The Philippine Navy’s (PhN) purchase of 2 2nd hand Maestale Frigates is of course passe’ by now, with PNoy shooting down the government-to-government purchase of these ships, and the Department of National Defense (DND) deciding to buy only brand new Frigates thru its upcoming bidding, but I decided to take a look again at this ship for the “fun” of it, and see how it compares with the other ships that has been in the news lately with the possibility of being acquired or provided to the PhN.
Just a quick look at the other candidates:
– Avante 1800 (A1800), which Navantia told the press as the model they intend to submit in the coming Frigate bidding;
– Incheon-class Frigate, which Hyundai Heavy Industries held initial talks with the DND last year on the possibility of using this model to join in any Frigate bidding;
– Oliver Hazard Perry-class (OHP) Frigate, which may have a remote chance of being allocated to the PhN by the US Navy (USN);
– Del Pilar-class Frigate, 2 of which are the newest members of the PhN, to provide a “contrast” by using a ship currently in service with our navy
First, a short summary focusing on the Maestrale:
– The Maestrale has the most number of complement compared to the other ships at 225. The OHP is around 33% heavier than the Maestrale, but has 28% fewer crew at only 176. It has 35% more crew than the Del Pilar class ships which weighs the same as it is, and has at least 60% more crew than the newer ships like the Incheon and the A1800
– In terms of performance, the Maestrale has the fastest quoted speed at 33 knots, and is second only to the Del Pilar-class in terms of range at 11,100 km.
– It has the biggest and most powerful cannon among the ships with its 127 mm caliber gun, and while the Incheon has the same caliber gun, the Maestrale is made by a different manufacturer (Otobreda) and has a range 33% further than the Incheon’s BAE Systems Mk45 mod 3 127 mm cannon at 32 km. This range is TWICE that of the 76 mm guns of the other ships.
– The Maestrale has the least number of Anti-Ship Missiles (AShMs) among the ships, only half as many at 4. But it does have the ability to carry 2 helicopters while most can carry only 1, with only the OHP matching it in that category.
– In terms of Point Air Defense (PAD), the Maestrale has pretty good capability with its two dozen medium range SAMs and its redundant gun-based Dardo 40 mm caliber Close-In Weapons System (CIWS).
The large number of crew of the Maestrale seems to indicate that it has less automation for its systems, needing more manual work and/or maintenance. Having more crew is not ideal as it means more operating costs in terms of manpower for the ship. Most modern ships are moving towards more automation and less manpower now, like the United States Navy’s (USN) new Independence-class Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), for example, which at 3,100 tons (the same as that of the Maestrale) has a crew of only 50 sailors and officers, or only 22% to that of the Maestrale.
In terms of armaments, the Maestrale is a bit underarmed when it comes to AShMs, with smaller ships half its size like the Avante 1800 beating it in terms of AShM count. Its missiles like the Sea Aspide Surface to Air Missile (SAM) and Otomat Teseo AShM are pretty decent modern weapons, though, at least at par with the some of the best in the world right now. Perhaps the reason for this is that the AShMs are only for self-defense, because the main role of the ship is really for Anti Submarine Warfare (ASW).
The Maestrale’s PAD is pretty good because its 24 medium range SAMs give it good range even against supersonic AShMs, and these are complemented very well by its high caliber gun-based CIWS. The Dardo CIWS cannon at 40 mm caliber is twice that of the Phalanx CIW’s 20 mm caliber cannon, but fires at a slower rate of fire. Its larger size does allow it to use Proximity Fuses (i.e., explodes close to the target showering it with shrapnel), which help improve its kill probability. It carries two of them on either side for full 360 degree defensive coverage of the ship.
Its large and long ranged gun give it a lot of flexibility in terms of providing shore bombardment support, as well as an offensive weapon against small or even large ships. It may even have limited Anti-Aircraft or Anti-Missile capability if armed with the proper ammunition (i.e., with Proximity Fuses). Despite the proliferation of missiles in warships these days, it is likely guns will continue to be a part of modern ship warfare for decades to come due to their flexibility and lower cost of ammunition.
The Maestrale was tasked by the Italian Navy for ASW, a task it did well with its Towed Sonar capability. With its diesel engines, it would’ve been more economical at the slow speeds it is required to operate when the towed sonar is deployed as compared to an OHP, which only has Gas Turbine engines which are not very efficient at slow speeds. Towed sonar array seems to be standard equipment now for newer Frigates, as both the Incheon and Avante has them, but the Maestrale has the ability to carry 2 helicopters on its deck, enabling them to have better ASW coverage and redundancy if both helicopters are used for that purpose.
The Maestrale, as is, would’ve given our navy a ship with excellent ASW capability and the longest ranged cannon in PhN inventory. It’s performance is quite good, a fast ship with very good range, better than most ships. It is also able to defend itself very well against aircrafts and their missiles. Roughly speaking, it would’ve given us the capabilities of the OHP in terms ASW, but without the high fuel costs of the OHP’s Gas Turbine engines. However, it does require a lot of crew to operate, increasing operating cost in that area, and since it is a used ship, most of its systems will likely require frequent maintenance.
The newer ships like the Incheon and the A1800 would give us a brand new ship with stealth profile, requiring less manpower and maintenance costs. However, there is a trade off in terms of speed, range, PAD and ASW capability compared to the Maestrale.
If the DND’s priority is performance and capability, then the Maestrale would be the best choice for the PhN at the current budget it is willing to pay for a ship as it trumps the other brand new ships being considered right now, despite the fact that it is a older ship design. However, if the DND’s is willing to trade off some performance and capability for lower operating costs, as seems to be the case, then ships like the A1800 or Incheon would be the better choice.
Of course, we have yet to see the other models the other manufacturers will be using to join the upcoming Frigate bidding, but I suspect they will not be very far off from the A1800 or Incheon ships. Both ships may not be as capable overall as the Maestrale, but they do meet minimum capability (i.e. Anti-Ship/Missile/Submarine capability) overall, and would be a better fit for our budget-conscious navy with their lower operating costs.
 Why did Aquino stop purchase of warships?, http://www.trigger.ph/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=944:why-did-aquino-stop-purchase-of-warships&catid=64:test&Itemid=80
 No secondhand frigates–DND, http://businessmirror.com.ph/index.php/en/news/nation/9736-no-secondhand-frigates-dnd
 Navantia ha presentado a Filipinas el sofisticado patrullero Avante 1800 para optar al concurso que convocará a final de año, http://www.elconfidencialdigital.com/defensa/085893/navantia-ha-presentado-a-filipinas-el-sofisticado-patrullero-avante-1800-para-optar-al-concurso-que-convocara-a-final-de-ano
 South Korea Offers Incheon-Class-Frigate to Philippines, http://asitimes.blogspot.com/2013/03/south-korea-offers-incheon-class.html
 Oliver Hazard Perry Frigates for the Philippine Navy?, https://rhk111smilitaryandarmspage.wordpress.com/2013/08/15/oliver-hazard-perry-frigates-for-the-philippine-navy/
 Avante 1800 Corvette rev. 01, 2013-08-04_Avante_1800_Corvette_rev_01
 BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF-16), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BRP_Ramon_Alcaraz_%28PF-16%29
 Incheon Class Frigate – Republic of Korea Navy, http://www.navyrecognition.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1184
 Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oliver_Hazard_Perry-class_frigate
 Maestrale class Anti-Submarine Frigates (ASW), http://www.navyrecognition.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=553
 Independence-class littoral combat ship, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Independence-class_littoral_combat_ship