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 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.