The relative stillness of my late afternoon was jolted by the announcement that the South Korean government was going to donate a Pohang-class Corvette to the Philippines, and that it is going to arrive by the end of 2014.1 There had been a couple of rumors about this since around 2011, but nothing official has come out of it … until now. The Philippines highly appreciates this “gift”, the Korean government said it is a token of appreciation for the sacrifices made by Filipino soldiers during the Korean War.
This donation came after we bought a dozen FA-50 Fighting Eagle Advanced Jet Trainers (AJT) and eight Armored Amphibious Vehicles (AAV) from South Korean defense companies,2 3 and there’s also the issue of the upcoming bid for the two new Frigates where South Korean companies are involved. France sent a demonstration ship in the Prarial to help STX France’s bid using an upgraded version of the Floreal-class Frigate,4 and this donation will also help foster a lot of good will between the Philippines and South Korea.
We should be VERY grateful for this ship, after all, on its own it is quite a lot of money, worth around USD 30 million each when the country of Equatorial Guinea tried to buy them a couple of years ago5 (it didn’t push thru). I am sure that once Sokor starts retiring more of these ships, they will be in high demand to a lot of navies around the world because they are very capable ships, indeed.
‘The Pohang Class’
The Pohang-class vessels are described as Patrol Combat Corvettes and first served with the South Korean Navy in 1984. A total of 24 ships were built in four batches named Flights II to V by various South Korean companies like Hyundai Heavy Industries, Hanjin Heavy Industries and Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering. Important details about the ship’s physical characteristics and performance are as follows:6
Displacement: 1,200 tons
Length: 88.3 m
Beam: 10 m
Draft: 2.9 m
Maximum speed: 32 knots
Maximum range: 7,400 km at 15 knots
Propulsion: Combined Diesel or Gas (CODOG), 2 2,334 Kw Diesel engines and 1 20,283 Kw Gas Turbine engine
As for other details, first off let me just state that there seems to be a bit of confusion on how the Pohang-class ships are exactly armed and equipped, at least as far as the English-language websites are concerned. I think this is partly due to the language problem and partly due to the secrecy of the South Korean military. As a result, there isn’t really a single source that accurately details the development of this class of ship, especially with the later batches. Instead, a fair amount of detective work needs to be done to get a better picture of what really happened, cross referencing various sources and double checking it with picture evidences when they are available.
From what I gathered, this is how things are supposed to be: Initially there were two types of Pohang-class vessels: The Anti Surface Warfare (ASuW) version, and the Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) version. The first batch of four ships produced known as “Flight II” were initially classified as the ASuW version while the next 20 ships were built on batches “Flight III” to “Flight V” ended up being classified as the ASW version. The two versions are distinguished by the fact that the ASuW versions were supposed to have no ASW capability, and uses different armaments and sensors.6 However, latest information seems to indicate that the ASuW versions were eventually upgraded to have ASW sensors and weapons as well, blurring the lines between the two versions.
For example, the ROKS Pohang (PCC-756) Corvette is NOT supposed to have any ASW capability as per most if not all of the English internet sources as it is a batch Flight II ship, but if you look the video of tour of the Pohang, you will clearly see that it has two triple torpedo launchers (at the 55 second mark of the video), and it is likely that these were added later.
What’s left to distinguish the Flight II ships from the Flights III-V ships now are:
– The Flight II ships have only one 76 mm gun instead of two;
– Uses Emerlec-30 Anti-Aircraft guns instead of the Dardo 40L70;
– Older electronic equipment (Radars, Decoys, Fire Control Systems, etc.)
– Exocet missiles instead of the Harpoon missiles installed on the later batches
What the Korean Navy probably did was to start off conservatively arming and equipping the Flight II ships, but as they gained more operational experience and confidence with the ships, they subsequently added more and more weapons and sensors to the later batches. Eventually they went back and upgraded the earlier ships to as close a standard as the newer or later ships.
The report didn’t say exactly which ship will be donated, this will likely be revealed in soon. In the meantime, assuming that South Korea retires their Pohang-class ships from oldest to newest: The first ship, the Pohang has already been retired and turned into a museum; The second one, the ROKS Gunsan (PCC-757), was supposed to be donated to Colombia in 20117 but this didn’t seem to have pushed thru, hence the status of this ship is currently unknown, whether is it still active, has it been retired, etc.
If it had been retired in 2011, it’s likely to be not the one because the news report indicates that a currently active ship that will be retired this year will be given to us; The third and fourth oldest ships on active duty are the ROKS Geongju (PCC-758) and ROKS Mokpo (PCC-759) respectively, and it is possible that either of these may be the one we are getting. At any rate, it is likely that we will get one of the two or three ships of the first four ships. Below now are what I THINK are the latest available weapons and sensors that the batch Flight II ships will be equipped with, based on the verifiable references I can find.8
What makes this transfer more exciting is the fact that as per the Department of National Defense (DND) Spokesman Peter Galvez, the ship will be transferred with ALL of its weapons and sensors INTACT,1 and the Pohangs are a pretty good ships because despite the fact that they are only a third in weight of our Del Pilar-class ships, they are much more heavily armed and heavily packed with sensors.
First off would be its multi-purpose guns that can be used for both Anti-Air and Anti-Surface threats. There is the single Oto Melara 76 mm cannon which our Navy are very familiar with as five other ships (three Jacinto-class and two Del Pilar-class) are already using it. It can fire at a rate of around 80 rounds per minute up to a range of 18 km, with 80 rounds of ammunition available.9
Next you have the two Emerlec-30 mounts, one in front and one in the rear. These mounts carry two 30 mm cannons, with each gun having a cyclic rate of 600 rounds per minute with around 985 rounds of ammunition available. The mount is powered and stabilized, and can be either fired manually or remotely. Range is estimated to be 10 km for surface targets and 3 km for aerial targets.10 11 The Emerlec-30 actually reminds me of those turret mounts you frequently see on science fiction movies where an operator straps in and starts blasting away at enemy fighter spacecraft.
If the Pohang ship will arrive at the end of the year, and it retains the missiles as promised, then it will be the first Anti-Ship Missile-armed ship in the history of the Philippine Navy with its two MM 38 Exocet Missiles. The MM 38 is an old model and probably near the end of its shelf life, but missiles can be refurbished, and refurbishing the missiles will be cheaper than buying new ones.
The MM 38 Exocet missile is the first version of the Exocet family of missiles and was made by the French company Nord Aviation. It first entered service with the French Navy in 1975, and since then it has become one of most commercially successful Anti-Ship Missiles with over 1,270 produced in service with at least 15 countries. It is a ship/ground launched missile but has since been replaced by the newer MM 40 model, although many are still in active service around the world. Guidance is initially via Inertial Navigation System (INS) during launch but switches to its own Active Radar when it is around 12 km from the target. Here are other important data on the physical characteristics and performance of the missile:12
Total Weight: 735 kg
Warhead Weight: 165 kg
Speed: Mach 0.9
Range: 42 km
‘Fire Control System, Radars and Decoys’
The ship’s main Fire Control System (FCS) is the WM 28 which the Mk 92 FCS used on the Del Pilar-class ships is based on, so this is something the Pohangs will have in common with the Del Pilars. The WM 28 integrates with the AN/SPS-64 Navigation and Surface Search Radar to detect ships at longer ranges and provide targeting information to the MM 38. The AN/SPS-64 radar has an estimated range of 32 km for a surface target with a Radar Cross Section (RCS) of 30,000 m^2 which, if true, would actually be better than the AN/SPS-73 Radar used on the Del Pilar ships which can only detect the same size target at around 22 km.13
The WM 28 also integrates with the Thales Lightweight Fire Control Radar and Optronic Director (LIROD) Mk1 to control the 76 mm gun. The LIROD combines a shorter-ranged radar with an Electro-Optical (TV) system that allows visual identification of the target.
The only issue I see right now is that the Pohang’s AN/SPS-64 radar doesn’t have an Air Search function, unlike the Marconi ST-1810 Radars13 installed on the later ships. This means the Pohang will only be able to detect aircraft at relatively low altitudes. The Philippine Navy (PN) could invest in a medium range Air Search Radar to correct this, giving the ship earlier warning of aerial threats at all altitudes and at longer ranges.
Another thing the Pohangs have in common with the Del Pilar-class ships is the use of the Mk 36 Super Rapid Blooming Offboard Chaff (SRBOC) Decoy System, which is a pretty good system that can launch different types of Chaff and Infra-Red (IR) decoys,14 and as we have seen in my previous blogs,15 16 systems like these are actually more effective at neutralizing enemy AShMs.
The Pohangs reportedly has the Signaal PHS-32 Sonar System, giving our Navy another ship with ASW capability as we don’t have a lot of ships with this capability. However, the effectiveness of Hull-mounted Sonars can only be considered as “fair” at best, as illustrated by the sinking of the Pohang-class ship ROKS Cheonan (PCC-772) by a North Korean Midget Submarine.17 For me though, this incident only highlights the difficulties of hunting submarines as I had indicated in my blog about the ARA San Luis,18 which is probably why the South Korean Navy is switching from Hull-mounted to Towed/Variable Depth Sonar systems with their newer ships.
Actually, the PHS-32 does have the option of to be converted to a Variable Depth Sonar (VDS) configuration,19 assuming that the manufacturer is still offering the conversion. If so, our Navy might want to explore this option to improve the Pohang’s ASW capability if they want to. A VDS configuration will improve the efficiency of the Sonar as it will be away from the noises made by the ship, and can also be lowered to the “Thermocline Layer” where Submarines can hide under.
ASW weapons consists of first, its two Mk 32 Triple Tube Torpedo Launchers, one on each side. Each tube holds a single Mk 46 Light Weight Torpedo (LWT) which has a warhead of 44 kg, can travel at 40 knots and has a range of 11 km.20 On top of this, the Pohangs also have two racks of Mk 9 Depth Charge Launchers, with each rack holding six Mk 9 Depth Charges. A Mk 9 Depth Charge has a warhead of 91 kg and can reach a depth of 180 m.21 I wonder if the Navy will keep these Depth Charges, though, as these are basically World War Two weapons with arguable effectiveness in this day and age, and their weight can be allocated instead for extra Mk 46 Torpedoes. The Navy had previously removed all of their Depth Charge Launchers and Depth Charges from their older ships.
Despite being a relatively small ship, the Pohang Flight II ships have decent all-around capability. To summarize its capabilities:
- Anti Surface Warfare is good with short (one 76 mm cannon and two Emerlec-30s) and medium-range (two Exocet missiles) weapons, medium-range sensor (one AN/SPS-64 radar) and advanced Fire Control Systems (WM 28 and LIROD Mk 1)
Anti Air defense would be fair with very-short range weapons (one 76 mm cannon and two Emerlec-30s), limited short-range sensor (one AN/SPS-64 radar), advanced Fire Control Systems (WM 28 and LIROD Mk 1) and respectable decoy system (one Mk 36 SRBOC)
Anti-Submarine Warfare would also be fair with short-ranged weapons (two Mk 32 Torpedo Launches and two Mk 9 Depth Charge Launchers) and short-range sensor (one PHS-32 Hull-mounted Sonar)
Colombia spent USD 2.5 million to refurbish the Donghae-class Ship that was donated to them by South Korea,7 and I expect that once we get ours we will also have to spend a couple of million dollars to keep the ship in optimum shape. But that’s okay, nobody is going to give you a used ship in pristine condition, of course you will have to spend money to keep it in top shape. A couple of million dollars in cost for a working, highly capable ship is a bargain anywhere, especially when you consider that South Korea were going to sell these at USD 30 million apiece.5
The Flight III-V ships are more heavily armed and with newer electronic systems than the Flight II ships and thus would’ve been the better choice, but the Flight II ships as they are right now are still formidable ships, much better than anything we have afloat right now. Hence I can’t contain my excitement of having these ships on our fleet. Who knows, we might have a chance to get more of these in the near future, especially if this first one is found to be agreeable to operate and maintain for our navy. If we do end up getting more, we may have finally have the chance to retire most if not all of the World War Two relics that we still have in service with our navy.
For more pictures of the Pohang-class Corvette, especially its interior, check out this travel blog of the Pohang museum in South Korea. The accommodations actually seem to be nice … Chinn Stew: Sailors for the Day!
South Korea gives Corvette to Philippine Navy,
(https://web.archive.org/web/20140611090847/http://globalnation.inquirer.net/105908/south-korea-gives-corvette-to-philippine-navy) ↩ ↩
KAI won a contract to export 12 FA-50s to the Phil,
South Korean firm emerges as sole bidder in Philippines AAV acquisition,
Try us, says visiting French Navy commander,
Equatorial Guinea seeks South Korean corvettes: report,
(https://web.archive.org/web/20161117072804/http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/2631098/posts) ↩ ↩
Pohang (PCC Patrol Combat Corvette),
(https://web.archive.org/web/20140706204424/http://www.naval-technology.com/projects/pohangclasscombatcor/) ↩ ↩
Corbeta ARC Narino Ilega en Agosto a reforzar la seguridad en el Pacifico,
(https://web.archive.org/web/20140114033624/http://www.webinfomil.com/2013/12/arc-narino-armada-nacional-colombia.html) ↩ ↩
US Naval Institute Combat Fleets of the World, 16th Edition,
Italy 76 mm/62 (3″) Compact 76 mm/62 (3″) SR,
EMERLEC-30 Twin 30mm Mounting,
United States 30 mm/75 (1.2″) EX-74 and Emerlec-30,
- Smarter (and Simpler) Radar in Harpoon, (https://web.archive.org/web/20160313125508/http://clashofarms.com/files/smarter%20radars%20for%20hpn.pdf) ↩ ↩
- Mk 36 SRBOC Chaff and Decoy Launching System, (https://web.archive.org/web/20141218231730/http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/ship/systems/mk36-srboc.pdf) ↩
- MISSILE BOAT NAVAL BATTLE LESSONS, (https://rhk111smilitaryandarmspage.wordpress.com/2014/03/11/missile-boat-naval-battle-lessons/) ↩
- MODERN LARGE SHIP NAVAL BATTLE LESSONS, (https://rhk111smilitaryandarmspage.wordpress.com/2014/04/02/modern-large-ship-naval-battle-lessons/) ↩
- The Implications of the Cheonan Sinking: A Security Studies Perspective, (http://www.marineclub.com/calendar/content/BruceBechtolIJKUS.pdf) ↩
SUBMARINES FOR THE PHILIPPINE NAVY – LESSONS FROM THE ARA SAN LUIS,
Medium-Range Scanning Sonar System PHS 32,
Mk 46 Torpedo,
United States of America ASW Weapons,