits to original sources of the photos.

With no NEDA ICC and no NEDA Board approval yet, the PCG was given a budget for the helicopters. Around July 2015, the PCG invited bidders for the “Procurement of Two (2) Light to Medium Weight Search and Rescue Helicopter” with a budget of PHP 777,600,000. Unfortunately, this was cancelled the next month, with a “For Review” as a comment on the bid. It is interesting to note that this bid was for two units of helicopters.

The following year, around November 2016, a new bid was out and the name was changed into “Procurement of Light to Medium Weight Search and Rescue Helicopter” for one unit of helicopter with the same budget of PHP 777,600,000.00. Unfortunately, this again was cancelled the following month. This particular bid noted that the DBM Procurement Service (DBM-PS) will continue the procurement of this bid.

By October 2017, with the DBM-PS undertaking the procurement, it tendered out the item and its name was changed into  “Supply, Delivery, Testing and Commissioning of Light to Medium Weight, Multi-Purpose, Twin Engine Helicopter for the PCG” for one unit of helicopter with a budget of PHP 745,620,000. Two months later, the bidding failed, with the report noting that “The bid is not responsive”.

On December 2017, the NEDA-ICC-CabCom, co-chaired by the Department of Finance (DOF) and NEDA, discussed and noted the Department of Transportation/ Philippine Coast Guard’s report on the comparative analysis of lease and purchase options for the Maritime Disaster Response Helicopter Acquisition.  The PCG comparative analysis recommended a direct purchase arrangement supported by Official Development Assistance (ODA).

With this assessment, the PCG may avail of a Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) STEP loan for the Airbus-Kawasaki 145//BK117 D-3 as it is co-developed by Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Ltd. and Airbus Helicopters Deutschland GmbH.

Acquisition Through Public Bidding:

On 03 April 2018, the PCG invited bidders for the “Supply, Delivery, Testing and Commissioning of Light to Medium Weight, Multi-Purpose, Twin Engine Helicopter for the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG)” project for one unit of helicopter with a budget of Php685,805,000.00. 

The Notice of Award (NOA) for the SAR Helicopter was given on 19 May 2018.  By November 2018, a Notice to Proceed was issued to Airbus Helicopters Southeast Asia PTE LTD for an H145 without FLIR. It is expected to be delivered not later than March 15 2020. 

Airbus released these photos showing their H145 wining Light Helicopter requirement of the PCG. Photos taken from Airbus.

Separately, on 19 April 2018, the DBM-PS invited bidders for the “Supply, Delivery, Testing and Commissioning of Light to Medium Weight, Multi-Purpose, Twin Engine Helicopter for the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG)” project for one unit of helicopter with a budget of Php745,620,000.00. 

The Notice of Award (NOA) was issued last 18 June 2018. The Notice to Proceed (NTP) was issued July 2018 to Airbus Helicopters Southeast Asia PTE LTD for an H145 with FLIR and weather radar. The newly added PCG Air Asset is expected to be delivered not later than January 09, 2020. This is the tender that was announced by Airbus in their website.

Taken from PhilGEPS website.

MaxDefense posted some photos of the Airbus EC145T2 (H145) helicopter with all weather radar and FLIR last July 2019 in Germany, as they were already undergoing flight tests and PCG aircrew training.

This specific helicopter bound for the PCG appears to be the one with the all weather radar, as one of the two units has it as standard. Photo shared exclusively to MaxDefense by sources from the PCG.

Planned Acquisition of More Helicopters:

NEDA released a report in 2018 wherein it mentioned the need to acquire more helicopters under the Maritime Disaster Respinse Helicopter acquisition project.
Taken from NEDA's report in 2018.

A statement released by the PCG on December 2018 mentioned that “in order to provide more service to the public, the PCG needs to acquire additional six (6) medium sized helicopters. This will be done after the completion of the Maritime Disaster Helicopter Project.

Department of Finance report released on January 2019 also included the status of this project, which was noted as “NEDA-ICC conditional approval subject to submission of risk assessment and sensitivity analysis”. 

Just last July 2019, the project was reported as now undergoing a NEDA-ICC Secretariat review. It is now listed under “Projects for Inclusion in the Agenda of the Next ICC-CC Meeting”. The funding source is now determined as “Local Financing” (compared to the ODA recommendation of the PCG shown above) and with a total project cost at Php5.88749 billion. 

We can compare this to the estimated cost listed last March 2010 at Php5.836 billion showing that inflation may certainly affect the inclusions in this project like mission equipment and spares.

Project Summary:

Light to Medium Weight, Multi-Purpose,Twin Engine Helicopter

Note: Edited as of 11 August 2019:

* End User: Philippine Coast Guard Aviation Unit

* Quantity: DBM-BAC: 1 unit, PCG-BAC: 1 unit

* Project ABC:

   - DBM-BAC: Php745,620,000.00
   - PCG-BAC: Php685,805,000.00

* Acquisition Mode: Public Bidding

* Source of Funding: Official Development Assistance (ODA) by Japan JICA

* SARO Release: TBA

* Winning Proponent: Airbus Helicopters Southeast Asia

* Product for Delivery:
  - DBM-BAC: 1 Airbus EC145T2 (H145) with all weather radar and FLIR
  - PCG-BAC: 1 Airbus EC145T2 (H145) without radar and FLIR

* Contract Price:   - DBM-BAC: Php745,120,000.00

* First post by MaxDefense: TBA

* Searching Hashtag: #PCGLightMDRHAcquisition #PCGMaritimeDisasterResponseHelicopter

* Status: Both helicopters for delivery by early 2020. More planned for acquisition.


First edit and release: 12 August 2019

Copyright MaxDefense Philippines & "Herbie"

Philippine Navy Modernization Projects

Philippine Air Force Modernization Projects