I was lucky enough to have had the chance to attend the Asian Defense and Security (ADAS) Exhibit at the World Trade Center (WTC) in Pasay last July 18, 2014, and after spending about an hour or so ogling the exhibits and taking pictures, it finally dawned to me that there is one important thing I could do during this event, and that is to confirm with the manufacturers which of their ships they entered into the Philippine Navy’s new Frigate bidding. This information was never revealed by the Department of National Defense (DND) or the manufacturers to the public, so I quickly proceeded to the Navantia display area.
Upon arriving at the rather sizable Navantia area, I saw a couple of people who looked like they were part of the company, but they were talking with other attendees. So I stood around for awhile, trying to ascertain if there were any other Navantia representatives I could ask around. Finally a Spanish gentleman in a business suit whose name I never got asked me nicely if there was something he could help me with, and so I asked him directly which ship they entered the bidding. He then motioned me to one of the models on display and confirmed that it was one of they had entered in the bidding. We talked for a couple more minutes, and I will slowly divulge below some of the details he mentioned about their candidate ship.
‘The Avante 2200’
I knew that Navantia had a couple of models in their Avante lineup, hence I asked him what was the displacement of the ship they entered, and he said it was 2,400 tons. Initially I thought that this should be the Avante 2400, but as per Navantia’s latest brochure,1 they have streamlined their lineup and thus there is no more Avante 2400, but instead there is the Avante 2200 Combatant (A2200C). It fits the description as the A2200C does have a displacement of around 2,400-2,500 tons.
The Avante family is actually a series of ships with different displacements or weights, but built along the same hull lines, compartment divisions, arrangement of common spaces, and with maximum commonality of propulsion and auxiliary systems. This means that similar ships can be made for the different tasks for Patrol or Research. To date a total of eleven ships in this family have come into operational service in various navies around the world, including Venezuela’s Guaicamacuto-class Patrol Boats (the Avante 1400) which entered service in 2008, and Spain’s Buque de Accion Maritima (BAM)-class of Offshore Patrol Vessels (the Avante 3000) which first entered service in 2009. As can be seen, these ships are of very contemporary design, entering service just a couple of years ago.
As for the A2200C, it first entered service with the Venezuelan navy in 2009 as the Guaiqueri-class Patrol Vessel, and they actually have a fancy name for it as the Patrullero Oceanico de Vigilancia de la Zona Economica Exclusiva (POVZEE) which roughly translates in English to “Oceanographic Patrol Surveillance for the Exclusive Economic Zone”. So far four has been built and in service, and here are some of the more important physical characteristics of the ship:
Displacement: 2,500 tons
Length: 98.9 m
Beam: 13.6 m
Draft: 4.1 m
‘As Is Systems’
As it is right now, the A2200C has a couple of features that would meet the current bid requirements already,2 and these are:
- Speed and Range – In terms of performance, the A2200C already exceeds some of the requirements, like for example it has maximum speed of 28 knots while the requirement is only 25 knots. Its range of 9,000 km @ 15 knots also comfortably exceeds the requirement of 8,100 km @ 15 knots.
- Main Gun System – Its 76 mm main Gun also fits in nicely with the requirement of 76 mm caliber minimum. The Guaiqueri class of ships have the newer Oto Melara 76/62 Super Rapid (SR)3 which is better than the older model Oto Melara 76/62 Compact Cannons we have on our Jacinto and Del Pilar-class ships as the SR has a higher rate of fire of 120 rounds per minute (rpm) compared to the 80 rpm on the older model cannon. It also has a “stealth profile”, designed to reduce the radar cross section of the gun; The ability to switch quickly between two different types of ammunition thru its multi-feed system; And a Muzzle Velocity Radar giving it better accuracy by inputting the actual velocity of the round when computing for ballistic trajectory.
- Torpedo Launchers – The ship has two triple Torpedo launchers, one on each side, probably the standard and ubiquitous Mk 32 Launcher with Mk 46 Lightweight Torpedoes, and these will be kept as it fits the minimum requirements.
- Softkill System – The ship has an unnamed Radio Frequency (RF) and Infra-Red (IR) decoy launchers, and actually exceeds the requirement as it has twelve launchers, six on each side whereas the requirement only asks for six launchers, three on each side.
Main Radar System – The requirement is for separate 2D Air and Surface search radars, but the Guaiqueri class Frigate has a Thales Smart-S Mk2 3D Radar which does the function of both radars and actually exceeds the specs and I THINK this will be retained. Actually the radar was one of the things I forgot to ask about as my head was already spinning from all the other information I was getting, hence the omission. The Smart-S has an estimated detection range of at least 81 km for an aerial target with a Radar Cross Section (RCS) of 5 m^2, which is okay. Detection range for a surface target with an RCS of 30,000 m^2 is estimated to be at least 32 km, better than the AN/SPS-73 Radar on the Del Pilar class ships which can only detect the same size target at around 22 km.4
Anti-Ship Missiles (AShM) – The ship carries two quad launchers for AShMs, comfortably exceeding the two twin launchers of the requirements. The Navantia rep specifically mentioned the RGM-84 Harpoon AShMs, although I forgot to ask if the two quad launcher configuration will be kept or they will change it to a two twin-launcher system.
Helipad Capacity and Enclosed Hangar Space – The A2200C has an enclosed hangar space rated to have the weight and space to accommodate a ten ton Helicopter which meets the bidding specifications.
A feature or so will have to be upgraded to meet the bidding requirements, but most of the modifications actually involve the downgrade of the weapons and sensors from the existing A2200C model.
- Surface to Air Missiles (SAMs) – The ship has provisions for an eight cell Vertical Launch System (VLS) for SAMs, but the Navantia rep specifically said that it will be omitted, and that an unnamed shorter-ranged SAM will be used instead. This is probably a cost-saving measure that will still fit the required specifications which only calls for a quadruple launcher with missiles with a minimum range of six km.
- Sonar System – Provisions for a Towed Array System (TAS) is available on the A2200C, but the Navantia rep said that an unnamed Hull-Mounted Sonar (HMS) will be used instead. This is probably another cost-saving measure as it already meets the specifications as the requirement did not specify which type of Sonar system should be installed as long as it has one.
Close In Weapons System (CIWS) – The ship usually has an Oerlikon 35 mm Millennium Naval Gun System as CIWS, but the Navantia rep said that it will be changed into an unnamed 30 mm gun on a Remote Weapons System (RWS) setup. Again this is a cost-saving measure as the requirement only calls for a stabilized system that can be used in conjunction with the ship’s Fire Control System, similar to the MSI Seahawk A2 mount with a 30 mm gun which will meet the specs.
Endurance – The ship has a listed endurance of 21 days, but the minimum requirement calls for 30 days, hence the ship will have to increase its consumable provisions (i.e., food, oil, water reserves, etc.) by 33%. Space will have to be found for these and will also result in a corresponding slight increase in the weight of the ship.
The A2200C is SUPERIOR in almost all aspects to the modified Floreal-class that France’s STX is fielding in because while the Floreal will have to be UPGRADED on most points like installing Anti Submarine Warfare (ASW) capability, installing more missiles, changing to a RWS setup for its minor-caliber cannon, etc.,5 the A2200C actually EXCEEDS most requirements already and in fact had to DOWNGRADE some of its weapons and sensors for cost-saving purposes. The A2200C also already has a sleek, stealth profile while the Floreal may or may not add in this feature, and is built along military standards unlike the commercial specifications of the Floreal which makes it less equipment and weapons “dense”.
The only real advantage of the Floreal over the A2200C is its extremely long 50-day endurance and superior range. I suspect that even if the change to larger, heavier and more powerful engines eats up on the Floreal’s range to boost its speed to meet the minimum specifications, it will still have a 1,000 km or so more range than the A2200C. The Floreal’s DAGAIE Decoy System also carries more rounds at ten per side compared to the only six per side of the A2200C.
The downgrade of some of the weapons and sensors are a bit of a letdown, but these are expected given the humble budget that we have of USD 200 million per ship, and because European-standard design and manufacturing also means more expensive European-standard costs and pricing. The original weapons systems themselves are expensive, for example a Mk 41 VLS costs USD 4 million for an eight cell launcher,6 not counting the missiles like the RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM) where you would need 32 to fit into those launchers costing an additional USD 26 million assuming a unit cost of USD 800k per missile.7 The Millennium gun costs around USD 8 million each,8 and the change to a RWS could cut that price to around half, resulting in significant savings and putting them on the manufacturer’s slim profit margins.
Among the known candidates out there for the Frigate bidding, I have to say that the A2200C is my personal favorite as it has the sleekest, cleanest lines in terms of appearance and in fact can be considered as one of the most beautiful ships in the world right now. I also like the fact that it is built along European design and manufacturing standards, which I feel is slightly better than the Asian standards, and that it is less manpower-intensive requiring a lesser number of crew. But this is just my opinion, of course.
The downgraded weapons and sensors are unfortunate but on the other hand means there will be a lot of room for future growth. For example, the VLS might have been omitted, but I suspect that the space for it may still be used if need be in the future. However, overall I think the A2200C could still be better, just like the Floreal additional systems like longer ranged SAMs, a better CIWS system and a Variable Depth Sonar (VDS) system should be installed on it to make more competitive. Unlike the Floreal, though, its radar system I feel will be sufficient enough.
It was a fantastic opportunity at ADAS 2014 to be able to talk to the representative and get all of these information in, I wished I was more prepared with a list of questions to ask so I wouldn’t miss out on some details like I did above. In the end I thanked the Navantia Representative and told him that I wished them luck in the bidding. And then it was off for me to the Hyundai display area …
- The Avante Family, (https://web.archive.org/web/20160222025053/http://www.navantia.es/ckfinder/userfiles/files/sala_pr/familia%20avante_ingl%C3%A9s.pdf) ↩
- Avante 2200 Combatant, (https://web.archive.org/web/20161111071952/http://www.navantia.es/ckfinder/userfiles/files/Avante%202200%20Combatant%281%29.pdf) ↩
Oto Melara 76/62 SR,
- Smarter (and Simpler) Radar in Harpoon, (https://web.archive.org/web/20160313125508/http://clashofarms.com/files/smarter%20radars%20for%20hpn.pdf) ↩
NEW FRIGATE BIDDING CANDIDATE: UPGRADED FLOREAL-CLASS,
Lockheed Martin Receives $16 Million Contract to Provide MK 41 Vertical Launching Missile Systems for Australian and Spanish Navies,
Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM) (RIM-162D),
A European Navy orders two Oerlikon Millennium automatic cannon from Rheinmetall,