Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Amphibious Warfare Capabilities of the Philippine Navy - Past, Present and Future

Being an archipelagic country with more than 7,100 islands comprising its land mass, the Philippines is a natural geography for use of the sea for transporting people, goods, and services. The government and the Philippine Navy knows of this strength and weakness, and utmost attention is given to improve on the capabilities in this regard. MaxDefense discusses the amphibious capabilities of the Philippine Navy on this entry, a short history of its beginnings, its current assets, and upcoming assets to beef up its dwindling fleet.


One of the two Bacolod City-class of the Philippine Navy. The 2 ships are currently the most significant and one of the newest amphibious naval assets of the fleet. 



Post War Surge:
Philippine Naval Patrol:
After World War II, the newly formed Philippine Naval Patrol (PNP, forefather of the Philippine Navy) acknowledges this by making priority to build-up its Amphibious and Sealift transport capabilities. Requests were made to the US government for the transfer of mothballed landing ships used during World War II, with several Landing Ships Tank (LST) and landing crafts transferred to the PNP in 1947. Some of the ships were even used to transport troops and supplies from the Philippines and Japan to South Korea in support of the Philippine Expeditionary Forces to Korea in the 1950s.


New Philippine Navy:
As the Philippine Offshore Patrol became the Philippine Navy, more former US Navy LSTs were transferred through the years. The Philippine Navy's amphibious capabilities peaked in the late 1970s, with the fleet having more than 20 LSTs, several Medium Landing Ships (LSM) and landing crafts of all sizes, and a few amphibious support vessels. All these assets were hand-me downs from the US government, or were former South Vietnamese Navy units handed-over by the US to the Philippines after escaping the fall of South Vietnam in the late 1970s.



The Philippine Navy's landing ship tank BRP Benguet (LT-507), which was the former USN USS Daviess County (LST-692). She was launched in March 1944 and is still in active service 71 years later.
Photo taken from Navsource.


Aside from amphibious support and transport duties, these vessels double up as patrol vessels, deployed in support of securing the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) including areas of interest like the Kalayaan Group of Islands, and for Search and Rescue Operations. They were even used as offshore helicopter landing platforms for Philippine Air Force (PAF) and Navy helicopters, as naval gunfire provider during operations near waters, and for naval blockades against rebels and terrorists escaping from military ground operations.It once had the largest amphibious warfare fleet in Southeast Asia, all together capable of deploying several brigades worth of troops and warfighting assets.



The BRP Tausug (AT-25), a Landing Craft Utility (LCU) of the Philippine Navy. This is also a former US Navy asset handed-over to the Philippines.
Photo taken from Wikimedia.




Decline in Amphibious Capabilities:
With the US bases in Clark and Subic permanently closed down in 1991, the continuous military support by the US government for the Philippine Armed Forces came to a halt. With this also affected the Philippine Navy's capabilities to have their ships repaired, spare parts acquired, and financial assistance to support ageing assets. One by one, most of the naval assets of the Philippine Navy, including most of its amphibious warfare fleet, were left for disrepair, and most were either cannibalized to maintain other ships or were sold as scrap.


The BRP Davao Oriental (LT-506) in 1991. The ship was sold as scrap a few years later.
Photo taken by Edison Sy, taken from Navsource.


The BRP Agusan del Sur (LT-54) in 1986 when it was offered for sale.
Photo taken by Edison Sy, taken from Navsource.

The only new asset the Philippine Navy got in the 1990s were two Logistics Support Vessels (LSV), now called collectively as the Bacolod City-class LSV, from the US government as part of their military assistance bundled with the US bases rents. This was not enough to replace dozens of assets that were retired after long years of service. Additional assets acquired in the past few years include two locally-made Large Utility Landing Crafts (LCU), now called the BRP Tagbanua and BRP Manobo.

Currently, the Philippine Navy's amphibious capabilities are far less capable than it was decades ago. Of the dozens of ex-US Navy World War II era LST, LSM, Landing Crafts Utility (LCU), only a struggling few remain in active service while only a few new assets replaced all the retired ships of the past.




Current Amphibious Warfare Capabilities of the Philippine Navy:

The PN of today have the following amphibious warfare vessels in its inventory:

Landing Ship Tank:
Only the BRP Laguna (LT-501) and the BRP Benguet (LT-507), both former US Navy World War II era tank landing ships remain in PN service. Both are becoming more difficult to maintain, as they require several dock repairs due to poor hull condition and ageing mechanical and electrical systems. Both are in working condition but require replacements very soon. 


The BRP Laguna (LT-501) docked probably in the Visayas region. 2 of the class remain in service with the Philippine Navy.



Logistics Support Vessels:

Probably the most capable transport assets of the Philippine Navy, the two Bacolod City-class LSVs, the BRP Bacolod City (LC-550) and the BRP Dagupan City (LC-551) were based on the US Army's Frank Beeson-class transport ships. The Philippine Navy version has a helicopter landing deck on the aft. Originally the LC-551 was to be named BRP Cagayan de Oro City, but with Fidel Ramos' victory as president-elect in 1992, politics came in and changes were made to change the name to a city from Pangasinan, thus becoming BRP Dagupan City.


The BRP Bacolod City (LC-550), the lead ship of the Bacolod City-class LSV, during the at-sea phase of the Balikatan 2008 military exercises.
Photo taken from US Navy c/o Wikipedia.



Utility Landing Crafts:

The PN operates two large utility landing crafts (LCU), both locally made but of different design. The BRP Tagbanua (AT-296) was built by Philippine Iron Construction and Marine Corporation with Propmech as its integrator. The ship was a product of a PN project for a new class of LCU that is expected to form the backbone of the intra-theater sealift capability and a cheaper alternative to the LST and LSV. Unlike the Tagbanua, the other ship BRP Manobo (AT-297), came in to service quietly and was based on a different design. Both ships are relatively new, being both being commissioned during the term of President Aquino.


The BRP Tagbanua, the newest amphibious transport asset of the Philippine Navy.


The PN also operates smaller utility landing crafts that were handed over by the US government decades ago. Of the many that once served the PN, only three ships remain: the BRP Subanon (AT-291), BRP Bagobo (AT-293), and BRP Tausug (AT-295). All are of the US Mark 6 design that were first put to action during World War II.



Other Assets:
Aside from LCUs, there are also several smaller landing crafts being used by the Philippine Navy, mostly the small Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel (LCVP) which are carried by larger amphibious assault ships. Although not really considered as amphibious warfare assets, the PN also operates six Multipurpose Attack Crafts (MPAC) in two sub-classes, which are high speed boats with capability to deploy infantry for insertion missions. More of this boats are being procured by the PN in the coming years, with a 3-unit tender expected to be completed by 2015.



One of the Philippine Navy's six Multipurpose Attack Craft. These are used by the PN as patrol and insertion assets.



Looking at the Future: The Multirole Vessel Saga:

Fast forward to the mid 1990s when the AFP Modernization Act of 1995 was passed into law, part of which were the plans to acquire amphibious vessels to replace those old ones still in service with the PN. Although no specifics were made, the idea points to helicopter capable amphibious landing platforms, either a helipad-equipped landing ship tank, landing ship dock (LSD) or landing platform dock (LPD). 


1990s - The Singaporean Endurance-class LST/LPD:
Plans for a helicopter capable platform was further reinforced with the Republic of Singapore Navy's introduction in the late 1990s of the Endurance-class landing ship tank, which is actually more of an LPD with an LST bow opening. The Philippine Navy sent officers to learn more about the ship as planning dictates towards something similar for its own acquisition plans.


One of the Endurance-class LPD of the Republic of Singapore Navy.
Photo taken from Wikipedia.


Hopes were high on a possible contract for a unit or two with ST Engineering, until lack of funding shot down the plans. The quoted pricing made by the Singaporeans moved up as the Philippine government failed to quickly act on the funding, until the PN can't afford the ship anymore. This was the first of several attempts by the PN to get its hands to a modern amphibious warfare vessel.

The PN continuously looked for ways to acquire a similar vessel but has always looked at the Endurance-class as its basis, until a cheaper alternative came along.



Late 2000s - Arroyo Administration's Multirole Vessels, and Strategic Sealift Vessel Part 1:
During the term of President Gloria Arroyo, plans were made again to acquire at least 1 Multirole Vessel (MRV), which is actually an LPD bundled together with the essential Humanitarian and Disaster Relief (HADR) and combat capable equipment which includes a mobile hospital, lorries, landing crafts and amphibious assault vehicles. Several models were taken into consideration, including the Spanish Galicia-class, the Singaporean Endurance-class, and the Makassar-class built by the Koreans for the Indonesians.


An MRV package (1 ship plus all ancillaries) was worth Php 5 billion, as set by the Department of National Defense after their own study and evaluation. Eventually the Philippine Navy planned to get two, both from South Korea possibly using a derivative of Daesun's Makassar-class design, and will be paid by Multi-Year Obligation Agreement (MYOA) which is an financial assistance plan that allows the Philippine government to pay for the product by installment for a few years.


The PN's MRV project during the term of former president Gloria Arroyo.
Photo taken from Timawa.net.


The plan was eventually cancelled as President Benigno Aquino III assumed office and a new policy on re-checking all deals entered by the Arroyo administration was made. The new administration believed that the MRV deal was overpriced and places the Philippine government at a disadvantage.

(More of the MRV project on the link here.)

Aside from the MRV, the Arroyo Administration also started a plan to acquire a so-called Strategic Sealift Vessel (SSV), the first time the term was used in a project. The plan calls for the acquisition of a Japanese second-hand civilian Roll-on, Roll-off (Ro-Ro) vessel for troop and vehicle transport around the archipelago and is an interim solution until an MRV will be available for the Philippine Navy. The proposal was made by the Center for Naval Leadership and Excellence, and a specific vessel was already eyed awaiting for approval and funding for the PN.


A Japanese Ro-Ro Vessel similar to this was planned for acquisition as the initial Strategic Sealift Vessel project.
Photo taken from MarineTraffic.com.


The project was also shelved due to the Philippine government's failure to immediately fund the project, and the eyed vessel was sold to another entity. No further attempt was made to look for another Ro-Ro vessel, and instead a new plan was made that calls for the integration of the MRV and SSV project into one, and this is what we now call the Strategic Sealift Vessel (SSV) project of the Aquino Administration.

(More of the SSV Ro-Ro on the link here)


Early 2010s - The Current Strategic Sealift Vessel:
The cancellation of the previous MRV and SSV projects paved way to a revised project, closely resembling the MRV project but without the package for ancillaries included which were decided to be acquired separately. This is now the Strategic Sealift Vessel that we know now.

Instead of a government to government route, the DND decided to hold a tender for the 2 ships with a budget of Php 4 billion. The technical specifications released were closely aligned to the Makassar-class LPD used by the Indonesian Navy. Several bidders gave interest although only ultimately only 2 entities submitted - Korea's Daesun which is the original builder of the Makassar-class, and Indonesia's PT PAL which built the Banjarmasin-class, itself a product of Daesun's technology transfer agreement with PT PAL. The Indonesian company later on won the bidding after Daesun's bid was disqualified for lack of supporting documents.


This was said to be the final design of the Philippine Navy's SSV.
Photo taken from kontan.co.id website.

The Philippine Navy's specs for the SSV was previously discussed in an older MaxDefense blog, with the link provided HERE. Compared to the previous MRV project, only the 2 landing crafts will remain as part of the contract, while the rest like the Amphibious Assault Vehicles were offered for bidding later on (which was won by South Korea's Samsung Techwin with the KAAV-7).

The first of class, which is still unnamed, held the first steel cutting ceremony last January 22, 2015, and the is expected to be delivered to the PN on or before May 2016. The second of the class is expected to start construction by mid-2015 and will be delivered by mid-2017. The Philippine Navy's Desired Force Mix whitepaper previously indicated the need for 4 SSVs, so it is probable that the PN will order 2 more similar ships in the future.


Photo taken from the 1st steel cutting ceremony of "SSV-1" last January 22, 2015.
Photot taken from suarasurabaya.net website.



Additional Used Amphibious-Capable Assets:
Aside from the two Strategic Sealift Vessels and their complementary landing crafts, the Philippine Navy were able to seal deals from friendly countries to transfer or sell their excess landing crafts. 

Korean LCU:
The first that came out is from South Korea, with a donation for an unnamed landing craft utility. MaxDefense believes it is a retired Mulgae-class LCU of the Republic of Korea Navy. There are still unconfirmed news that a second unit is being requested, although the news for the Korean transfers are still shady as of this writing. 


MaxDefense believes that the Koreans will transfer one of their retired Mulgae-class LCU, similar to the photo above.


Australian Balikpapan-class LCH:
The second batch of upcoming assets comes from Australia, with the donation of two retired Balikpapan-class Heavy Landing Crafts (LCH), the former HMAS Brunei and HMAS Tarakan. Both were donated by the Australian government and will be fully refurbished and delivered to the Philippine Navy by May 2015. In addition, the Australian government offered to sell three more retired Balikpapan-class LCH, the former HMAS Balikpapan, HMAS Wewak and HMAS Betano, with the offer accepted by the Philippine government at salvage prices.

Several Balikpapan-class heavy landing crafts during an amphibious assault exercises under the Royal Australian Navy. The Philippine Navy will be receiving a total of 5 units.
Photo taken from the Royal Australian Navy website.







With all these incoming assets, it's still not too late for the Philippine Navy. There are even plans to acquire more transport and amphibious assets from other countries, both new and used, due to their capability to transport goods during humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) operations. Being amphibious warfare assets, their primary mission is to bring in troops and assets by sea during combat operations, so these assets are very important for an archipelagic country like the Philippines.








Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Upcoming Balikpapan-class Landing Crafts-Heavy for the Philippine Navy - A Good Addition to the Fleet

The Australian Defence Minister Mr. Kevin Andrews announced plans to donate two former Royal Australian Navy landing crafts-heavy (LCH) to the Philippine Navy. This is in support of their commitment to improve the Philippines' humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) capabilities. The ships involved are the recently retired ships of the Balikpapan-class, the former HMAS Brunei (L 127) and HMAS Tarakan (L 129). According to the Australian Ministry of Defence, the two ships will be refurbished and installed with a new safety and navigation equipment before handing them over to the Philippine Navy. The expected hand-over of these ships can be made as early as May 2015.


One of the ships to be transferred to the Philippine Navy, the former HMAS Brunei (L 127).
Photo taken from worldwarships.com


Aside from the transfer of the said ships, the Australian MOD has offered three other Balikpapan-class landing crafts for sale to the Philippine government. They are the former HMAS Balikpapan (L 126), HMAS Wewak (L 130) and HMAS Betano (L 133), which were decommissioned by the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) in 2012. Recent media reports quoting Philippine Department of National Defense (DND) officials that they are indeed interested in acquiring the ships for US$16.5 million, including refurbishing works prior to delivery.



The Balikpapan-class Landing Craft Heavy (LCH)
The Australian-made Balikpapan-class landing craft heavy were first built and commissioned in 1971 for the Australian Army (later handed-over to the Royal Australian Navy). A total of eight (8) units were built as a replacement for the World War II era Landing Ship Mediums that Australia operated. Two of the LCH were later handed-over to the Papua New Guinea Defence Forces when the country became independent from Australia's administration in 1975.


Five Balikpapan-class ships during an amphibious landing exercise by the Royal Australian Navy.
Photo taken from RAN website.


Each ship is 44.5 meters long, 10.1 meters wide, a draught of 2.0 meters, and full load displacement of 517 tons. It has a 16-man crew, a carrying capacity of 180 tons of cargo, and is powered by two Caterpillar 3406E marine diesel engines propelling the ships to a maximum speed of 10 knots.



Comparison to Philippine Navy's Current Landing Craft Assets:
Compared to the Philippine Navy's lone Tagbanua-class landing craft utility (LCU) BRP Tagbanua (AT-296), the Balikpapan-class ships are smaller and slower (10 knots vs 15 knots maximum speed), but has a larger carrying load capacity than the Tagbanua (180 tons vs 110 tons). The Balikpapans also have a smaller internal space for passengers, and is mostly suitable in transporting vehicles and goods rather than people or troops, as compared to the Tagbanua which has a large internal capacity and seating for troops and shelter from outside conditions like sunlight, heat, or rain. Being old ships, expect the performance values of the Balikpapan-class to be less than written in sources, and it is expected that safety measures will be made which includes capping the maximum capabilities to a lesser degree than originally designed.


The Philippine Navy's BRP Tagbanua (AT-296) is larger and faster, but can carry less payload than the Balikpapan-class.


It would be almost similar in capability and design as the other locally-made Landing Craft Utility of the Philippine Navy, the lesser known BRP Manobo (BU-297). It has the same large open cargo deck suitable for bringing in vehicles just like the Balikpapan-class, although it appears that the Manobo is a longer ship. There is not much available information on the performance values of BRP Manobo although a source confirmed that it has even less capacity than the BRP Tagbanua although it also costs less to operate.



The BRP Manobo (BU-297) bringing in people and relief goods on unprepared ports.
Photo taken from the Philippine Navy's FB page.



The LCH in Philippine Setting:
There were several queries from MaxDefense readers in our Facebook page about the capabilities of the Balikpapan-class LCH.

Operating in the Kalayaan Group of Islands: Being a low-draft, flat hulled ship, the Balikpapan-class LCH are suitable for beaching operations that can be used during combat amphibious operations, or landing of equipment on unprepared ports or beaches. This could be very useful for HADR operations, as emphasized by the Australian MOD for its reason to grant two ships to the PN. Emergency vehicles such as construction equipment, lorries for transporting goods, and military vehicles like tanks and armored vehicles can easily be moved around the archipelago using these. But its design is not suitable for deep water operations on high sea states. 


The HMAS Betano (L 133) carrying several M113 armored vehicles of the Australian Army.



Being so, technically it can deliver supplies to the outposts of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in the Kalayaan Group of Islands (KIG), but due to its slow speed and design it may not be advisable to do so without support. At only 10 knots maximum speed, it would take 2 days for it to reach the KIG from Palawan, and another 2 days going back, plus the time it spends around the KIG delivering supplies. Although it takes almost the same time for an old Landing Ship Tank (LST) to do the same, it doesn't have the size and design to stay too long at open sea without the risk of getting into unfavorable weather conditions, unlike the larger LST.

It would be optimal to use the LCH on coastal waters or shallow waters, which include the territorial and archipelagic waters of the country, or in missions to nearby countries like Malaysia. This was proven by the BRP Tagbanua during its mission to Malaysia to bring in Filipinos fleeing Sabah a few years ago.


Docking Inside the Strategic Sealift Vessel's Well Deck:
Due to its high superstructure design and size, it is also not possible to dock the LCH inside the well decks of the upcoming Strategic Sealift Vessel / Landing Platform Dock. Although the SSV has its own landing craft, these are different in design and size. The Balikpapan-class is very much larger than those integral LC, and are actually capable of independent operation without reliance on larger "mother-ships" like the SSV. 


The Balikpapan's size won't even fit inside well decks of major US Navy amphibious vessels like the one above, more so on smaller LPDs like the Philippine Navy's SSV.



Weapons to be Installed:
Previously the Royal Australian Navy installed two 12.7mm machine guns as self-defense weapons of the ship. It is expected that the Philippine Navy would retain these guns, and might even fit each ship with either more machine guns, or install it with larger caliber guns like old 20mm Oerlikon guns previously installed on old PN ships and are now stored in the Naval Sea Systems Command warehouses.


A RAN crewman from the HMAS Balikpapan operating one of its 12.7mm machine guns.
Photo taken from the RAN website.


Don't expect missiles or other more advanced weapons to be installed other than the guns mentioned above.


LCH in the Desired Force Mix:
The Philippine Navy's Desired Force Mix whitepaper states that they need around 18 units of landing craft utility or similar designed ships for inter-island transport and as a smaller alternative to the service's Landing Ship Tanks and the upcoming Strategic Sealift Vessel / Landing Platform Dock. This acquisition fits in to this requirement, and would be a fast way of beefing up the fleet while the navy restarts any building program for more landing crafts like the BRP Tagbanua which takes time from planning to construction to commissioning. Other upcoming assets like Landing Crafts-Utility from South Korea is also another addition that could improve the short-term capabilities of the Philippine Navy. 



MaxDefense's Suggestion:
Since I have seen these ships upfront in the past, MaxDefense believes that these assets are still capable of use for at least 15 more years with proper maintenance and care. It is a good design that can even be used by the Philippine Navy and local shipyards as a basis for future landing craft design requirements.

Aside from landing crafts, MaxDefense suggests that the Philippine Navy acquire assets that could replace the ageing World War II era Landing Ships-Tank, which should be larger than the LCH and LCU, has the same beaching capability, and can be slotted in-between the landing crafts and the upcoming SSV/LPD. There are LST designs offered by friendly countries like Korea, India, and Indonesia that could be worth looking at, and is expected to be cheaper than the $42 million SSV. With the South Korean Navy upgrading its amphibious forces assets, it is also expected that they might be releasing their Go Jun Bong-class LSTs in the near future. LSTs have been proven to be an effective transport asset in the past, and even used by the PN for different duties including as patrol vessels, HADR assets, and even as helicopter platforms.


The ROKS Bi Ro Bong, one of the Go Jun Bong-class LSTs of the Korean Navy.
Photo taken from Wikimedia.


Another alternative to new LSTs are more Logistics Support Vessels similar to the Bacolod City-class of the Philippine Navy. These are simple-designed transport vessels, possibly cheaper to acquire than an LST, and its design is so simple that it can even be easily built in the Philippines. If the US Army would take them out of service anytime soon, MaxDefense suggests that the PN take a look at them. 




MaxDefense welcomes the impending addition of these assets for the Philippine Navy, and as an Australian, I am proud and thankful to the Australian government for its generous support to the Philippines.


Sunday, January 25, 2015

Finally, the Philippine Navy's BRP Ramon Alcaraz got its Mk.38 Mod.2 Guns

After a long wait, the Philippine Navy's BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF-16) finally got its 25mm Mk. 38 Mod. 2 close-in weapons system installed. It was reported more than a year ago that the PN's foremost naval asset will be receiving these 25mm gun weapon stations after a US report that there were 2 orders for the systems for the Philippine Navy. This is the Philippine Navy's first Mk. 38 Mod. 2 system, and the first Hamilton-class ship to have such mount.


The BRP Ramon Alcaraz in Cebu. For those with very good eyesight, the Mk. 38 Mod. 2 gun platform on the port side can be seen on this angle. It is just behind the red-colored RHIB.
Photo taken from Cebu Daily News / Inquirer.net


Since the report regarding the acquisition of this gun system involves only for 2 units, it was even anticipated that the PN would either arm one gun system each to the BRP Gregorio del Pilar (PF-15) and the BRP Ramon Alcaraz, or only 1 of the ships will have both guns. Previous statements coming from Navy officials even pointed out that the older Gregorio del Pilar was the chosen ship to get both guns, without mention if the Ramon Alcaraz will also be getting as well.


The actual Mk.38 Mod.2 gun on BRP Ramon Alcaraz. This looks like on the starboard side.
Photo taken from Geminirecon @ Timawa Forum.
The port side of the ship also shows the presence of the Mk.38 Mod.2 weapons mount.
Thanks to one of our MaxDefense reader who wants to remain anonymous, who went inside the ship and took some photos.


Rear photo of the gun showing the ammunition loading system.
Photo shared by a MaxDefense reader.


But here we now have some evidence that the BRP Ramon Alcaraz was indeed fitted with the guns. Several online social media sources, including those from MaxDefense readers who shared their photos confirming that there are indeed 2 guns in the said ship, both fitted on the midship port and starboard deck sides. The ships was available for viewing to the public as it was docked in Cebu after providing naval and air security during Pope Francis' visit in Tacloban City last week.


An Mk. 38 Mod.2 weapons system installed on a US Navy vessel.
Photo taken from Wikimedia,


It is worth noting that aside from the Oto Melara 76mm Compact main gun, the PF-16 has no other weapons before the installation of the 25mm chain guns other than several 50-caliber machine guns. Meanwhile its sistership PF-15 has two 20mm gun at the superstructure midships and a manually-operated Mk.38 Mod.0 chain gun at the ship's tail end.




The BAE-Rafael Mark 38 Mod. 2 Close-in Weapons System:

For the uninitiated, the Mk. 38 Mod. 2 gun system is a remote manually controlled 25mm gun station commonly found on US Navy ships. Produced by BAE Systems and Rafael and of Israel, two units were ordered as part of a larger order made by the US Navy. This is the newer and remote-control capable version of the Mk. 38 Mod. 0 gun system which is used by the Philippine Navy on several of its Andrada-class patrol boats, the Cyclone-class BRP Gen. Mariano Alvarez, and the secondary gun mounted on the aft of the PF-15. It uses a 25mm Bushmaster M242 chain gun and was designed to protect the ship at close range from small fast surface and slow aerial threats. US Coast Guard personnel were reportedly part of the installation team as the PN doesn't have the adequate experience to do the job on their own. For further information, MaxDefense recommends the manufacturer's website (link HERE).


A closer look of the PN's new Mk.38 Mod.2 gun mounted on the BRP Ramon Alcaraz.
Thumbs up to the PN and to our friend who went there and share these photos to us.


Each of the gun mount has its own EO system that allows the gun to be used on day & night and all weather conditions. Controls of the gun is done on a console with its own video feed screen, and the gun is trainable by joysticks. 


An example of what the Mk.38 Mod.2 control console looks like.



Aside from the Mk. 38 Mod. 2, the other remote-operated close-in weapons system the Philippine Navy currently uses is the MSI 25mm Seahawk mounted on the Jacinto-class patrol corvettes, which also uses the same 25mm M242 Bushmaster gun.

With the entry of this system into the Philippine Navy, it is expected that the same system might be acquired to arm several types of upcoming ships, including the Strategic Sealift Vessel which has already started construction and requires at least 2 mounts per ship, and the new light frigates which are being tendered. 


Other Interesting Finds on the Ship:
Aside from the installed guns, there are other points of interest that MaxDefense wants to share here:

A photo of the display console of the ship's Kelvin Hughes MantaDigital surface search and navigation radar system was also made available again. Until more capable radar systems become available for the ship, this would remain as the main eyes of the ship. 


A PN crew member discuss the use of the surface radar display console to the visitors.
Photo shared by one of our MaxDefense readers who wants to remain anonymous
.

Another interesting photo involves the shipboard AW-109 naval helicopter. It appears to be a normal now to see the helicopters paired together with the frigates. It may also be interesting to take note on how the aircraft is restrained on the flight deck when not in use. 




The AgustaWestland AW-109 Power naval helicopter on the ship's flight deck.
Photo shared by one of MaxDefense's readers.


Finally, although already confirmed before, the Philippine Navy has changed the Philippine Fleet's sub-unit's name where the frigates are assigned under their recently made restructuring program based on capability. Previously known as Patrol Force, it is now known as the Offshore Combat Force, in anticipation of the greater role the unit will undertake in the near future as more assets arrive. Its logo can been seen on the PF-16's superstructure near the Mk.38 Mod.2 guns. The other Philippine Fleet units that were also renamed as the Littoral Combat Force (formerly the Coastal Patrol Force), and the Sealift & Amphibious Force(formerly the Service Force).





With the BRP Ramon Alcaraz having its close-in gun systems, we now wait for its sistership BRP Gregorio del Pilar to have a similar weapons system, as well as for the 2 ships to get their highly-anticipated long-range surface and air search radar systems, and the defense/offensive missile systems as discussed in previous MaxDefense blog entries. With the year 2015 still in its infancy, expect more news on the upgrade of the 2 ships, especially with the impending awarding of the PN's new frigates coming very soon.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

More on the Philippine Air Force C-130T Acquisition: Is the PAF Acquiring Aerial Refueling Tanker?

The US Embassy released information last January 9, 2015 that the Philippine Air Force has completed a second inspection of two C-130T that are being offered for transfer to the aforementioned armed service. Photos from the US Embassy press release shows the Philippine officials with one of the aircraft with number 022, and was said to be in Joint Reserve Naval Air Station Fort Worth in Texas. The press release also indicated that the Philippine government, through Maj. Gen. Victor Bayani, has already signed the Letter of Offer and Acceptance signifying the approval to procure the inspected aircraft. Expected delivery was placed by 1st quarter of 2016, although no exact month was specified. 


PAF and US officials during the 2nd inspection of C-130T aircraft at Fort Worth, Texas.
Photo taken from US Embassy in the Philippines website.




Upon further checking with open sources, it appears that the said aircraft (#022) is not a US Navy aircraft C-130T as earlier expected, but is a US Marine Corps unit, with tail number 163022, and is actually a KC-130T multipurpose transport-tanker aircraft. It is also assumed that the second aircraft may also be the same type and may come from the same source. A second photo from the press release also showed the interior of one of the aircraft being inspected, and it does not have the updated glass cockpit done on the US Navy C-130T aircraft. Too bad that the photos provided by the US Embassy in the Philippines did not show the wing portion to confirm if the underwing refueling pod are still there.


More photos from the inspection of aircraft no. 022. Note the analog cockpit on the aircraft, whereas the expected US Navy aircraft were already modified to use glass cockpit types.
Photo taken from US Embassy in the Philippines website.


These KC-130T are actually former C-130H aircraft converted to be aerial refueling-capable in support of US Marines air operations. Open sources like C-130.net indicated that the 163022 was built in 1984, and was modified to be able to carry the probe-and-drogue refueling system which is currently used by the US Marines aviation assets like the F/A-18C/D Hornet and AV-8B Harrier as well as CH-53 Super Stallion large helicopter series. This is the same system used by the Saab's JAS-39 Gripen. But this system is different from those used by the F-16 Fighting Falcon and F-15 Eagle fighters, which uses the Flying Boom system. (More of these can be found in open sources for further information.)


KC-130T "022" with the wing-mounted aerial refueling system on the far end of the wings.
Photo taken from usamimi.info website.


Being KC-130T Means....
For the uninitiated readers, the "K" in the KC-130T designation means it is a tanker-capable aircraft in US military parlance. So it means the Philippine Air Force is acquiring an aerial refueling capable aircraft. BUT it doesn't necessarily mean the PAF is acquiring tanker aircraft.

What's the difference? 

The KC-130Ts (or we can currently call C-130T until further notice) might be aerial refueling-capable aircraft, but it is still unknown and unconfirmed if the deal to acquire them include having the refueling system intact and usable upon the aircraft's hand-over to the PAF. But not having the aerial refueling system does not mean the PAF cannot have them in the future. With the aircraft already made to be capable of such, any future decision by the PAF to return the aircraft to tanker-capable status is very much possible and easy, as compared to other C-130 aircraft without this current capability.


A KC-130 probe and drogue underwing refueling pod. The PAF may opt to have the aerial refueling system retained when they acquire the USMC C-130T.
Photo taken from Wikimedia.


Having them retained, which is very much possible, means that the PAF will be having an added capability of aerial refueling, a first in its history. 


How About Transport Missions?
Being a multi-purpose transport aircraft, it will retain its cargo-carrying capability for other purposes, including Humanitarian and Disaster Relief (HADR) operations. This is possible by removing the fuel tank system in the cargo hold, in which the KC-130 can easily be converted from a tanker aircraft to a standard transport aircraft, with almost the same load and space capacity as a regular C-130 Hercules. The underwing refueling pod can remain even when doing transport duties.


The KC-130's fuselage fuel tank, which can easily be carried or removed from the aircraft's cargo space to convert the C-130 from a tanker to a standard transport aircraft. This is the same unit used by the US Navy and US Marine Corps on their KC-130s.
Photo taken from ar-15.net.


Why Need for an Air Refueling Tanker Capability?
The Philippine Air Force currently has no aircraft capable of aerial refueling. But they can use the aircraft to train the organization in tanker and aerial refueling operations in anticipation of future requirements. Training early is actually good as it takes time to learn and master this system, and doing it early gives them this needed time to learn and be capable of using the system well by the time the first aerial refueling receiving aircraft arrive in PAF's inventory. This can be done by having aerial tankers participate to support US military aircraft during joint US-Philippines military exercises like Balikatan, while doing standard military and HADR transport missions. Its rapid fuel transfer system can also be used in ground operations when necessary, which can be both applicable in combat and HADR support operations.

Some of the incoming new assets for the PAF can be specified or modified to be capable of receiving fuel using probe-and-drogue aerial refueling. This includes the Airbus C-295 medium tactical transport aircraft, and probably the KAI FA-50 Fighting Eagle lead-in fighter trainers. Particularly for the FA-50 with its limitations in terms of range, endurance, and load capacity, having the capability of aerial fueling can extend its reach and enable it to carry more at long distances like in the possible conflict areas in the West Philippine Sea. Future maritime patrol aircraft (MPA), airborne early warning & control aircraft (AEWC), and multirole fighters (MRF) that the PAF aspires to acquire in the next few years can also benefit from such capabilities, especially with these assets are also expected to operate in the vast Philippine EEZ and ADZ.


With its small size, MaxDefense believes that the FA-50 Fighting Eagle must be given the capability to refuel on air, with installing a refueling probe system. It is possible that the PAF has already considered this requirement.






So, is the PAF acquiring aerial refueling tankers? Possibly, but still unconfirmed. But even if the PAF won't be getting the aircraft with the aerial refueling system intact, this is the closest they can get from having one, as making them have one is due to the inherent capability the aircraft already have for as long as support and budget is provided. So why not? Here are some examples of which platforms are compatible with the KC-130's probe-and-drogue system:


So let's see, who can use the probe-and-drogue aerial refueling system of the KC-130?
The Gripen can....


...Super Hornets also can use them....
(Photo taken from chinalakealumni.com)
...legacy F/A-18C Hornets also are compatible...
(Photo taken from Wikimedia)
...even the C-295 is OK with it!







Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Year Ender for 2014: A Summary of Updates of Philippine Navy Acquisition Projects

MaxDefense would like to end the year 2014 with a Summary of Updates of Acquisition Projects of the Philippine Navy, which also includes major items for the Philippine Marine Corps. Most of these were previously discussed in older MaxDefense blog entries or in recent postings in the MaxDefense Facebook page. This blog entry may also serve as a guide for future monitoring of the said projects, as this would be easily accessed unlike those in the FB pages.


1. Delivery of 2 Armed AW-109 Naval Helicopters
The last two of a total of five ordered AW-109 Power naval helicopters from AgustaWestland was reportedly delivered to the Philippine Navy on December 29, 2014, and are expected to be commissioned to active duty on January 16, 2015. These two units are expected to complement the two Gregorio del Pilar-class frigates while the three unarmed versions are expected to be land based until more helicopter-capable navy ships become available.

A photo of one of the new AW-109 Power naval helicopters being tested in Italy in October 2014.
Photo copyright owned by Fabrizio Capenti - Malpensa Spotters Group, taken from Airliners.net.


These helicopters differ from the earlier three units for being armed variants, with external loading capability that could enable the helicopter to carry different weapons systems ranging from gun pods, rocket launchers, and although still officially unconfirmed, can also be fitted to carry a torpedo. There were also previous indications that the helicopters are fitted with Electronic Countermeasures (ECM) systems which the earlier three helicopters do not have.

With the PN beginning to fully understand the capabilities of the helicopters, it is expected that further orders might be fulfilled to fully replace the ageing BO-105.


2. Updates on the Strategic Sealift Vessels (aka Landing Platform Dock)
The contract to build two Strategic Sealift Vessels (SSV), which is the project name to acquire Landing Platform Docks for the Philippine Navy, has been awarded to PT PAL of Indonesia and signed mid this year. And according to PT PAL and Philippine Navy press statements, the lead ship will be started within the 1st quarter of 2015 and will be delivered to the Philippine Navy on the 2nd quarter of 2016, while the second ship will be delivered by 2nd quarter of 2017. 

The scale model above is not yet the final design, and MaxDefense confirmed through its PN sources that there are changes in the helicopter deck and hangar design.


According to MaxDefense's PN sources, the final design of the ship has already been confirmed although minor details are still being finalized. It would be a derivative of PT PAL's own Banjarmasin-class LPD for the Indonesian Navy, and will have a mount for a 76mm forward main gun, remote weapons systems in the 20 to 30mm class similar to the Mk.38 Mod.2 being procured for other PN ships, mounts for Man-Portable Air Defense System (MANPADS) in the Mistral-Simbad class, and for 50-caliber heavy machine guns. The weapons will be separately procured by the Philippine Navy and it is still being determined if these weapons can be installed fully or partially by the time the ships are delivered.

MaxDefense is expecting more news of this project within the early part of 2015.



3. Updates on the New Frigate Acquisition Project:
The Philippine Navy recently confirmed that the new frigate acquisition project is still on the move, with all six interested bidders that passed the 1st stage bidding process still up in the running. The pre-bid conference for the 2nd stage bidding is scheduled on January 8, 2015, and bidding will be held probably before the end of February 2015. The PN expects the awarding and contract signing for the frigate contract within the 1st half of 2015 as they are trying to avoid further delaying the project.

Hyundai Heavy Industries offered the HDF-300 multipurpose frigate design, which is where the ROKN's Incheon-class frigate was based.


During the ADAS 2014, HHI confirmed that they are indeed offering a design based on their HDF-3000 multipurpose frigate which the South Korean Incheon-class was derived, while Navantia is offering a design based on their Avante series. Indian and French press releases regarding their participation (Garden Reach and STX France, respectively) in the project indicated their offers will have a displacement of more than 3,000 tons displacement and a length of more than 105 meters. STX France also previously indicated that they are offering a design based on their New Generation Surveillance Frigate.

As the pre-bid conference is scheduled within a few days, MaxDefense is also expecting more news regarding this project very soon.



4. Updates on the Anti-Submarine Helicopter Acquisition Project:
With AgustaWestland named as the only bidder that complied with the requirements of the Anti-Submarine Helicopter Acquisition project's 1st stage bidding, it is expected that the project will be moving on faster as the DND and PN would only need to deal with 1 bidder. Although they have passed through the 1st stage bidding, AgustaWestland still needs to comply to the requirements set for the project.

The chances for an awarding of the contract for 2 Anti-Submarine Helicopters to AgustaWestland is now high as they are the only complying bidder. AgustaWestland is offering its new AW159 Wildcat ASW helicopter.


The PN expects the award and signing of contract for this project to be completed within the 1st half of 2015, and will be paired closely to the PN's frigate acquisition project due to capabilities that require the helicopters and frigates to work closely with each other. 



5. Updates on the Missile-Equipped Multi-Purpose Assault Craft (MPAC):
Re-bidding for this project will be initiated this coming 2015, and there are reportedly some changes in the terms of reference of the project. It is expected that the same bidders as last time will be submitting their interest for this project.

One of the PN's MPACs, delivered as part of the 2nd batch of 3 units acquired a few years ago.
The PN's current requirement is for such to have short-range anti-surface missiles and a remote weapons station.
Photo taken from Interaksyon.com.


It is expected that these MPACs will be physically larger than the two current sub-classes being used by the Philippine Navy, although it would be retaining most of its performance attributes. 



6. Commissioning of 3 Naval Tankers provided by PNOC:
Originally intended to be commissioned this year, the Philippine Navy has rescheduled the entry of 3 tankers, all still unnamed, after some reworks on the ships that will enable them to do replenishment at sea missions in support of the fleet. These are former oil tankers of the Philippine National Oil Company that were given to the Philippine Navy this year.

No exact schedule yet on when these ships will enter naval service.



7. Hand-over of a Pohang-class Corvette and LCU from South Korea:
According to previous reports from Korean media, the Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN) will decommission several ships in their fleet before the end of the year, including the Ulsan-class frigate ROKS Ulsan, a couple of Pohang-class corvettes, and several patrol killer gunboats. Among those is ROKS Gyeongju (PCC-758), which is speculated to be the ship to be handed-over to the Philippine Navy. 

The ROKS Gyeongju (PCC-758), which was reportedly the unit to be provided to the Philippine Navy.


It is expected that the deal for transfer of the ship to the PN will be similar to what the Colombians had when they got some ships from the Korean government this year. Refurbishing will be done in Korea, and will be paid for by the Philippine government, before the ship can be sent to the Philippines for commissioning. There are already preparations being made by the PN for people to be sent to Korea, although information regarding this has been tight lately.

Aside from the Pohang-class corvette, there are also reports that a retired LCU of the Mulgae-class, will also be included, which was discussed previously in a MaxDefense blog entry. No new information though regarding development on this acquisition.

An example of a Mulgae-class LCU from South Korea.



8. Possible Offers of More Korean Excess Defense Articles for the Philippine Navy:
In relation to the availability of excess Pohang and Ulsan class warships, there are strong speculations that the Korean government has been pushing hard for the Philippine Navy and Department of National Defense to choose a Korean shipbuilder to win the new frigate acquisition project, and other Korean defense manufacturers like Samsung Techwin, Samsung Thales, Hyundai Rotem, Doosan, and LIG Nex1 in other defense acquisition projects. 

ROKS Chongju (FF-961), an example of an Ulsan-class frigate from South Korea.


The offer was said to include conditional offers to transfer more Pohang-class corvettes, and probably a couple of Ulsan-class frigates. Although this is not limited to the Koreans, with other bidders reportedly having similar conditional offers as well. According to MaxDefense's PN sources, the Navy is indeed very much interested in acquiring several of the both classes as it also pushes to retire more of its ex-World War 2 assets.



9. Acquisition of 8 Amphibious Assault Vehicles:
The tender for the acquisition of 8 units of AAVs resulted to only Samsung Techwin submitting a bid, with an offer for their AAV7 armored vehicle. These vehicles will be embedded with the SSV that the PN acquired (please see #2 above).

Samsung Techwin's AAV7 is a licensed copy of the original AAV7 / LVTP-7 built by BAE Systems.


Post qualifications have reportedly been completed although there were no confirmation if Samsung Techwin was able to comply with the requirements. It is expected that an award for this project will be made early next year, as the 2-stage bidding process was also cut short with the entry of only 1 bidder. It is expected that the PMC will acquire more AAVs as the PN acquires more SSV and other amphibious naval ships to support Marine operations.



10. Shoulder-Launched Multipurpose Assault Weapon (SMAW) for the Marine Corps:
The Philippine Navy confirmed recently that they have started evaluating the Philippine Marine Corps (PMC) requirement for Shoulder-Launched Multipurpose Assault Weapon (SMAW) to replace the ageing and heavy recoilless rifles still used by the service. 

An old catalog of the SMAW, as marketed by the now defunct McDonnel Douglas Astronautics Company.


As discussed before in MaxDefense, this project has been in the pipeline for more than 2 years now, and it is curious to know why the PN only started the evaluation of this project recently. It is unclear yet if the PMC is interested in the original SMAW weapon used by the US Marines, or is still looking for a different model from other sources. It is interesting to note that the Philippine Army went separate ways on the decision to replace old recoilless rifles, with the Army choosing the RPG-7USA made by American arms company Airtronic.



10. 155mm Towed Howitzers for the Philippine Marine Corps:
Previously reported as a joint Philippine Army-Philippine Marine Corps project, and was reported won by Israeli company Elbit Systems Land and C4I, recent press releases by the Philippine Navy indicated that the project will again undergo a rebidding for still unknown reasons. 

The Elbit Systems Athos 155mm towed howitzer, which was initially selected as a winner for a joint PA-PMC 155mm towed howitzer acquisition project. The PN confirmed recently that a rebidding will take place soon.


If another bidding is to proceed, it is expected that this will happen within the 1st quarter of 2015, although it is still unclear if this will still be a joint acquisition with the Philippine Army. It appears also that the PMC is interested in acquiring support systems for the artillery system, including targeting radar and fire control computer systems.




Aside from those listed above, there are still many other projects under the Philippine Navy that are not discussed anymore, but will be given coverage in future MaxDefense blog entries as more information becomes available for public consumption.



Although 2014 has not been a very good year for the AFP Modernization due to several delays encountered due to questions on the source of funding, especially with the legislative moves questioning the legality of Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) and usage of the Malampaya Trust Fund, the AFP and DND were able to use the time to allow most of the projects to move quickly as issues are being cleared by early 2015. 

MaxDefense wishes the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Department of National Defense, and all MaxDefense blogs and Facebook page readers a very Merry Christmas and a Happy, Prosperous New Year!! Wishing a faster-paced modernization program and additional support and budget from the national government to broader up the program further!