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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.

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First release: 05 April 2021
Copyright MaxDefense Philippines

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