Sunday, June 30, 2013

BRP Ramon Alcaraz docks at San Diego Naval Base, California (June 29, 2013)

The BRP Ramon Alcaraz finally reaches the US West Coast and docks in San Diego Naval Base, California on June 29, 2013 (Philippine time zone). The ship started her journey to the Philippines from US Coast Guard Base in Charleston, South Carolina on June 10, 2013 with a planned cruising speed average of around 12 knots.

The BRP Ramon Alcaraz leaving the US Coast Guard Base in Charleston, South Carolina on  June 10, 2013.
Photo take from Philippine Embassy in Washington c/o Elmer Cato.
After a brief testing of her 76mm Oto Melara Compact main guns just off the coast of Florida on June 11, 2013, firing 3 rounds to calibrate the gun, and firing 12 rounds on a "killer tomato" target floating balloon at around 2 to 3 miles away.

 
A "killer tomato" similar to the one above was used as a floating target by the BRP Ramon Alcaraz in its gun testing off the coast of Florida.
Photo taken from US Navy website.


A video of the ship leaving Charleston and the weapons testing is shown here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x02FBpMNNuo

The BRP Ramon Alcaraz headed to the entrance of Panama Canal for a historic crossing towards the Pacific Ocean side. She started the Panama Canal crossing on June 17, 2013.

The BRP Ramon Alcaraz crossing the Panama Canal.
Photo taken from Timawa.net forum c/o Sarry15 using PanCanal.com webcam 

The ship also made a short stop at Balboa, Panama for refueling on June 18, 2013, afterwards continuing its journey to San Diego, California from June 19, 2013 and docking at the US Navy's San Diego Naval Base on June 28. A photo released by SeaWaves Magazine (see below) shows the Ramon Alcaraz docked beside the JMSDF amphibious vessel JDS Shimokita (LST-4002), which participated in the recently concluded Dawn Blitz 2013 exercises (covered here at MaxDefense, "Japan Joints US Dawn Blitz 2013 Amphibious Exercises - What's in it for the Philippines?")

The BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF-16) docked at the San Diego Naval Base, just beside the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Ship JDS Shimokita (LST-4002).
Photo taken from SeaWaves Magazine.
BRP Ramon Alcaraz will be in San Diego for a few days, and will finally leave the North American mainland for Hawaii for a scheduled stop-over at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

MaxDefense will update the BRP Ramon Alcaraz's journey to the Philippines, until it reaches Manila Bay which is tentatively scheduled on the 1st week of August, 2013.


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

China Coast Guard - The Rise of a Large Sea Dragon

There are new reports that China has already started merging their civilian maritime enforcement agencies into one bigger entity, the China Coast Guard which was officially formed on March 2013.

Previously China had 5 civilian maritime agencies that are controlled by different parent ministries or agencies, altogether they are unofficially called the "five dragons contending the sea". These are the following "dragons":

1. China Marine Surveillance (CMS), currently under the State Oceanic Administration (SOA);
2. Border Control Department (BCD), under the Ministry of Public Security;
3. Fisheries Law Enforcement Command (FLEC), under the Ministry of Agriculture;
4. General Administration of Customs, under the State Council;
5. Maritime Safety Administration (MSA), under the Ministry of Transport

Ensign of the new China Coast Guard.
Photo taken from Wikimedia.

Under the new plan, the Chinese Government has appointed SOA of the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources to control the new coast guard entity. This will be formed by merging 4 of the 5 "dragons" excluding the Maritime Safety Administration which will still be a separate entity.

China has started repainting and renumbering ships from the previous maritime agencies, and has also started deploying them to sea. Its ships will now be known with the use of the word "Haijing" before the hull number. Example: FLEC-206 is now called SOA-2506 or Haijing 2506.
Expect all sea and air assets of the 4 merged maritime agencies to be reintroduced as CCG assets. Upon merging the CCG will be equipped with hundreds of small inshore patrol crafts mostly coming from the MSA, dozens of medium and large patrol vessels mostly coming from the CMS and FLEC, and various air assets. It was already reported that CCG ships are armed although no report was made on what type of weapons are fitted on them.

This is FLEC 206 before repainting....

...and after repainting now as SOA 2506 under the China Coast Guard.
Photos taken from China Defense Blog.

So why did China started merging all these civilian maritime agencies into the China Coast Guard?

There has been a long standing issue of command and controlling the operations of the 5 civilian maritime agencies which operate independently from each other, thus overlapping their duties and responsibilities and having efficiency and funding issues. Reforms have been sought for several years now, and the merging will address this. 

The aggressive push by Beijing to consolidate territories they believe is theirs requires a maritime law enforcement agency that is highly effective and efficient, and can easily be controlled by a centralized agency as an instrument of the Chinese government. Previously the 5 separate maritime entities are used to harass ships from neighboring countries instead of using naval vessels to avoid increasing tensions, but facing a large well equipped and competent Japan Coast Guard (JCG) made them think again on their strategies.


More ships painted int CCG colors, as Haijing 1117 and Haijing 1127.
Photo taken from China Defense Blog.

A single China Coast Guard gives Beijing a strong and consolidated control over a single maritime enforcement entity, and this will ensure them that their objectives are precisely met. Previous issues of efficiency and controlling rogue or trigger happy commanders will also be addressed to avoid unintended escalation of conflicts. As a larger entity Beijing will now have a better way of facing the large Japan Coast Guard, which apparently  is currently suffering from lack of additional manpower and ships in their plans to increase the JCG's size to face a mounting Chinese threat.

Japan has been a long time game player in using the coast guard to safeguard its territories and interests to avoid escalation as compared to using naval vessels. China has now learned of this game's advantages and will try to use the same game play against Japan and its other neighbors like Vietnam and the Philippines.


JCG and CMS ships facing each other in the Senkakus. Does the PCG or any Philippine civilian maritime agency have the capability to face such threats when necessary?

So what's in it for the Philippines?

The Philippines, being one of the belligerent neighbors in this push by Beijing in claiming almost the entire South China Sea / West Philippine Sea based on its so-called "9-dash Line' map will be greatly affected by the increased presence of China Coast Guard ships. It is expected that the CCG will take-over in implementing the maritime enforcement duties of the Chinese government in protecting the currently cordoned Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) from Philippine "intrusions". If this new entity is indeed more effective than the loose combination of maritime agencies, of course it would affect the Philippines and its policies directly.


BRP EDSA, a San Juan-class patrol vessel of the Philippine Coast Guard. MaxDefense believes that the PCG needs to acquire larger patrol vessels to supplant the current inventory.
Photo taken from Timawa.net c/o fangedboy8

MaxDefense has long been advocating the upsizing, modernization and reorganization of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and other civilian maritime enforcement agencies to better respond to their duties, as well as become the vanguard of safeguarding Philippine territorial waters, its EEZ and disputed maritime areas. The PCG must evolve to better respond to foreign threat, and assist the Armed Forces of the Philippines like what other regional peers do.

The Philippine government should revise its maritime organizations. It already faces difficulty in funding the PCG, and a similar solution as to what China did may be a solution to improve efficiency. The PCG must know exactly its missions, rules of engagement, and must systematically be an effective arm of the Philippine government to uphold its national interests.


A Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) patrol boat. Would it be better to merge their duties and assets with the PCG?

In addition, the PCG should be given an increase of its annual budget to modernize and expand its manpower, services and equipment; improve basing and support facilities; provide better training for its men, and engage in exercises (both internally, with local counterparts like the PN, or with foreign agencies like the JCG) more often. Make use of the offer by the Japanese to strengthen partnership between the PCG and JCG for the benefit of both organizations.


A Japan Coast Guard (JCG) large patrol vessel and a Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) patrol vessel during joint coast guard exercises. The PCG should make use of these partnerships in improving its capability in all fronts.

As to the equipment side, the PCG must purchase or obtain larger patrol vessels that can match those operated by its peers. With the advent of resorting to non-lethal ways of dealing with threats, it is expected that larger ships will better survive confrontations that involve ramming, and can stay longer on patrols at sea and survive high sea states. With China Coast Guard ships reportedly being armed, MaxDefense also suggests that PCG vessels be armed with light firearms, in addition to water cannons, loudspeakers, flares and video cameras and make them standard ship equipment. The ships must also be installed with proper surveillance equipment that can link to Coast Watch Stations and Philippine Navy centers for increased maritime domain awareness, coordination, and command & control between naval and air assets.


BRP Pampanga (SARV-003) of the PCG together with US and Philippine Navy ships at CARAT 2012 Philippines exercises. The PCG must be consistent in joining exercises similar to this.
Photo taken from US Navy.

Overall, the Philippine government needs to overhaul its entire maritime policy, and give the PCG more mandate to assist the AFP in securing and and defending Philippine territory, EEZ and disputed areas, in addition to improving its current assigned tasks like law enforcement and search & rescue. The government must realize the PCG's potentials, and PCG should also show the government and people that it can maximize its capabilities beyond what it currently has.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Philippine Army pushing for the Purchase of Israeli ATMOS 2000 155mm Self-Propelled Howitzer

The Philippine Army (PA) was reportedly pushing for the purchase of Israeli-made ATMOS 2000 155mm self-propelled howitzers from Soltam/Elbit Systems. It appears that the said artillery system was among those offered by the Israelis to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Department of National Defense (DND), which includes anti aircraft missile systems and, still to be verified, multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS).

The Soltam/Elbit Systems ATMOS 2000 155mm Self-Propelled Howitzer, mounted on a TATRA 6x6 truck.
Earlier MaxDefense covered a reported interest by the DND and PA to purchase the SPYDER Air Defense System (ADS) from the Israelis, with the DND Secretary Voltaire Gazmin himself said to be going to Israel to underscore a possible purchase. Probably this is related to the visit as well, and MaxDefense is expecting more offers to be uncovered in the next few weeks.

Back view of the ATMOS 2000.

The ATMOS 2000 is a 155mm, 52-calibre gun howitzer mounted on a 6x6 or 8x8 truck. It is embedded with an electronic suite and has automatic laying and loading systems that reduces crew to 4 to 6 men, and increased efficiency and accuracy. It has a Multiple Round Simultaneous Impact (MRSI) capability and fire up to 4 rounds and have them impact the same location at the same time for maximum kill and damage.

ATMOS 2000 155mm self-propelled howitzer.
Photo taken from Wikimedia.

It has a maximum range of 41 kilometers (for 52 caliber), can fire 3 burst rounds within 15 seconds, or intense 15 rounds within 3 minutes. Compared to the current PA artillery inventory which are mostly smaller 105mm, the 155mm system has a larger round and explosive power, longer range, and higher capability.


The PA currently uses a few Soltam M71 155mm towed howitzers since 1983.
Photo taken from Timawa.net forum c/o 40niner_com.

The interest in buying the ATMOS system has been a complete turn-around from an earlier plan to purchase towed 155mm artillery systems to complement the PA's existing 155mm and 105mm howitzers. Plans have been announced since 2008 for at least 12 units of towed howitzers, plus individual prime movers. There were also plans that should a deal with Italy be secured, a transfer for a few dozen FH70 155mm towed howitzers will be made for the PA


Previous reports of a possible transfer of ex-Italian Army FH70 155mm howitzers surfaced in 2012.

With the prime movers delivered to the PA earlier in the form of 5-ton delivered according to MaxDefense sources and confirmed by the news report, it is expected that the 155mm towed howitzers will also be ordered soon. No exact model was declared, although reports ranging from used American M198s or European FH70, to new Pegasus lightweight guns from Singapore or M777 lightweight guns from the US surfaced.  



Used American M198 155mm towed howitzers were reportedly considered by the PA before.
Photo taken from fas.org.

MaxDefense will be reporting more on this update as this new project unfolds. So far, a self-propelled howitzer system is important for any modern army, but the turn-around from towed to self-propelled system is something worth looking at.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Developments on Strategic Sealift Vessel Purchase for the Philippine Navy - Invitation to Bid Released

The Philippine Navy (PN), through the Department of National Defense (DND) has released the Invitation to Bid for the Strategic Sealift Vessel (SSV) acquisition project. The requirement is for two (2) units with an Approved Budget for the Contract (ABC) worth Php 4 billion pesos.

The cost includes the vessels and an Integrated Logistics Support (ILS) package for the PN. Delivery requirements is for the first vessel to be delivered within 730 calendar days (exactly 2 years) from opening the Letter of Credit, and the second vessel to be delivered within 365 days (exactly 1 year) from delivery of the first vessel.

A Pre-Bid Conference will be held on July 2, 2013, and submission and opening of bids is "tentatively" scheduled on July 16, 2013. "Tentative" since most bids done by the DND have pushed the submission and opening date further due to bidder's requests or other issues, so MaxDefense expects it to move, although still hoping that it won't to avoid delays in the project schedule.

Below is an excerpt from the Invitation to Bid released by the DND this June:

Excerpt from the Invitation to Bid released by the DND this month.
Photo taken from Timawa.net c/o 40niner_com.
So far no specifications were released to the public by the DND or PN. We can only speculate on the SSV's possible specification through the previous announcements from the DND or PN, offers made by some of the potential bidders, and comparison to similar vessels in service with other navies. The only given in the documents shown above is the price: it cost less to buy 2 SSVs than a single MRV, which was previously budgeted at Php 5 billion each bundled with landing crafts, armored vehicles, support vehicles and a mobile hospital (as in the case of South Korea's offer for a Doosan-made LPD similar to Indonesia's Makassar-class).

The Makassar-class was offered in the MRV project by South Korea, although a smaller  derivative design  is reportedly offered.
Photo taken from Timawa.net forums c/o Adroth.
It is presumed that the SSV will be smaller in size than the Multi-Role Vessel (MRV), thus reducing its cargo and passenger capacity, helicopter carrying capacity and number of landing deck spaces, and well deck size. It might also mean that the on-board medical facility and medical bed space capacity might be less than the MRV as well, although this is still speculation. 

Singapore's ST Marine offered the Endurance 120 design.
Photo taken from ST Marine's website.
MaxDefense previously discussed in short detail regarding the SSV program, where it was discussed that previous news reports that the SSV has drawn attention from several naval suppliers from different countries like Japan, Singapore, South Korea, France and Italy. Previous details also include it's capability to perform as a Search and Rescue (SAR) platform during disasters, is fitted with hospital facilities and a helicopter landing deck, and capability to transport a battalion of troops with their armored vehicles.


Indonesia's PT PAL previously displayed a scale model with basic specifications. It is so far the closest information on the SSV's possible specifications.

MaxDefense previously confirmed three of the said offers as Singapore ST Engineering's Endurance 120 series of multi-role vessel; Indonesia PT PAL's SSV-LPD which is a smaller derivative of the Makassar-class; and a special model from Spain's Navantia which is based on Athlas LPD 8000 but is much simpler and smaller. No confirmation until now on what other offers were made by other countries.

MaxDefense is waiting for further confirmation on details of the project, which will be discussed here later on. Emphasis will be on what included items are bundled with the program, if the requirement for on-board landing crafts, armored vehicles, support vehicles and mobile hospital will be pursued separately, the confirmed specifications of the ships including armaments requirements, helicopter facilities, capacity and sensors systems.



Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Israeli SPYDER Air Defense Missile System for the Philippines - A Good Choice

Starting last week, several Philippine news reports, specifically those from Interaksyon.com, The Manila Standard and the Philippine Daily Inquirer both recently reported of an impending purchase of surface-to-air missile systems from Israel by the Philippine's Department of National Defense (DND). As reported, it says that the DND is in advanced negotiations with Israel's Rafael Advanced Defense Systems (Rafael) and Israel Military Industries (IMI), and that Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin is scheduled to visit Israel to

Due to the level of security issues surrounding such programs, MaxDefense would not want to be in the forefront of bringing the information to the public. But the cat is out of the bag anyway.

The DND is indeed pursuing a program to purchase surface-to-air missile systems, and it been going on for some time already. Due to the on-and-off style of military planning, it is actually a plan that has been in the works for several decades and is not really something new. But MaxDefense will consider this specific program as a new one since the systems and quantity offered in the past are different from those offered now.

Another issue brought out was that the system was reportedly to be provided to the Philippine Army, instead of the air defense oriented Philippine Air Force. MaxDefense confirms that the army is indeed the intended operator of these air defense system although it is not yet final. 



The SPYDER-SR and SPYDER-MR in comparison.
Photo taken from Rafael website.

MaxDefense sources confirm that Rafael is indeed at the forefront of the program and is offering the SPYDER-MR medium range air defense system. SPYDER (Surface-to-air PYthon and DERby) is a short to medium range air defense missile system based on the Python-5 short range dual waveband imaging infrared (IIR) air-to-air missile, and the Derby beyond visual range (BVR) active radar air-to-air missiles and are fired from ground-based launchers. The "MR" indicates that the system is a medium range one, and doing so it uses an added booster system on the missiles as well as a longer-ranged radar. It has an intercept range of around 50km at an altitude of over 16km, 


Main components of the Spyder ADS system, shown is for the SR version.
Photo taken from Rafael website.

Sources also confirmed that the SR (short range) version is also offered and might be considered depending on further requirements and the advancement of discussions between the DND and Rafael. The SR uses the normal Python-5 and Derby missiles without the booster system, and are interchangeable with the standard air-to-air versions. 


The Python-5, Derby, Python-5 with booster, and Derby with booster, and the Stunner missile (aka David's Sling) which is set to replace the Hawk and Patriot systems in the Israeli military.
The SPYDER air defense system (ADS) battery/squadron is composed of a command & control unit which acts as the radar and communications unit, 6 launch vehicles with 2 Derby missiles and 2 Python-5 missiles each; and associated missile loaders/supply vehicles and other service vehicles. 


An illustration of the SPYDER ADS when deployed with other batteries.
Photo taken from Rafael website.

A future addition to the SPYDER system is its capability to accept the next generation Stunner (aka David's Sling or Magic Wand) interceptor missile, which is designed to take on incoming cruise missiles and long range rockets. If the Philippines takes the SPYDER system into its arsenal, it will also be possible for it to be equipped with the said missile in the future.

Although the news reports indicate that the DND is also in talks with the IMI, it might be an unintended mistaken and was really meant as "IAI" or Israeli Aerospace Industries, which supplies the Python-5 and Derby missiles as well as the IAI/Elta radar and C&C systems for the SPYDER ADS. MaxDefense is still verifying if IAI is also offering their air defense systems to the DND, which includes the Indian-Israeli collaboration Barak-8 (aka Barak II), which has a longer range than the SPYDER-MR's missiles. IAI is also believed to be offering the Barak-8 missile for the Philippine Navy's (PN) requirement for ship-based air defense system for the new frigate program and the up-arming of the Gregorio del Pilar-class frigates (to be discussed in a separate blog) so the possibility of it being offered for a ground based system is also very likely.


The IAI Python-5 IIR missile, can be used by fighter aircraft and the SPYDER ADS.
Another advantage is that SPYDER uses the same missiles that can be used by air force fighter aircraft. Since SPYDER uses the same Python-5 and Derby missiles used in aircraft, the compatibility, supply and maintenance issues can be simplified between them. The PAF appears to also be interested in using Python-5 and Derby missiles for its upcoming KAI FA-50 fighters and other future fighters as well. The FA-50 is said to have provisions, but are not yet integrated to fire both Israeli missiles, but development and integration is believed to be ongoing as well.

Due to the SPYDER's capability and the Israeli's cooperation in providing the Philippines with the arms it needs, the best delivery date, and less political strings attached, there is no doubt that the SPYDER ADS is a deal that may get sealed within the next few months according to MaxDefense sources. A big boost indeed for the air defense capability of the Philippine military, as well as a boost of confidence to the Philippines government's seriousness in improving its limited defense capability to defend its territory and sovereignty.

Among its current users, it is worthwhile to note that Singapore's military uses the SPYDER-SR system as one of the cornerstones of its air defense capability. With Singapore's stringent defense product acceptance methods and consistent decisions in choosing the best military hardware out there, it is already a strong vote of confidence to the SPYDER's capabilities.



MaxDefense opinion is for the DND to be serious on this endeavor this time. The news on the DND's interest in Israeli missiles has reached far in diplomatic, security and defense communities worldwide as this blog is written. The DND should seriously consider the SPYDER system for its medium-range air defense requirements, and also seriously consider the Barak 8 system for both the ground based and ship-based air defense system. 

Since the DND is already dealing with Israeli missile system suppliers, the DND should also try to consider the Advanced Naval Attack Missile aka Gabriel 5 for the ship-based and even ground based anti-ship missile systems. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Japan Joins US Dawn Blitz 2013 Amphibious Exercises - What's in it for the Philippines?

On the 31st of May 2013, a Japan Self Defense Force (JSDF) group of about 1,000 servicemen, 3 warships and several combat helicopters arrived in California in preparation to its participation on a large amphibious operation exercise called "DAWN BLITZ 2013", which will be held from June 11 to 28. Together with Japan will be forces from the US Navy and Marine Corps, Canada and New Zealand. The exercise involves amphibious assault exercises on the San Clemente Island off Los Angeles in California, and according to US Navy, involves "fictional countries and virtual opposing forces with no basis on any current geopolitical situation".


The JMSDF amphibious assault ship JDS Shimokita underway at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.
Photo taken from US Navy website.


Dawn Blitz 2013 is part of a series of amphibious training exercises which provide realistic and relevant training for the US Marine Corps and its foreign participants. Japan's contingent include the flat-deck landing ship JDS Shimokita (LST-4002), the Aegis missile destroyer JDS Atago (DDG-177) and the helicopter destroyer cum helicopter carrier JDS Hyuga (DDH-181). Also scheduled in the exercises is the landing for the first time in a Japanese warship of the MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, planning and execution of amphibious landing operations, live fire exercises, and exercises on logistics and command, control and communications.


The JDS Atago, an AEGIS missile destroyer of the JMSDF.
Photo taken from Royal Canadian Navy website.


Although it seems to be just another military exercise, this is actually an unprecedented move by Japan and its main ally the United States. It is the first time that Japan will send a large contingent to the US, and the first time that Japan will be involved in a large scale amphibious assault exercise since the formation of the Japanese Self Defense Forces in the 1950s. The fleet sent by the JMSDF alone includes their largest of most powerful ships, as the JDS Hyuga is actually one of their 2 helicopter carriers intentionally understated by the Japanese as a helicopter destroyer.


The helicopter destroyer / carrier JDS Hyuga of the JMSDF.

Although officially not directed at a specific country, the exercises is timely with the ongoing tensions between Japan and China over the Senkaku Islands and possibly the Okinawa archipelago. China earlier made statements of claims to the Senkakus and contesting the sovereignty of Japan over Okinawa, both of which Japan considers as an integral part of its territory. 

The exercises is a testament that the Americans will be backing-up the Japanese on this issue, and this also enforces their own announcement of shifting its sights more to the Asia-Pacific region. It also shows that Japan is serious on dealing with the security threats it faces, and that it is willing to accept a bigger responsibility in Asia's security stability by letting go of the policies it implements since their loss in World War 2 and American occupation in 1945.


The Senkaku Islands, shown with the overlapping EEZs of China, Japan and Taiwan.
Photo taken from defensenews.com

So what's in it for the Philippines?

Actually nothing much on the outside. There might be trickles of benefits from a stronger and more capable Japan like assistance or political support, but nothing really major. But if the Philippine government dig deeper into what the Japanese are up to, the gem is actually on the inside.

Like Japan, the Philippines is a major US treaty ally, and have a common threat which is China. Both countries are locked against China on control of contested islands, and both are tied up to limitations to maximize its defense capabilities on one way or another. But that's were the similarities ends, because after that, both have different ways to meet their ineffectiveness.


A Japan Coast Guard (JCG) and China Maritime Surveillance (MSA) large patrol vessels matching-up on each other. This is a normal scene nowadays around the Senkaku Islands, with the usual participation of Taiwanese Coast Guard Administration (CGA) ships.
Unlike Japan, who makes strides to increase defense spending and capabilities despite hard times on the economic front, who plans and painfully but is ready and willing to amend its "peace" constitution to keep up with the present security threats and give its armed forces the teeth it needs to meet its defense requirements, and stride hard to keep its territories intact and its people united; the Philippines is not making such hard choices.


Mischief Reef in 1995, 2005 and 2012 for comparison. Note the changes.
Photo taken from Korea News Online.
The Philippines already lost possession of the Mischief Reef (Panganiban Reef) to China in 1994, and lost control of Scarborough Shoal (Panatag Shoal) in 2012, again to China. For 2013, Second Thomas Shoal (Ayungin Shoal) is being threatened of being taken over by China. Taiwan also started its posturing in the north, trying to take a huge slice on the Philippines' EEZ and fishing rights.

Is it already too late to do make the changes on how the government prioritizes the defense of the Philippines, improving its foreign relations and foreign policy, strengthening and modernizing the armed forces, and increasing its ties with its allies? MaxDefense believes it is too late. But being late is always better than doing nothing at all.

Is the Philippines willing to make painful but worthwhile changes to face the threats around her? MaxDefense leaves this question to ponder.



Monday, June 10, 2013

MaxDefense is now on Facebook! Like us!

MaxDefense is now on Facebook!

To make use of Facebook's unlimited membership and maximize awareness on defense issues to the public, MaxDefense decided to have its own page on Facebook! Like our page and be updated with the latest commentaries on our main MaxDefense site. And as a new feature, MaxDefense will also post select defense news and commentaries every now and then from other relevant sources, plus some short commentaries and opinion from MaxDefense.

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More C-130 Hercules transport planes for the PAF staring 2014

The Lockheed (now Lockheed Martin) C-130 Hercules is one of the most famous aircraft of the Philippine Air Force (PAF), and has been in its inventory for more than 30 years. But with only three (3) operational units in the PAF's service, specifically 2 C-130H model and a single C-130B model, the PAF's transport capability is severely limited to the availability and capacity of these aircraft. The absence of a large and capable fleet of smaller transport aircraft to support the C-130 makes it more difficult for the PAF as the other transport aircraft types of the PAF, the Fokker F-27 and the N-22B Nomad, only have a handful of operational units left for use as well.

The PAF received more than a dozen C-130s, composed of military "B" and "H" models as well as civilian L-100-20 and stretched L-100-30. At least 2 fatally crashed and majority of the fleet have been written-off due to poor maintenance and other reasons by the PAF.

A PAF C-130H Hercules. The PAF currently only has 3 operational C-130s in its arsenal.
Photo taken from Airplane-Pictures.net

But hopefully everything will change starting 2014.

MaxDefense sources indicate that besides plans to purchase new light and medium lift aircraft, additional C-130 Hercules heavy tactical transport planes will also be made available to the PAF, and will be sourced from the PAF's boneyard and from its foremost ally, the United States.

For those who passed by the Mactan-Cebu International Airport, you may have seen three parked C-130s on the apron. These three aircraft are currently not operational, and are the only units found by PAF and Lockheed Martin specialists as acceptable for re-commissioning after extensive refurbishment and repair.

Three C-130s at Mactan-Cebu International Airport apron. These will be refurbished by the PAF.
Photo taken from Mr. Jake Nelson @ Pinoy Daily Journal.

According to MaxDefense sources, these 3 units (2 C-130B and an L-100 civilian version) will undergo in-house refurbishing and repair similar to what was done last year to C-130B tail no. 3633. It will be done by the PAF's 410th Maintenance Wing although the work might be done in Cebu, not in the wing's Clark Air Base facility. Information given to MaxDefense regarding these 3 C-130s is not yet final though, any may change depending on the situation in the next few months.

C-130B tail no. 3633 with PAF 410th Maintenance Wing team after completion of in-house refurbishing work.
Photo from Mr. Thomas Diez' Facebook account as shared in Timawa.net


Another source of additional C-130s will come from Excess Defense Articles (EDA) from the United States. According to MaxDefense sources, the DND and PAF are in talks with the US government to get at least 3 units of "H" models from US EDA stocks. It is also possible for the PAF to acquire additional units besides the 3 being pushed. These 3 aircraft will be refurbished there first before delivery to the PAF, and will be delivered between 2014 and 2015 depending on the deal's immediate approval and the extent of refurbishment.

If all goes according to planned, the PAF will have at least 9 operational C-130s by 2015.


Commissioning of C-130B tail no. 3633 after in-house refurbishing by PAF's 410th Maintenance Wing at Clark Air Base.
Photo taken from Armed Forces of the Philippines Public Affairs Office.


Besides C-130s, MaxDefense also received information that other aircraft types from American EDA stocks are also being eyed for transfer to the Philippine Air Force, either via grant or Foreign Military Sales (FMS), including helicopters, special missions aircraft (for further confirmation) and fighter aircraft.

MaxDefense will update you regarding this topic upon availability of more information.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Seriously, the Principe de Asturias for the Philippine Navy? A Case of Sensationalized News Reporting

On May 20, 2013, an article from lavozdigital.es, a Spanish news website, came out with an article titled "Filipinas se Interesa por el 'Principe de Asturias'", or translated to English , "The Philippines is Interested with the 'Prince of Asturias'". Several defense forums, sites and Facebook group pages in the Philippines and other countries were suddenly buzzing about this news, to the delight of many in the Philippines.

So what is the 'Prince of Asturias' anyway? 

The 'Prince of Asturias' is actually the Spanish aircraft carrier SPS Principe de Asturias (R11), the former flagship of the Spanish Armada, which was recently decommissioned due to defense budget cuts in the Spanish Navy. It is powered by two gas turbine engines in COGAG configuration, manned by 600 men plus allocations for 230 men for its aviation assets, and can carry around 29 fixed and rotary air assets for a variety of missions including power projection. The latest operating cost reported for her and her air group was around  100 million, or around Php 5.5 billion.

The SPS Principe de Asturias (R11)
Photo taken from Wikimedia.

It sounds like good news, but actually there's none.

The article from lavozdigital.es does not even explain how the Spanish see the Philippines as interested on the ship since it the most of the article itself points to the Indonesians, which was said to have visited the Spanish Navy base at Ferrol and took interest on the ship but eventually rejecting the idea of purchasing it. The entire article itself only used the word "Philippines" once, plus the title.

So how did it involved the Philippines? 

MaxDefense sources confirmed that a Philippine contingent from the Department of National Defense (DND) and the Philippine Navy (PN) visited Spain a few months ago to meet representatives from Navantia shipbuilding company and the Spanish Navy in relation to the ongoing PN modernization program. The contingent was given an opportunity to tour the carrier while it was moored at Ferrol, and an offer was made for the Philippines to consider purchasing it. As the Philippine contingent did not give a definite answer of acceptance or rejection, the Spanish media immediately assumed that the Philippine government is indeed interested in it, and that Indonesia's rejection to their offer means that the Philippines is left as possible buyer.


The Principe de Asturias docked in Ferrol after decommissioning, where the Philippine contingent visited her.
Photo taken from RevistaNaval.com

The Principe de Asturias was a source of pride for the Spain as a whole, and giving it up earlier than planned was painful for them to accept. Transferring it for use by another navy is much acceptable for them than scrapping it. Aside from pride, it would be financially better for the Spanish government. Scrapping it requires capital outlay, while the scrap material does not worth much, while selling the ship and including a refurbishing and service support package contract (as indicated in the article) means returns for the government and Spanish companies as well as jobs for its people. Giving the public hope that the Philippines may possibly take the ship is better news than emphasizing the rejection by the Indonesians. 

A better news was made by interpreting the information on the positive face, arriving on a news that was not supported by facts and was not even explained properly in the article content, and making a title that gets the public's attention are forms of news sensationalizing. Who in Spain would have thought that their poor former colony is moneyed enough to buy their navy's pride? 

Was it successful? Yes it was, and a proof of that is by making its way halfway around the world and becoming a buzz in the Philippine and regional defense media and social network, and with MaxDefense dedicating an entire blog answering it.



Let us assume that the news was correct for the sake of discussion.

Although it seems something to be joyful about, we have to ask ourselves again: Can the PN buy the "Principe"? Does the PN really have the capability to operate the "Principe"? Is the "Principe" what the PN really need?

Several posters in Philippine defense forums and sites welcomed the news with delight and excitement, and sharing the news to the public without really thinking again if this is indeed possible, logical, or even true. Technically, yes it is possible, the first question's answer is definitely yes. If the PN really wants it, they will allocate money for it. Then what? Before we finalize our answer on that, let us answer the next questions MaxDefense posted above. 

Does the Philippine Navy really have the capability to operate the Principe de Asturias, or any other carrier or ship of that magnitude? The answer is 'NO'. Here's why:


The Principe de Asturias with its air group composed of helicopters and VTOL fighters.

Currently the PN survives on a budget that is not even enough to fully bring its meager forces to a high operational readiness as compared to its contemporaries, and cannot modernize its ageing assets. It even needs a scheme like the AFP Modernization Program just to do that. 

Having the carrier means that the PN needs to train 600 men and women to operate such complex ship, very much more complicated than the latest and most modern ship it has (Gregorio del Pilar-class frigates). The PN already had difficulty programming to train 300 men to operate two Maestrale-class frigates, what more for a 600-men aircraft carrier? 

The PN also needs to allocate a budget of more or less Php 5 billion to keep her operational and in high readiness status. That amount is big enough to drain the operational budget of the entire PN for more than a year! Yes, Php 5 billion cost may include the carrier's air group, but we ask again, does the PN have the air group to place in the carrier? You can even place the entire combat aircraft fleet of the PAF and it may still have space for more. Having its own air group of just helicopters require the PN to spend billions of pesos again. The gas turbines powering the vessel, which is identical to that of the US Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates, was considered "gas-guzzling" by the PN high command during previous Congressional Hearings. It has no diesel engines that the PN prefer in its ships. 

A Spanish Navy AV-8B Harrier fighter aircraft landing on the Principe de Asturias. Does the PN have the budget and skill to have such aircraft?
Photo taken from Wikimedia.

An aircraft carrier, being a primary naval asset and the pride of the fleet, needs escorts to guard it and auxiliary ships to support it. Currently there are no capable warships in the PN fleet to effectively defend the carrier from air, surface and sub-surface threats. The PN, although embarking on a frigate program, the numbers are not enough. The Spanish Navy alone allocates around 6 Santa Maria-class (Spanish-made Oliver Hazard Perry-class) frigates for her battle group alone. The PN don't even have one.

The Principe de Asturias (R11) and her replacement the Juan Carlos I (L61) with escorting Santa Maria-class frigates and Harrier fighter cover from her air group. Does the PN have these supporting assets to defend the carrier?

As for the third question, is the 'Principe' what the PN really needs. We look again at what the PN has in its fleet.

Currently the PN has for a long time chronically lacks the necessary ships to effectively perform its mandate. It has no missile equipped ships, has very few large ships, mostly ageing assets, poor basing facilities, not up-to-date technology, and personnel untrained for modern warship operations. 


The PN can't even properly man this ship, nor buy it.

In its current disposition, the PN needs to prioritize training its personnel to operate modern warships and understand aspects of modern naval warfare, upgrade and refurbish its still serviceable naval and air assets, purchase more fighting, amphibious, patrol, auxiliary, and support ships and crafts as well as aircraft, improve its technology base and induct missile technology in its arsenal, improve its war fighting doctrines, improve and expand its naval bases and air strips, and retire its already overworking ships. 

The PN can't even replace this ageing asset. Why not prioritize in replacing all World War 2-era assets first?

The PN is also in a situation that it cannot even properly fund its incoming or ongoing projects like the Frigate project, MRV project, ASW helicopter project, and all others in line. If the PN and DND has the budget to buy the carrier, why not just allocate the money to fund these in-line projects? With the money, it can improve the type of frigates to be bought or even increase the numbers above the current program for 2 units.

So the answer to the third question is definitely 'NO'.


Can the PN allocate all its assets including the BRP Gregorio del Pilar just to escort and defend the carrier?
Photo taken from Gregorio del Pilar PF-15 Facebook page.


To give a perspective, MaxDefense will use the larger, better equipped and better funded Royal Thai Navy (RTN) as an example for comparison  Why them? Because they currently operate the Principe de Asturias' sistership, the HTMS Chakri Naruebet (CVV-911), currently their flagship and largest warship.


The Principe de Asturias (R11) together with her sistership, the HTMS Charki Naruebet (CVV-911) of the Royal Thai Navy, during the latter's sea trials in the mid-90s.
Originally the Thais purchased their carrier on the assumption that their booming economy can support such budget-eating asset. With it they bought 9 used Spanish Navy AV-8A/S Harrier Matadors and 6 new Sikorsky S-70 Seahawk ASW helicopters as its air group assets. Things looked well at first.


HTMS Charki Naruebet initially have ex-Spanish AV-8A Matador Harrier in its air group. The entire Matador fleet has been stored due to lack of funding and parts, with the Sikorsky S-70 Seahawks soldiering on.

Then came the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis.

It battered the Thai economy really bad and defense cuts plus decline of the Thai Baht started to hurt the RTN. The ship stayed on port most of the time instead of operating at sea, its Matador Harrier air group was left without parts and funding support, and stored indefinitely (until now), the planned escort ships did not materialize,  and the ship was considered a waste by their politicians and media. Even with Thai economy's recovery, the ship was not able to really do its intended missions regularly due to lack of sufficient funding. Instead it became a helicopter carrier, a helicopter platform having common support role with the RTN's sole LPD the HTMS Angthong, a support ship for evacuation and relief operations during disaster and emergencies, and becomes the largest royal yacht in the world when necessary.


If the DND / PN does have the budget to buy the carrier, would it not be better to spend it first to purchase well-equipped full-size frigates, like the Italian Carlo Bergamini (FREMM) class?
Photo taken from Wikimedia.

MaxDefense opinion on this issue is for people to read information well, understand it, and think twice or even thrice to see if it is indeed worth believing or spreading to the public. Spreading misinformation to the unknowing public will not help in the Armed Forces of the Philippines' drive for support for its modernization program. Instead, the public will demand more from the government based on wrong information.