Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Fight for the PN's ASW Helicopter Still On, and Possible Acquisition of the FASGW(H) Sea Venom Missile for the Helicopters

With the bidding for the Philippine Navy's (PN) requirement for 2 Anti-Submarine Warfare Helicopters failing in its first attempt, the Philippines' Department of National Defense (DND) has issued another Invitation to Bid for another attempt. The ABC remains the same at Php 5.405 billion.The pre-bid conference was done last October 7, 2014, in which according to reports, 4 companies attended and showed interest in the project. These are AgustaWestland, PT Dirgantara Indonesia (PTDI), Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) and a joint venture between Bell Helicopter Asia and Serpenair Group. The absence of Airbus Helicopters is a surprise although MaxDefense sources said that they are now working together with PTDI, which were given local production licenses and marketing rights for some of their helicopter offerings.

The AgustaWestland AW-159 still appears to be in the forefront of the PN ASW Helicopter acquisition.

It is expected that AgustaWestland will be offering again the AW159 Wildcat, PTDI with the Airbus Helicopters AS565MB Panther, and Bell-Serpenair with a navalized Bell 412. IAI does not produce its own helicopters, and is expected to join or work together with a helicopter supplier.

The Airbus Helicopter AS565MB Panther, which might be the one offered by PT Dirgantara Indonesia.
Photo taken from John Bennett via Air-Britain Photographic Images Collection.

The bid submission and opening for this second attempt was originally scheduled today, October 21, 2014, but was moved to November 4, 2014 due to some clarifications made by PTDI and AgustaWestland.

Changes from the First Bidding Attempt:
There were actually some major changes in the Technical Specifications of the helicopters that MaxDefense believes is more reasonable than the initial version. Although it looks like this gave the AW159 Wildcat a higher chance of winning, it actually allowed other suppliers a better chance of clinching the deal. The major differences are as follows:

1. Endurance in full ASW configuration with munitions was reduced from 2 hours and 30 minutes to only 2 hours;

2. Range in full ASW configuration with munitions was reduced from 300nm to 240nm;
3. Requirement on number of the aircraft's users was reduced, from country of origin or at least 2 other countries, to country of origin or at least 1 other country;
4. Rigidity of the airframe was further defined to withstand and survive vertical crash impacts of up to 10G;

Other changes in the technical specfications include:

5. Suppliers are now given an option for alternatives on crew station requirements for tactical coordinator (TACCO) and sensor operator (SENSO);
6. Openness to an option for a manual rotor folding system for 4-bladed rotors instead of only accepting automatic folding systems;
7. Specified the included items for the Flight In Air Material (FIAM) gears;
8. The suppliers are given other options for the crew training requirements aside from what was specified.

It's Still a Cat Fight:
In the previous MaxDefense blog entry on this project, a "Cat Fight" between the Wildcat and the Panther was predicted. It certainly is the same for this second bidding attempt. But Bell's offer could be a wildcard although their chances, in MaxDefense's opinion, is slimmer than the 2 cat-named helicopters.

The AW-159 Wildcat still appears to be the point of reference for this bidding, and still has the highest chance of getting the deal, except if PTDI can meet the requirements AND shake the status quo by placing a significantly lower bid than AgustaWestland. MaxDefense believes that Airbus Helicopter's cooperation with PTDI for this project is well timed, with the Indonesian Navy (TNI-AL) recently choosing the AS565 Panther as its next ship-based ASW helicopter. With PTDI supplying the helicopters, costs could be driven down and may give it a chance to overtake the AgustaWestland offer.

The Venezuelan Navy operates a few Bell 412 in naval roles, although it is unclear if this version has the capabilities the PN is looking for.

So what's new here?

Should either the Wildcat or Panther be chosen, there is one major thing common between the 2 helicopters - both are planned to be equipped with the same new generation anti-ship missile systems from European missile system manufacturer MBDA. Enter the FASGW(H) missile series.

FASGW(H) Anti-Ship Missile:
MBDA is currently in the process of introducing a new anti-surface missiles to replace the ageing Sea Skua with the British Royal Navy (RN) and the AS.15TT designed to be fired from the the Eurocopter (now Airbus Helicopters) Panther and Dauphin naval helicopters. The missile system was designated as the Future Anti Surface Guided Weapon (FASGW) or Sea Venom for the British, and as the Anti-Nevire Legere (ANL) with the French. It was designed to be carried by the RN's Lynx and Wildcat helicopters, and the FN's Panther helicopters, and further development may allow it to be fired from other platforms, including other helicopters models, and possibly from surface ships. So far it was also confirmed that the NH90 helicopter can be equipped with the missile system.

The MBDA FASGW / ANL, together with the smaller Thales FASGWL / LMM.

With both the Wildcat and the Panther vying for the Philippine Navy requirement, the chances of the PN having this missile in its future inventory is very high. The ASW Helicopter's technical specifications require for a missile with weight not more than 150 kilograms, a warhead not less than 20 kilograms, a range not less than 20 kilometers, and equipped with a guidance system. In comparison, the Sea Venom/ANL weighs around 110 kilograms, a warhead at the 30 kilogram class, and a range said to exceed 25 kilometers. With not much alternatives, the FASGW(H) is certainly a perfect fit.

A computer illustration of what an AW-159 Wildcat may look like with the FASGW(H) Sea Venom missiles.

Although the FASGW(H) / Sea Venom / ANL is no Exocet or Harpoon missile in terms of size and range, it is still a very capable missile that gives versatility to naval helicopters, providing anti-surface warfare capabilities in shorter ranges against smaller targets. It gives the helicopter enough punch to disable warships up to corvette size, and sink smaller ships and fast boats at stand-off distances. 

The ANL is expected to be used by the French Navy for their AS565 Panther naval helicopters, and should the PN get the same helicopters for its ASW Helicopter requirement, it may also get the ANL missile.
Photo taken from the Defenseindustrydaily website.

The only problem is...

The FASGW(H) / Sea Venom / ANL is expected to enter the RN service by January 2018 after encountering several delays during its development program. So it is expected that even if the PN becomes the first customer outside UK & France, the first missiles may arrive only around mid-2018. By that time, it is expected that the ASW helicopters are already in PN service. But being an ASW platform, the PN is probably giving more emphasis to ASW training and duties once the helicopters arrive, thus the urgency is more on having them armed with torpedoes instead of anti-surface missiles like the FASGW(H).

Previously MaxDefense discussed the Sea Skua as a possible missile for the AW-159 Wildcat, but since this is a model that is not in production anymore, it is not expected to enter the PN service, probably even as a second-hand defense article.


Delays in the procurement may happen due to circumstances that come along with the entire acquisition program, like what was experienced by the ASW Helicopter and Frigate acquisition programs. Nonetheless, the PN is still expected to gain from this acquisition, and it is expected that they will be acquiring more ASW helicopters as the fleet acquire more surface combatants with helicopter deck and hangar. Loosely following the Philippine Navy Desired Force Mix white paper, it might be possible for the PN to get more of whatever is chosen on this bidding as more funds become available in the second phase of the AFP Modernization Program slated from 2018-2022.

Aside from the helicopters, it is expected that the PN will acquire more of the FASGW(H) missiles proportionate to the number of helicopters or assets capable of launching them. Aside from the air launched version, MaxDefense sources confirmed that there were offers from MBDA for a ship-launched version that is being developed, although this would probably be for a medium term goal as part of the next phase of the AFP Modernization.

October 25, 2014:
The DND released its newest supplementary bid bulleting regarding the ASW Helicopter acquisition project, with reference no. DND/AFP-PN-R-ASHAP-1014-03 dated October 23, 2014. The content clarifies several clauses from the DND Technical Specifications, and also answering the request for information (RFI) previously submitted by both AgustaWestland and PT Dirgantara Indonesia.

AgustaWestland got clarifications regarding the certification of the helicopter from aviation classification societies, the Tactical Data Exchange and Recording System, and documentation and administrative requirements. 

PTDI's queries are more complex, although by the queries they provided appears that they might be having problems meeting the basic requirements of the project. Their offer appears to have difficulties meeting both anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and anti-surface warfare (AShW) capabilities. Also, the DND provided answers to their request on amendments on the delivery; terminologies regarding the product being used by the country of origin or at least 2 other countries; the requirement for an airframe hour meter to monitor the helicopter's airframe life; TACCO & SENSO operator configuration; GPS & VOR integration; weapons launcher requirement; and issues regarding training and maintenance work.

From the queries provided, it appears that AgustaWestland did offer the AW-159 Wildcat, while PTDI appears to be offering a small helicopter design, probably the AS565 Panther as discussed by MaxDefense in this blog entry. But following PTDI's concerns, there might be some limitations in their Panther model being offered as compared to the French-made version AS565MB Panther due to the possible absence of a capability to combine ASW & AShW missions. This would now be dependent on how Airbus Helicopters and PTDI can merge themselves to provide a complying offer.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Is it Time to Replace the Philippine Air Force's S-211 Aircraft?

The Philippine Air Force (PAF) is among the foremost organizations that has started its preparation for transition, with its manpower and organization, doctrine and training, and assets acquisition all pointing for a stronger emphasis to air defense, domain awareness, and maritime support capabilities. Among those that may require modernization are the training aircraft fleet, most notably the SIAI Marchetti AS-211 for fast-jet pilot training preparation, as the PAF is in the process of accepting more advanced fighters and fighter trainers.

The Philippine Air Force's AS-211 Warrior, a modified SIAI Marchetti S-211 basic jet trainer with limited attack capability.

SIAI Marchetti S-211 in Philippine Air Force: Currently the PAF's foremost asset is the SIAI-Marchetti (now Aermacchi) S-211 jet aircraft from Italy. It is the only jet powered combat and trainer aircraft in the PAF, and is only available in limited numbers due to poor serviceability and funding issues. Originally designed as a basic jet trainer, it was procured by the PAF in the early 1990s as the first step to improve the training capability of future PAF pilots. A total of 25 units were acquired, 9 units built by SIAI-Marchetti in Italy, 15 units assembled locally by the Philippine Aerospace Development Corporation (PADC), and 1 non-flying airframe. These aircraft were divided into 2 training squadrons, one each based in Fernando Air Base in Batangas and Basa Air Base in Pampanga.

PAF S-211s in flying school trainer colors, probably taken in the early 1990s.

Plans to acquire more sophisticated advanced jet trainers were made before 1995, with the PAF considering the BAE Hawk, Aero Vodochody L-39 Albatross, and Dassault Alpha Jet. But this plan did not materialize due to lack of funding and support from the national government. Instead, it was included in the 1995 AFP Modernization Program as part of the PAF's wishlist for around 24 Surface Attack / Advanced Jet Trainer Aircraft. And 17 years later on, nothing was acquired by the PAF for this role until the awarding of the SAA/LIFT acquisition project to Korea Aerospace Industries for its FA-50 Fighting Eagle.

Then PAF Gen. Loven Abadia (in orange) after conducting test flight with the Dassault Alpha Jet in the early 1990s, which was then offered to the PAF.
Photo taken from Lt. Col. Francis Neri (PAF) Facebook page on The Greats of the Philippine Fighter Force: Gen. Loven C. Abadia

The absence of an advanced jet trainer forced the S-211 to shoulder the role of transitioning pilots to the F-5A/B Freedom Fighter jets after the last T-33 Shooting Star jet trainer was withdrawn from PAF service in the early 90s. Then, with still no replacement for the ageing F-5A/B, the S-211 was again made to shoulder the role of being the PAF's only air defense asset and the entire working fleet were upgraded to AS-211 Warrior standards. Being an aircraft designed for as a basic jet trainer without radar, missile capability, internal gun, and enough power and size to match any of the Philippines' neighbors, it is only apparent that it is not the proper aircraft for the job. It was overused to do duties other than what it was designed for aside from lack of budget to maintain and repair the entire fleet, 

Current Training Aircraft Inventory of the PAF:
Currently, there are 2 aircraft models that all upcoming pilots will have to fly before moving on to specialist training. These are the Cessna T-41B/D Mescalero for Ab-initio / Primary Pilot Training, and the SF-260F/TP for Basic Flight Training. Pilot graduates that are going for advanced / specialized jet training will then proceed to the Air Defense Command to train with the AS-211.

Lacking enough aircraft, the PAF was forced to push the AS-211 to become its basic and advanced jet trainer, and combat jet all at the same time. With the FA-50 expected to enter service soon, the AS-211 may be given some rest on combat duties and might concentrate on advanced  training flights until a replacement is provided.

Why Replace the S-211?
The most obvious reason is that the AS-211 fleet is getting old, with the aircraft in service with the PAF for almost 24 years, its systems outdated, and is becoming a maintenance burden. The PAF, being the only remaining military operator of the type, was said to be experiencing difficulty in maintaining the remaining operational aircraft in its arsenal. The lack of enough operators of the type has made spare parts availability an issue, similar to what the PAF experienced with the F-5A/B in the past. There are several non-operational aircraft that are not being revived by the PAF even if budget can be made available for such move. Latest press releases by the PAF only indicated a plan to revive 2 non-working units to raise the total fleet to 6 aircraft.

A fleet of non-working F-5A/B and S-211 jets at Clark Air Base. Several S-211 airframes can be revived if the PAF wanted to, but the service is not making such effort. 

When Singapore retired their S-211, the PAF did not make any major effort to acquire them to beef up its current fleet, instead letting a private Australian firm have the priority to acquire most of the Singaporean aircraft. They were reportedly being sold at a very low price, and being a major operator of the type, the PAF was expected to push hard for its acquisition.  

MaxDefense believes that the PAF was already contemplating to find a suitable replacement for the aircraft, although budget is scarce as the PAF is prioritizing other aircraft requirements in their short term acquisition program.

The S-211 was preceded by the Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star, like the one shown in the photo above now displayed in the Philippine Air Force Museum, which was the PAF's jet trainer from the mid 1950s to the early 1990s.
Photo taken from Wikimedia.

The need for a bridge between the SF-260 and FA-50
The PAF's SF-260F basic trainer aircraft is said to be categorized in a lower level than the basic-advanced trainers used by friendly air forces, like the USAF's T-6 Texan II, the RoKAF's KT-1 Woongbi, the RAAF's PC-9, and the RSAF's PC-21. A cash-strapped PAF, which will definitely do its very best to protect its FA-50 from unnecessary losses due to pilot error, will probably not risk SF-260F graduates to go directly to the FA-50. 

This is even evident with the pilots chosen by the PAF to train in South Korea for its first batch of pilots, wherein they chose the pilots with the most flying hours and experience with the AS-211.

Any move by the PAF to retire the AS-211 may include inducting a new platform to bridge the performance gap between the SF-260 and the FA-50. A good example that can be used by the PAF is that of the Italian Air Force's system, which uses the SF-260 in the basic training role, bridged by an advanced trainer (currently filled by the MB-339), and finally with a LIFT (currently using the M-346 Master).

Options for Replacing the AS-211:
A. New Advanced Trainer:
There are several trainer aircraft in the global market today that meets the PAF's requirement for an S-211 replacement that could slot in between the SF-260 and FA-50. A good example to look into is the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF), which is a former S-211 user, and the like the PAF, used the S-211 for basic to advanced flight training purposes. The RSAF replaced the S-211 with the Pilatus PC-21 turboprop aircraft, under a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) contract awarded to Lockheed Martin Simulation, Training & Support in 2006, which in turn acquired 19 units together with flight simulators and maintenance. RSAF's first aircraft delivered by 2008. RSAF pilots finishing their training with the PC-21 moves up to the M-346 Master LIFT, which is in the same level as the PAF's FA-50.

The RSAF replaced the S-211 with the Pilatus PC-21 advance turboprop trainer.
Photo taken from Victor Pody c/o

Aside from the PC-21, other designs available in the market today include the  jet powered Alenia Aermacchi M-345 HET, a modern derivative of the PAF's S-211. Unlike the S-211 which did not enter service with the air force of its country of origin, the M-345 is slated to enter the Italian Air Force in the next few years to replace the ageing MB-339 in its arsenal including those of their famous aerobatic team the Frecce Tricolori.  

The PAF could also consider replacing the S-211 with its modern derivative, the Alenia Aermacchi M-345 jet trainer, which will see service with the Italian Air Force soon, and replace the MB-339 with the Italian aerobatic team Frecce Tricolori.

B. Adjusting the PAF's trainer fleet role:
Although MaxDefense believes that options "A" above is a better option, the PAF can look at adjusting the roles of its current trainer aircraft fleet. This includes retiring the Cessna T-41 Mescalero from the Ab-initio / primary training role and replacing them with the SF-260F. To fill in the basic to advance trainer, the PAF could opt to acquire more advanced turboprop trainers like the Pilatus PC-9MBeechcraft's T-6C Texan II, and Korea Aerospace Industries' KT-1 Woongbi

With the PAF currently in the market for Close Air Support (CAS) aircraft to compliment and eventually replace the venerable OV-10 Bronco with the 15th Strike Wing, the PAF can look at the trainer versions of the CAS candidates. As discussed in previous MaxDefense blog entries, possible candidates include the Embraer EMB-314 /A-29 Super Tucano, Beechcraft AT-6C Texan II, Korea Aerospace Industries KA-1 Woongbi, and IOMAX Archangel. Except for the Archangel, all are based on basic-advanced turboprop trainer aircraft, with the EMB-314 being a further development of the successful EMB-312 Tucano, the AT-6C and KA-1 being an armed variant of the T-6 Texan II and KT-1, respectively.

Beechcraft's T-6 Texan II can be a good replacement, especially if the PAF opted to get the AT-6C Texan II for its CAS aircraft requirements.
Photo taken from Beechcraft's website.

MaxDefense believes that the PAF could consolidate its CAS and basic/advanced trainer platforms to allow better and simplified logistics, training, and maintenance commonality. But this could be a problem if the PAF and DND's baseline specifications for the CAS aircraft allows for a specific model that doesn't have a trainer derivative like the IOMAX Archangel.

(Originally MaxDefense believes that the specifications indicated in the CAS project is very close to the A-29 Super Tucano from Embraer.)

According to MaxDefense sources, the EMB-314 Super Tucano (which MaxDefense believes is most possible choice for the CAS requirement) has disadvantages in being a platform for the training requirement, as the aircraft was design more for light attack use and have features that are not needed for training duties (examples are the rugged terrain landing gears, strengthened airframe to carry ordnance and additional armor, etc.) and may push the aircraft's cost higher than the competition. Although converting them to purely training aircraft by removing vital equipment used for armed missions can be done.

C. Send PAF pilots to get advance training with Air Forces of Friendly Countries:

The lack of enough aircraft to train upcoming pilots or keep its pilots in high operational readiness may require the PAF to get the assistance of friendly air forces for its pilot and even ground crew training requirements. AETC-graduate pilots may be sent to countries like the United States, Australia, or South Korea and train under their system. Although this is not a permanent solution, this might be needed to meet the PAF's training requirements in the shortest possible time. Not only are PAF pilots being trained, they are also immersed in a different and probably more advanced training system than what the PAF currently offers. These pilots could then pass on their knowledge and experience to the service by becoming PAF instructors later on to younger batches of pilots.

Whatever option the PAF chooses, it is inevitable for them to find a replacement for the aircraft, or acquire a new aircraft that could work in tandem with the S-211/AS-211 in the basic to advanced training requirements. The PAF expects the number of pilots ready for fast-jet training to increase in the coming years, and the current fleet number may not be enough to reach the required target. It is expected that aside from the S-211 getting older and more difficult to maintain, the PAF must upgrade its training curriculum to improve its pilot's capabilities and prepare them to fly more advanced aircraft like the incoming FA-50 Fighting Eagle and the expected new MRF the PAF plans to acquire beginning 2017.

Until then, the PAF should provide adequate budget to keep the AS-211 fleet in tip-top condition, provide the best maintenance support it can give, and make efforts to improve the fleet numbers and operational readiness of the fleet.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Philippines-France Defense Cooperation Agreement - Easing the Supply of Military Equipment for the AFP

Philippine president Benigno Aquino III's official visit to France from September 17 to 19, 2014, concluded with several discussions and deals with the French government and France-based multinational companies. In relation to defense and security, Aquino was able to push for the signing of an updated Defense Cooperation Agreement between France and the Philippines, as well as meeting with Airbus top officials.

President Aquino meets French president Francois Hollande in Paris.
Photo taken Mr. Christian Hartmann c/o Reuters.

France-Philippines Defense Cooperation Agreement (DCA)
The 2 countries already have a previous DCA and the one signed in France this week updates and further strengthen this defense agreement. This paves the way for the the French government to assist the modernization program of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), and for allowing French companies to supply the Philippines with weapons platforms, systems, and defense-related goods and services. This also allows the Philippines to tap French assistance in other defense-related issues like training and education, warship visits and military aircraft stop-overs, and others.

Previously, the Department of National Defense (DND) indicated that a DCA is important in paving the way for defense acquisitions with certain companies and governments where the supplier is based. Such examples of previous DCA signed by the Philippine with other countries are those with Canada, South Korea, Indonesia, and the United States. This paved the way for the AFP and DND to acquire military assets from the said countries, with the Bell 412 CUH and VIP helicopters from Bell Textron Canada, FA-50 Fighting Eagle jets from Korea Aerospace Industries, and Strategic Sealift Vessels from PT PAL of Indonesia.

What the French are (and possibly) offering:
Current defense acquisitions and awards made by the DND and AFP include the C-295 medium lift tactical transport aircraft from Airbus Military, based in France. Aside from Airbus Military, French or part-French companies like MBDA Systems, Thales Group, STX France, Dassault Aviation, Airbus Helicopters (formerly Eurocopter), Nexter Group, and DCNS have shown interest, are offering, or are competing for contracts to supply various defense systems to the AFP.

Airbus Military, aside from its offer to supply the Philippine Air Force's (PAF) requirement for Long Range Maritime Patrol Aircraft (LRPA), has reportedly offered "a newly designed aircraft for disaster management", which can be provided by the French government through a possible Official Government Assistance loan to the Philippine government. MaxDefense sources, and analysis of previous plans of the AFP points to an offer for 2 units of the Airbus A400M Atlas transport aircraft, which can be considered as a dual-use asset for combat support and humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) operations. MaxDefense previously tackled the need to more dual-use military assets for this requirement in a previous MaxDefense entry. Airbus has also recently won to supply the PAF with medium tactical transports with its C-295 aircraft.

Airbus was reportedly offering the A400M Atlas to the Philippines through the French government assistance.

STX France is one of the shipbuilders qualified to bid to construct the Philippine Navy's (PN) 2 new light frigates. Aside from that, STX France and other French shipbuilders like DCNS are offering or preparing for a possible tender for the long awaited Offshore Patrol Vessel requirement and other combat and support vessels for the Philippine Navy.

DCNS and other French shipbuilders are interested in upcoming projects for the Philippine Navy. Photo above shows DCNS' Gowind-class Offshore Patrol Vessel design.

MBDA Systems are currently offering assorted missile systems to the Philippine Navy for their upcoming and current naval and air assets, the Philippine Air Force, and to the Philippine Army (PA) for air defense systems. According to MaxDefense's PN sources, MBDA has a strong chance of getting some or all the missile system requirements for the upcoming new frigates. MaxDefense believes that the offers include the MM40 Exocet anti-ship missile, and any of their 3 naval anti-aircraft missile systems: the Mistral short range man-portable air defense missile, the vertical launch (VL) version of the longer ranged Mica missile, and the newer Common Anti-Air Modular Missile system (CAMM).

The Mistral is also being offered to provide air defense systems for the PN's current major naval assets; and the Lightweight Multirole Missile and Sea Viper for their AW109 Power naval helicopters and the upcoming ASW helicopters. They are also offering the Exocet anti-ship missile coastal battery version and Mistral to the PA for their missile system requirements. The PAF was also being offered to use the air-launched version of the Exocet missile for its upcoming LRPA acquisition.

A computer generated illustration of an AgustaWestland AW159 Wildcat fitted with both the Lightweight Multirole Missile (LMM) and the Sea Viper missile.
Photo taken from IHS-Jane's website.

The Thales Group has been also actively involved in offering its defense and security products, mostly on electronics, radars, sensors and surveillance systems, command and control systems, system integration and subsystems. It is involved and actively pushing its products for several of the AFP's current and upcoming projects, including the PAF's LRPA, surveillance systems, and aircraft subsystems; PN's new frigates & SSV, and ship upgrades for its current assets, GHQ-AFP and PA's C4ISR and battlefield radars system, and many others.

Thales' Captas towed array sonar might be one of the products being offered to the Philippine Navy.

Aside from new defense systems, the agreement paves the way for the French government to also possibly offer excess defense articles to the AFP. As a major military power that is experiencing some economic downhill like other European countries , it is expected that France has a lot of EDAs or systems that are about to be taken out French military service that they can offer at a lower price or as grants should the Philippines not be able to afford brand new systems.

A Georges Leygues-class frigate, which are to be withdrawn from French Navy service as more Aquitaine-class (FREMM) frigates come online. Used ships like this can boost the Philippine Navy's combat fleet in the face of Chinese aggression.
Photo taken from Wikipedia. 

This deal definitely helps the Philippine government pursue its plans to modernize the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and provide a closer defense relationship between the two republics.

Airbus A400M Atlas being offered?:

Comparing the 3 foremost large transport aircraft of the Western world: the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III (left), the Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules (middle), and the Airbus Military A400M Atlas (right).
Photo taken from Key Publishing website.

This can be considered as a surprise move by Airbus and the French government. If confirmed as offered through official French government loans, this could actually be a win-win situation both for the Philippines and France for several reasons. Aside from the announced reason of assisting the Philippine government in increasing and improving its HADR capability, the move can actually be considered as both economically and politically for the French government for the following reasons:

1. Accepting the offer means a successful sale for France. By loan or not, the Philippines will still be paying for them, thus can still be considered a positive economic news and export for France and Airbus. This will definitely make a small share of revenue and jobs for France. 

2. With lowered sales numbers for the A400M from its original buyers like Spain, Germany and the UK, and South Africa cancelling their previous orders, Airbus and the French government together with its partners are looking for ways to find other customers to acquire the aircraft and re-build the numbers it needs. Getting the Philippines to join its current customers is one way of reducing the burden of reduced sales and growing unit costs to cope up with the projected profit and cover development costs of the aircraft. If France decides to offer those it previously committed to buy but decided to cancel, it definitely helps France to share its burden to the Philippines.

3. Getting more customers to have A400M in their inventories will help market the aircraft further to other countries. This is a proven sales strategy that is also applicable to military aircraft. Being considerably more expensive than the smaller Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules and the soon available Embraer KC-390 from Brazil, only a few countries showed actual interest on the Atlas. Making it easy for countries to afford the aircraft by providing financial assistance may help increase the the number of users of the A400M. 

4. Airbus might be betting that having the A400M in PAF's inventory will definitely allow the Airbus to possibly get additional orders later on should the PAF replace the legacy C-130 Hercules in its fleet, or if money becomes a non-issue to enlarge the heavy transport fleet from its current numbers. 

5. The deal gives France the moral and political vote of confidence and support from the Philippine government and its people, while also gaining positive points to President Francois Hollande, his administration, and the French people for its generosity. 

If France really wanted to just assist the Philippines to have a reasonable capability to airlift goods and services during HADR operations, there are several other alternatives they could have offered instead of the hulking A400M. For ODA, they can offer the Airbus Military C-295 transport aircraft similar to what what the PAF ordered recently, although technically the C-295 is more of a Spanish product (being from CASA, now part of Airbus Military). France can also offer larger helicopters than what the PAF currently uses like the Airbus Helicopters EC725 Super Cougar which have good range and capable of airlift operations from hard to reach areas, although these are also expensive. The French government could also provide alternative means to aid the Philippines aside from ODA, like granting retired but still usable and immediately available assets like ex-Armee de l'Air C-160 Transall transport aircraft or Puma helicopters. 

Instead of the Airbus A400M, why not more of the smaller, more practical and already upcoming Airbus C-295? Although being a Spanish product, the French may prefer to sell something that they really can say as theirs.

Whatever the real reason is, the A400M is still a well-desired asset of any air force, and having them in PAF service is better than nothing at all. 

MaxDefense is happy to report to its readers that it reached 2 million views last September11, 2014, or after 16 months and 9 days from its beginning. Thank you for your continued support of MaxDefense blogs!!

September 22, 2014:
To clarify MaxDefense readers: Official Development Assistance (ODA) is not applicable to warfighting equipment. It is only applicable to promote economic development and welfare assistance. HADR operations can be considered a welfare assistance, thus only dual-use military equipment can be considered, which includes airlifters like the Airbus A400M. Fighter aircraft, frigates, and the like can't be considered for ODA loans.

September 26, 2014:
MaxDefense realized that there are a lot of readers who are not familiar with the Airbus Military A400M Atlas. With this, MaxDefense refers you to these websites for further reading:

- Airbus Defense and Space website (official Airbus website for A400M)
- Military Factory website;
Global Security website;
- Military Today website;
- Flight Global website (news related to A400M)

MaxDefense suggests its readers to read more about the aircraft, its capabilities, and comparison to other similar aircraft like the Lockheed Martin C-130B-H and C-130J, Boeing C-17 Globemaster III, etc.

September 27, 2014:
Project Philippines strikes again, copying some of the contents of this blog almost word per word. Any idea on who runs this copycat blog? 

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.