Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Philippine Navy Interested with US-made SWATH Vessel, and Proposal for Other Alternatives

News of the Philippine Navy showing interest in an Alaskan borough-owned ferry has surfaced recently on several defense forums and groups after news reports from Alaska identified the Philippine Navy as one of the possible buyers. Currently the Matanuska-Susitna (Mat-Su) Borough owns the said vessel, M/V Susitna, and wanted to sell it off.

M/V Susitna during operational testing. Note the cargo hold is lifted during normal cruising.
Photo taken from Vigor Industrial website. 

The M/V Susitna:
M/V Susitna is actually a half-scale prototype for a proposed  Expeditionary Landing Craft (E-Craft) requirement for the US Navy, and was made by Alaska Ship & Drydock using a design from Guido Perla & Associates and concept from Lockheed Martin for the Office of Naval Research in 2010, and costed $78 million to build. It was reportedly planned as a "3-in-1" vessel, being a High Speed Catamaran that uses the SWATH (small waterplane area twin hull) design, with a variable draft system that allows the ship to shift from SWATH mode to barge mode by lowering or raising the center deck which carries the cargo, using an advanced hydraulic system. The ship was also designed with icebreaking capability (the first icebreaking SWATH ship in the world), and has the capability to beach and used on unprepared docks.

The MV Susitna is beachable, which is very important for use on damaged or unprepared docks.
Photo taken from gCaptain website.

Basic specifications of the ship are as follows:
Crew: 5 men
Range: 800nmi @ 16 knots, 1,600nmi @ 10 knots;
Length (overall): 59.54 meters;
Beam (overall): 18.29 meters;
Design Draft: 3.66 meters;
Design Displacement: 940 long tons (955 metric tons);
Maximum Speed: 20 knots;
Propulsion: 4 x MTU 12V4000 M70 (2,435hp each) Diesel Engines;
Radars: Kelvin Hughes Manta 30kw S-band, 10kw X-band;
Depth Sounders: Furuno FE700 echo sounder

The ship's payload details are as follows:
Center Barge (cargo hold): 160' x 35', approx. 5,400ft²  (around 501m²)
Capacity: 35 tons normal load
 * 129 passengers plus 20 standard vehicles or 1 tractor-trailer rig
 * No passenger, 1 M1A1 Abrams tank or multiple smaller combat vehicles

The lower and upper deck plans of the M/V Susitna.
Drawing taken from Mat-Su Borough Purchasing Division RFI document.

Most on the ship's basic specifications can be seen on the link HERE:

Although the ship was being evaluated by the US Navy, it was intended to be used as a civilian ferry for a local Alaskan government unit and service between the city of Anchorage to Port MacKenzie. But the ferry project failed and the ship was left with the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, who currently maintains it until a buyer can be found. It is reportedly being sold for only $6 million, just enough to help the borough pay for their bills and free them of maintenance costs.

The M/V Susitna before launching from Alaska Ship & Drydock's facility in 2010.
Photo taken from Valor Industrial website.

Enter the Philippine Navy:
MaxDefense has been monitoring this development for some time, and so far no confirmation was made by the Philippine Navy or the Philippines' Department of National Defense if they will acquire the vessel or not. So far PN sources confirmed that they have sent representatives to Alaska to inspect the vessel together with US Navy representatives last August 29, 2014. No word yet regarding their findings and evaluation. The presence of US Navy representatives might mean that the ship could be acquired with US Navy or government partcipation either through FMS, or will be possibly be shouldered by the US government under a US defense grant or part of its annual defense aid it gives to the country. No confirmation though on how the acquisition will be done should there be an agreement between the PN and the US government.

According to the PN sources, they are looking at the vessel due to its versatility and capability to deliver men and materiel directly to the beach, or on unprepared docks which are essential features of a capable transport ship during peacetime Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) operations and military and civilian supply missions, and in support of wartime amphibious operations. Aside from the ship's capabilities, the reported $6-8 million pricetag plus logistics support, training and other expenses, with regards to the technology it possess and its age (the ship is only 4 years old and was barely used), was a major factor of the PN's interest on the ship. Also, the PN sources confirmed to MaxDefense that the budget to acquire the ship, should it happen, will be from other sources and not from the AFP Modernization program. 

It should be remembered that the DND and AFP are looking to increase their HADR capability during the aftermath of the back-to-back disasters the Philippines faced in 2013 (Typhoon Haiyan and Bohol Earthquake), with calls for the AFP to have better capability to quickly respond to emergencies. The situation in the Kalayaan Group of Islands, with the absence of prepared docks and presence of Chinese Coast Guard patrol vessels, make the ship an effective platform for resupply missions. This vessel, if acquired, will be one of these dual-use equipment that can immediately be delivered to the PN should a confirmation be made soon. 

Parts of Samar were destroyed after Typhoon Haiyan hit the island. Unprepared or damaged docks, or beaches similar to that shown in the photo, can still be serviced by ships like the M/V Susitna.

Aside from the PN, there are many other interested buyers on the ship, mostly private corporations and oil companies, so a decision to acquire the ship or not will probably be made in a few months.

MaxDefense's Analysis:
The ship is actually cheap for the technology and capability it possess: a variable geometry, variable draft transport ship that is beachable, with ice breaking capability, and speeds of 20 knots, and almost new and barely used for $6 to 8 million (probably without transfer and other ancillary expenses). Findings during inspection of 3rd party valuation inspector found the ship in excellent condition. And best of all, it is readily available for transfer to whoever buys it. It would be best to compare the ship to its nearest equivalent to the Philippine Navy: the BRP Tagbanua (AT-296).

The BRP Tagbanua (AT-296) (above), the PN's newest transport asset, is the best platform to compare the M/V Susitna as they have almost comparable capabilities.

1. Price and Age:
The M/V Susitna originally costs $78 million in US taxpayer's money to construct, and they're selling it between $6 to $8 million ++ after 4 years of moored in cold Alaskan waters, barely used only for tests and trial runs, and for maintenance. The BRP Tagbanua was acquired by the Philippine Navy for a contract price of Php 178,900,000.00 (around $4.2 million in 2011). Both are almost the same age, with the M/V Susitna only more than a year older, still quite young for a used vessel. Based on this, the Alaskan ship is actually cheap considering that the price is not much different from the locally made and less technologically advanced BRP Tagbanua. It is also worth noting that Tagbanua is also actually cheap if compared to similarly but foreign built vessels of the same class.

Looking at the recent photo of the M/V Susitna above, it really does look immaculate.

2. Speed, Range, and Sea State Level:
The design of the M/V Susitna's hull was supposed to cut through the water more efficiently than standard transport ships, the Tagbanua included. The Susitna's maximum speed of 18 knots is barely higher than the Tagbanua's designed maximum speed of 15 knots, although it is expected that the twin-hull design of the US-made ship is more stable and less drag than the PN's LCU. The catamaran has a designed range of 1,600nmi @ 10 knots and is certified to operate to up to Sea State 3 although there were claims that the ship operated well in higher sea states. No range and sea state certification was found for the AT-296, although it is expected to be in the same range as the catamaran.

3. Payload:
This is where the M/V Susitna fails to beat the BRP Tagbanua. While the Susitna has a larger cargo deck of 501m² compared to the Tagbanua's 250m², the LCU beats in payload capacity as it can carry up to 110 tons of cargo versus the catamaran's measly 35 tons. With the catamaran having a higher displacement than the LCU, the design of heavy icebreaking hull is actually be a disadvantage since there's no use for this capability in tropical waters, while increasing the total weight of the ship and reducing its payload capacity as well.

The BRP Tagbanua's cargo deck is narrow and smaller than that of the M/V Susitna, yet it can carry heavier equipment unlike the catamaran. But the Susitna's capacity is good enough to carry lighter loads.
Photo taken from Rappler.

In this case, the Susitna may not be a good transport vessel for heavy equipment like tanks and bulldozers, although it could be a good asset to carry light vehicles and relief goods, or using the large deck to transport people for short distances. 

4. Fuel Efficiency, Maintenance:
The heavier M/V Susitna is powered by four 2,400hp MTU 12V4000 M70 engines, while the 40% lighter BRP Tagbanua is driven by a single Caterpillar CAT C32 ACERT 1,600hp diesel engine. You decide who drinks more fuel.

With more mechanical parts than a standard military or civilian transport ship, plus the vaunted advanced hydraulic lifting system for the cargo hold, it is also expected that the M/V Susitna may require more maintenance checks, spare parts, and a more complicated maintenance program that equates to more costs. 

The M/V Susitna is a very nice ship to have, with technological features and extra capabilities that the PN might be happy to have. Technology-wise, having it means access for the PN to study for its self-reliance programs, and with the ship already awaiting a buyer, it is actually the best to have if the need is very immediate. In the case of the PN, they might be in a hurry to acquire an HADR-capable vessel very soon as the super typhoon season is fast approaching. 

Politically speaking, it is also worth looking at the US Navy's involvement in the acquisition. While we do not know how the PN intends to acquire the ship should they be interested, the US Navy might be instrumental to the acquisition, and it might be possible that they would grant the ship just to help the Mat-Su Borough get though with the pain of paying for its continuous upkeep without generating anything for the local government unit.

But it is also worth considering the PN's track record in terms of paying for acquisition and maintenance expenses. At the reported offer price, it is actually cheap, and the national government may already have the budget ready and only awaiting for the PN's approval. But the expected maintenance cost, coupled with the possible high operating cost might be a strong reason for the PN to decline the offer. MaxDefense's proposal is for the PN to only maximize the use of this ship in emergency situations, where money is not an issue when time is of the essence and lives are at stake.

MaxDefense believes that the PN should study this offer very well, although they must do it fast as there are many other possible candidates who might be willing to acquire the ship. 

The Australians have started taking out their Balikpapan-class heavy landing crafts. The PN could take them in if they are still in good condition.
Photo taken from Wikipedia.

Other proposals include the acquisition of other readily-available assets from other sources. The Australians have recently decommissioned their Balikpapan-class heavy landing crafts, which could be sold for cheap due to their age, while the Koreans have already started disposing some of their older landing crafts, with one example already reportedly recently donated to the PN. Also, it is expected that the Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN) is about to take-out some of their Go Jun Bong-class landing ship tanks to give way to newer ships that are coming in soon. The PN should take advantage of these assets not only to for HADR operations, but also to replace the already delapidated World War II US-made LSTs sisterships of the BRP Sierra Madre that the PN continues to operate. For long term, the PN must continue to acquire new LCUs similar to its BRP Tagbanua, which is said to have some identified flaws that could be rectified in newer derivatives of the ship class.

The PN is scheduled to receive a used Korean-made Landing Craft Utility from the ROKN. There are more of these in ROKN's stocks that are expected to be taken out of service very soon.
The PN should also take a closer look at the Korean Go Jun Bong-class LST to replace the PN's WW2-era LSTs. These are good long term solutions to replace old PN transport assets.
Photo taken from Wikipedia.

September 7, 2014:
A recent news report from the Alaska Dispatch News indicated that the Mat-Su Borough is really in a hurry to dispose the M/V Susitna due to mounting upkeep expenses, and is hoping that the recent visit by Philippine Navy officials will bear fruit. Due to the ship being a previous project by the US Navy, it is expected that any acquisition of the ship by foreign governments may require it to be done through their supervision. 

It was also indicated that should the PN acquire the ship, it would be modified from a day-only vessel to an asset that has provisions for all-day operations, including enclosed passenger compartments for troops or civilian evacuees. This means that the costs of acquiring the ship may go up from the original $6 million, with the additional costs going to logistics support and spare parts, training of ship crew and maintenance teams, modifications based on Philippine Navy requirements, and shipping from Alaska to the Philippines. MaxDefense believes that this would probably double the total acquisition cost of the ship.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Israeli Firm Confirmed Winner for Force Protection Equipment for the Philippine Army and Marine Corps

After post qualification was done by the Philippines' Department of National Defense, it was determined that a joint venture between Israeli protective equipment manufacturer Achidatex Nazareth Elite and Filipino shipbuilder Colorado Shipyard Corp. won the tender for the Force Protection Equipment Acquisition Project for the Philippine Army and Philippine Marine Corps. A Notice of Award was provided to the joint venture last July 28, 2014, with Colorado Shipyard being the local proponent on behalf of the Israeli manufacturer.

Aside from Achidatex Nazareth Elite, other participants of the bidding were Serbian company UM-Merkata DOOMKU Private Limited of India, and Korean conglomerate Kolon Global Corp.

Only a few Philippine Army and Philippine Marine Corps units wear complete personal protective gear of at least a Kevlar helmet and bullet proof vest even in frontline duties. The Force Protection Equipment will try to change that with regards to bullet proof vests.

The Approved Budget for the Contract (ABC) for this project is Php 1,763,200,00.00, and the amount submitted by the joint venture was at around Php 1.4 billion. 44,080 body armors were required by the DND, and the Invitation to Bid was issued on February 2013. Delivery was stated by the DND to be 365 days from the opening of Letter of Credit. So far, a formal contract signing between the DND and the joint venture has not yet been made, but it is expected that the initial batch of protection vests will be delivered to the AFP by around 3rd quarter of 2015.

Each Force Protection Equipment (as named by the DND and AFP) is said to weigh between 5.8-6.8 kilograms each, with consideration to the standard body structure of a typical Filipino soldier. 

Achidatex has several bullet proof vest designs in its product line, including the AC-331D design seen above.

This is actually the second attempt by the DND to bid out the requirement. The first attempt was done last 2012 and the lowest bid was made by UM-Merkata DOO, although they failed the post qualification inspections and according to MaxDefense sources, the PA and PMC also slightly revised the specifications that were used in the latest bidding.

For this specific tender, Korean company Kolon Global Corporation was originally declared the lowest bidder, whose submitted bid amount was at only around Php 894,000,000.00. But they failed the post-bid qualifications after the DND found that the vests offered by Kolon was non-compliant, specifically the ballistic protection plate was shorter than required by the Technical Specifications. Kolon believes their product was compliant as their plate was curved and the DND inspection team measured using a straight line method from end to end of the plate, and no following the length of the arc, thus the measurement was by somewhere between 1 to 2 centimeters. There were concerns from Kolon Global that the DND BAC was favoring certain companies for the project.

Philippine Army troopers during the Zamboanga City siege of 2013. No helmets, no bullet proof vest. This increases the number of injuries and casualties during firefights.

Achidatex Nazareth Elite is a company under the DFNS Group, which specializes in protective equipment and services. Achidatex specializes in personal, vehicle, and building protection systems, and produces their own armoring systems although the entire DFNS Group may provide all the necessary ancillary items included in the product.

It is not yet confirmed though on what is the actual participation of the  local shipbuilder Colorado Shipyard Corp. with regards to this project. Aside from their affiliate company Philippine Rigid Construction Corp., MaxDefense has not yet confirmed if they have started expanding their business into other businesses aside from shipyard and construction. 

Although this project is already late and should have been given one of the top priorities of the AFP Modernization Program, its award to Achidatex represents and important step towards modernizing the basic infantry of the PA and PMC together with the acquisition of new combat boots (which is still pending after the failure of the new locally made Kubar combat boots), more Kevlar helmets, tactical vests and communications equipment, new assault rifles, and heavier infantry weapons. 

With this blog entry released, just a few hours later another blogger copied almost the exact content found here. To the blog owner of Project Philippine blogs and moderators of the Modernize the Philippines Facebook page, whom I believe read our entries, have some originality on your work and not just rearrange the paragraphs taken from other sources.

Project Philippines' blog entry on the same topic can be found here:


MaxDefense readers, you decide.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Upgrades for the Philippine Navy's Gregorio del Pilar-class Frigates on the way

The Philippine Navy is expected to proceed with the upgrades for their Gregorio del Pilar-class frigates soon, with the program already more than a year delayed. The program will be divided into several scopes, but major emphasis will be given on up-arming the ships and providing them with a reasonable surveillance and detection capability.

The two Gregorio del Pilar-class frigates of the Philippine Navy during naval exercises with the US Navy.
Photo taken from the US Navy via Wikipedia.

There are earlier indications from MaxDefense sources that the separation of the new frigate weapons acquisition from the original frigate acquisition project can closely be attributed to other weapons system requirements of the PN. This includes the upgrade for the Gregorio del Pilar-class frigates and other weapons systems for upcoming PN naval assets.

Currently, the lead ship BRP Gregorio del Pilar (PF-15) is better armed compared to its sistership BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF-16), which as of this writing is headed to Northern Australia to participate in the bi-annual KAKADU 2014 exercises. Compared to the PF-16, the PF-15 is armed with a single Mk.38 Mod. 0 chain gun, positioned where the Phalanx CIWS was previously located. It is also armed with two 20mm Oerlikon guns, which the PF-16 currently lacks.

Weapons Systems:
Latest information from the Philippine Navy suggests that the BRP Gregorio del Pilar will undergo the 1st phase of the up-arming program, which is to install two (2) BAE Mk. 38 Mod. 2 MGS (Machine Gun Systems), one each on the port and starboard midship decks. The Mk.38 Mod. 2 MGS is a remote-controlled weapons system mounting the 25mm M242 auto cannon, with a 2.5km range to defend the ship against small, fast surface threats. Although this can be considered as a Close-in Weapons System (CIWS), it is not designed to shoot fast aircraft and incoming anti-ship missiles like the Phanalx. 

The BAE Mk.38 Mod.2 25mm MGS are to be installed on the Gregorio del Pilar-class frigates, and probably with other upcoming naval assets.
Photo taken from Wikipedia.

The gun systems are reportedly now with the PN, and were originally planned to be installed on the BRP Ramon Alcaraz, but the decision to shift to the leadship was made by the PN leadership. Any plans to install the same weapons to the PF-16 means that the PN would made an order with the US government, possibly under the US Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program similar to how the 2 earlier guns were acquired. No definite new orders were made yet, although MaxDefense expects the PN to acquire not just 2 MGS, since the upcoming new frigates and Strategic Sealift Vessles (SSV) requires similar systems as well. A bulk buy might be the course for the PN.

MaxDefense sources also confirmed that the PN is "strongly interested" in acquiring the Raytheon Phalanx CIWS for the Gregorio del Pilar-class an "a number of other ships". The Phalanx is the US Navy's premier short range hard kill system against anti-ship missiles and aircraft, and uses a 20mm 6-barrel M61 Vulcan gatling gun. It is the best CIWS system that can be fitted to the Gregorio del Pilar-class, as they were previously armed with this one each, but was removed as it was not part of the deal between the Philippine and US governments for the transfer of the ships to the PN. The Phalanx does not require lengthy deck penetration works, allowing for easy installation and avoid costly modifications.

The Raytheon Phalanx mutli-barrel CIWS is eyed by the PN for its major naval assets.
Photo taken from Wikipedia.

The PN's decision was due to considerations for ship survivability issues, as the greatest threats they expect to face would probably be from anti-ship missile attacks from surface, air, or sub-surface platforms, or torpedo attacks from submarines. Should they be acquired for the Gregorio del Pilar-class, the Phalanx would probably be installed on the ship's aft where the US Coast Guard previously installed a similar CIWS. The PN has even included the Phalanx in its training systems, including the new multi-mission tactical simulator, as an integral weapons system of the frigate.

The PN has long announced its desire to arm the frigates with anti-ship missiles (AShM) which would give them a long range striking capability against hostile surface assets. Surprisingly, the PN has not yet made a final decision on this part, even if they made their announcement of plans to acquire such systems as early as 2012. According to MaxDefense sources, the PN's top choise is the US-made Boeing RGM-84 Harpoon missile system, although they are also open to use alternative missile systems offered by other countries, with special mention of those from Israel. 

A Harpoon missile launched from the Australian frigate HMAS Warramunga. A similar system may find its way to the PN's Gregorio del Pilar-class frigates.
Photo taken from Seaforces.org. 

The Gregorio del Pilar-class is not a stranger to the Harpoon missile system as well, with the ships fitted by the USCG with the said system a few decades ago as part of their capability improvement in support of the US Navy during the late part of the Cold War. These were removed when the USCG's mission profile did not require the missiles, which are considered as offensive weapons. According to PN sources, their 2 frigates can easily be re-installed with the system, and will be mounted on the deck space between the 76mm main gun and the bridge area.

The former USCGS Hamilton (WHEC-715), now the BRP Gregorio del Pilar (PF-15), with the two quadruple Harpoon missile launchers on its deck. This is preferably the best position should the PN acquire Harpoons for the ships.

Air Defense systems, using short range man-portable anti-aircraft missile systems, are being planned as well, although it was also learned by MaxDefense that a possible bulk-acquisition for such systems for other current PN warships is being planned. Possible recipients of such missile systems include the lone Cyclone-class inshore patrol vessel BRP Mariano Alvarez (PS-38), the entire Jacinto-class offshore patrol vessels, and the reported upcoming former ROKN Pohang-class corvette. Among those looked at by the PN are the French Mistral from MBDA, the Korean Chiron from LIG Nex1, the American FIM-92 Stinger from Raytheon, and the Russian 9K38 Igla-S (these are among the weapons systems offered by Russia recently). These missiles would be mounted on a manually-operated multiple-missile launch platforms.

Although the frigates were also previously armed with anti-submarine torpedoes, plans to acquire such weapons for the Gregorio del Pilar-class are still unconfirmed as of this writing. The PN already made an indication of interest for such, but this would probably be at the back-burner as far as up-arming programs are concerned. 

Surveillance and Detection Sensors:
The PN is actually also looking at improving the "eyes and ears" of the ships by installing surveillance radar systems that can detect threats from the surface and air. Currently the ships are installed with a commercial-spec'ed  navigational radar system, and are equipped with the Mk.92 Mod.1 fire control systems. Previously, the ships were equipped with the AN/SPS-40 air search radar, which were removed by the USCG before handing-over the ships to the PN. 

Previous information from sources indicated that the frigate may likely receive the same radar systems being planned for the upcoming new frigates. Since the PN has not yet decided on the new frigate's would-be shipbuilder, system integrator and systems suppliers, there is no final decision yet on what the PN may be getting for the Gregorio del Pilar-class. But the chances of getting at least a 3D search radar as indicated in previous MaxDefense blog entries are high.

The PN may opt for a 3D air-surface search radar system, although it may be dependent on the type they intend to install on the upcoming new light frigates. The PN may do a wise decision of making a bulk-acquisition to include additional units for the GdP-class frigates.
Photo taken from Thales Nederland website.

Installation of missile systems on the frigates may also include the installation of new fire control radar systems, which may either complement or replace the currently installed gun-only Mk. 92 Mod.1 system.

Although the PN has highlighted the importance of anti-submarine warfare in its future capability, they may not immediately provide the frigates with an inboard sonar system although there are plans to have them on the entire class. There are no word yet if the PN may opt to go for a hull-mounted system, a towed array sonar, or for both systems to be available on the ships. It is possible though, that the PN may only opt for 1 of the possible systems. It would also probably be dependent on the type on sonar system to be used on the upcoming new light frigates.

A towed-array sonar system like the CAPTAS system (above), may be considered by the PN for upgrading the ASW capabilities of the Gregorio del Pilar-class frigates.
Photo taken from Thales website.

The Philippine Navy has already taken steps in pursuing these plans for the Gregorio del Pilar-class frigates, and it would not take long for them to finally award these systems to respective manufacturers. The PN and DND may opt to directly negotiate for the acquisitions, either through a Government-to-Government (G2G) or Foreign Military Sales (FMS) deal, or a direct commercial sale depending on the source of the systems. 

These upgrades would also render the ships out of action for some months from patrol duties in the West Philippine Sea and other disputed areas. So MaxDefense expects these upgrades to be carefully scheduled and will be done on a one-by-one basis. Should the PN actually get the reported donation of a Pohang-class corvette, it would be expected to take some of the burden of the frigates' missions, and its presence would enable the PN to allow at least one of the frigates to be out of service for a few months.

It would be interesting to note that the upcoming new light frigates being tendered by the Philippine Navy would have a possible strong influence on the choices of weapons and surveillance systems to be acquired for the current frigates. As an early advice for those surprised by the split of the weapons from the new light frigate acquisition program, that was nothing new and was just formality to enable the PN to acquire the system it prefers for the new frigates, while freeing up the burden from the shipbuilders. This would be further discussed on upcoming MaxDefense blog entries regarding updates on the PN Frigate Acquisition Program.

August 23, 2014:
IHS Jane's recently reported and confirmed that the PN is already preparing the weapons and electronics upgrades for the Gregorio del Pilar-class. The report specified that the PN wanted the ships to have at least the systems it had during their service with the USCG, including having the Phalanx CIWS and Harpoon anti-ship missiles.


Thursday, August 14, 2014

PAF's Long Range Patrol Aircraft - Tech Specs, Post-Bidding Report and Updated Analysis

The Philippines' Department of National Defense (DND) released a Supplemental Bid Bulletin dated July 24, 2014 for the Philippine Air Force's (PAF) Long Range Patrol Aircraft Aquisition Project. It included the initial technical specifications, which would be the basis for the 1st stage of the 2-stage bidding for the project.

A Lockheed P-3C Orion dropping sonobuoys.  Refurbished and upgraded P-3C were originally eyed by the Philippines for acquisition via US government FMS. But the deal did not push through and the DND opened a competition for new build MPA.

The PAF was a user of Fokker F-27MPA Maritimes in the past, but a replacement was not made for several years until the current LRPA project.
Photo taken from Wings Pallete website.

A summary of the technical specifications are as follows:

Technical Specifications - Aircraft (Major):
Numbers: 2 units, brand new, factory new;
Engine: at least 2 turboprops using Jet A1 fuel, jet engine not acceptable;
Minimum Payload at Maximum Fuel: at least 11,000 lbs;
Endurance: 7 hours
Cruising Speed: at least 200 knots;
Range: at least 1,400 nmi;
Service Ceiling: at least 25,000 feet;
Engine Time Before Overhaul (TBO): at least 3,600 hours;
Seating: at least 3 at cockpit, at least 10 for cabin;
Communication: at least 2 High Frequency Communication radios, at least 2 UHF radios, at least 2 marine band radios, at least 1 Satellite Communications (SATCOM), at least 1 Encryption unit;
Other Features: lavatory, 2 optic observation glass window, crew rest area for at least 3 crew,  hardpoints for weapons and pods, and external stores.

Technical Specifications - Mission and Surveillance System:
Console: 4 operator multi-functional consoles, physically and functionally identical, software the same as consoles on ground stations. Must be able to show tactical situation window, live or recorded EO/IR and radar video, sensors window (radar, ELINT/SIGINT/COMINT, acoustics, MAD), and other special windows (navigation data, data link and communication, display management);
Airborne Tactical System (ATS): to integrate mission sensors, aircraft navigation, communications, weapons control system,
Sensors integrated to ATS: search radar, Electro-Optical/Infrared (EO/IR) turret, ESM/ELINT/COMIT, acoustics, Magnetic Anomaly Detector (MAD), Automatic Identification System (AIS), Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) integrator, SATCOM and line of sight communication/data link.
Search Radar: should have Inverse Synthetic Aperture Radar (ISAR) mode, Wide Area Surveillance/Ground (WAS) mode, Sysnthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) mode.
Sonobuoy: to include Received and Processor, 100pcs. Active Sonobuoys, 100pcs. Passive Sonobuoys, and 30 Bathythermal Buoys;
Downlink System: Type and specification to be provided later on, should include 1 aircraft transmitter per aircraft, 1 airborne antenna per aircraft, 5 units of Fixed Station Receivers, 5 units of Line of Sight Data Link Antenna for Fixed Station Receiver, 17 units Ground Mobile Receiver with briefcase-type decryption unit, and 17 units Antenna.

There were 10 reported buyers of the Bid Documents for the LRPA Project, although only 8 companies submitted a query that were answered on the July 24 SBB. These are:

ARINC Aerospace (USA);
- CASA-Airbus Defense and Space (Spain);
- Elbit Systems Ltd. (Israel);
Field Aviation (USA);
- IAI Elta Systems Ltd. (Israel);
- L3 Mission Integration (USA);
- Lockheed Martin (USA);
- PT Dirgantara Indonesia (Persero) (Indonesia);
- Raytheon Company (USA);
- Saab Technologies Asia Pacific (Sweden).

IAI Elta System and Bombarider Aerospace's proposal for Q-400 maritime patrol aircraft. Bombardier might only supply the aircraft platform to some of the bidders who specializes in surveillance system manufacturing and integration.
Photo taken from Canadian-American Strategic Review website. 

Although Bombardier Aerospace of Canada submitted a query, it appears that they did not join the project as a direct bidding entity, but may probably supply their aircraft to some of the bidders, which will be explained below.

It is also worth noting that a major MPA manufacturer, Alenia Aerospace of Italy, did not even bother to acquire the bid documents. This may be due to their previous loss and accusations of irregularities against the DND for their award to Airbus Military to supply 3 C-295 tactical transports for the PAF's Medium Lift Fixed Wing Aircraft acquisition program.

A Nigerian Air Force ATR-42 maritime patrol aircraft. Alenia Aerospace did not participate in the PAF's LRPA acquisition project probably due to a negative position against the DND's award to Airbus Military for the Medium Lift Fixed Wing Aircraft acquisition.

Of all the bid document buyers, all except ARINC Aerospace, Field Aviation, and Raytheon Company did not submit a bid. Although MaxDefense still don't have any idea why ARINC and Field Aviation did not submit, Raytheon Company was reportedly teamed-up with PT Dirgantara Indonesia as a subcontractor for the mission systems integration part of their offer.

The following are the bidders and the findings made by DND-BAC, listed according to the sequence of bid opening made last August 11:

  • Saab Technologies Asia Pacific was found ineligible to bid due to missing Tax Clearance documents;
  • L3 Mission Integration was also found ineligible due to the eligibility document reasons; 
  • Elbit Systems' bid was considered eligible and was the first bidder to do so. They were found ineligible on the 2nd part of the bid opening for technical specifications and performance parameters because they "did not include fast moving items and consumables in the list of minimum deliverables", according to an interview with SBAC-1 Chairman Defense Undersecretary Fernando Manalo.
  • IAI Elta Systems was also found ineligible initially, but the decision was overturned after BAC found its submitted Financial Statement documents acceptable. They were found ineligible on the 2nd part of the bid opening for the same reasons as Elbit Systems.
  • Lockheed Martin was also considered ineligible due to documentation problems;
  • PT Dirgantara Indonesia (Indonesian Aerospace) was also found ineligible. 
  • CASA-Airbus Defense and Space was also found ineligible because of failing to meet certain requirements.

The bidders are given until August 14, 2014 to file for a Motion for Reconsideration with the DND-BAC regarding their concerns. Otherwise, the bid will be considered a failure if no single entity passes all the requirements.

Possible Offers:
Although the 1st stage of the bidding has proceeded, it was still not known what are bidders actually intended to offer to the DND and PAF. The project is actually composed of 2 main sections: the platform aircraft, and the overall mission and surveillance integrated system. The 1st stage of the bidding gave more importance to the aircraft platform rather than the mission systems which the DND indicated to give priority in the 2nd stage.

The platform aircraft was supposed to be provided by the bidders during the bidding, but MaxDefense believes that the following might be used by the bidders:

1. Airbus Military C-295
Already the PAF's possible leading choice due to its recent order for 3 units for its Medium Lift Fixed Wing aircraft requirement. MaxDefense believes that the technical specifications for the LRPA's aircraft platform was loosely based on this aircraft, thus it is considered as the benchmark aircraft.

CASA-Airbus Military's C-295 tactical transport aircraft.

2. Bombardier Dash 8 Q-400
There are a number of bidders which currently uses the Q-400 as its platform aircraft for their MPA and other Special Missions products. This aircraft is sleek, fast, and is also a very competitive special missions aircraft aside from being a proven turboprop regional airliner.  The Q-400 is Bombardier's latest Dash 8 Q-Series variant and is longer, more powerful and updated, and more competitive than its earlier variants. Its length can accommodate 4 or more console stations and space requirements compared to other aircraft. Due to its powerful but thirsty engines, a special mission military variant may feature an on-fuselage fuel tank.

The latest version of Bombardier's Dash 8 Q-series, the Q-400 NextGen.
Photo taken from Aviation News website.

3. Airbus Military-PTDI CN-235
An aircraft born on the partnership of Airbus Military subsidiary CASA of Spain and PTDI's forerunner IPTN. Although it is an Airbus product, a possible acquisition of the PAF of CN-235 aircraft may actually be from PTDI due to their agreement with Airbus on the distribution, sales, and support of the aircraft. The Philippines falls under PTDI's responsibility. The aircraft actually falls short on some details indicated in the LRPA's technical specifications. 

The Airbus Military-PTDI CN-235 tactical transport aircraft.

4. Alenia Aerospace ATR-42 or ATR-72 
Although Alenia is at odds with the DND over a previous project, some of the bidders may opt to use the ATR series aircraft as a base platform, considering that the aircraft was used by other countries for MPA duties. It is a proven turboprop regional airline like the Q-400, and also has special missions among its capabilities. Turkey uses the ATR-72 for its ASW-capable MPA, while other countries like Nigeria uses the shorter ATR-42 for MPA missions. 

An ATR-72-500 used by Cebu Pacific.
Photo taken from Airliners.net, copyright owned by Ryan Hemmings.

5. Saab 2000
This aircraft has some limited success as a special missions aircraft, although it was offered to several military forces as a MPA and AEWC aircraft platform. This aircraft also has to overcome one of the specification's requirements, which is to be a brand new, factory new aircraft. Saab stopped production of the Saab 2000 since 1999, and a possible offer to the PAF are probably refurbished units from Saab Aircraft Leasing company.
The Saab 2000.
Photo taken from Saab History website.

Special mention for IAI Elta Systems' earlier proposal to use the Gufstream G250 for their offer, which was turned down by the DND due to the specified requirement for turboprop engine-powered aircraft. The DND preferred turboprops due to fuel efficiency, easy maintenance, and less susceptible to foreign object damage. 

For those looking at the Lockheed Martin C-130J, MaxDefense needs to burst your bubble this early on. A brand new transport-configured C-130J costs more than the budget allocated for a fully-equipped MPA. Even the cheaper and simpler C-130XJ still can't meet the budget.

Mission Systems:
These are the integrated systems installed on the aircraft for it to conduct maritime patrol and surveillance duties. The DND and PAF has not been specific on this, and has announced in their SBB that it would be given more specific attention on the 2nd stage of the bidding. MaxDefense lists down what it believes to be the possible offers of the bidders:

1. CASA-Airbus Defense and Space C-295MPA or C-295ASW Persuader
Airbus has been offering the C-295MPA to several countries, and is currently their baseline offering for the maritime patrol aircraft market. It uses the Airbus-developed Fully Integrated Tactical System (FITS), which is an "onboard suite of networked computers" that integrates the different surveillance and mission systems of the MPA. The entire system consists of a search radar, EO/IR sensors, ESM, ELINT, COMIT, MAD, an IFF integrator, SATCOM, and a data link. FITS can actually be installed in other aircraft platforms, but since Airbus also manufactures the C-295, it is not impossible that they are offering this tandem to the LRPA acquisition project. 

Chile's C-295MPA and C-295ASW Persuaders are equipped with Airbus' FITS.

Airbus claims that the endurance of the Persuader is at 11 hours, or 6 hours on station at 200nmi range. The FITS system is palletized, and enables the aircraft to do other missions when necessary. 

MaxDefense believes that this system is also what the PAF and DND used as a baseline for their mission system requirements.

2. Elbit Systems' Proposal
This is a tricky part. Elbit currently has no manned maritime patrol aircraft product on offer (as far as MaxDefense is concerned). But it currently offers the Hermes 900 unmanned air system in a maritime patrol configuration. Elbit may probably use their expertise to install the system into a manned aircraft platform while complying with other requirements indicated in the project's technical specifications.

Elbit Systems may transfer their maritime patrol system from the Hermes 900 UAS to a manned aircraft platform to comply with the PAF's LRPA requirement.

3. IAI Elta Systems' EL/I-3360 Maritime Patrol Aircraft
The EL/I-3360 is actually a modular suite integrating surveillance and mission systems for maritime patrol aircraft. IAI Elta actually chose the Bombardier Q-400 as their aircraft platform of choice for this suite, and may have also teamed-up with Field Aviation (which bought bid documents but did not submit a bid), but they could actually integrate the system to another aircraft type with the same space provisions. It is possible that they could make an offer based on both the Bombardier Q-400 and the Airbus Military C-295 to increase their chances. The ELI-3360 uses IAI Elta's EL/M-2022A surface search radar system, ESM and MOSP type EO/IR sensor, a COMINT array, aft mounted countermeasures dispensers and side-mounted containers, and a mixture of other surveillance and intelligence systems. 

IAI Elta offered the EL/I-3360 MPA using the Bombardier Q-400 aircraft for the UK's MPA requirements.
Photo taken from AIN Online website c/o David McIntosh.

4. L3 Mission Integration's Maritime Patrol Aircraft
In cooperation with Bombardier, Selex ES, Ultra Electronics, and also possibly Field Aviation, L3 Mission Integration has a current Maritime Patrol Aircraft design using the Q-400 aircraft platform. L3's system integrates the Selex Seaspray 7500 search radar or the Eagle AESA wide-area radar, and Ultra Electronics' Airborne Acoustic System.

L-3 Mission Integration's venture with Bombardier, Selex and Ultra Electronics produced this Q-400 based maritime patrol aircraft for the British requirements. L-3 may offer the same for the PAF.
Photo taken from L-3 Mission Integration's website.

5. Lockheed Martin's Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft
The US company was part of the US Coast Guard's HC-144 Ocean Sentry maritime patrol aircraft, whose Mission System Pallet roll-on, roll-off electronics suite was used on a Airbus-supplied CN-235 aircraft platform. This same is equipment was used by Lockheed Martin on the USCG's HC-130 surveillance aircraft, thus it can also be used to modify transport variants of the C-130s into maritime patrol aircraft after some modifications.

Lockheed Martin may also modify the systems used in the USCG surveilllance aircraft to include those specifically required by the LRPA technical specificaions. These includes the addition of anti-submarine equipment, COMINT/SIGINT/ELINT systems, use of a more capable search radar, and capability to carry weapons.

Aside from the CN-235, Lockheed Martin may also opt to use the larger Airbus C-295 aircraft, or offer to use PAF's current C-130 fleet. Earlier Lockheed Martin did announced their intention to discuss with the PAF to modify some of the PAF's C-130 Hercules transports, which they claim would cost less than half of a new MPA. 

The US Coast Guard's HC-144A Ocean Sentry uses Lockheed Martin's Mission System Pallet electronics suite on an Airbus CN-235 aircraft.
Photo taken from Wikipedia.

The same Mission Pallet System was also offered by Lockheed Martin to be installed on some of the PAF's C-130 Hercules transport aircraft, although this might be a separate offer aside from bidding for the new LRPA.
Photo taken from Wikipedia.

6. PT Dirgantara Indonesia's CN-235MP Persuader
If reports are true that PTDI teamed-up with Raytheon Company for their MPA offer for the PAF, then this would be a departure from PTDI's previous team-up with Thales with their AMASCOS 200 system for the TNI-AL (Indonesian Navy) MPA requirement. 

Raytheon previously offered their AN/APS-134 surface search radar for the CN-235MPA Persuader, and also has the AN/APS-148 Sea Vue search radar. They have the capability to provide PTDI with the necessary surveillance and weapons systems and integration. Their recent experience was as the weapons integrator for Turkey's Meltem-III ATR-72 MPA program.

The CN-235's smaller size may compromise its bid as it cannot meet some of the requirements set by the DND. From the layout below, it shows the disadvantage of its tight interior space to provide the number of console stations and other provisions.

A typical layout of a CN-235MP Persuader aircraft.
Photo taken from bandara.com.

The CN-235-220 MPA from PT DI (Indonesian Aerospace) for the Indonesian Navy, but this specific aircraft uses the Thales AMASCOS 200 instead of a system from Raytheon. Take note of the modified nose to carry a search radar.
Top photo taken from PTDI website. Bottom photo taken from Mahdi News website.

7. Saab Technologies' Swordfish Maritime Patrol Aircraft
The Swedish company's current offering, the Swordfish MPA uses their own Saab 2000 aircraft platform. Saab claims that the Swordfish has a maximum endurance greater than 9.5 hours, and a typical on-station time of up to 5.5 hours while operating 200nmi from its base. It also has a maximum range of greater than 2,000 nmi, a maximum cruise speed of 350 knots, and a patrol speed of 160 knots. It has a service ceiling of 31,000 feet and needs 1,300 meters of take-off runway distance. It integrates Selex's Seaspray 7500 maritime surveillance radar, an active Acoustic System from Ultra Electronics, and a high definition EO/IR sensor pod from FLIR Systems. The aircraft is also equipped with an advanced C4I, AIS, IFF, ESM, Self-Protection System (SPS), SATCOM and Data Links.

Although there are no new Saab 2000s produced since 1999, so Saab needs to discuss this thoroughly with the DND to keep their product in the race. 

The Saab 2000 Swordfish MPA demonstrator.
Photo taken from AIRheads Fly website.
The Saab 2000 Swordfish's layout. Saab may need to adjust the layout to conform to PAF requirements should their offer be shortlisted.
Photo taken from Saab 2000 Swordfish datasheet.

The Verdict:
MaxDefense believes that this project is one of the most tightest competitions ever to be conducted by the DND and AFP, although the choice of the platform is biased on the Airbus Military C-295 due to its commonality with tactical transports ordered by the PAF earlier. The Bombardier Q-400 is a very good aircraft, and so is the Saab 2000 if only there are new builds for this aircraft. 

Although MaxDefense believes that Airbus Defense and Space has the highest chance of bagging the project, IAI Elta Systems and L-3 Mission Integration may have a strong chance of stealing away a win from the front runner. 

If the competitive bidding last August 11, 2014 will be considered a total failure, then the DND may opt to either have a re-bidding using the same or a revised specification and documentation requirements, a negotiated bidding, or a government-to-government (G2G) deal with a friendly foreign government, which is actually the fastest way to acquire the system. MaxDefense still hopes that the bidders will submit a Motion for Reconsideration, and the DND-BAC allows the bidders to proceed to avoid further delays on the project, since majority of the reasons for ineligibility was because of the slow processing time to acquire documents from Philippine government offices and agencies.

More updates will be made as MaxDefense awaits the outcome of the MFR deadline, which is supposed to be today, August 14, 2014.