Airborne Targetting Support for the Philippine Army’s Anti Ship Missiles

An IAI Heron UAV with Surface Search Radar and a FLIR Ball Turret. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.
An IAI Heron UAV with Surface Search Radar and a FLIR Ball Turret. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

If the Philippine Army (PA) does push thru with its plan to acquire shore-based Anti-Ship Missiles (AShM),1 and if these missiles will have ranges of 150-200 km as per the RAND Corporation’s recommendation,2 then it will ALSO will needing AIRBORNE ASSETS to enable them to make use of the maximum ranges of those missiles due to the issue of RADAR HORIZON.

‘Radar Horizon Issue’
I wrote a blog about the issue of the “Radar Horizon” a couple of years ago titled, “Radar Detection and The Horizon Distance“. In summary, it basically means that since the Earth is round, it limits our ability to see objects over distance even when using radar because that object will eventually be hidden by the curved surface of the Earth. The Radar Horizon is affected by two things:
– The height of the object being observed;
– And the height of the equipment being used to observe the object.

There are actually calculators online that will help calculate this, like this page: Horizon calculator – Radar / Visual

So for example, if a radar antenna is placed at a height of 30 meters, it would be able to detect a ship whose height of most of its structure is 10 meters above the waterline at around 35 km away. In order for the antenna to “see” such a ship from further away, it will have to be put at a HIGHER elevation. This can be done by using a number of platforms, such as:
– Fixed wing aircraft
– Rotary wing aircraft (Helicopters)
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV)

Static platforms like taller antennas or balloon-tethered platforms are not really ideal since their fixed location makes them vulnerable to enemy attack, and even if they can be mounted on mobile land platforms, the height they can be extended to is still limited, definitely lower than the altitude or height a Helicopter or aircraft can reach.

‘Airborne Assets’
The Department of National Defense (DND) has expressed plans to acquire Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) that could provide Over the Horizon targetting information for these Shore-based AShMs,3 but these will be assigned to the Philippine Air Force (PAF). I think it would be even better if the PhA itself could acquire separate assets of its own to COMPLEMENT these MPAs for the PhAF.

This will leave the long-range MPAs to patrol other areas within our territory and for use with other AShM platforms based on ships and other aircraft by the Philippine Navy and the Air Force while using shorter-ranged MPAs for use with the Shore-based AShMs. Also, more MPAs means better REDUNDANCY, if the other MPAs become unavailable due to maintenance or scheduling issues, or due to combat attrition, then the Army will still have Over-The-Horizon (OTH) targeting capability for its long-range AShMs.

Airborne assets for the Army’s Shore-based AShMs will be required to cover only areas up to 200-300 km from the shore, so a SMALLER, LIGHTER PLATFORM can be used, bringing down the cost of these aircraft as compared to the long-range requirement of the Air Force’s MPAs. And a smaller and lighter aircraft with smaller engines will also mean cheaper operating cost.

A P2006T MRI Light Maritime Patrol Aircraft. Photo courtesy of Graham Reeve thru the Airport Data Website
A P2006T MRI Light Maritime Patrol Aircraft. Photo courtesy of Graham Reeve thru the Airport Data Website

‘Aircraft Options’
One example of a LIGHT MARITIME PATROL AIRCRAFT is the P2006T MRI which, with an empty weight of only 760 kg4 is only a tenth the weight of MPAs like the C-235 but still with a range of over a thousand kilometers. Fitted with a light but powerful radar like the Selex 5000E Surface Search Radar5 with a surface search range of around 370 km,6 it will provide pretty good support for the Army’s Shore-based AShMs.

Another option would be thru a rotary-winged platform like the AB212 Twin Huey Helicopter. This is a license-built version by Agusta Westland, and is stretched, twin-engined version of the UH-1H Helicopter7 which our Army is very familiar with. An Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) version is being used by the Italian Armed Forces, but fitted with a medium range Surface Search Radar like the Selex 5000E it will provide the Army a more flexible platform that could land and operate on more options than a fixed wing aircraft. The only issue then would be endurance, which will likely be shorter than that of a fixed-wing Light Patrol Aircraft like the P2006T MRI.

A third, more intriguing and exotic option would be the use of a UAV. UAVs have the advantage of being small and thus having smaller Radar Cross Sections (RCS), making them difficult to detect and shoot down from long range. Their relatively short range (limited by the range of their remote control systems) but long endurance times makes them tailor-made for operating around the shore area as a targeting system for shore-based missiles. Being even smaller than light aircraft, they provide even lower operating cost. Their disadvantage would be their higher initial cost due to the higher technological requirements. UAVs like the Heron8 and Seeker 4009 are already in use for maritime surveillance by other countries.

Aside from having a Surface Search Radar, other equipment that would be ideal to have for these aircraft are the TACTICAL DATA LINK and FORWARD LOOKING INFRA RED (FLIR). The Data Link will enable the aircraft to relay targeting information to different launchers quickly, while a FLIR sensor can act as a backup in case the radar is compromised, or if targets need to be better identified, although their shorter range will require the aircraft to move in closer to the target.

‘Parting Shot’
Very few details about these Shore-based AShMs have been given out to the public, no timetable as to when these will be acquired, or what their specifications will be, and one wonders if more details will be given out soon as the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) have been more stingy about releasing more details of their acquisitions lately.

Long-range AShM batteries supported by airborne assets for long-range OTH detection and targeting information would be the “ideal” system right now, hopefully whatever we will be getting will be something close to these systems in order for us to be able to effectively defend our territory.

An AB212 Helicopter. Photo courtesy of Luigino Caliaro thru the Aerophoto Website
An AB212 Helicopter. Photo courtesy of Luigino Caliaro thru the Aerophoto Website


  1. PA to get more bigger, powerful guns –DND,
  2. Employing Land-Based Anti-Ship Missiles in the Western Pacific,
  3. Philippines eyes Indonesian patrol aircraft,
  4. Tecnam P2006T,
  5. A Light Patrol Plane for Search and Rescue And Maritime Reconnaissance,
  6. Selex 5000E Sea Spray Multi-Mode Surveillance Radar,
  7. Bell UH-1N Twin Huey,
  8. IAI’s Heron UAV to make maritime patrol debut,
  9. Seeker 400 Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Surveillance System, South Africa,

20 thoughts on “Airborne Targetting Support for the Philippine Army’s Anti Ship Missiles”

  1. the best deterrent are still the missile capable frigates and FA-50’s and supported by an all weather maritime patrol aircraft. again, the AShM’s have limited capability in regards to mobility and any foreign ships and aircraft can still operate in areas out of range of the AShM’s but still within our territories.
    considering that the philippines is an archipelago and the west philippine sea comprises small islands and islets, it does not make any sense of putting AShM’s in these areas that will only become a stationary missile platform instead being a mobile. it can only become an additional military expense but will not have an effective deterrent.
    i rather propose setting up early warning radars to strategic areas in the west philippine sea and to put up permanent naval and air force bases in the kalayaan islands for quick response against intruders.

      1. in a real battle enemy ships can hide beyond the storms and bad weather…remember the japanese attack in pearl harbor and battle of midway. in those days there is no all weather capable aircraft but today any aggressive country with an all weather capable aircraft can refine its battle tactics. the iraq war “DESERT STORM”, is one example of a land attack using a storm to hide its movement but supported with all weather capable surveillance aircraft (AWACS).

  2. I was just heard the news this past two days that president pnoy refuse to signed/approved the proposed 52% downpayment for 12 fa50 which is plan to purchased from kai…anyone knows more regarding this update? and instead they have to look unto another item to mention the super tucano from brazil?

    1. He has not refused the deal yet, but is leaning more towards NOT approving the deal right now ( Rumor is that Lockheed is leveraging things using the FA-50 to get the Philippines to get the F-16 after the FA-50. That’s just a rumor, of course. Personally I would be willing to go with the Master-Gripen combination rather than the Fighting Eagle-Fighting Falcon combination, but that’s just me …

      1. how come that pnoy does not come to decide not to sign sometime last year and decide not purchase if the afp knows the proceduce of kai to sell to those country like tge philippines. it is almost delayed sir to have our own jets for credibkevdefense and train our pilots for incoming mrf in the future. I’m so dissapoint by this move of pnoy.

      2. I don’t understand on what the article’s unnamed source is trying to point out. He/She cites the Super Tucano and comparing it to the FA-50. We need a fighter not a CAS aircraft and definitely not propeller driven. If he/she is whining about weapon capability, the FA-50 is a new aircraft so it is understandable that not a lot of munitions are not yet certified to work with the aircraft.

        When it comes to Brazil’s decision in favor of the Gripen versus other competitors like the Super Hornet, politics could have played a major role especially with the fallout of NSA surveillance.

      3. The article is hogwash, most probably made by PNoy’s political enemies to put the FA-50 Fighting Eagle acquisition in bad light. I am writing a blog about it, time to alert everyone especially when it seems those people are USING SOME parts of my blogs against the FA-50.

    1. slowly bu surely? please ennumerate all those implemented already so we could rate this and give credit for minimum credible defense… with all of those including the two gregorio class frigate, three aw 109 and 8 sokol could not sustain the rebels in mindanao how much more with the high seas threat from china

  3. I would advocate the RQ-21 Blackjack. It uses the same launcher and recovery system of the scan eagle, it could function night or day and best of all it has an endurance of 24 hours. The US just bought 104 systems (5 birds, launcher, recovery and a command and control ground station for $5.375,000 including training and spares). Even Japan is equipping their destroyers with this system. they plan to buy 19 systems.

    1. Sorry, that’s $559 million which equates to 5.375m per system (a system of 5 birds+launcher/recovery vehicle and ground station)

      1. we have bad news. chinese navy has drawn a detailed combat plan to seize Pag-asa island (kalayaan islands) or Zhongye island by china, a battle that will be restricted in the south china sea but no invasion in the Philippine territories. this is in response of the additional troops send by our country in the subject islands. again, this plan focus in a limited war but swept in order it will be too late for the united states to respond if china had already occupied the islands. further, if it is a limited war it means china will only employ necessary men, combat ships and aircraft to implement the plan invasion. prolonging the conflict will be disadvantageous to china.
        therefore, philippine govt has to act fast to put in place the necessary personnel and equipments (ships and fighters) to discourage such adventurism of china. employment of frigates armed missiles and fa-50 fighters or possible limited MRFs might give China second thought of planning an invasion.
        we have to be prepared because historically China has fought limited wars with india and vietnam and it could happen to us.
        again to our grand standing politicians the situation is no longer a joke this is a serious matter. i just pity our brave soldiers that were not given a fighting chance…politicians their blood is on your hands.

      2. Not sure yet if China REALLY is going to attack Pag-Asa Island, it MAY or MAY NOT happen, but if China IS going to attack, they are going to do it soon, maybe next week, or even tomorrow, well before any more of our equipment will arrive, so we will likely have to use what we have now.

        About the only “positive” thing I can think of if such an event do happen is that it will force the Philippines to speed up its military procurements. We will be forced to get as many military equipment as we can at the soonest possible time, which will probably mean 2nd hand equipment from other countries. The F-16A Netz, Kfir Block 60s, retiring or retired hulls like the OHPs will be sought after to shore up our military. The attack has to happen, before any of these is done.

  4. precisely rhk111, but the condition is ripe for china’s adventurism when the philippines is unprepared…it may not be soon but the possibility it will happen is not remote. one example the scarborough shoals, the chinese has already physical position of the subject area with the presence of chinese ships and chinese fishermen (accordingly filipino fishermen no longer fished in these areas) without serious contention or absence of philippine physical position, in itself is already an occupation. the only thing china makes pag-asa or kalayaan islands a military contention because of the presence of armed forces of the philippines. the chinese term there plan operation not as an invasion but to recover their territories against the illegal intrusion of the philippines in Pagasa islands or Zhongye islands to the chinese.
    again, i dont beat war drums here….because i still feel if we have the deterrent we can discourage china of implementing such plan.
    a more or less 2 billion dollars if im not wrong financial support to europe and the wasted 2 billion pesos allegedly squandered by jean lim napoles is enough to fund the military acquisition of equipments we needed. we just dont have the political will to defend our territories but were busy on grand standing.

  5. Limited range because of Horizon? Why not install the radars to the mountain peaks of Palawan? let see how strong & far reaching the signal is after all majority of our big Islands are mountanous Island . Why not take advantage of the strategic heights of the terrain…

    1. Depends on how tall those mountain peaks are, and how close they are to where you want your AShMs to be located. Airborne units are still better because they are not static and are constantly moving, hence it will be a little bit more difficult to neutralize them …

  6. Opearational theater in warfare, our country needs a combination of Land, Air and Sea platform support with very secure and reliable C4I. So we do not just tell singular platform here. Integration and interfacing of systems using hardware and software is the most complicated solution for land-air-sea battle spectrum. So is a must to study this respective equipment vis-a-vis with C4I. So now we are procuring FA-50 light fighter jet and Combat Utility Helicopter what would be the best C4I solution to integrate and interface these air platforms. Remeber our Joint Operational concept of operation. We have a fix budget and there is no room for any eventuality when there is a problem in inter-operability later on. Remember even China they have a proble now to solve in terms of inter-operability of their Land-Air-Sea platform for AD/AA so this is also the reason for our Allied US to have their strategic planned for Air-Sea battle concept. Is easy to name names technology but this is really inter-operable base in our C4I strategic planning. Wake-up!

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