Home' Baird Maritime : September 2011 Contents The Philippine Navy (PN) is reputedly one of Asia's most poorly
equipped maritime forces. This is certainly true, at least in
respect of the PN's deep sea-capable assets, which are mainly
of World War II vintage, and lack both guided missile
armament, and anti-submarine capability.
The operational demands on the service, however, are heavy.
The south of the country has long been plagued by armed
anti-government Muslim groups, such as the Moro Islamic
Liberation Front and Abu Sayaf.
Other PN coastal operational commitments include piracy,
poaching, and large-scale smuggling, as well as search and rescue
response to depressingly frequent maritime accidents and to
Further offshore, though, Manila struggles to maintain an effective
presence in support of its territorial claims and offshore assets.
It has to rely mainly upon 1940s-built, ex-US Navy corvettes and the
PN's similarly antiquated flagship, the 1,700-tonne frigate 'Rajah
Humabon'. This ship has previously seen service with both the US
Navy and Japan's Maritime Self-Defence Force. The only relatively
modern vessels capable of sustained offshore operations are three
720-tonne former British Royal Navy Hong Kong patrol ships.
Now, though, both the Philippine leadership and Washington
are becoming increasingly anxious over Chinese dominance of the
resource-rich, strategically vital South China Sea. These concerns are
prompting some improvement in PN offshore capabilities, including
the planned acquisition of up to three former US Coast Guard
(USCG) Hamilton-class, high-endurance cutters.
These ships are being supplanted in USCG service by new
Legend-class national security cutters. The first to be taken over by
the Filipinos will be the 'Hamilton' herself, due to enter PN service
by the middle of this year, to replace 'Rajah Humabon'. A party of
Filipino officers and ratings spent recently a period of attachment
to the USCG in order to gain experience of the class by working on
board 'Boutwell', one of Hamilton's sister ships.
The 115-metre, 3,400-tonne 'Hamilton', with a combined
diesel/gas turbine power plant, will be the largest ship ever to serve
in the PN. Features include a helicopter deck with telescopic
hangar, a 76mm gun and long-range Hughes/Furuno surveillance
radar. It will join the ex-British patrol craft in attempting to ensure
control over the seas around the disputed Spratly Islands, which
include the developing oil and gas fields off Palawan. The PN is
looking for a small number of utility helicopters to operate from
the Hamiltons, as its five aging Bo 105 helos were grounded
following a fatal accident late last year.
On the face of it, 'Hamilton' represents a long overdue leap
forward for the PN, but the long-term viability of the ship, and of
others of the class which may be transferred, is not assured. The
Hamiltons are already some 40 years old, and the class was recently
described by USCG commander Admiral Bob Papp as being in
"deplorable" condition. Maintenance of the propulsion plant may
prove particularly challenging, as the PN has not previously operated
gas turbine-powered vessels.
Some doubting voices are expressing the view that
Washington favours transferring obsolete and unreliable surplus
vessels, with limited military value, to friendly governments, not
for strategic reasons, but rather as a cost-effective alternative to
scrapping them. These commentators point to the transfer, over
the past decade, of many of the USCG's old, slow, and lightly
armed, Balsam-class navigation tenders to a number of
developing nations for patrol duties, a role to which they are not
Another ambitious project, still subject to detailed
negotiation, is the radical enhancement of the PN's amphibious
warfare fleet, which plays an important role in operations in the
Southern Philippines. The service, which currently relies heavily
upon old ex-US Navy landing ships for amphibious duties, is
evaluating the acquisition from Daewoo of South Korea of
a package including a landing platform (dock) (LPD), two
landing craft (utility) (LCU), four amphibious armoured vehicles
and a quartet of large, rigid-hull inflatable boats. Also, local
company Propmech has been contracted to supply an
The LPD, which would have significant command and control,
and aviation capabilities, would be based on the Makassar class
which Seoul has already supplied to Indonesia. The PN, though,
has no experience of operating such sophisticated ships. This
factor, and a likely cost of over US$100 million for the package,
mean that this project is unlikely to come to fruition any time
soon. It is likely that cheaper alternatives, such as a converted
Ro-Ro vessel, will be considered.
Improvements to the PN inventory of smaller warships are also
in hand. Propmech has been awarded a contract to provide a
further three multi-purpose attack craft (MPAC) to join the trio
which the company has already supplied. The aluminium MPACs,
constructed discreetly for Propmech by Lung Teh in Taiwan, bear a
strong outward resemblance to Sweden's ubiquitous Dockstavarvet
CB90 assault boat. The craft has a top speed of over 40 knots, and
an armament of three machine guns, and can carry up to 16 troops
in addition to a crew of four. The MPACs are currently operating
with special forces units in Mindanao and in waters around the
Malampaya gas field off Palawan.
Propmech is also set to continue with the upgrade of some Sea
Dolphin attack craft.
Successive attempts to initiate naval upgrade plans over the past
20 years have borne little fruit, with dedicated funds being "diverted"
and projects derailed by political in-fighting. There have,
furthermore, been recurring, if unproven, allegations of serious
corruption at many levels in the service. It therefore remains to be
seen if the momentum of this latest attempt to raise the nation's
naval standards can be maintained.
The BRP 'Rajah Humabon', ancient flagship of the Philippine fleet, is soon to
The USCG 'Boutwell' on which Filipino officers and ratings recently spent a
period of attachment and training
BAIRD MARITIME September 2011 17
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