Your 1st for Philippine Defense

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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!

Friday, April 30, 2021

Philippine Navy interested in acquiring another Hamilton-class cutter as stop gap measure

Back in March 2021, we mentioned in one of our social media posts  that the Philippine Navy is was offered by the US to transfer ships and boats as part of its Military Assistance to the Philippines. 

These offers were among those said to be listed in the US document sent to the Philippine Ambassador to the US Babes Romualdez, which in turn was sent to President Rodrigo Duterte as proof of US commitment to assist the improvement of the Philippines’ defense capabilities.

We previously said that we would not provide further details as requested by sources, but we confirmed in our blog entry released last 05 April 2021 that the Philippine Navy has been offered the Cyclone-class large patrol boats of the US Navy, some of which were already decommissioned by the US Navy recently.

But so far, we have not confirmed the “ships” portion of the offer. These Cyclone-class are covered by the “boats” offer.

Photo credits to Wikipedia.

Ship on offer to the Philippine Navy:

With the Philippine Navy announcing its intent to acquire the Cyclone-class patrol boats, it would be also worth noting that the service actually has an impending scheduled Joint Visual Inspection (JVI) of a larger ship in the US mainland, with the invitation released as early as 2020.

But the inspection was not conducted yet by the Philippine Navy Technical Working Group (TWG) due to the COVID-19 pandemic affecting both countries.

The offer was actually for another Hamilton-class high endurance cutter of the US Coast Guard, the former USCGC Mellon (WHEC-717)

The USCGC Mellon (WHEC-717). Photo credits to Wikipedia.

The former USCG Mellon is the sistership of the Philippine Navy’s three Del Pilar-class patrol frigates, and was decommissioned from the USCGC on 20 August 2020.

It remains the only Hamilton-class ship still with the US government that has not been taken by a new enduser. Previously, it was believed that the ship was offered to the Royal Bahrain Naval Force, but it appears that even as early as 2019, the Bahraini government has already shown less interest in the ship.

The USCGC Mellon (WHEC-717):

The USCGC Mellon is the 3rd Hamilton-class high endurance cutter of the US Coast Guard, completed in February 1967, and commissioned with the US Coast Guard on January 1968.

The USCGC Mellon (WHEC-717) firing a Harpoon anti-ship missile during exercises. Photo credits to Wikipedia.

While it is true that the ship is already old at more than 50 years old, the Philippine Navy itself can attest the capabilities of the ship, with the type remaining as one of the fleet’s most capable ships despite the arrival of new frigates lately.

The USCGC Mellon showing its high sea state capability as it overcomes a swell. Photo credits to original source.

The Philippine Navy requested for a 4th Hamilton-class ship as early as late 2018, after realizing that the BRP Gregorio del Pilar (PS-15) will only be ready for service by 2020 after damaging its propellers and propeller shaft assembly in an accident in the West Philippine Sea.

The US made an official offer to the Philippines by 2019, although an invitation was only made to inspect the ship in 2020.

Being an existing operator of the ship class since 2011, it was only logical for the Philippine Navy to take in another ship of the class, which could benefit from the service’s existing supply and maintenance chain for the ships.

Stop Gap Measure:
The Philippine Navy believes that the ship would still be good to use for another 10 years, long enough for the service to be able to obtain a replacement for it as part of its Capability Upgrade Program (CUP).

This means the former USCGC Mellon would only serve as a stop-gap measure while the Philippine Navy tries to build up its fleet after decommissioning World War 2-era ships and delays in its Horizon 2 acquisition plans.

It is also noted that the addition of the former USCGC Mellon would help the Philippine Navy sustain naval operations while its sisterships undergo the Del Pilar-class Upgrade Project which is slated to start later this year.

It should be noted that BRP Gregorio del Pilar (PS-15) and BRP Andres Bonifacio (PS-17) are both in dry dock for different reasons, thus affecting fleet availability.

In the longer term and if the Philippine Navy decides to retain the ship despite new ships already available, the platform becomes a force multiplier for the service, as it can still conduct patrol missions or even be used for training purposes similar to how other navies make use of older ships for training cadets and new seamen.

BRP Andres Bonifacio (L) and BRP Gregorio del Pilar (R) on drydock for repairs and maintenance works. Photo credits to community member sharing to MaxDefense PH.

Why Old Hamilton-class ships again?:

To those asking, so why not get something much younger, much modern warships like the Oliver Hazard Perry-class or the Littoral Combat Ships (LCS), rather than old Hamilton-class ships with not much firepower and combat capability?

First of, the US has been offering the Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates to the Philippine Navy for more than 20 years now since the late 1990s, with MaxDefense PH even reporting that the US made its offer again during the RIMPAC 2020 exercises in Hawaii. 

USCGC Mellon (WHEC-717) with Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate USS Robert G. Bradley (FFG-49) during an exercise in Indonesia in 2010. Photo credits to DVIDS.

But it appears that the Philippine Navy is uninterested in the ships due to its lack of a diesel engine and its utilization of gas turbine engines which are most costly to operate than diesel engine-powered ships.

In short, it was PN's decision to skip on Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates.

A GE LM2500 marine gas turbine engine. Despite the PN having this type of engine, ships without diesel engines remain as the PN's "kryptonite" up to this day. Photo credits to original source.

Secondly, while the US Navy is planning to retire the first batches of the Freedom-class and Independence-class Littoral Combat Ships, it has not done so yet.

Also, there are fears from the Philippine Navy leaders and planners that they would cost a lot not just to acquire (despite expected to be offer for cheap), but could be expensive to sustain and maintain due to its complicated systems.

But based on previous information we received from sources, the Philippine Navy is indeed expected to receive an offer for either of the LCS classes under US Foreign Military Sales (FMS) of Excess Defense Articles.

The Freedom-class LCS. Photo credits to Wikipedia.

Cyclone-class littoral patrol vessels:

In the meantime, the Philippine Navy appears to be gunning to acquire several Cyclone-class littoral patrol vessels from the US Navy, with PN FOIC Vice Adm. Bacordo even confirming that there is an outstanding offer from the US government under its Excess Defense Article (EDA) program, and that they are waiting for the official approval from the State Department on the authority to transfer the ships to the Philippines.

Also being waited are the approval on the PN’s request for Price & Availability (P&A) which would allow the PN to prepare for the planning and programming of the acquisition, including preparing the costs for its transfer.

Cyclone-class littoral patrol vessels of the US Navy. Photo credits to Wikipedia.

The FOIC has mentioned at least twice that the PN wanted to get at least 5 units, which will allow them to have a total of 6 including the BRP Gen. Mariano Alvarez (PS-38) already with them since 2004. 

But there is also possibility that the PN may get more, but that would depend on the avaiaibility of ships for transfer from the US government, as well as results of inspections that make it acceptable for the PN to receive them, as well as financial capability of the Philippine government to pay for them.

The Philippine Navy's sole Cyclone-class patrol vessel BRP Gen. Mariano Alvarez. Photo credits to Peter @ Flickr.

The acquisition of these additional ships would also allow the Philippine Navy to bridge the gap left by retiring older littoral patrol ships like the Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo-class, and also allow them to retire old remaining ships like the Kagitingan-class.


In the end, while the Philippine Navy goes for old ships again, they are replacing much older ships that were retired or in need for immediate retirement. 

Also, these are only stop gap measures considering the PN already has a program to acquire new combat and patrol vessels as part of their modernization efforts.

These old ships may stay with the PN fleet beyond the arrival of new ships, but that is not something bad especially if the PN can afford their sustainment.

First release: 30 April 2021
Copyright MaxDefense Philippines

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Japan sends Lifesaving Equipment Systems as Official Development Assistance for the Philippine Army

Japan is sending its goodwill to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), which is unprecedented considering the Japanese government only lifting the ban on transfer of defense equipment to foreign countries lately.

The Japanese government has sent over 4 sets of Japan Self Defense Force (JSDF) Lifesaving Systems through Official Development Assistance (ODA) to the Philippine government.

Apparently, this is the first time Japan is sending defense equipment to other countries through ODA, although the equipment being granted to the Philippines are more related to Search and Rescue (SAR) and Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) rather than warfighting.

According to Japanese sources, the Philippine Army (PA) will be the recipient of these grants of Self-Defense Forces equipment.

The JSDF Lifesaving System Type I container shown here with a JGSDF truck towing it. Photo credits to Objec1's Twitter account.

The JSDF Lifesaving System Type I:

According to Japanese reports, the equipment being transferred to the Philippine Army are called JSDF Lifesaving System Type I. 

These comprise several equipment used in disaster response including motorized cutters, floodlights, jacks, acoustic sensors, rock drillers, lifeboats, and other equipment.

A JSDF Lifesaving System shelter deployed. Photo credits to Wikipedia.

The system can be transported by trucks or helicopters as the system is containerized for easy transport.

These equipment could be used during search and rescue operations right after major disasters or catastrophes as it could help save lives and recover trapped victims, and transport them to safety.

Four sets of the JSDF Lifesaveing System Type I were said to have been shipped to the Philippines starting last February 2021, and have arrived in the Philippines as of March 2021.

MaxDefense Philippines is still trying to identify the totality of the system as it is difficult to find open-source information about JSDF equipment.

We expect the Lifesaving System Type I to include rescue equipment similar to those shown above. Photo of SAR equipment of Philippine Army from DRP Forum.

Japan's Growing Interests to Assist Security Partners:

It is expected that an official handover may happen during Japan's Golden Week holiday from 29 April to 05 May 2021, as Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will visit the Philippines and meet President Rodrigo Duterte. It would be remembered that Prime Minister Suga replaced partymate and former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is said to have close relations with Pres. Duterte, after he resigned due to illness.

It is also expected that the meeting between Pres. Duterte and Prime Minister Suga would discuss security issues in the region including China's aggressive behavior in Indo-Pacific Region, and probably discuss Japan's role in countering this.

The Official Development Assistance of JSDF to the Philippine government represents Japan's commitment to support for capacity building and contribution to improving the security capabilities of the Philippines. 

The value may not be huge, as it is said that the JSDF Lifesaving System Type I costs around JPY120 million, but these equipment are often overlooked by the AFP's acquisition programs that are focused more on kinetic and surveillance equipment.

This assistance is also very timely as Japan tries to help like-minded countries and gain influence against a growing Chinese threat in the region.

While unconfirmed, it is possible that this grant may also be related to the recent contract signed between the Philippines' Department of National Defense (DND) and Japan's Mitsubishi Electric Corp. (MELCO) with backing from the Japanese Ministry of Defense (MOD) for 4 air-defense radars for the Philippine Air Force (PAF).

PAF personnel in Japan to inspect the J/FPS-3ME fixed radar (top) and J/TPS-P14ME mobile radar (above) during technical inspections. Photo credits to DND.

More Japanese Grants to the AFP:

MaxDefense Philippines expects Japan to provide more grants and defense assistance to the AFP, although this would be done more discreetly compared to grants from other security partners of the Philippines like the US, South Korea and Australia.

We are expecting the Japan Air Self Defense Force (JASDF) to also provide communications equipment, electronic warfare training and information, and air defense training and doctrine development for the Philippine Air Force although we would not provide more information on this for security reasons.

As part of the Air Surveillance Radar Phase 2 Acquisition Project of the PAF, we are also expecting Japan to have an arrangement for information sharing with the PAF for air defense radar tracking especially in the shared boundaries between Japan and the Philippines were Chinese aircraft operate and use as access to the Western Pacific region.

Some of the new Japanese-made radars are expected to be deployed in the Northern Philippines, right smack where Japan's blind spots are covered.

Map above shows shared border between Japan, the Philippines and Taiwan, as Japanese islands as part of Okinawa Archipelago stretches close to the Batanes and Babuyan Islands of the Philippines. Japan is negotiating for air defense radar info sharing in this region to track Chinese aircraft movement. Credits to original source of map.

These are welcoming developments and signs of strengthening defense cooperation and relations between Japan and the Philippines to support common interests. Despite its past atrocities against the Philippines and other Asian countries, Japan has showed in the past 75 years that it can change for the better.

The grant for HADR equipment is something that would be very helpful especially for a disaster-riddled country like the Philippines. These are equally important items, and are expected to be even  used more often compared to warfighting equipment.

JSDF personnel conducting HADR training with the US military in Japan. Photo credits to DVIDS.

First release: 20 April 2021
Copyright MaxDefense Philippines

Monday, April 5, 2021

Additional Cyclone-class littoral patrol vessels to bridge the gap with the Philippine Navy's Littoral Combat Force

 The Philippine Navy (PN) has been moving away from older, less capable naval assets and has planned to acquire newer, more capable and better performing naval assets for the service to improve its overall capability, make use of new technology to improve its overall performance, while also trying to move away from obsolescence of equipment, technology, and doctrine.

Lately, there is a reason for the Philippine Navy to start acquiring additional assets, especially when they can acquired for cheap and would actually be beneficial in maintaining and sustaining one of its most capable asset.

Cyclone-class patrol vessels of the US Navy, 5 ships of the class seen here during maneuvers. Photo credits to US Navy through Naval Analyses website.

Reduction of Fleet Numbers due to Retirement:

In the past few months, the Philippine Navy's Littoral Combat Force (LCF) has eradicated several older classes of patrol crafts and patrol boats from its inventory in a bid to make way for newer equipment, while retraining its personnel in preparation of these upcoming assets.

Among those recently removed from service were the Swift Mk. 3 and De Havilland 9209 patrol boats, both of which have been in service with the Philippine Navy since the 1970s. Also retired were the larger Tomas Batilo-class fast attack crafts, which were donated to the Philippine Navy from the early to late 1990s, but has been in service with the Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN) as the Chamsuri-class since the 1970s.

Decommissioning ceremonies of the Philippine Navy's last two Tomas Batilo-class fast attack crafts (two rightmost boats) last 01 March 2021. Photo credits to the Philippine Navy.

Prior to that, the Philippine Navy decommissioned its two Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo-class large patrol crafts, which performed poorly throughout its service despite only coming into service in the 1990s.

MaxDefense PH previously questioned the move of the Philippine Navy to retire several of its assets without getting any immediate replacement for them. It would be remembered that no replacements have been made for the Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo-class, while replacements for the Tomas Batilo-class are still in the process of procurement and would only start arriving by late 2022.

But recently, MaxDefense PH received confirmation from sources that a plan has been hatched for the acquisition of large patrol crafts to finally fill in for the loss of the two Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo-class patrol crafts.

The Plan - Acquire More Ships:

As part of the Philippine Navy's Capability Upgrade Program under the Horizon 1 to 3 Modernization Phases, a requirement for at least 14 Littoral Patrol Interdiction Craft has been raised. Not much information has been made available, but curiously, a photo of a Cyclone-class inshore patrol vessel has been used to identify such requirement.

PN CUP shows 14 Littoral Patrol Interdiction Craft (LPIC) under the Littoral Combat Force's future needs. Photo credits to the Philippine Navy.

Currently, the Philippine Navy operates a single Cyclone-class patrol vessel, named BRP Gen. Mariano Alvarez (PS-38), which has been with the Philippine Navy since 2004. It is currently the largest asset of the Littoral Combat Force, and has performed well during its service.

This becomes even more apparent if compared to the Philippine Navy's other larger patrol crafts like the retired Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo-class, and the Kagitingan-class which are still in service.

The BRP Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo (PG-140), the lead ship of the class. The design was unsuccessful and the ships were retired earlier than planned. Photo credits to James Gabriel Verallo.

But despite this, the Philippine Navy has failed to bring in additional units from the United States, because the US Navy and US Coast Guard has found the ships very useful for littoral operations especially in the Persian Gulf and the Caribbean.

In late 2019, then Philippine Navy Flag Officer in Command (FOIC) Vice Adm. Robert Empedrad announced plans for the potential retirement of the BRP Gen. Mariano Alvarez (PS-38), due to it being costly to maintain and operate. This is in part that its supply chain has been inefficient being the only ship of its class in service, and uses different parts from other PN assets.

In fairness to Vice Adm. Empedrad (ret), he did say that this plan applies only if no additional ships of the class would be acquired by the Philippine Navy. Meaning, he is open to getting additional units if the chance is there.

The BRP Gen. Mariano Alvarez (PS-38) seen here during exercises. Photo credits to Philippine Navy.

MaxDefense PH was among those who disagreed with such plan since we believe it is better to keep the ship, improve and modernize it, and ask the United States government to allow the transfer of additional Cyclone-class ships to make the logistics train more logical and reasonable. This is considering the Philippine Navy is depleted of naval assets and has shrunk to its smallest ever size since its founding in the late 1940s.

Now this appears to become a reality, as the US Navy has started to retire some of its Cyclone-class ships, starting with USS Zephyr (PC-8), USS Shamal (PC-13), and USS Tornado (PC-14) last February 2021.

The USS Shamal (PC-13) seen during decommissioning ceremonies last February 2021. Photo credits to US Navy.

The Pentagon announced that it will offer the former USS Tornado (PC-14) for sale or transfer to allies or friendly countries. While the US earlier announced that it intends to scrap the former USS Zephyr and USS Shamal, this can change anytime depending on the situation.

Additional Cyclone-class littoral patrol vessels:

The retirement of Cyclone-class littoral patrol vessels from the US Navy is a good sign for the Philippine Navy, as this opens a door for the service to acquire more units to join the BRP Gen. Mariano Alvarez (PS-38).

And according to our Philippine and American sources, it appears that the former USS Tornado (PC-14) is eyed by the US government for sale or transfer to the Philippine Navy, being the most logical recipient due to its experience with operating the type. But that would be dependent on the agreement that would be reached by the Philippine and American governments.

This is actually a complete turn-around from the 2019 plan of retiring the BRP Gen. Mariano Alvarez, and the Philippine Navy under the new leadership of its current FOIC Vice Adm. Giovanni Bacordo, is actually in line with what we believe is a better solution.

Also, Philippine Navy sources confirmed that they are actually eyeing the potential acquisition of more Cyclone-class vessels, as a replacement for the retired Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo-class, and to also replace the Kagitingan-class which they intend to retire by 2021-2022 timeframe.

The Littoral Combat Force's cover photo does not show the Kagitingan-class anymore, which confirms its planned retirement soon. Meanwhile, the Cyclone-class remains in the photo, despite previous plans to retire the ship. Photo credits to the Philippine Navy.

If following a 1:1 replacement, that means the PN may need at least 3 Cyclone-class vessels.

But it appears that there are even plans within the Littoral Combat Force pushing for the acquisition of not just 3, but for more Cyclone-class patrol vessels, especially if these could be acquired from the US government as grants. This means the vessels are free, and the Philippine Navy would only need to spend for repair and refurbishing, training, delivery, and logistics support.

It remains to been though if the former USS Zephyr and USS Shamal will be among those the Philippine Navy would be requesting for transfer. 

Several other Cyclone-class patrol vessels are scheduled for retirement from the US Navy soon, and this is where the Philippine Navy is expected to take a look at what can be possibly acquired based on the ship's overall condition.

Why the Cyclone-class Patrol Vessel?:

So why are we suggesting the acquisition of additional Cyclone-class littoral patrol vessels?

1. Readily Available - the US Navy has started retiring these ships from service, and these can be acquired faster by the Philippine Navy, compared to ordering new ships. One has to consider the slow pace of starting an acquisition program, obtaining funds, procurement process, and construction - all of which may take at least 4-5 years.

2. Experience in Operating - the Philippine Navy already has one, with the Littoral Combat Force has been operating a Cyclone-class patrol vessel for more than 15 years, and it is practical for the Philippine Navy to have additional units to continue operating the type.

3. Cheap Acquisition Cost - since the US government already has plans to assist the Philippines in its military upgrade program, the Cyclone-class appears to be available for transfer as military aid or grant, The PN will only need to pay for repairs and refurbishing, delivery and logistics support, which isn't too expensive.

4. Design - despite being 20 years old, the Cyclone-class has design features that is futureproof. This includes the use of Mk. 38 25mm gun which can be upgraded to 30mm using remote weapon stations like the Mk. 38 Mod. 2 or Mod. 3 that are installed on the Del Pilar-class frigates, the quick entry/exit ramp for Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats without requiring cranes, and compatibility to short-range surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles.

The Cyclone-class' rear ramp for quick entry/exit of RHIB. Photo credits to US Navy through Wikipedia.

5. Size and Endurance - the ship is large enough for long endurance patrols, without needing to return to port immediately. Sources confirmed that it can stay offshore for more than a week, with a range of more than 2,000 nautical miles at cruising speed.

Bright Future for BRP Gen. Mariano Alvarez (PS-38):

With these developments, it looks like the future of BRP Gen. Mariano Alvarez (PS-38) with the Philippine Navy looks positive, and the Littoral Combat Force might be able to start to beef up its force according to its requirements could be done without breaking the bank.

The BRP Gen. Mariano Alvarez (PS-38). Photo credits to Peter.

Take note, this is just a short to medium term solution, while the Philippine Navy tries to get more funding to allow it to acquire newer ships. But until then, additional Cyclone-class patrol vessels would be helpful to allow the Philippine Navy conduct its mandated task of securing our waters.

Further problems may arise in the near future, as the ships become older and will eventually need replacement in the next 10-15 years. Among the issues MaxDefense PH sees will be on the engines, as its Paxman Valenta diesel engines are said to be getting more difficult to maintain. A re-engining program may be needed in the coming years if the PN fails to secure support for the engine model.

First release: 05 April 2021
Copyright MaxDefense Philippines

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