Philippine Navy - Modernization
The Philippine Fleet is adequate for coastal patrol duties, troop transport and disaster relief, and it is effective against combating smugglers, pirates and insurgents, but it lacks many key capabilities, leaving it outclassed by other navies in the region.
The Fleet was composed mainly of ex-U.S. WWII surface ships. The largest ships in the Fleet are LST's and a former destroyer escort. Many were made during WWII and none exceeds 330 feet in length. The Philippines had a handful of more modern ships as well, but in most ways these are not dramatic improvements over the rest.
Philippine warships are armed entirely with mounted machine guns and deck guns, the largest of which is 3" (76mm). The Fleet lacks missile-armed ships, greatly limiting range and effectiveness against enemy warships and aircraft. Even antisubmarine (ASW) weapons like depth charges are absent on all or almost all of the Philippine warships. The Philippine Fleet also lacks its own submarines, not to mention aircraft carriers.
A handful of the Fleet's bigger ships have helipads capable of handling light helicopters, of which there are few. All of these helicopters are small, and none are armed. The Fleet also has several of its own small propeller-driven planes for reconnaissance, search and light transport. None have weapons.
Aside from the semi-stealth BRP Mariano Alvarez, the Fleet has no stealthy ships. The Philippine ships have average sensor capabilities (radar and sonar) of their own. The Fleet has poor at-sea refueling capabilities and would have great difficulty coordinating and sustaining a large naval operation far out at sea.
In February 1995 the Philippine Congress passed Republic Act No. 7898 or the law providing for the modernisation of the AFP. The law obliged the government to fund and allocate a separate budget for a 15-year modernisation program. The PN will be given the biggest budget allocation for the purchase of three frigates, six corvettes, 12 offshore patrol vessels, and 12 missile boats. In addition, the Navy will also acquire nine helicopters and six fixed-wing aircraft to develop its naval aviation capability. The Filipino government had committed itself to upgrade its Navy into a more credible force starting in 2017 with the planned purchase of new ships, though it remains unclear whether there will be enough political will and money to do this. There are already signs that the procurement program will be delayed.
Philippine Navy ship purchases between 1993 and 1998 included the following: Two (2) Frank Besson class 4,200 ton amphibious transports (1993-1994), Two (2) Philippine-made large patrol gunboats, 279 tons (1995-1998), Twelve (12) South Korean Sea Killer 74-ton patrol gunboats (1993-1994), Six (6) South Korean Sea Dolphin 170-ton patrol gunboats (May 1995) and Twenty Four (24) Halter Marine 56-ton patrol craft (1996-1998).
For the years 1996 to 2000, there was a P3.5 billion peso overhaul program for 10 large vessels -- 4 transport ships, 1 repair ship, 1 multi-mission vessel and 4 patrol ships. The overhauls include replacing main and auxiliary engines, enhancing electrical systems, making structural improvements and new fire-control, weapons, and anti-ship missile systems. Specific ships to be overhauled were not mentioned, but may include four(4) Barnegat-class 2,800 ton frigates dating back to WWII and laid up in the late 1980s; one Achelous-class 4,300 ton repair ship, also laid up in the late 1980s; and the Type 511 or Type 512-1152 LSTs, of which the Philippine Navy had 24 examples in the 1980s.
By 2003 the capability of the Navy for mine warfare, anti-submarine operations, and airborne maritime patrol had been allowed to atrophy. The elemental need for patrol and service ships remained and had become more urgent over time. Professional progress by officers through the established billets aboardship was seriously curtailed. Many officers reached the rank of Navy Captain (Colonel in the Army) without completing their billet assignments, while others may not even have gone aboardship at all. Only few can earn the prestigious and professionally all-important Command Badge. The Navy had vast sea areas to protect that cannot be adequately covered by seaborne patrol alone. Even if we double or triple the number of patrol vessels, smuggling goes unabated and poaching and destruction of fish, coral, and other marine life are rampant. The Kalayaan Group of Islands (KIG) in the Western Frontier could only be adequately covered by long-range maritime patrol aircraft.
The Department of National Defense initiated the P189,934,000 Landing Craft Utility acquisition project on June 25, 2008 on behalf of the Philippine Navy. Because of the project’s monetary value, it fell under the responsibility of the DND Bids and Awards Committee (BAC). A Landing Craft Utility (LCU) is a relatively small amphibious assault vessel that transports vehicles, personnel, and materiel to direct to shore, without the need for port facilities. Prior to this project, Philippine Navy ships in this category consisted of ex-US Navy LCU Mk.6s which were remnants of the Second World War. Replacements were sorely needed.
BRP Tagbanua, named after a Palawan tribe, is the country’s first landing craft utility which is expected to further improve maritime operations, including the transport of government troops and equipment to different areas of the country. The BRP Tagbanua will also help in non-combatant evacuation, medical evacuation, at rescue and relief operations. BRP Tagbanua is primarily configured to transport combat personnel, tanks, vehicles, artillery equipment, and cargoes in support to military amphibious operations and secondarily, to perform non-combatant evacuation; medical assistance projects; disaster, rescue and relief operations; and transport/logistics mission in support to national socio-economic projects of the government. It was acquired using the AFP Modernization Fund. The government spent 180 million pesos from the military's modernization funds for the ship, which was manufactured by shipbuilder Propmech.
The project produced the largest locally manufactured Philippine Navy ship to date. The previous record holder was the Marcos-era 44-meter Aguinaldo class patrol gunboat. The LCU, in comparison, is 51 meters — 15 meters longer than existing LCUs.
In his first State of the Nation address delivered 26 July 2010, Pres. Aquino pledged to upgrade the Philippine Navy which then had only 32 old naval vessels (“panahon pa ni Gen. MacArthur”). He said then that he would even lease out the Philippine Navy headquarters on Roxas Blvd. to garner the proceeds to purchase new vessels for the navy. Some Filipinos complained that Aquino’s predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, spent more money buying SUVs for compliant bishops than on new ships for maritime security.
In August 2010 Retired Admiral James Lyons, former commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, signed an oped in the Washington Times which proposed that "The United States should consider leasing big-ticket military hardware to the Philippines to give it the capability to defend its sovereign territory against Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea.... the US should consider leasing a squadron of F-16 along with T-38 supersonic trainers, an aircraft for maritime patrol, and two FFG-7 guided-missile frigates to provide a recognized capability to enforce the Philippines’ offshore territorial claims."
China has been asserting “indisputable” sovereignty over as much as 90 percent of the South China Sea, one of the world’s most important trade routes. China has engaged in frequent maritime clashes between ?shing and other vessels.On at least nine separate occasions in 2011 alone, Chinese ships ?red live rounds at Filipino ?shermen, severed Philippine oil survey cables, or harassed Philippine ships, sometimes merely miles from their coastline. Growing Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea has led Manila to seek Washington’s assistance in bolstering its maritime capabilities, including intraining and combined exercises.The United States has rightly called for the peaceful resolution of these disputes, and has stood by it sallies in the region to uphold a commitment to the freedom of navigation in these waters. The U.S. designated the Philippines a “major non-NATO ally” in 2003.
In August 2011, the US government transferred the former Coast Guard cutter WHEC 715 Hamilton to the Philippines through the Excess Defense Articles (EDA) program. The ship's weapons were removed by the Americans before delivery to the Philippines. Renamed the BRP Gregorio del Pilar (PF-15), the ship serves as the flagship of the Philippine Navy. The ship replaced another former U.S. vessel, which was commissioned in 1943 and usedduring World War II. Even at over four decades old, the Gregorio del Pilar was the most powerful ship in the Filipino Navy. As a multi-mission surface combatant ship, it became the first gas-turbine jet engine-powered vessel in the Philippine Navy Fleet. BRP Gregorio del Pilar was deployed to the Naval Forces West Area of the West Philippine Sea (also known as the South China Sea). The country's largest warship deployed in the West Philippine Sea to guard the country's borders.
The transfer of U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Hamilton (WHEC-715) to the Philippines was the most tangible aspect of U.S.-Filipino maritime security cooperation. One of the largest Excess Defense Article transfers ever, the U.S. govemment saved approximately $10 million in disposal costs for this ship, originally commissioned in 1967. This transfer represented the U.S. commitment to stability in the waters surrounding the Philippines.
US Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, released a letter to Ray Mabus, Secretary of the U.S. Navy, on November 29, 2011 calling for increased U.S.-Filipino maritime security cooperation, specifically through transfer of additional decommissioned U.S. military vessels. "As U.S. military vessels are decommissioned, I ask that you give the utmost consideration to transferring them to the Philippines…I believe that the Philippines, through virtue of its treaty alliance with the U.S. and its major non-NATO ally status - as well as the U.S. interest in seeing the freedom of navigation upheld in the South China Sea - should be given top priority as material becomes available."
One area providing opportunities for more ships to be locally constructed or repaired is through the Philippine Navy Modernization Program. As mandated by R.A. No. 7898, otherwise known as the AFP Modernization Law, the Philippine Navy has initially embarked on modest vessel acquisition and upgrade projects in order to fulfill its mandated missions and objectives.
Although the mode of procurement under the PN Modernization Program is through open and competitive public bidding, pursuant to R.A. No. 9184, greater participation by our local shipyards would lead to the further realization of the objective of having more ships locally constructed or repaired. As such, local shipyards would need to be continuously aware and informed on the PN ships needed to be acquired or repaired, hence the action plan of holding meetings/dialogues with them by the Philippine Navy and the conduct of promotional campaigns relative to the opportunities being provided under the PN Modernization Program.
Among the PN ships scheduled for acquisition/upgrading where local shipyards could participate are;
- Landing Craft Utility (LCU) – acquisition
- Fast Craft Ferry - acquisition
- Riverine Assault Craft (RAC) - acquisition
- Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIB) - acquisition
- Rigid Raider Craft (RRC) - acquisition
- PKM-Fast Attack – upgrade
- Patrol ships – upgrade
In June 2012 Lt. Commander Nerelito Martinez, acting chief of feet staff for plans and programs, said that around P500 billion [about US$12 billion] is needed for a “mixed force” that would equipped the Navy with its desired warfare capabilities. The Philippine Fleet is eyeing the acquisition of three submarines for undersea warfare and deterrence, and three mine counter measure vessels for defensive mining in the critical areas to deny enemy entry. Also on the list are:
- 6 frigates configured for anti-air warfare,
- 12 Corvettes primarily designed for anti-submarine warfare,
- 4 strategic sealift vessels,
- 18 landing craft utility,
- 3 ocean tugs to tow large units,
- 6 yard/fire tugs to provide critical support to the warships in docking/undocking, providing firefighting and salvage services, and providing personnel transfer platforms.
- 12 coastal patrol interdiction craft,
- 30 patrol gunboats for territorial and coastal patrol,
- 42 multi-purpose assault craft,
- 24 rigid hull inflatable boats for naval special operations,
- 18 amphibious maritime patrol aircraft for maritime surveillance,
- 18 naval helicopters
- 18 multi-purpose helicopters.
Philippines President Benigno Aquino said 23 July 2012 in his annual state of the nation address to the Congress that in 2013, two naval helicopters and one frigate will be arriving. Deliveries to be completed by October 2012 include a second ex-US Coast Guard Hamilton-class cutter. Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said 02 August 2012 that a pair of Italian warships were set to strengthen the Philippines' maritime defense capabilities. Gazmin said the Philippine Navy was buying the P11.7-billion Maestrale-class frigates. "These frigates are warships. These have anti-air, sub-surface, they have anti-submarine (capabilities). What we are getting are really meant for war," Gazmin said. The frigates, which were commissioned in the 1980s, were in servic with the Italian Navy. He said the Navy contract that is expected to be signed in January 2013. The ships would then be delivered by November 2012 after they were refurbished.
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