Revised January 24, 2014. See bottom of the page for the complete revision history
As of this writing, the 2nd Hamilton-class Cutter (the BRP Ramon Alcaraz) acquired by the Philippine Navy (PhN) has finally arrived on Philippine shores, with the first one having arrived in 2011 (the BRP Gregorio Del Pilar). They are capable ships, the largest and heaviest armed ships in the history of the PhN, but for me they will still need to be upgraded by acquiring new equipment and weapons for them to be able to serve well in defending the Philippines’ territories at sea.
‘USCGC Mellon as Blueprint’
I think the PN will have to look at the USCGC Mellon as guide or blueprint for upgrading these ships. What happened was that starting in the 1980s, all Hamilton-class ships underwent a “Fleet Rehabilitation And Modernization (FRAM)” programme, and initially the programme sought to include better capabilities for these ships like Anti-Submarine and Anti-Ship warfare, and also Air-Defense.
This was at the height of the Cold War with Russia, and the US Navy (USN) felt that these ships needed these capabilities for them to better protect against sea-borne attacks on US soil. The Mellon was the first ship to get the FRAM upgrade, and ended up with the following capabilities and equipment:
– Air Defense: Air Search Radar, Close In Weapons System (CIWS)
– Anti-Ship Capability: Surface Search and Navigation Radar, 25mm and 76mm Autocannons, 8 Harpoon Anti-Ship Missiles (AShMs)
– Anti-Submarine Warfare: Hull-mounted Sonar, 6 Torpedo Tubes
But after the Cold War ended up in the 1990s, the threat of attack on the US subsided, and the USN decided to cut back on cost. One of the casualties was the FRAM upgrade for these Hamilton ships, which was scaled back a lot, deleting all upgrades related to Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) and missile capability. The Mellon ended up as the only ship to be fitted with the original FULL FRAM upgrade, and served as as a proof of the MAXIMUM or optimal capability these Hamilton ships could be upgraded to. All ASW equipment and weapons and missiles were eventually removed also from the USCGC Mellon.
As can be seen from above, the Mellon would’ve been a formidable missile-armed Frigate for any navy even today. Since the PN is pressing for these Hamiltons to serve as Frigates, then it should serve as their guide on what combination of type and weight of what equipment and weapons can be used on these ships. Note also that the addition of all these equipment and weapons did NOT take away any of the Hamilton’s 45-day endurance or 26,000 km range, indicating they can take the additional weight without sacrificing any of its capabilities.
About the only thing I would change is the type of Close In Weapons System (CIWS) to use. All Hamiltons were equipped with Phalanx CIWS, which is a GUN-BASED CIWS. Gun-based CIWS are best used as SECONDARY Air Defense, or as a last line of defense. “Secondary” because it means the ships will have a PRIMARY Air Defense System somewhere, whether they carry it onboard themselves, or they work with some other ships which will provide these for them in a fleet.
As Primary Air Defense, these Gun-based CIWS are not very satisfactory because of their low range, only up to 2-3 kilometers at most. They also can engage only 1 missile at a time, making them very vulnerable against multiple missile attacks. Our PhN ships will have to carry their primary Air Defense systems on their own since we only have very few of these advanced ships, hence they should at the very least be armed with MISSILE-BASED CIWS instead of just Gun-based CIWS for primary Air Defense.
Missile-based CIWS like the RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) are superior because they have thrice the range (9km) compared to gun-based CIWS like the Phalanx, and can engage multiple targets, improving the survivability of these ships against missile attacks.
‘ASW Helicopter and Firm PN Upgrade’
To improve the Hamilton’s ASW capability, an ASW Helicopter equipped with Dipping Sonar and maybe 1-2 Light Torpedoes should be acquired. ASW should also be a priority for these ships as China does have over three dozen Submarines in active service that it can bring to bear against the Philippines if necessary. The PN did acquire Agusta-Westland AW109 Helicopters recently, but these does NOT have any ASW capability.
About the only confirmed upgrade on the PN Hamiltons to date are the acquisition of Mk38 Mod2 M242 25mm Bushmaster Autocannons. These autocannons are designed for use against small, fast, and highly maneuverable ships, like the suicide craft that damaged the USS Cole. Their stabilised mount and computer fire control system enables them to be highly accurate, and their electro-optical system enables them to be used at night and/or any type of weather.
‘Equipment and Weapons’
According to available (and verifiable) references, the BRP Ramon Alcaraz and BRP Gregorio Del Pilar came with the following equipment:
– Sperry Mk92 Mod1 Fire Control System (with its own Target Illumination Radar)
– Raytheon Furuno AN/SPS-73 Surface Search and Navigation Radar
– Loral Hycor Mk36 Super Rapid Blooming Offboard Chaff (SRBOC) decoy launchers
– Mk75 Oto Melara 76mm Autocannon
The following equipment were also reportedly removed from both ship by the USN for use with their other ships:
– Phalanx Close In Weapons System (CIWS)
– AN/SPS-40 Air Search Radar
– Mk38 Mod1 M242 25mm Chain Guns
So in order to upgrade the PN Hamiltons to USCGC Mellon standards, the following items will have to be installed:
* Air Defense:
– Air Search Radar
– Missile-based CIWS
* Anti-Ship Capability:
– 8 Medium to long range AShMs
* Anti-Submarine Warfare:
– Hull-mounted and Towed Sonar
– 6 Torpedo or Rocket-Assisted Torpedo Tubes
– 1 ASW Helicopter
The BRP Ramon Alcaraz and BRP Gregorio Del Pilar upgraded to USCGC Mellon Standards with Missile-based CIWS and ASW Helicopters will be something to be truly proud of as these ships will then be able to truly match any Chinese Frigate out there on a head to head match. The Department of National Defense (DND) should find budget to make this happen in the next couple of years in order to truly optimize these 2 new flagships of the PhN.
^ WHEC-715 Hamilton class, http://www.harpoondatabases.com/encyclopedia/Entry1502.aspx
^ Close-in weapon system, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Close-in_weapon_system
^ People’s Liberation Army Navy Submarine Force, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/People%27s_Liberation_Army_Navy_Submarine_Force
^ Navy acquiring 3 new helicopters, http://ph.news.yahoo.com/navy-acquiring-3-helicopters-164326734.html
^ US awards $1.8-M contract for arms of PHL’s second cutter, http://businessmirror.com.ph/index.php/en/news/nation/1217-us-awards-1-8-m-contract-for-arms-of-phl-s-second-cutter
^ BRP Gregorio del Pilar (PF-15), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BRP_Gregorio_del_Pilar_%28PF-15%29
^ BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF-16), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BRP_Ramon_Alcaraz_%28PF-16%29
* August 2, 2013: Originally posted
* January 24, 2014: Updated format to the latest standard.