Air Defense for the Philippine Navy

All of our current Weapons Platforms are vulnerable to missile attack, but they would be even more so once they acquire CREDIBLE, OFFENSIVE ABILITY thru Anti-Ship Missiles (ASMs). Their ability take out enemy ships means they will be on top of the enemy’s list to destroy in case of battle or war. So if and when the AFP does get ASM capability soon, the next order of priority will be to PROTECT them effectively.

For naval platforms, the biggest threat will be coming from enemy ASMs also, and they will be launched from either enemy ships, or enemy aircrafts. Almost all of our naval warships have rudimentary defense systems, especially those armed with cannons. However, most of these are just basic systems, and would be inadequate for enemy aircraft or missile defense. Aircrafts and missiles are small, fly relatively fast and close to the sea, making them difficult to spot, track and destroy, thus all active defense against them tend to be sophisticated systems that employs radar detection, automated tracking and firing system, and fast cannons or fast missiles.

‘Enemy Missile Defense’
The most basic ASM defense system are a type of weapons systems called “Close-In Weapons Systems” (CIWS). These are short-range anti-missile/aircraft defense systems that use radar detection and tracking, and are partially or fully automated. The most famous of these is probably the “Phalanx CIWS”, helped in part by them being prominently featured in a couple of movies like Steven Seagal’s “Under Siege” in the 1990s.

There are 2 types of CIWS based on the weapon they are using: Gun-based and Missile-based. Of the two, Missile-based systems are superior due to a number of reasons. The shortcomings or disadvantages of Gun-based systems are:

* Limited range, typically only around 4-5km. This means shorter reaction times, and also targets could end up being destroyed near enough so it will still do damage to the ships; Missile-based CIWS have at least twice the range of Gun-based CIWS;

* Gun-based CIWS can engage targets only one at a time, rendering it less effective against multiple missile attacks at the same time. “Fire and Forget” Missile-based CIWS can engage multiple targets at the same time.

Most navies still use Gun-based CIWS on their ships, but this is because they use is as a SECONDARY system against enemy missiles. This means they are relying on a “Primary” missile defense system, which they either carry themselves, or by bigger ships on the fleet they are travelling with. They assume that the Gun-based CIWS armed ships will be travelling with other ships with medium range anti-aircraft or anti-ASM missile which will help protect them.

Since the Philippine Navy will only have a limited number of modern warships, then it they will likely rely on CIWS as their PRIMARY Anti-ASM defense, and in that case, it it would be more prudent for us to choose a Missile-based CIWS instead of a gun-based CIWS because of its advantages. They would be more expensive, but more effective in protecting our assets in the long run.

A good choice would be the RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM), in service with the United States (US) and some of its allies. It is a “fire and forget” missile, with a typical launcher system carrying 21 missiles, each with a range of 9km. And the whole system is actually just as light as a Phalanx system at 13,000 lbs. An alternate missile-based CIWS the “Crotale” which is in service with more than a dozen countries around the world.

‘Enemy Aircraft Defense’
A vast majority of naval warships only have enemy missile defense, but not necessarily enemy aircraft defense, and the reason for this is due to two things: First is Physics. When a weapons platform launches a missile, it is imparting on it the velocity that it is the weapons platform is travelling at the moment of launch, and aircrafts typically travel at least 10 times faster than ships.

The implication of this is that for a given weight and fuel of a missile, missiles launched from aircrafts will always travel farther than missiles launched from ships. Put it another way, missiles launched from ships will have to carry more fuel in order to match the range of missiles launched from aircrafts.

The second reason is that aircrafts using ASMs when attacking ships do not have to go near ships. They only have to go a certain distance to launch their ASMs, then turn away and let the ASMs do the job of trying to destroy the ships. This means that ships will always to try to destroy aircrafts from a distance.

The overall implication of all of these is that EFFECTIVE, ship-based anti-aircraft defense will always have to be large to carry enough fuel to reach aircrafts a good distance away. This is why ship-based anti-aircraft missiles tend to be large and heavy, weighing at least half a ton each. Their large sizes and complexity means they are often left only to be placed on largers ships. Hence the philosophy of most navies in the world is just to defend against oncoming enemy missiles rather than enemy aircrafts, at least with their Frigate-sized and smaller ships.

For the Philippine Navy, since we won’t likely go beyond Frigate-sized ships, then we will likely be stuck with CIWS systems to defend against enemy missiles. This is not to say that CIWS cannot shoot down aircrafts: Any system that can shoot down missiles should be able to shoot down aircrafts which are larger targets, as long as these aircrafts end up within the CIWS range. Few aircrafts will do that in a modern naval battle, but the option is there in case it is called for.

‘Parting Shot’
In a military build up forced upon the Philippines by China’s aggressive expansion policies, it is important for the Philippine Navy to choose the right weapons available out there, especially because of our tight budget. They will likely be at the forefront of any confrontation with China, if ever it comes to that. We need to be able to get the best compromise or available weapons based on the limited amount of money we can spend. Employing Missile-based CIWS to protect our most modern ships is important in order to for us to have a credible deterrent against China’s vast and advanced Navy.


– RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile,

– Close-in weapon system,

– List of surface-to-air missiles,

– Phalanx CIWS,

– Aster (missile family),

– Standard Missile,


7 thoughts on “Air Defense for the Philippine Navy”

  1. The main threat right now is China and we don’t stand a chance against their naval ships even if we have 20 frigates. For this reason, our government should concentrate more on providing large quantities of MPAC patrol boats to the PCG than Frigates to the PN. These MPACs are not to be used against China’s naval ships but more on catching illegal Chinese fishing vessels. By this way, we may not be able to stop China’s naval ships from entering our EEZ but we will be able to catch a lot of Chinese poachers from destroying and extracting our marine resources. And coastal-based Anti-Ship Missiles are more effective as back-up defensive weapons for the MPACs if China starts shooting the MPACs.

    1. Unfortunately, arming MPACs with AShMs will only result in waste of money as they will just be target practice for China’s missile-armed Helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. What we need are well-armed “Micro-Missile Boats” which will have AShMs, but will also have good defense against aircraft/missiles and have some defense against torpedoes. Such a boat will be bigger, heavier and more expensive than the MPACs, but will be more survivable and will have better chance of accomplishing their missions …

      1. Israel’s drone boats come into mind. Present prototypes only carry guns. None of them are big enough to carry AshMs

      2. In my mind, it would be something like a Peykaap 18 or China Cat 14 type of a boat, with their Semi-Submersible and Catamaran hulls so the boat will be as light as possible but carry a larger topweight load than conventional designs. It will have a Dardo gun for multi-purpose use, Barak 8 or Aster 15 SAMs, 4 Harpoons and a good decoy system. It’ll be a relatively heavy boat, at least 100 tons maybe.

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