Friday, November 7, 2014

Philippine Coast Guard - Focusing on the Modernization of its Naval and Air Assets

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) previously announced their upcoming modernization program that will improve their capabilities, which includes the acquisition of new assets and equipment including new aircraft, patrol vessels and small boats, construction light houses, installation of coastal surveillance and communications systems, acquisition of rescue equipment, and others. The most recent acquisition plan include patrol vessels from France, wherein there were 2 separate acquisition plans that were brought up last year.

The 54-meter San Juan-class search and rescue vessels are currently the most capable ships in the Philippine Coast Guard. Built by Tenix of Australia, there are 4 ships in service with the PCG since 2000.

Among those in the pipeline are one 80-meter Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV) and four 24-meter Inshore Patrol Boats from France, ten 40-meter Multi-Role Response Vessels (MRRV) from Japan, at least 2 large patrol vessels, as well as new helicopters and aircraft. MaxDefense will be focusing on the major materiel acquisition done or being undertaken by the Philippine Coast Guard as part of its modernization effort. 

La Audacieuse-class (P400) Offshore Patrol Vessel:
MaxDefense previously discussed the planned acquisition of a former French Navy La Audacieuse-class (P400) offshore patrol vessel, the ex-La Tapageuse, in another blog entry. Originally planned for acquisition directly from the French government, the deal was not pursued by the Philippine government after the acquisition policies of the government took the PCG too long to confirm the acquisition, and the French government was not in a position to wait for the PCG as well. It was instead sold to French shipbuilder Piriou, which in turn refurbished and sold it to the Gabonese government as part of a larger deal that involves the sale of a brand new 58-meter OPV made jointly by Piriou and DCNS.

The La Tapageuse is now bound for the Gabonese Navy, although there are more La Audacieuse-class ships still available with the French Navy that are expected to be retired soon.

As previously announced by the Philippines' Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC), which is the parent ministry of the PCG, the estimated total cost to acquire and refurbish the ex-La Tapageuse was about €6.3 million. This is actually cheap considering that after the refurbishment works, it is expected that the ship can still serve the PCG for 15 years or more. With the La Tapageuse gone, it doesn't mean the end for PCG's quest for a La Audacieuse-class ship as the French Navy is scheduled to retire more of the class from service as they are replaced by newer ships. If the PCG could overcome the delays in approving the acquisition of pre-owned patrol vessels, they could have a chance of getting one, if not several of the ships of the class in the near future.

OCEA OPV 270 83-meter Offshore Patrol Vessel & FPB 72 24-meter Patrol Boats:
Another vessel acquisition program of the PCG that was recently in the limelight was the purchase of brand new French ships, using the budget previously allocated by former President Gloria Arroyo's administration to construct several Ro-Ro ports as part of its "Strong Republic Nautical Highway" project funded mostly by French government loans. With current President Benigno Aquino III overturning the project due to belief of anomalies made by the previous administration, the budget was then used to acquire new patrol vessels and boats for the PCG instead. 

While the decision to divert the loan funds was made early in the Aquino administration, it was only on November 2014 that announcements were publicly made by OCEA confirming that they would be supplying the 80-meter OPV to the PCG as part of a €90 million contract. Being a French-funded loan, it is only right that French shipbuilders be given the chance to supply the boats. OCEA confirmed during the Euronaval 2014 that the PCG will acquire a single 80-meter Offshore Patrol Vessel based on their new OPV 270 design. Although they did not made any announcement in Euronaval 2014, OCEA previously confirmed the acqusition of four 24-meter Patrol Boats based on their proven FPB 72 design by the PCG at Euronaval 2012 event.

According to NavyRecognition, the OPV 270 patrol vessel's hull is made from marine aluminum, with a length of 83 meters, a maximum range of around 4,500 to 8,000 kilometers at 15 knots, an endurance of 30 to 45 days, and a maximum speed of around 26 knots. It has a crew of 44 men, can take from 3 to 6 VIP passengers and 20 passengers. It will be powered by twin diesel engines. From the photos provided in open sources, the ship also has a helicopter deck capable of accepting light to medium-sized helicopters like the Airbus Helicopters Dauphin. This would probably take the role of the PCG's flagship once it enters service until a larger, more capable vessel becomes available.

OCEA's OPV 270 was selected to fulfill a requirement of the PCG for an 80-meter Offshore Patrol Vessel.
Photo taken from OCEA c/o NavyRecognition website.

From its description, it appears to be similar to a US Coast Guard medium-sized cutter of the Famous/Bear-class, although with a shorter range but with less men and probably lighter displacement. This is due to the aluminum material for use to build the ship, which is far lighter than marine steel. But this also means that the ship is prone to collision damage, and may not be used by the PCG on high seas showdown with the China Coast Guard or any other civilian maritime agencies in the region which involves a lot of rough cheek to cheek bumping. Aluminum-made hulls do not have the same structural strength as steel-made hulls, and it would be advisable for the PCG for this ship to avoid such incidents. 

The FPB 72 inshore patrol boat from OCEA.
Photo taken from 

The FPB 72 inshore patrol boats are smaller boats, also made using aluminum material which is OCEA's specialty. It has a length of 24 meters, and a maximum speed of around 32 knots. Based on its appearance alone, it would probably be used only on waters closer to land and would probably have almost the same characteristics as the Philippine Navy's Jose Andrada-class patrol gunboats which are also at 24 meters long. Aside from the PCG, the FPB 72 was selected by the navies of Suriname and Nigeria for inshore patrol duties.

Since this acquisition came from diverted funds, it would be doubtful if the PCG would order additional units, except if France will continue to provide financial assistance for similar programs in the near future. 

Multi-Role Response Vessels (MRRV) from Japan
A major acquisition project for the PCG also includes the Multi-Role Response Vessels (MRRV), in which the PCG will acquire 10 units to be assigned to its coast guard districts. An ongoing project, it is currently in the bidding stage as required by the Japanese government which provided the funding as part of the Maritime Safety Capability Improvement project of the PCG. The project is worth JPY 18.732 billion (around $187 million).

Currently the bidding was moved from October 30, 2014 to November 14, 2014 due to a number of queries that needs to be cleared from the respective bidders. All bidders are qualified Japanese companies as required by the loan agreement between the Philippine and Japanese governments. As of August 2014, shortlisted candidates for the project to supply 10 MMRV are Japan Marine United Corporation, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., Niigata Shipbuilding and Repair, Inc., and Sumidagawa Shipyard Co. Inc., all of which have experience in building small to large patrol vessels for the Japan Coast Guard. It is expected that the first vessel will be delivered to the PCG by December 2015, if all goes well according to the DOTC & PCG's plans. Aside from the shipbuilders, the PCG also acquired the services of a Construction Supervision Consultant to assist the PCG in project management works.

There are speculations that the specifications are very close to the Japan Coast Guard's very own Bizan-class 180-ton patrol vessels, although there are no final confirmations yet on the design.
Photo taken from Vessel & Ships Photo Gallery website.

According to the Technical Specifications made available by the DOTC, the ships will have the following details:

- are expected to be at least 40 meters long, but not more than 45 meters long;
- maximum speed of at least 25 knots at 110% maximum continuous output of main engine at half loading condition without sea margin;
- with a range of not less than 1,500 miles at 15 knots;
- an endurance of 7 days;
- will have a complement of 5 officers and 20 crew;
- capable of transporting 15 passengers in addition to the ship complement;
- hull will be deep V-chine mono hull type, made of full welded high tensile steel and aluminum alloy;
- able to withstand flooding of any two contiguous compartments;
- powered by two V-type, 4-cycle high speed marine diesel engines, maximum output of not less than 2,000kW at 110% MCO, with twin fixed pitch aluminum bronze propellers;
- will have a deck crane and a 5-meter RHIB work boat;
- RHIB work boat will have a speed of around 30 knots at 2 persons loading, with portable GPS, spare fuel tank and repair kit;
- the ship will have an external firefighting system, consists of one 2,600 liters/minute water monitor with 50-meter range and remotely operated, and two 1,000 liters/minute water monitor with 30-meter range, and one independent fire extinguishing pump;
- to have day and night surveillance camera, CCD camera / thermal imager with 2-axis stabilizer;
- a VHF radio direction finder;
- a remote-stabilized 2KW Xenon searchlight;
- 200 kHz 600W echosounder;
- an X-band navigation radar and Satcom system;
- a requirement for special spare parts are included.

There were suspicions that the design might be close or derived from the Japan Coast Guard's very own 40-meter patrol vessel of the Bizan-class, but it is still unclear if shipbuilders will be using a current design from the JCG, or they are free to provide a design based on their own interpretation of the technical specifications. 

Large Offshore Patrol Vessels
There are still plans by the PCG to acquire larger offshore patrol vessels, expected to be more than 90 meters in length, and will be larger than any of the current and future ships in its inventory. 

There were previous reports that the PCG was in talks with the Japanese government to acquire two new 90 to 100-meter high endurance vessels, although no further confirmation was made to this. The latest on this was even revealed by the PCG Commandant during ADAS 2014. These were previously requested some years ago but was shelved due to lack of budget, but was being brought back in as the government support to improve the PCG's capabilities might be able to fund these acquisitions.

During the 4th Annual OPV Asia Pacific Conference held last March 2014, the PCG presented its requirements for large patrol vessels in the 80 to 125-meter category. 

Among the requirements brought out by the PCG for their large OPV include the following:
- capable of sustaining speeds of at least 15 knots (full load) and 20 knots (light load);
- accommodate not less than 57 officers and crew (7 officers and 50 crew), and at least 35 passengers (1 VIP, 2 medical officers and 32 survivors);
- can cover a range of not less than 4,500 nautical miles at designed cruising speed;
- capable of operating up to Sea State 5, and could hurdle up to Sea State 6;
- capable of conducting continuous maritime patrol for a period of 10 to 15 days based on its designed patrol speed of 15 knots;
- an overall length between 80 to 125 meters, and breadth of not less than 14 meters;
- powered by two medium-speed marine diesel engines;
- can support helicopter operations and have helicopter deck;
- can carry two high speed RHIB with capacity for 10 people;
- with decompression chamber.

A good example of a coast guard patrol vessel that fits the PCG's technical specifications is the Je-Min-class 1500-ton patrol vessel of the Korean Coast Guard. Although an older model, shipbuilders can always provide new designs that suite the PCG's requirements.
Photo taken from Hyundai Heavy Industries website.

No confirmation was made whether the above specifications apply for the recently signed contract to acquire an OCEA OPV 270, but with the specifications above it appears that it was for a larger vessel, which might be what the PCG earlier requested. Currently, the Japan Coast Guard's large patrol vessels have less breadth than required by the PCG, although it is possible for Japanese shipbuilders to create a specific design derived from existing JCG patrol vessels. Another good example are those from Korea like the Je-Min-class large patrol vessels built by several Korean shipbuilders like Hyundai and Hanjin. This alternative is good considering that Hanjin has a major shipbuilding facility in Subic that can be used instead of building one abroad.

Aside from these requests for new large patrol vessels, there were previous reports that the PCG also tried to acquire old JCG patrol vessels that are scheduled for decommissioning, among them are said to be a couple of Shiretoko-class patrol vessels. But sources indicate that the JCG was planning to extend the lives of these ships in light of the territorial disputes with China and increased government and public moral and financial support to strengthen the JCG.

There were previous attempts to acquire Shiretoko-class ships from the JCG, but did not materialize after the JCG decided to extend the service lives of these large but ageing ships.

Minor Inshore/Coastal Boats Acquisitions:
There were also requirements for 300 units of aluminum-hulled rescue boats, 81 units of rigid-hulled inflatable boats (RHIB), 90 rubber boats, and 6 personal water crafts (jet-ski). These are minor assets that are expected for use for inshore, coastal, and riverine duties; for humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HADR), and search and rescue (SAR). The acquisition, all under the DOTC's Procurement of PCG Disaster Response & Rescue Equipment, were separated into several lots, although MaxDefense will only cover the watercrafts involved:
Lot 1 - 50 units of Rubber Boats
Lot 2 - 300 units of Aluminum V-shaped Boats with Outboard Motor
Lot 3 - 81 units of Rigid-Hulled Inflatable Boats and 6 units of Personal Watercraft 

This project was later on divided into 3 parts, with the original program continuing as the first part, and covered the watercraft requirements under Lot 2. The second part, which was later renamed as the Php294M Philippine Coast Guard Rescue Equipment project, covered the Lot 1 acquisition. The third part was named as the Php521M Philippine Coast Guard Rescue Equipment project, covers the Lot 3 acquisition. MaxDefense discusses these projects based on how the DOTC & PCG divided the projects, and are as follows:

a. Procurement of PCG Disaster Response & Rescue Equipment:
Originally, this project should cover all the entire watercraft and rescue equipment acquisition of the PCG, but was later on sub-divided due to the need to award the different requirements to different bidders, and the timeline was also considered. Only the Lot 2, or the acquisition of 300 units of aluminum V-shaped boats with outboard motor (OBM) was successfully undertaken in this program.

The PCG selected Propmech's Rescue 550 aluminum v-hulled boat for its requirements. 300 units were procured.
Photo taken from Propmech's official website.

The DOTC provided the technical specifications for the aluminum V-shaped boats, and the summary are as follows:

- Category C in boat design, v-shaped hull and aluminum welded construction;
- a length of between 5 to 6 meters, width between 1.8 to 2.5 meters;
- hull minimum thickness of 3mm, and draft with maximum payload depend on boat design;
- capacity of 10 men, or a maximum payload between 1,200 to 1,500 kilograms;
- with 2,500cd search light, all around navigation light;
- to include 2 paddles and a galvanized trailer with water tight axle;
- powered by 4-stroke EFI fuel injection engine outboard motor, with output of 40hp

The project was awarded on December 2012 to Propmech Corporation under a contract worth Php 202.980 million. Honda Philippines Inc. supplied the 4-stroke outboard motors to Propmech Corp. 

One of the aluminum boats being tested with its Honda 4-stroke engine already installed.
Photo taken from the Manila Bulletin website.

b. Php295M Philippine Coast Guard Rescue Equipment:
A second bidding attempt was made for the remaining unawarded items, which includes the rubber boats, RHIB, and jetskis, but after the project was completed, only the rubber boats and other non-watercraft items were awarded. 40 other rubber boats were already procured earlier, and this specific acquisition fulfilled the total requirement for 90 units.

The DOTC allocated Php 43.5 million for the acquisition of 50 rubber boats, and they released the technical specifications for the rubber boats required with the summary are as follows:

- should be brand new with 5 years warranty and service support;
- the buoyancy tube fabric material should be 1,600 to 2,500 decitex;
- should be colored with International Orange/Red;
- with Quick fit aluminum floor board;
- capacity to carry 9 to 10 men;
- an inside length of between 3.2 to 3.4 meters, an inside width of between 0.8 to 1.0 meter;
- weight carrying capacity of 1,100 to 1,300 kilograms;
- powered by brand new outboard motor with 40hp output.

The bid was won by Propmech Corporation on December 2013, with a contract amount of Php 33.749 million. Zodiac Marine, a well know manufacturer of  high quality utility and sports rubber boats, was chosen by Propmech Corporation, and the first batches were delivered to the PCG immediately. 

Some of the rubber boats supplied by Propmech Corporation, which were manufactured by international brand Zodiac Marine. One of the newly acquired aluminum boats is also in the background.
Photo taken from Dumaguetenews website.

c. Php521M Philippine Coast Guard Rescue Equipment:
The third phase includes the acquisition of the RHIB and the Jet-skis. This is still an ongoing project, and has not yet been award to any bidder as of this blog's writing. The DOTC has released the technical specifications for the RHIB requirements, and the summary are as follows:

- brand new units with 5 years warranty and after sales service;
- suitable for patrol and interception tasks, transportation of crew and equipment, rescue operations, and diving support;
- with a length of between 6 to 7 meters, an overall beam of around 2.3 to 2.6 meters, a draught between 0.50 to 1 meter;
- designed speed of 30 knots with 6-man seating capacity
- a seating capacity of 6 persons and a maximum capacity of 10 persons;
- weight without engine & equipment between 640 to 700 kilograms;
- powered by two outboard motors, output at 90HP, 4-stroke EFI engine;
- Deep V hull configuration, with hull thickness of 5mm, made of fiber reinforced plastic hull for rigid hull construction;
- with two fuel tanks with capacity of 150 liters each;

The Willard Marine Sea Force 670 (above) is at almost the same category as those being specified by the PCG for its RHIB requirements. 

The Personal Water Craft (Jet-ski) specifications are as follows:

- an overall length between 2.5 to 3.5 meters;
- a top speed of 30 to 40 knots;
- sitting capacity for 2 people.

2-seat Jetskis used by the US Coast Guard in a training exercise. Similar crafts are required by the PCG.
Photo taken from Wikimedia.

The Coast Guard Districts that are scheduled to receive the RHIBs and Jet-skis are listed in the Terms of Reference provided on the link.

Following the specifications above, a comparable product example is Willard Marine's Sea Force 670 series, or the larger Sea Force 730 series, as based on the provided specifications of the product. The Philippine Navy and other civilian armed services are long time users of Willard Marine RHIB products, and it is not impossible for their products to be included in the tender. 

Multi-purpose Helicopters:
The PCG also bared plans to acquire several helicopters to beef up its air assets, which are mostly comprised of old MBB Bo-105 helicopters and BN-2 Islander light aircraft. Previous plans by the PCG a few years ago point at acquiring helicopters from then Eurocopter (now Airbus Helicopters), specifically the EC145 which were to be acquired using German government Official Development Assistance (ODA) funds. 

But recent PCG announcements, like those made by the PCG Commandant within this year points to the acquisition of 7 helicopters from Bell Helicopter Textron, specifically the Bell 412EP. So far no orders have been made, and acquisition of new air assets to complement the Bo-105s in PCG service has already been too delayed. MaxDefense believes that choosing the Bell 412EP is actually a better choice, with the same helicopter model chosen by the Philippine Air Force as its new Combat Utility Helicopters to complement and replace the ageing Bell UH-1H Huey, it is expected that support and maintenance for these birds will be available in the country in the long term.

Bell 412 helicopters of the Turkish Coast Guard.
Photo owned by Kerem Bektas.

Looking Forward...
The Philippine Coast Guard is on the way to expand and modernize its current assets, the force is also increasing their manpower, improving the knowledge and skills of the entire force, enhancing their cooperation with regional and global coast guard organizations, and improving their materiel to increase their detection, interdiction, search and rescue, HADR and law enforcement capabilities. Overall, more needs to be done by the Philippine government, in providing the necessary financial and legal support for the PCG, and allowing them to be a force strong enough to assist in the many security, emergency, and natural calamity challenges the country faces.

MaxDefense also suggests that the Philippine government make use of the PCG to assert its maritime interests and policies, now that most of its neighbors are engaged in a "white versus white" game in areas with conflicting interests like the West Philippine Sea. The PCG has been left behind in almost every aspects by its neighbors like China, Taiwan, Vietnam and Malaysia, and this would be detrimental to the country's national policies. 

The PCG should be the one enforcing the maritime claims and enforcement of Philippine laws in its Exclusive Economic Zone, and must be ready to encounter China Coast Guard ships similar to the photo above.

It's not too late though. Being a civilian agency, it would be easier to fill out the budgetary issues of the PCG due to its access to loans, grants, and other sources that the Philippine Navy would surely envy. The Philippine government, under a strong and supportive DOTC, could actually expand this modernization effort as part of its overall strategy of enforcing its maritime policies in cooperation with the Philippines' Departments of Foreign Affairs (DFA), National Defense (DND), Interior and Local Government (DILG), Energy (DOE), and Agriculture (DA).

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Lightweight Torpedoes for the Philippine Navy - a Re-introduction to ASW Weapons Systems

Earlier we discussed the possibility of having the MBDA FASGW(H), also known as the Sea Venom or the ANL, for the Philippine Navy (PN). This is due to entry of anti-submarine warfare helicopters being contested between the AW-159 Wildcat and the AS565MB Panther. Both helicopters are capable of carrying the FASGW(H), and both helicopters are the top contenders for the PN's ASW Helicopter acquisition project.

With the impending acquisition, it is worth noting that aside from helicopter launched anti-ship missiles, the PN is also looking at helicopter launched lightweight anti-submarine torpedoes, as specified in the ASW helicopter acquisition specifications. With no decision from the DND and PN on the helicopter platform yet, MaxDefense will be discussing the possible torpedoes models being offered to the PN.

The Eurotorp MU90/IMPACT torpedo, as carried by a French Navy NH90NFH naval helicopter.
Photo taken from website.

Lightweight Anti-Submarine Torpedoes
The DND and PN's Technical Specifications for the ASW Helicopters indicated the following conditions for the anti-submarine torpedo requirements:

- 6 warshot and exercise torpedoes per helicopter (total of 12 torpedoes);
- lightweight;
- impact detonated;
- with sub-surface target homing capability in active, passive, or mixed acoustic modes;
- with a range not less than 10 kilometers;
- seawater battery operated with electrically rechargeable power source;
- to include Flight in Air Material (FIAM) gears;
- torpedoes should be the same as those being procured for the PN's new frigate (pending PN's updated technical specifications for the frigate's torpedo system).

The specifications did not indicate the torpedo's calibre, although it is expected that the PN will be acquiring those in the 323.7mm (commonly known as the 324mm) NATO standard LWT calibre. 

Based on the size alone, the possible candidates for the PN's requirement may include the following torpedo models:

1. Raytheon Mark 54 MAKO (USA);
2. BAE Systems Sting Ray Mod 1 (UK);
3. Eurotorp MU90/IMPACT (France/Italy);
4. LIG Next1 K745 Blue Shark (South Korea)

The US Mark 46 and the Italian A244/S Mod. 3 are probably not being considered, as they are already being replaced by the newer Mark 54 MAKO and the MU90/IMPACT, respectively.

Torpedo Propulsion System:
But each of these torpedo models have different propulsion systems, although majority uses the seawater battery type, which are believed to have less heat signatures and left no wake as compared to thermal propulsion systems like those using liquid propellants. Seawater battery means that it can be activated by exposing them to seawater. So far, only the Eurotorp MU90/IMPACT, the LIG Nex1 K745 Blue Shark and the BAE Systems Sting Ray are powered by seawater batteries. Both the MU90/IMPACT and the K745 Blue Shark are powered by Aluminum-Silver Oxide (AlAgO) seawater battery, while the Sting Ray Mod1 with the Magnesium/Silver-Chloride (MgAgCl) seawater battery from SAFTThe Mark 54 MAKO uses the Otto II liquid fuel, effectively taking it out of the possible choices.

The Mark 54 torpedo being launched from a USN destroyer. Being powered by liquid Otto Fuel II, it does not meet the specifications provided by the PN, which specifically mentioned the use of seawater battery system found in other torpedo models like the Sting Ray, MU90 and Blue Shark.
Photo taken from Wikimedia.

The Possible Candidates:
According to most defense journals, the MU90/IMPACT is the most modern, and probably the best lightweight torpedo in the market today, with its capabilities in terms of speed and range, depth requirement for launching being applicable to shallow waters, high immunity to countermeasures, having an insensitive warhead, broadband sonar and a tactical computer. But this also means that it could be the most expensive of the possible offers. It also suffered some problems with the Australian Navy, which could be a possible reason for doubt by other countries including the Philippines. The MU90/IMPACT is currently in use by France, Italy, and many other nations including Germany and Denmark, and can be carried by the AS565MB Panther, the NH90NFH, and the AW101 Merlin. It can also be carried by the AW-159 and the MH-60/S-70 helicopter, which can be modified to do so and were tested with such configuration a few years ago.

The Eurotorp MU90/IMPACT in both the ship-launched and aircraft-launched variants.

The LIG Nex1 K745 Blue Shark was said to have been developed closely using the MU90/IMPACT as a basis. It uses the same technology for the propulsion and power source, but may cost far less that its European counterpart. It was reported that the torpedo only had a success hit rate of 50% during tests by the Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN) and confirmed by the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) in 2012. It is expected that the ROKN will equip its upcoming AW-159 Wildcat naval helicopters with the K745 Blue Shark, in anticipation of their current policy of nationalizing its weapons system as much as possible.

Scale models of the LIG Nex1 C-Star anti-ship missile (above) and the K745 Blue Shark lightweight torpedo.

The BAE Systems Sting Ray, currently in its Mod.1 version, is the foremost lightweight torpedo used by the Royal Navy. Compared to the older Mod.0, it uses a new sonar system, an insensitive munition warhead, a new tactical and navigation system and a new seawater battery system. It also prides itself of being a low maintenance torpedo using longer life seals and improved bearing lubricating system. The Sting Ray Mod.1 is the initial torpedo model carried by the AW-159 Wildcat, and can also be carried by the NH90NFH, and is currently in service with British Royal Navy and Royal Air Force, and the Norwegian Navy.  

A Royal Navy AW-159 Wildcat carrying a pair of Sting Ray torpedoes.

All torpedoes mentioned above can be carried and launched by helicopters, are impact detonated, with sub-surface homing capability in both active and passive modes. All mentioned torpedo models have ranges exceeding the 10 kilometers, 

Ship-Launched Lightweight Torpedoes:
With a requirement from the PN for the helicopter-launched torpedoes to be of the same model as the frigate-launched ones, the selection of torpedoes for both platforms will be dependent on which project will be awarded first. 

The PN also has a requirement for lightweight torpedoes to arm its upcoming new frigates, as well as a possibility to upgrade its existing naval assets to fire torpedoes as well.
Photo taken from Wikimedia.

So far the PN's frigate acquisition project is already going for the second stage bid, but since the PN already decided to separate the acquisition of weapons systems from the frigate itself, there might be some changes in their requirement that can still be made. Although based on commonality and practicality, the original requirement for the frigate and helicopter to have a common torpedo model is still probably the way to go.

Whatever the outcome is of the acquisition plans for anti-submarine lightweight torpedoes, the main point is that the Philippine Navy will finally be having torpedoes in its arsenal again after a long absence. And not only will it have ship-launched torpedoes, but also air-launched as well. This will definitely boost the PN's capabilities as compared to what it has now, and with proper training, maintenance, and funding, as well as close coordination with its neighbors and allies, the PN may well again be returning to regain its lost prestige as one of the most proficient ASW combat force in the Pacific region. 

MaxDefense anticipates that the acquisition of torpedoes will be separated from the acquisition of the helicopters, as what was done with the PN's new frigate project.

Aside from the Philippine Navy, it is also expected that the Philippine Air Force will benefit from such acquisition plans, with their Long Range Patrol Aircraft (aka Maritime Patrol Aircraft) also expected to be armed with air-launched torpedoes as ASW missions are part of its requirement. 

A C-295 maritime patrol aircraft dropping an air-launched anti-submarine lightweight torpedo during tests. Aside from the PN, the PAF is also expected to acquire lightweight torpedoes for its upcoming Long Range Patrol Aircraft. 

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.

A computer generated image of a Sea Venom missile launched by an AW-159 Wildcat naval helicopter.
Photo taken from navyrecognition website.

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.

November 5, 2014:
MaxDefense sources said that only AgustaWestland submitted a qualified bid for the PN's Anti-Submarine Helicopter Acquisition (ASHA) project, which is the formal name of the PN's ASW Helicopter procurement program. Only 2 groups submitted a bid, the other being PT Dirgantara Indonesia, which failed the documentation requirements to prove that they were able to participate in a similar supply requirement. AgustaWestland is said to have offered their new AW-159 Wildcat helicopter, while it is still unconfirmed if PTDI did offer an Indonesian-made AS565 Panther as a partner of Airbus Helicopters (formerly Eurocopter).

MaxDefense believes that the Indonesian acquisition of ASW helicopters has not yet reached a status wherein PTDI was able to deliver a product to the TNI-AL (Indonesian Navy). This failed PTDI to conform to such requirement. According to open sources, PTDI was given until November 7, 2014 to file for a Motion for Reconsideration.

This is a two-stage bidding, so it is expected that the DND won't immediately go through a post bid qualification stage, instead, after the DND Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) finishes their evaluation of the entire bid document from AgustaWestland, the DND may further discuss and form a more comprehensive technical specifications which is more specific to the PN's requirements. With only 1 bidder if the DND does not recondsider PTDI's bid, then it is expected that the process will be faster as they only need to consider AgustaWestland's capability.