Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Advantages of using Subic for the Philippine Navy and Air Force

It was reported lately that the Philippine Air Force (PAF) and Philippine Navy (PN) will be making Subic Bay the location of their new bases in the coming years. This has been expected by many since the heightened tensions between the Philippines and its neighbors regarding the West Philippine Sea. But there are also other reasons why the transfer to Subic is close to possible more than ever. This includes the increase of PAF and PN assets and capabilities, other military bases that may undergo modernization and repair works, and Clark International Airport (CIA) becoming busier than ever. MaxDefense believes that this is a strategic move by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), although there is also a civilian face on the transfer.


Naval Air Station Cubi Point, now known as Subic International Airport.
Photo taken from airliners.net.


MaxDefense will discuss some of the reasons why it would be an advantage for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to consider opening bases for the PAF and PN in Subic Bay.


Subic to Decongest NAIA and Improve CIA

On the civilian side, the transfer of PAF to Subic International Airport (SIA) is actually part of an overhaul of the aviation industry and standards of the Philippines, which is actually a give and take situation between civil and military aviation groups.

Access to Manila's premier aviation gateway, the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) has been tight for a few years now as it has already exceeded the designed capacity to accommodate flights and passengers. One of the solutions made by the Philippine government is to transfer all flights for all light aircraft traffic (including private and corporate planes, aviation schools, and morning fish deliveries) to another airport, which was eventually known as the Philippine Air Force's Danilo Atienza Airbase in Sangley Point, Cavite City, currently the home of PAF's 15th Strike Wing (15th SW). Transferring private and light commercial flights to Sangley Point means the 15th SW will need to let go of the base, and this is where Lumbia Airport in Cagayan de Oro City will come in.


Danilo Atienza Airbase in Sangley Point, Cavite City. CAAP will be taking over the airbase by 2014.
Photo taken from panoramio.com.

Sidenote:
Lumbia Airport was previously the main airport servicing Cagayan de Oro City in Mindanao. It also serves as a minor airbase for the PAF, where there are normally PAF assets like UH-1H Huey combat utility helicopters stationed. But with the opening of the larger and more modern Laguindingan International Airport, all civil flights are now diverted to the new airport. The Philippine government then allocated the old Lumbia Airport for exclusive use of the PAF, which will now become a full airbase and will accomodate the soon to be homeless 15th SW. So expect the OV-10s and MD-520MGs to be based in Mindanao, which is actually the natural habitat of these attack aircraft for since their induction to the PAF in the early 1990s.


PAF OV-10s forward deployed at Lumbia Airport.
Photo taken from Wikimedia.

Now the 15th SW has a secure home in the future, the Danilo Atienza Airbase is good for transfer to the civil aviation soon. According to some reports, the 15th SW may completely leave Cavite as early as 2014 if the transfer goes well, and Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) may open the airbase to civilian traffic almost immediately as well.


The highly publicized Air Force City hangar at Clark Air Base, Pampanga.

Another solution for the NAIA problem is to increase the capacity of the Clark International Airport (formerly known as Diosdado Macapagal International Airport), including the expansion of civilian activities to the premises of PAF's Air Force City base on the said airport. Currently Air Force City is the home of the 1st Air Division, the Air Logistics Command and the 710th Special Operations Wing, and is also an extension airbase by the Air Defense Wing's assets originally based in Basa Air Base in nearby Floridablanca, Pampanga. Taking out Air Force City means looking for a new home for these units, and the closest possible bases for transfer is either at Air Defense Wing's Basa Air Base or Subic International Airport. And between the two, SIA is the better choice due to its wider area and more room for improvement. 


Subic International Airport, proposed to be a new air base for the Philippine Air Force.
Photo taken from traveltothephilippines.info.


Subic as a Deep Water Naval Base and Replacement to the old Cavite Naval Base

As early as the 19th century the Spaniards found Subic Bay's strategic location, deep water and sheltered anchorages suitable for a fine naval base. The Americans confirmed this by choosing it as their largest overseas naval base during the Cold War until its closure in 1992. With the PN acquiring bigger vessels than what they had in their inventory before and the possible take-over of the Cavite Naval Base (CNB) together with nearby Danilo Atienza Air Base to the CAAP, the PN is in a situation where it needs to find a new base to replace CNB in the near future.


Cavite Naval Base circa 2010. The naval base will also be affected by the taking over of nearby Danilo Atienza Airbase for future airport development works. Also the base has no more space for further development.
Photo taken from Flickr copyright to Mr. Karlo Panahon.

Subic Freeport is also home to several shipbuilding and repair facilities, oil depots, and has been the home of the BRP Gregorio del Pilar since it was acquired in 2011. More large ships are expected to arrive and will need a new home as CNB is currently cramped, old, and does not have the facilities to handle such ships. It is a natural choice for the PN to choose Subic Bay as its new home, with more room for further development in the near future. Subic still has some of the US Navy's previous facilities that can be of good use to the Philippine military, like ammunition depots, shelters, warehouses, access roads and other American-made infrastructure.


Subic's Distance in relation with Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) and West Philippine Sea

Of all PAF airbases, Basa Airbase is the closest to the contested Panatag Shoal in the West Philippine Sea. But Subic Airport beats Basa Airbase in closing the distance by a mere 20 something kilometers. Although 20+ kilometers seems small, according to AFP documents released by recent news reports it would cut the reaction time of responding fighter planes by at least 3 minutes, which is very important in terms of air defense response times. It would also shorten the distance between the shoal and the fighter's home base and maximizing the short legs of the incoming KAI FA-50 Golden Eagle fighter trainers of the PAF, as well as incoming maritime patrol aircraft.


This map shows the location of Subic Bay in relation to Bajo de Masinloc aka Panatag Shoal. Take note of the close distance between them. During the time of the US Bases, American and Filipino air units used the shoal as a bombing range due to its closeness to the US bases.
Map taken from scubatechphilippines.com by E.M. Esber.

Subic Bay is also closer to Panatag Shoal than from Cavite Naval Base. This will also shorten the time for ships to reach the area, considering that ships travel slower than aircraft and the travel time can be shortened by several hours. Overall, Subic is the best location for the PAF and PN to be closer to the potential conflict areas and West Philippine Sea theatre of operations.


Subic and Olongapo City are Military-Friendly Locations

Of all the cities in the Philippines, Olongapo City just outside Subic Freeport is considered as one of the most military-friendly, together with Angeles City near Clark. The city's history is long connected to American and foreign military presence, and the people are very supportive of the move to have military bases in Subic. This is an added advantage considering that many cities in the Philippines are not symphatetic on having military bases in their area due to fear of being legitimate military targets of OPFOR, avoidance of associating with the military, and avoidance of presence of foreign troops.


Olongapo City residents watching a US Air Force band during a performance at SM City Olongapo.
Photo taken from subicbaynews.com

Subic as a Joint Base for Philippine and Friendly Forces

The issue regarding the temporary basing of US forces as well as military units from friendly countries like Japan is getting close to reality, and it was earlier revealed that Subic will be the best place to station these visiting foreign forces. Subic can accommodate the largest naval and transport ships, submarines and aircraft carriers, at the same time the nearby airport can accommodate military fighter and transport aircraft as well. The area can also be developed to accommodate the planned temporary housing for military and disaster relief equipment of the US and other friendly countries for forward deployment. This is very advantageous to the country since these forward-deployed items like construction vehicles, tents, relief goods, etc. can also be used by our government if disasters struck  (the Philippines is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world). 


If the Philippine government approves, we may see Japan Maritime Self Defense Forces (JMSDF) ships coming in and out of Subic Bay in the near future.
Photo taken from US Navy.

Since Subic is not too close to the civilian population it is also an ideal base to safeguard joint forces from close contact with the populace, and from preying eyes of the public (and foreign spies as well). The openness and experience of the local population and businesses to foreign and local military forces is another advantage. Olongapo City officials earlier said that having foreign military access to Subic will boost their tourism and business potential and increase income.


Joint Bases in Subic makes Defending it Easier

Having both a naval and air base in Subic makes it easier for the military to defend both at the same time. The AFP can deploy future anti-aircraft gun and missile defenses in the area to defend both the combined bases, the industrial freeport zone (with its oil depots, supply stores and repair facilities) and the city of Olongapo all together without having to deploy separate units for each location. This maximizes the deployment of limited number of defense systems by only having a few but cohesive unit to do the job, thus giving the military enough numbers to deploy elsewhere. If foreign forces are also in the area, it is not impossible that these forces (especially the US) will also provide additional defense systems to strengthen those deployed by the Philippine military.


The AFP could place its future air defense assets in Subic and could defend the joint base, the freeport and Olongapo City at the same time. It is expected that the AFP will get air defense missiles like the Spydeer ADS in the future (discussed in a previous blog).
Photo taken from Rafael website.

MaxDefense believes that the planned transfer of naval and air force units of the Philippines to Subic is a good strategic decision and would be beneficial in the overall defense posture of the country, as well as in helping the civil aviation sector. It is still the best location so far for the military, and would be a cheaper alternative than building new military bases. The DND should provide protected facilities in the new base for oil and ammunition supply, hardened aircraft shelters, and other military requirements.

To further maximize this efforts, the AFP and DND should also start modernization and upgrading its current air force and naval bases. Basa Airbase should be modernized, as well as the Fernando Airbase in Batangas. With the impending transfer of the PAF to Lumbia Airport, the DND must also start upgrading the facility to military standards. The PN should also do the same, and it is a welcome news that they would be upgrading their facilities in Rafael Ramos Naval Base in Cebu.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

PCG Negotiates the Purchase of former French Navy patrol vessel FS La Tapageuse (P691)

MaxDefense confirms that the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) is indeed in the advanced stages of negotiation with the French government for the purchase of the former French naval vessel FS La Tapageuse (P691), an L' Audacieuse-class (P400) patrol vessel. The ship was formerly assigned in the French Polynesia, and was decommissioned from service in 2012. 


The FS La Tapageuse (P691) of the French Navy.
Photot taken from meretmarine.com.

The deal was first announced to the public by the PCG in July 9, 2013, as a 52-meter used patrol vessel from an unnamed country. The ship's name and source was later revealed in a TV interview with PCG Spokesperson Cmdr. Armand Balilo.

The PCG will be spending around €6.295 million for the entire ship, including refurbishing works. 


A limited edition postcard featuring the French patrol vessel FS La Tapageuse (P691) circa 1994.
Photo taken from Ebay.com

The La Tapageuse (P691) is the last of the L' Audacieuse-class patrol vessels built by CMN Shipyard at Cherbourg, France. The class is based on the P400 design from CMN. It was launched in February 1987, and was commissioned to the French Navy on February 1988. It was armed with a 40mm Bofors gun, 2 20mm modele F2 guns, and 2 AA-52 7.62mm machine guns. The class were assigned to patrol the French EEZ, and were pre-positioned in different French Overseas Territories, with the P691 specifically assigned in the French Polynesia. They are currently being replaced by the older but larger D'Estienne d'Orves-class (Aviso) corvettes (removed of their heavy armaments) in that duty. The La Tapageuse was decommissioned on July 30, 2012 after travelling back to France from Papeete, French Polynesia, and other ships of the class are also scheduled for decommissioning soon as more Avisos replace them in patrol duties.


The FS La Tapageuse (P691)
Photo taken from Wikimedia.

If the deal pushes through according to schedule, the PCG expects the ship to be delivered by 2014, although it is still unclear if the ship's weapons will be included. It is also unclear yet if there will be additional units from the same class that could be made available for sale to the Philippine government. Even so, the ship will be a big boost to the capability of the PCG as they are now experiencing lack of assets to be effective in their duties. The La Tapageuse is roughly the same size as the PCG's San Juan-class patrol vessels which are considered as one of their largest assets.


The FS La Tapageuse (P691) underway.
Photo taken from meretmarine.com

The deal to purchase the La Tapageuse is separate from another plan by the PCG to purchase brand-new French-made patrol vessels, with 4 units of 24-meter patrol boats and 1 unit of 82-meter offshore patrol vessel being negotiated. There is also another deal between the Philippine and Japanese governments for 10 units of 40-meter multi-role patrol boats, with the Philippines asking for 5 of the boats to be built in Philippine shipyards. 


The route of FS La Tapageuse for its travel between May to June 2012 from Papeete, French Polynesia to Brest, France prior to decommissioning.
Photo taken from French Ministry of Defense website.

To standardize the ship class in PCG service, MaxDefense' opinion is for them to secure the other ships of the class that are in either storage or scheduled for decommissioning soon by the French Navy if funds are still available. This would enable the PCG share commonality of assets for more effective asset management and support. MaxDefense believes that the price asked by the French government for the ship is reasonable, reportedly at €399,000 for the unit, but the cost for refurbishing, upgrade, and installation of PCG-specific items and systems will take up most of the €6.295 million cost.


The La Tapageuse upon its arrival in Brest, France on June 2012.
Photo taken from Ouest-France website.

The Philippine government should use this chance to boost the capabilities of the PCG in light of the recent push by the China Coast Guard to send armed patrol vessels in contested areas of the West Philippine Sea. MaxDefense also believes that the PCG should retain the 40mm Bofors gun on the ship, following its peer's decision to deploy armed civilian ships as well.


=====================
UPDATES
=====================
June 23, 2014:
Forgot to update this blog entry. It seems that the PCG has forego the acquisition fo the La Tapageuse (P691) from the French government. According to Navy Recognition, the ship was acquired by Piriou Naval Services, for refurbishing and sale to any interested government. Although the Philippines still has a chance to acquire the ship from Piriou, the chances are now slim. MaxDefense believes it is safe to say that the deal is off now.

=====
June 25, 2014:
A recent interview of PCG Vice Commandant Rear Admiral Cecil Chen by Defence IQ reiterated the PCG's plan to acquire a pre-owned 54-meter naval vessel from France, which describes the P400-class patrol vessels like the La Tapageuse. No specific vessel was named by the Rear Admiral on the interview. It is possible that other ships of the class will be acquired instead of the La Tapageuse but that remains to be seen. MaxDefense will continue to check if the deal for La Tapageuse remains or not.

=====

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

PAF Attack Helicopter? Looks more like an Armed Scout Helicopter...

MaxDefense notes that the Philippines' Department of National Defense (DND) and Philippine Air Force (PAF) calls its latest, but not necessarily new project as the "Attack Helicopter Acquisition Project" (AHAP). The DND has allocated a budget worth PhP 3.441 billion for 8 such helicopters, and delivery shall be completed within 18 months. It was reported so far that only Eurocopter and AgustaWestland purchased the bid documents as of this writing.


The MD Helicopters MD-520MG, currently the foremost attack helicopter of the PAF. The new attack helicopters will be complementing the MD-520MG fleet while it undergoes modernization and upgrades.
Photo taken from PAF 15th Strike Wing website.

Due to lack of information regarding the specifications of the helicopters, initially MaxDefense used the project cost to determine the possible type of helicopter to be purchased. Based on the amount and number of units to be procured, the average amount allocated for each helicopter is around $10 million, although we have to consider that the entire amount includes an Integrated Logistics Support (ILS) package, training for air and ground crew, complete weapons systems, and other ancillaries. This amount is not enough for a full-fledged attack helicopter similar to the likes and class of the Boeing AH-64 Apache which costs way up north of $20 million a piece. But to make sure, let us analyze the information released by the DND for public consumption.


Many are expecting the PAF to purchase attack helicopters in the same category as the Agusta A129 Mangusta, as shown above. Sorry folks but I think the PAF is far from something like this yet.

Based on the Supplemental Bid Bulletin Nr. AFPMP-PAF-AHAP-13-01, which was released by the DND on July 16, 2013, the following are the basic requirements specified for the project:

- Day & Night targeting and designating weapons delivery for minimum of 1 gun pod and 1 rocket launcher (2.75' NATO Mk.66 or equivalent) system; or 2 rocket/gun combined pods; minimum 2 hard points on each side plus side firing at least a 7.62mm machine gun on both sides;
- Equipped with a Night Fighting System, including an Electro-Optical and Infra Red system and Night Vision Goggle capable;
- Airborne Fire Control System (FCS) compatible to NVG and Laser Designator;
- Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) and Day/Night Visual Flight Rules (VFR) rating capable, and equipped with a Weather Radar and capable of operating even at Inadvertent Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IIMC);
- Multi-engine powered turbine system using Jet A-1 fuel;
- Uses a wheel-type landing gear for easy towing and parking;
- Cruising speed of  at least 120 knots indicated airspeed (KIAS) with 2,000 lbs. payload;
- Minimum endurance of 2.5 hours at minimum of 120 KIAS;
- Minimum payload of 2,000 lbs;

Other requirements include a minimum engine overhaul interval of 2,000 flight hours, and has dual flight control system for cyclic, collective and pedal controls, as well as instrumentation.


Eurocopter's EC635 might be a potential candidate for the PAF's attack helicopter program, and may be an alternative to the Fennec and Fennec 2.
Photo taken from Wikimedia.

Most modern attack helicopters may meet or even exceed the requirements set by the project specifications, except for one thing: the side firing machine guns, which are only available on helicopters with side doors. Combine that with a budget of only around $10 million a piece, then we got an armed scout helicopter, not a real attack helicopter as many believes.

Interesting enough is a similar program for the US Army called the Armed Aerial Scout Program (AASP), aimed at replacing the ageing OH-58 Kiowa scout helicopter. Contenders for the US Army program are the OH-58 Block II Kiowa Warrior, Boeing AH-6S Phoenix, AgustaWestland AW169AAS, EADS (Eurocopter) AAS-72X Lakota Concept, MD Helicopters MD-540F, and Sikorsky S-97 Raider. So far all are still being evaluated and there are even reports that the program may be scrapped due to lack of funds.


The US Army intends to replace their ageing OH-58 Kiowa under the Aerial Armed Scout Program. The requirement is almost similar to the PAF's attack helicopter requirements.
Photo taken from Wikimedia.

Due to this, it was expected that some of the contenders in the US Army project might be the same contenders for the PAF project. But so far only Eurocopter, AgustaWestland, Boeing and MD Helicopters has bought the bid documents, although during the pre-bid conference, representatives from Elbit Systems, Bell Helicopters and Intrade were present. MaxDefense believes that Intrade and Elbit Systems is interested in supplying ancillaries like weapons systems for the helicopter producer rather than supplying the helicopters. 


Boeing's AH-6 Little Bird. This is a possible contender should Boeing join the PAF's AHAP bid.
Photo taken from Wikimedia.

For the PAF's AHAP, MaxDefense believes that AgustaWestland will field their AW109 LUH, which was an previous favorite as it was chosen before in an earlier attempt to obtain attack helicopters. Eurocopter may have planned to field either the AS550 or AS555 Fennec, or the larger EC635Boeing is expected to offer their AH-6S Little Bird, and MD Helicopters with either the MD-530F or MD-540F. But it appears that the Eurocopter, Boeing and MD Helicopters offers might have difficulty in following the specified requirements as all these offers are not wheel-type landing gear equipped. The only wheel-type landing gear Eurocopter has is the larger and more expensive AS565 Panther, which may exceeding the budget.


The Eurocopter AS550 Fennec armed variant. Eurocopter offered this before to the DND. It is expected that Eurocopter may offer this or the AS555 Fennec 2 multi-engine version.

With the opening of bids scheduled today, it is still early and difficult to say what model will the DND/PAF choose this time. In previous attempts during the Aquino administration, the AW109 LUH was chosen for a government-to-government deal, but due to delivery and availability problems the DND decided to instead switch to an offer made by Eurocopter for 10 AS550 Fennec that were originally slated for the Pakistani Army. But this did not come to fruition as Eurocopter renegotiated with Pakistan for the said units. The Aquino administration also cancelled awarding to AgustaWestland-PZL for an armed version of the W-3A Sokol in 2010 due to anomalies in the bid . 


The AgustaWestland-PZL W-3WA Sokol, an armed variant of the W-3A already in service with the PAF. This offer reportedly won the bid previously but was not awarded a contract due to anomalies.
Photo taken from Airliners.net, copyright Radim Salek.

A similar awarding cancellation also happened in 2008 when the Philippine government cancelled awarding a contract for 6 MD-530F combat helicopters as it did not meet payload requirements.


An MD Helicopters MD-530F of the Mexican Armed Forces.
Photo taken from Airliners.net, copyright to Ricardo Padilla.

MaxDefense's opinion is that AgustaWestland has a higher chance of successfully bagging the award for the new bid as the specifications MAY comply to the AW109 LUH. But it would be best to await the outcome of this new bidding (opening of bids is scheduled today July 24, 2013) as anything may still happen, including another possible failure. Also, the PAF should give its current MD-520MG fleet with a relevant refurbishing and upgraded to be night capable, capable of carrying guided munition, modernization of its avionics, and engine improvements. This is to keep up with the times and be in the same category as the new incoming helicopters that will complement them.

The AgustaWestland AW109 LUH, the possible contender by the said company for the PAF's AHAP.
Photo taken from deagel.com.



======================================
Updates:

August 3, 2013:
It was reported that only AgustaWestland submitted a qualified bid for the attack helicopter project of the PAF. The bid amount was Php3,441,415,000, a little lower than the budget allocated by the DND. Post bid qualification is expected to start soon, and if AW passed the contract may be awarded to them.

More of the news here.
====

October 28, 2013:

Reports surfaced that the DND has already awarded the contract for the PAF Attack Helicopter acquisition project to AgustaWestland after fulfilling the requirements set by the DND's Technical Specifications and Documentation Requirements as part of the post-bid requirements. AgustaWestland reportedly offered the AW109E Power variant, and will be armed with unspecified gun pods and rocket launchers. A total of 8 helicopters will be procured.

The report also says that AgustaWestland is committed to deliver the 1st batch of helicopters as early as end of December, 2014 if the letter of credit is opened immediately. This would be possible if the Philippines' Department of Budget and Management (DBM) immediately release the cash allocation for the project to support the letter of credit.

MaxDefense will provide more updates as the project progresses. More of the news report here.
===

November 8, 2013:

AgustaWestland confirms that the Philippine Air Force has signed a contract with them, ordering 8 AW109 Power helicopters for the attack helicopter role.

MaxDefense's new blog discuss this development.

More of the news report here and here, while the new blog is here.
===

Friday, July 19, 2013

Why the Hamilton-class WHECs are still worth purchasing for the Philippine Navy.

There has been a lot of comments in the press, the internet, and even on discussions with defense and government officials opposing the Philippine government's decision to purchase 40-year old Hamilton-class patrol vessels from the US Coast Guard to upgrade the capabilities of the Philippine Navy. Here at MaxDefense blog alone, readers can see the views of some posters rejecting the ships. 

But is purchasing the ships really not worth it? 

Let us discuss the pros and cons of the ship with regards to its use with the Philippine Navy, starting with the cons.

CONS:
These are the most common reasons why people are against the purchase of the Hamilton-class ships for the Philippine Navy:

1. "The ships are too old and are replaced with newer ships by the US Coast Guard". 


USCGC Rush before the FRAM upgrades. Taken during Exercise Brim Frost 1985. Notice the missing telescopic hangar, and Phalanx CIWS at the fantail, and the use of the older 5" gun.
Photo taken from Wikipedia.
Looking at the ship class' history, the Hamilton-class cutters are actually designed in the early 1960's, with the first ship, USCGC Hamilton (WHEC-715) , now known as BRP Gregorio del Pilar (PF-15), being launched in 1965 and commissioned with the US Coast Guard in 1967. That makes the ship 48 years old from launching. That even makes the ship probably older than the ship's current commanding officer (am I right Capt.Cruz & Cmdr. Orbe?)  Due to old age, the US Coast Guard started replacing the class with the new National Security Cutter a.k.a. Legend-class cutters, and the decommissioned units were sold to the Philippines, Nigeria, and recently to Bangladesh. Due to old age, wear and tear of its parts and degradation of the hull and systems are expected to happen. Compared to newer ships they become more susceptible to frequent maintenance requirements, frequent and longer dock time and reduced operational capability.


2. "These ships were heavily used by the US Coast Guard in their high seas operation".


The USCGC Mellon operating on high sea states. The WHECs were reportedly driven hard by the US Coast Guard to achieve their missions in high sea states and different conditions around the world that even navy ships do not dare to go.
Photo taken from USCG website.

The US Coast Guard heavily used the Hamilton-class cutters as these are their most capable and longest-ranged ships in the service. They were everywhere around the world during the 40+ years in service, from the icy waters of the Bering Strait to the tropical waters of the Caribbean.  The Hamiltons were even used by the USCG in sea control, escort and shore bombardment duties from the Vietnam War until the South Ossetia War. Due to their design to perform well in the high seas, they are also the preferred platform on high sea state operations if required by the USCG.


3. "They do not have the necessary sensors and weapons systems a normal modern frigate has".
Before transferring to friendly countries like the Philippines, the US government removed the ship's AN/SPS-40 air search radar, the AN/SPS-73 surface search radar, communications systems and links used by US military forces, the 2 Mk. 38 Mod. 0 chain guns, and the Mk. 15 Phalanx close-in weapons system. The US government claims that the weapons will be used for their incoming Legend-class and other USCG ships, while the radar and communications systems will be used as spares for their remaining Hamilton-class ships in USCG service. The recipient countries bought a new radar system to replace the surface search and navigation radar and necessary safety equipment as a basic requirement for normal sea travel.


The BRP Gregorio del Pilar was only armed with the Oto Melara 76mm gun when handed-over to the Philippine Navy.
Photo from BRP Gregorio del Pilar PF-15 Facebook page.

4. "They won't stand a chance against OPFOR naval forces".
With only a 76mm gun plus light weapons, it won't stand a chance should OPFOR decided to use force against the ship. It does not have the offensive power to strike OPFOR ships, aircraft and submarines, and except for the main gun, it does not have the hard-kill systems to defend against anti-ship missiles and soft-kill systems to avoid torpedoes. It does not even have the capability to detect incoming threats from a longer distance as compared to its American sister-ships.


The PN needs more capable warships and naval assets to protect the country's EEZ and territory from OPFOR threats, like this fleet.
Photo taken from sina.com

5. "There are a lot more naval ships on offer abroad, why settle for the Hamilton-class?"
Currently there a number of frigates being offered in the used market, with the well-known Maestrale and Soldati classes from the Italians, the Oliver Hazard Perry-class from the Americans, the F122 Bremen-class from the Germans, and others. These are even younger and more capable than the Hamilton-class cutters, with a more comprehensive offensive and defensive weapons, sensors and detection systems, and were built according to Milspec.
The Italians offered the Maestrale-class frigates before, as discussed in previous MaxDefense blogs.
Photo taken from Wikimedia.


But also there are positive reasons on why the Philippine Navy decided to get the Hamilton-class ships:


PROS:

1. The Philippine Navy needs to acquire as many large-hull warships it can possibly get, operate and maintain with its limited budget.
The PN is currently experiencing shortage of capable ships of all sizes, and before the PF-15 was commissioned in 2011 there was only 1 gun frigate in service. Several old warships were decommissioned without replacement in the past. The PN needs to have more ships to show its presence and patrol the vast Philippine territorial and EEZ waters. The Hamilton-class was an opportunity that the PN saw, and now the BRP Gregorio del Pilar has been a big boost to the capability of the PN even if it's just 1 ship. If there are more used warships available in the market and the PN has the budget to purchase more, it must use the chance and do so. The BRP Gregorio del Pilar was funded with a 2 years operational budget worth Php 120 million when it was purchased to make sure that it won't get stuck at port due to lack of funds.


2. Despite its age, the Hamilton-class ships are definitely younger, more capable, and have better seakeeping than 3 major ship classes of the Philippine Navy which are from the 1940s era.
Before the Gregorio del Pilar arrived, the PN's 3 largest surface warships are 70-year old World War 2 veterans, the BRP Rajah Humabon (PF-11), the BRP Quezon (PS-70) and BRP Rizal (PS-74). There are also 6 more World War 2 veteran patrol vessels with the PN. Due to old age, these ships should have already been withdrawn from service by now. They do not have the weapons and systems currently being used in other navies, limiting the increase of technological skills and knowledge of ship crews and of the PN organization as a whole. Stories of the Oto Melara 76mm gun breakdown of the Jacinto-class ships and the lack of skilled specialists in the PN organization are abound on the internet, and all are attributed to the lack of modern equipment to train with in the PN's inventory. 


The Gregorio del Pilar-class frigates are definitely younger than the BRP Rajah Humabon.
Photo taken from US Navy c/o Wikimedia.
But the Gregorio del Pilar, despite its "old age" as compared to naval assets being used by neighboring countries, is 30 years younger than the PN's largest warships. It is also larger and can operate on higher sea states than most if not all PN warships, has one of the best endurance at sea than most comparable frigate and patrol vessels (both new and old), and has superior seakeeping. Despite its age, it also has the capability to accept modern ship systems, as discussed further in this blog. 

Of course they're old! If not they won't be even sold by the US government right? We must also consider the fact that all frigates in the used market are old, so the WHECs are not the only ships holding that distinction. You won't see slightly used frigates being sold elsewhere. Proper and thorough inspection of the ships can give the PN a better chance of only getting what it thinks is best for their specifications and requirements.


3. The Hamilton-class ships were sold to the Philippines at a very low price.
The BRP Gregorio del Pilar (PF-15) only costed the Philippine government Php 450 million (more than $10M as of 2011)  for the ship, crew training, and refurbishment & minor repair works. An additional amount was spent to drydock the ship in the Philippines prior to commissioning. The BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF-16) was also purchase for the same amount, although an additional $ 5 million was spent for the repair works and engine replacement. For the 2 ships the government only spent less than $30 million. That is around more than half of a single Maestrale-class frigate without training and refurbishing works when Italy offered one to a South American country in 2009. Or just less than the price of a single KAI FA-50 Golden Eagle being offered to the Philippine Air Force. 

Imagine how many WHECs you can buy with the missing Php 10 billion PDAF "pork barrel" that is in the local news right now.


In comparison, the cost to purchase the 2 Hamilton-class WHECs is even less than a new FA-50 LIFT aircraft being offered to the PAF.

For a cash-strapped navy like the PN, this is already a very good bargain. Even Nigeria is contemplating getting another unit, and Bangladesh now joining the fray. Even in its current state as a large OPV, there is almost nothing in the used market right now that can offer the same deal for that price.


4. The Hamilton-class ships has the basic modern technology the Philippine Navy needs to train its personnel, and has the size to install current and future weapons and sensors to keep it up-to-date for another decade.
The Gregorio del Pilar has brought with it a lot of new capabilities to the PN when it was commissioned in 2011. It is equipped with a CODOG propulsion system, and became the first ship in the PN's history to have gas turbines as part of the propulsion. It is equipped with a "current technology" Oto Melara 76mm Compact gun, making it the 4th ship in the PN's inventory to have it, and despite the removal by the US of its original radar systems, the PF-15 has new navigation and surface search radar and a new C&C/Common Operational Picture system. It also has a helicopter hangar and helideck for shipborne helicopter operations, and provisions for new radar and communications systems if the PN decides to install. Provisions are also available to install Harpoon anti-ship missiles, Mk. 15 Phalanx CIWS or SeaRAM on the fantail, Mk. 38 25mm chain guns on the midships, a hull-mounted sonar (needs further modifications) and even torpedo launchers. 


The WHECs have already proven that they are capable of accepting additional systems to increase its capability. Seen here is the USCGC Mellon carrying Harpoon missiles and a Mk. 15 Phalanx CIWS after the FRAM program. Not shown are the torpedo launchers for Mk.46 torpedoes and the AN/SQS-26 hull mounted sonar. Photo taken from Wikimedia.

There are already plans to up-arm and upgrade the Gregorio del Pilar-class, with both ships to be installed with Coast Watch links, and reportedly, with a new 3D search radar, the Harpoon missile, the Mk. 38 Mod. 2 Typhoon 25mm chain guns, an AW-109 Power shipboard helicopter, and anti-submarine warfare capability. Of all current PN assets, only the Gregorio del Pilar-class has the space and size to receive systems that require large space and power requirements.


5. The Hamilton-class ships are readily available, and can be put to sea in a shorter span of time than most used frigates in the market.
Although the PN took more than a year to bring the BRP Ramon Alcaraz to service due to "overlooked" repair works, the cycle from purchase to commissioning is still faster than if buying other frigates. The BRP Gregorio del Pilar only took a few months from hand-over to commissioning. Due to the complexity of other used frigates, the PN may not be able to bring these more capable ships to sea immediately as it needs more time to train. The Hamilton-class ships are much simpler, and will be easy for the PN to assimilate into its fleet and capability.



MaxDefense believes that in general the Hamilton-class ships were a good buy for the Philippine Navy despite the negative issues ships, the positive outweighs the negative concerns. It is a better platform than the ageing naval assets of the PN that negatively affects their capability considering the limitations of their current assets. As an interim platform, the ships will be able to provide the Philippine Navy with capable ships at sea to immediately do its mandate of protecting its interests and territories even with limited capability. Anyway it is not expected that a shooting war will happen anytime soon if political arrangements are properly utilized in the absence of armed capability.

The Gregorio del Pilar-class frigates are expected to be in service with the PN for another decade, but the PN must not be complacent and rely too much on these ships. The cons issues posted above still hold true, and the PN must be able to plan its course of actions to move ahead further and not getting stuck with the WHECs. Purchasing brand new and more capable frigates is a good way to start, which the DND and PN are expected to release the details soon. At the mean time, MaxDefense suggests getting more WHECs from the US government using the same deal (or better) when it took the PF-15 and PF-16. The USCG is expected to release more WHECs every year, with another expected within this year.


More WHECs, more happy sailors seeing their organization upgrading and moving away from World War 2 era vintage warships.
Photo taken from Timawa.net

MaxDefense will be updating this blog later on (expect edits on this blog).

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

More Photos from BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF-16)'s Hawaii Port Call (12-16 July 2013)

The Philippine Navy's latest frigate, the BRP Ramon Alcaraz, is ending its scheduled port call at Joint Base Pearl Harbor - Hickam in Hawaii later on the Hawaiian morning of 16 July 2013 after staying for 4 days. It has been replenished and refueled to continue its journey to its next port call in Guam until it reaches Manila by 2 August 2013.

The last 4 days saw the ship's crew attending different functions and activities, as shown on the photos posted here at MaxDefense.

The BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF-16) as it approaches Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam on 12 July 2013.
Photo taken from Shipspotting.com, photo by WadeArmstrong.

A photo taken from the PF-16 preparing to dock at Pearl Harbon on 12 July 2013.
Photo taken from PF-16 Ramon Alcaraz Facebook page.

Joint Base Pearl Harbor - Hickam Base Commander, Capt. Jesse James, welcomes the BRP Ramon Alcaraz officers upon arrival.
Photo taken from Philippine Navy website BRP Alcaraz blog.


Consul Roberto T. Bernardo delivering the opening speech for the PF-16's welcome party on 12 July 2013.
Photo taken from Philippine Navy website BRP Alcaraz blog.
A hula dance performance during the welcome party from representative of the Filipino-American Community in Hawaii.
Photo taken from Philippine Navy website BRP Alcaraz blog.

Members of the Filipino-American Community in Hawaii enjoying the presence of the BRP Ramon Alcaraz in Hawaii.
Photo taken from PF-16 Ramon Alcaraz Facebook page.

The BRP Ramon Alcaraz's main gun just after sunset on 12 July 2013.
Photo taken from PF-16 Ramon Alcaraz facebook page.


The crew of BRP Ramon Alcaraz visiting the USS Arizona Memorial in Hawaii. They paid tribute to the sacrifices of the fallen crew of USS Arizona.
Taken from PF-16 Ramon Alcaraz Facebook page.


During the stay in Hawaii, 5 enlisted crew members of the ship have made an Oath of Re-Enlistment for another 3 years of military service. The following crew members are:
- EN2 Regidor Labrador
- EN3 Tomas Ciruelos, Jr.
- EN3 Ernesto Cabahug
- S2YN Erica Celemin
- EN3 Marlon Martonito

5 enlisted personnel of the BRP Ramon Alcaraz taking their Oath of Re-enlistment rites for another 3 years of naval service. Presiding the oath is PF-16 commanding officer Capt. Ernesto Baldovino.
Taken from PF-16 Ramon Alcaraz Facebook page.  



The crew of BRP Ramon Alcaraz doing replenishment and final checks in preparation for its departure from Hawaii to continue its journey.
Photo taken from PF-16 Ramon Alcaraz Facebook page.

Good morning Hawaii, July 16, 2013.
Photo taken from PF-16 Ramon Alcaraz Facebook page
.
The ship's officers discussing the activities of the morning, July 16, 2013.
Photo taken from PF-16 Ramon Alcaraz Facebook page.

Pre-departure Catholic Mass held at the ship's helideck, with the base chaplain leading the ceremonies.
Photo taken from PF-16 Ramon Alcaraz Facebook page.

AFP Liaison Officer to the US Pacific Command, Col. Restituto Padilla, PAF with Consul Roberto Bernardo.
Photo taken from PF-16 Ramon Alcaraz Facebook page.


Visitors enjoying the "despedida" party meal before the ship's departure from Hawaii, July 16, 2013.
Photo taken from PF-16 Ramon Alcaraz Facebook page.


MaxDefense will post updates on the ship's journey and its next port call in Guam, which the ship is expected to arrive there by next week. Wishing the ship and crew a safe and problem-free journey.

For more on the ship's journey, you may also refer to the official navy sites:

* Facebook page of BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF-16): https://www.facebook.com/pages/PF-16-Ramon-Alcaraz/533450743369095?fref=ts

* Philippine Navy's BRP Alcaraz blogs: http://www.navy.mil.ph/alcaraz/