The Department of National Defense (DND) recently announced that they have decided to forgo the acquisition of a third Hamilton-class ship for the Philippine Navy (PhN) thru the United States’ Foreign Military Assistance (USFMA) program, and instead intends to use the money as additional funds for the new Frigate bidding that will be coming up soon (still no date set, though). I’m not so sure about this, because it costs the Philippines only USD 15 million to get the last Hamilton-class ship, the BRP Ramon Alcaraz, and adding USD 15 million for the budget of the two new Frigates is not much.
It is possible that the DND had thought about adding more budget for the new Frigates after seeing that only ONE manufacturer have come forward publicly to offer their ship for the bidding, and that is Navantia Avante 1800 (A1800). They might’ve found the A1800 to be not too particularly appealing, or not up to their expectations, hence I decided to take a much closer look at this ship. All data for the ship is taken from this source, unless stated otherwise.
‘Anti Air Warfare Capability’
First, the ship’s Air Defense capability. It has a 3D Air and Surface Search radar to detect and track aircrafts and missiles, and it has a single 8-cell Vertical Launch System (VLS) assumed to be a Mk41 launcher. That single Mk41 VLS can carry 32 RIM- Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles (ESSMs) quad-packed into each cell, which would give the ship a LIMITED Area Anti Air Warfare (AAW) capability as these ESSMs have pretty good ranges at 50km.
This will enable it to be a good escort vessel for the other PhN ships like the proposed logistical Multi-Role Vessels (MRVs) that we are buying, and other ships that are without an effective air defense capability (which basically means all of them as of now). On the downside, the ship does NOT have a redundant gun or missile-based Close In Weapons System (CIWS) as backup to the ESSMs. However, one could argue that since it can carry so many ESSMs, there might not really be a need for a CIWS after all.
For ships around this weight range, a limited Area AAW capability is the best one can hope for, because to provide an FULL Area AAW capability, a heavier ship will have to be used in order to carry a couple of dozen medium-sized/weight, long-range Surface to Air Missiles (SAMs) like the RIM-156 SM-2ER missile which have much longer ranges than the ESSMs at 190km. At 4,200 tons, the Oliver Hazard Perry-class ship is the lightest ship with full Area AAW capability, the rest of them are even heavier like Spain’s Alvaro de Bazan-class, Germany’s Sachsen-class, or Netherland’s De Zeven Provincien-class Frigates, all of whom hover at around 6,000 tons.
‘Anti Submarine Warfare Capability’
Another area that the ship seem to be good at is in terms of Anti Submarine Warfare (ASW). It has a hull-mounted sonar, AND a Towed Array Sonar, the CAPTAS-2 towed array sonar for ships with > 1,500 ton weight. Even more intriguing is its Combined Diesel Or Electric (CODOE) engine configuration as it means it can run using its single 450kW electric engine at 8 knots (for an unspecified range).
Running on its electric engine not only makes the ship more economical to run, but silent also, meaning less noise interference from the ship and making its passive sonars more efficient, and at the same time making it harder for submarines to detect the ship. And if you use the single helicopter it can carry for ASW purposes, then you will have a pretty good ASW platform all in all. For Anti-Submarine weapons, it has 2 Triple Cannister launchers for 324mm diameter Torpedoes, plus any Torpedo its Helicopter can carry if provided to do so.
‘Relatively Short Range’
One possible issue with the ship though is its range. At 4,800km, this pales in comparison with our other ships like the Del-Pilar’s 26,000km range, or even our World War 2 era ships like the Datu Kalantiaw-class, Rizal-class and Miguel Malvar-class ships, all of whom have at least 9,300km ranges, although travelling at much slower speeds. The Incheon-class Frigate also has almost twice its range at 8,000km.
However, a 4,800km range is no slouch either, this is comparable to the range of our Emilio Jacinto-class and Mariano Alvarez-class ships, and since the approximate perimeter of the Philippines is approximately 4,600km, this means the A1800 can circumnavigate the entire Philippines before it needs to top up. So while it’s range is inferior to some of our ships, it may be enough for the role it will be asked to do.
It has decent Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW, against ships) capability with its 76mm cannon and 8 AShM launchers, and its complement of 80 sailors and officers make it economical in terms of manpower operating costs. In contrast, a possible competitor, the Incheon-class Frigate, has a complement of 140 or 75% more, while our Del Pilar-class ships have a complement of 167 (108% more).
It also has an Infra-Red Search and Track (IRST) and Electro-Optical (EO) system (which seem to be standard with the latest ships these days) allowing it passive/stealthy observation of targets over long distances to complement its Radar systems.
The ship does have a 70 ton (140,000 lbs) growth margin for weapons, equipment, logistics, etc., but other factors need to be considered for this, among them things like SPACE and overall BALANCE of the ship. But it does open up the possibility of adding more weapons on it, like perhaps the Strales CIWS if the PhN can afford it.
The Avante 1800 will provide decent ASuW capability, good ASW capability and limited Area AAW capability, providing good defensive escort coverage for our other less capable ships. It won’t be able to provide full Area AAW capability, but then again for that role, a ship 2-3 times heavier would be needed, and it will be a much more expensive ship. The ship’s range might be an issue, but the PhN will have to draw from their operational experiences of the Jacinto and Alvarez-class ships to decide on that one.
For the given weight of the ship and the budget that we have, this is probably one of the best we can get, unless we want to spend more. Military hardware are quite expensive, often with figures that boggles the mind that would run into hundreds of billions or even trillions of pesos in price.
My opinion is that rather than putting more money into the budget for the 2 new Frigates, they should just accept the A1800 or similar ships, and then put the money instead into upgrading the Del Pilar-class SIMILAR to FRAM standards. USD 15 million might not be enough to do that for the 2 ships, but perhaps they can do the upgrade in small increments, like start with providing the ships with ASW capability first (hull and towed sonars, and torpedoes). This would make the Del Pilars more useful as they can now add the ASW role to its current role as an OPV.
From there, slowly build up the ships capabilities later in terms of Point Air Defense (air search radar, CIWS), and ASuW (AShMs) as the budget becomes available. Doing this would mean we will have at least 4 good ships (2 Del Pilars and 2 new Frigates), instead of just 2 (the 2 new Frigates).
 PH cancels plan to acquire 3rd US cutter, http://www.rappler.com/nation/37955-philippines-cancels-hamilton-class-cutter-purchase
 BRP Ramon Alcaraz sets sail for PHL Monday, http://www.ptvnews.ph/index.php/bottom-news-life2/11-11-nation-submenu/18187-brp-ramon-alcaraz-sets-sail-for-phl-monday
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
 Navantia Avante 1800 brochure, 2013-08-04_Avante_1800_Corvette_rev_01
 RIM-67 Standard, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RIM-67_Standard
 Oliver Hazard Perry Frigates for the Philippine Navy?, https://rhk111smilitaryandarmspage.wordpress.com/2013/08/15/oliver-hazard-perry-frigates-for-the-philippine-navy/
 Álvaro de Bazán-class frigate, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%81lvaro_de_Baz%C3%A1n-class_frigate
 Sachsen-class frigate, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sachsen-class_frigate
 De Zeven Provinciën-class frigate, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/De_Zeven_Provinci%C3%ABn-class_frigate
 Captas-2 Towed Array Sonar brochure, 2012_Captas-2_Variable_Depth_Sonar
 Gregorio del Pilar-class frigate, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gregorio_del_Pilar-class_frigate
 Cannon-class destroyer escort, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cannon_class_destroyer_escort
 Rizal-class corvette, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rizal_class_corvette
 Miguel Malvar-class corvette, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miguel_Malvar_class_corvette
 Incheon-class frigate, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incheon-class_frigate
 Jacinto-class corvette, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacinto_class_corvette
 Cyclone-class patrol ship, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyclone_class_coastal_patrol_ship
 Taken from Google Maps using its Distance Calculator function
 Oto Melara Strales System, http://www.otomelara.it/EN/Common/files/OtoMelara/pdf/business/naval/development/STRALES.pdf
 Upgrading the Philippine Navy’s Hamilton Ships, http://www.rhk111smilitaryandarmspage.com/upgrading-the-philippine-navys-hamilton-ships/