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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 fishing and other vessels.On at least nine separate occasions in 2011 alone, Chinese ships fired live rounds at Filipino fishermen, 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 February 2012 Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert F. del Rosario said that the Philippines will request two more Hamilton class cutters with the first one delivered in the middle of 2012. By 2012 the Philippine Navy was trying to speed up the arrival of the country’s second warship, the BRP Ramon Alcaraz. Among the defense instruments delivered initially are to be 2 multi-purpose attack craft, and 4 landing Craft Utility.

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. Martinez, in a published Navy journal, said the multi-billion funding would be used to bankroll its “Philippine Fleet Desired Force Mix” strategy concept. Martinez said the newly-developed naval strategy calls for the acquisition within a 15-year-period of four Strategic Sealift Vessels (SSVs) capable to move one brigade of Marines amphibious force or any ground force and its support system. The plan calls for the following mix of assets:

  • Three (3) submarines
  • 6 frigates configured for anti-air warfare
  • 12 Corvettes primarily designed for anti-submarine warfare
  • 4 strategic sealift vessels (SSVs)
  • 18 Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs)
  • Three (3) Mine Counter Measure Vessels (MCMVs)
  • Three (3) Logistics Support/Replenishment Ship (LSS)
  • 18 Landing Craft Utility (LCU)
  • 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.

The Philippine Fleet also wanted to buy

  • 12 Cyclone class Coast Patrol Interdiction Craft (CPIC)
  • 30 patrol gunboats for territorial and coastal patrol
  • 42 Multi-Purpose Assault Craft (MPACs)
  • 24 rigid hull inflatable boats (RHIBs) for naval special operations
  • 18 (or possibly 8) amphibious maritime patrol aircraft (AMPA) for maritime surveillance
  • 18 Naval Helicopters embarked aboard frigates and corvettes
  • 18 (or possibly 8) Multi-Purpose Helicopters (MPH) [embarked aboard the SSVs]

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 was expected to be signed in January 2013. The ships would then be delivered by November 2012 after they were refurbished.

But by March 2013 Hyundai was offering the Philippine Department of National Defense (DND) varieties of the "Incheon" class frigates. The talks with the South Korean defense manufacturer came about when the DND decided to not go ahead with the planned purchase of the Italian "Maestrale" frigates due to questions of cost and hull aging.

The announcement of the Navy's development strategy plan came a few days after the Philippine military received its second Hamilton Class cutter from the United States. According to an ABC News report, the crew of the US Coast Guard Cutter Dallas on Tuesday (Wednesday, Philippine time) officially turned over the 45-year-old vessel to its new Filipino crew. Like the previous warship purchased from the US, the second cutter – renamed Barko ng Republika ng Pilipinas (BRP) Ramon Alcaraz – was stripped of its weapons systems before the turnover. The new cutter will start patrolling the Philippine waters immediately after the training of its new crew.

Aside from the acquisition of a new warship, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said that the Aquino administration had already allotted PhP 70 billion for the government's military modernization plan. He said that 58 of the 138 contracts under the five-year plan had already been approved. “These projects would surely afford the Philippine Navy with brand new and ready-for-sea vessels and air assets for its surface, sub-surface and air operations, along with the operational requirements of the Philippine Air Force and the Philippine Army,” Gazmin was quoted as saying in a Manila Standard Today report.

Earlier, the Philippine Navy also presented a new Filipino-made multipurpose attack craft and two multipurpose disaster-response vehicles in its inventory. It was also reported that the Japanese government planned to give patrol ships to the Philippines to strengthen its maritime defenses amid the territorial disputed in the West Philippine Sea. Prime Minister Abe has confirmed that Japan will provide the Philippines with 10 modern patrol ships, which will be useful for the government in Manila to monitor Chinese activities in disputed waters,

In May 2012 a report from South Korea saidt the Japanese government allegedly planned to give patrol ships to the Philippines to strengthen its defense against China amid their territorial row. The vessels, which include 1,000-ton patrol ships, will be delivered by yearend, according to a Korean Broadcasting System (KBS) report. KBS based its report on a story published by Japanese newspaper Nihon Keizai Shimbun. The South Korean media company, the biggest television network in the country, said the handover of patrol ships is being made possible by Japan's decision to ease the Three Principles of Arms Export law that prevents Tokyo from selling its weapons abroad. Nihon Keizai Shimbun said the Japanese government wants to help boost Manila's maritime safety capabilities in the West Philippine Sea. The Philippine and Japanese governments did not confirm the report.

The Philippine Coast Guard, which only had six functioning vessels, announced it is purchasing five from France and it expects to acquire 10 Japanese patrol boats over the next three years.

On August 06, 2013 the Philippines’ second Hamilton-class warship arrived in local waters at a time of continuing territorial tensions in the South China Sea. Under rainy skies and with much fanfare, President Benigno Aquino greeted the 115-meter cutter at Alava Wharf, near the former United States naval base. Aquino said the ship would guarantee patrolling of the country’s 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone, which borders its coastlines. The 46-year-old BRP Ramon Alcaraz is a second-hand Coast Guard cutter from the United States’ store of used military assets. It joins another used cutter that the Philippines bought from Washington in 2011. With refurbishing and retrofitting of remotely operated machine guns and other hardware, the Alcaraz cost the Philippines about $15 million. Manila's military expansion program plans to build what the Philippines calls a “minimum credible defense posture.”

Philippines Department of Defense announced 10 October 2013 a public tender to upgrade its naval combat capability, including two types of new frigates. During the five-year military modernization projects, the Philippine Government will fund the $ 1.73 billion purchase of new ships. Accordance with the timetable, the Philippines Department of Defense will be held October 11 pre-tender meeting was held, the tender deadline is October 25. Deputy Defense Minister Fernando Manalo stressed that bidders need in the past 10 years have had a similar experience bidding and public commitment to be able to deliver two frigates in 1,460 days. Philippine President Benigno Aquino III hoped that these vessels can be delivered before he retires from service in 2016.

The two-brand new frigates which the Department of National Defense (DND) is acquiring for P18 billion is definitely more superior and heavily armed that the two Hamilton-class cutters in Philippine Navy (PN) service. In an interview with PTV-4's "Good Morning Boss" program, Commodore Jose Renan C. Suarez, the PN's Patrol Force commander, said these ships are equipped with radar, sonar, and electronic warfare systems and can engage airborne, surface and underwater threats simultaneously. The frigates will be equipped with anti-ship and anti-air missiles and a main gun capable of firing 120 rounds per minute aside from a torpedo system. At present, the Hamilton-class cutters in service are only armed with a 76-mm main gun which can fire 60 to 80 rounds per minute. Suarez said the new ships are part of the PN's "Navy Frigate Program" from 2013 to 2017. He added the frigates are designed with numerous upgrades cycle to ensure that they will remain relevant and competitive against new vessels coming in line.

The option to acquire brand new frigates for the Navy came in the wake of the decision to forego the acquisition of Italy's Maestrale-class frigates due to evaluation studies that found out that operating these vessels will be more costly in the long run. "We found out that it will be more expensive to maintain second hand vessel(s) than buying a new one," the DND earlier said. The Maestrale was earlier touted by the DND as the next ships to be acquired for the Philippine Navy due to its credible missile and anti-submarine capabilities.

In a likely shift in focus to territorial defense, Northern Luzon Command head Major Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang presented a paper 07 October 2013 detailing the country's plan to acquire three submarines. He said submarines, by their inherent stealth capability, can be deployed to monitor and protect the country's extensive maritime domains. These vessels are the conventional-powered or diesel-electric type and generally cheaper than nuclear-powered ones.

Also being eyed is the acquisition of six frigates for anti-air warfare, 12 corvettes for anti-submarine warfare, 18 offshore patrol vessels and three anti-mine warfare ships. However, the paper presented by Catapang did not specify on how long and how much it will cost the Philippines to complete this acquisitions. An earlier Philippine Navy (PN) study revealed that it would need around P497 billion to fully upgrade its fleet. Once it has this money, the Navy can acquire the above-mentioned items along with four sealift vessels, 18 landing craft utility vessels, three logistics ships, 12 coastal interdiction patrol boats, 30 patrol gunboats, and 42 multi-purpose assault crafts that can be equipped with torpedoes and missiles. Also envisioned are eight amphibious maritime patrol aicraft, 18 naval helicopters, and eight multi-purpose helicopters.

The Philippines announced plans 17 December 2014 to further modernize its navy in the South China Sea. Navy Rear Admiral Caesar Taccad said Manila will purchase two frigates, two helicopters, and three gunboats as part of the upgrade. Taccad said South Korea, Spain, and France have made bids to supply the frigates. Indonesia and Italy are bidding for the helicopters, while the gunboats could be supplied by Taiwan or five other shipyards.

As part of a five-year, $1.8 billion military modernization program, the navy had acquired several big-ticket items, including four more frigates on order as of early 2015.

The Australian Government will gift two recently-decommissioned Landing Craft Heavy vessels, including a package of spare parts, to the Philippines Government, the Minister for Defence Kevin Andrews announced 29 January 2015. Andrews said the former Royal Australian Navy vessels HMAS Tarakan and Brunei would be gifted to the Philippine Navy after being refurbished with new safety and navigation equipment.

“I expect the vessels will be refitted and ready for hand over in May 2015,” Andrews said. The Landing Craft will be commissioned in the Philippines Navy and will provide additional intra-theater sealift capability.

A lack of sealift capability hampered efforts to assist Philippines’ coastal areas devastated by Super Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. “The Landing Craft will greatly improve the Philippines’ ability to respond to natural disasters by enabling heavy equipment and large amounts of aid to be moved to affected areas,” Andrews said.

The Landing Craft Heavy fleet was decommissioned from Australian service at a ceremony in Cairns on 19 November 2014. The Philippines Government was also considering whether to purchase the remaining three Landing Craft Heavy. The former HMAS Wewak, Betano and Balikpapan were decommissioned from the Royal Australian Navy in 2012.

President Barack Obama renewed 16 November 2015 the United States’ commitment to its allies as he announced that Washington will provide two more ships to the Philippine Navy to boost its maritime security capabilities. Obama said the pair of ships – a US Coast Guard cutter and a research vessel to map out local territorial waters – were part of a broader American plan to scale up assistance to naval forces in Southeast Asia, where coastal nations feel threatened by China’s aggressive moves to assert control over the South China Sea.

The United States intended to grant the high-endurance U.S. Coast Guard Cutter (USCGC) Boutwell to the Philippine Navy, the third ship of its class that we have provided in the past few years. This would provide the Philippines the ability to maintain greater maritime presence and patrols throughout its EEZ. The US was also in the process of transferring the research vessel R/V Melville to support naval research and law enforcement capabilities.

On 18 August 2016 the Philippines received one of 10 promised Japanese-funded patrol vessels, paid for by an assistance loan aimed at helping the country expand its nautical capacity while in the midst of a territorial conflict with Beijing over the South China Sea. The vessel, a 44-meter multipurpose watercraft named BRP Tubbataha, was built by the Japan Marine United Corp in Yokohama, and assigned to the Philippine Coast Guard. The loan funding the construction of the Tubbataha is established at some 7.3 billion pesos ($158 million), and had been furnished by the Japan International Cooperation Agency.

Japan agreed to lease military aircraft to the Philippines in another sign of deepening security ties between the two countries to counter China’s increasing regional influence. The lease agreement was made on 02 May 2016 during telephone talks between Japan’s Defence Minister Gen Nakatani and his Philippine counterpart Voltaire Gazmin. Under the accord, Tokyo will lease at least three and up to five Beechcraft TC-90 King Air training airplanes, and help Manila train pilots and aircraft mechanics. The planes can be used as surveillance aircraft. It will be Japan’s first lease of its Self-Defence Forces’ aircraft to another country after it recently lifted a self-imposed ban on weapons exports. The TC-90 is capable of flying some 1,900 kilometers (1,180 miles), roughly double the flight range of the Philippine navy’s aircraft.

Philippine Defence Minister Voltaire pushed for a handover of the more advanced P-3C aircraft, developed by Lockheed Martin. Tokyo will retire its P-3Cs over the next three years. While those aircraft would be capable of monitoring submarine activity, the Japanese government expressed hesitancy. P-3Cs require more complex ground support, and use more fuel than the efficient TC-90s. While the TC-90 has a relatively low Operating Cost, unfortunately the downside is that it has a much lower capability than the P-3C. For one, the TC-90 is not armed.

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