The bidding for the Philippine Navy’s new Frigate Acquisition Project officially resumed when the Department of National Defense (DND) posted recently on the official Philippine Government Electronic Procurement System (PhilGEPS) website the schedule of the Bid Submission and Opening of the Second or Final Stage of the bidding. It was initially set for February 16, 2016, but was later reset to March 3, 2016, then reset again to March 10, 2016. Along with the initial announcement, they also published a REVISION to the specifications of the Frigates, and it is quite long at over 71 pages.
The revisions resulted in a more detailed and comprehensive technical specifications compared to it was before, thanks probably in no small part to help from the P 25 million Consultant/s that they hired and also from the Technical Working Group (TWG) that helped review the bids. The revisions are quite numerous, so I am just summarizing on what I think are the most important and interesting ones. If you want to read the old and new specifications yourself, just refer to the End Notes.
* From none specified to a minimum length of 95 m.
* From none specified to a minimum weight of 2,000 tons.
* Additional requirement to the Propulsion System, it has to be a Combined Diesel and Diesel (CODAD) type.
* From none specified to requirement for Stealth characteristics against Radar, Infra-Red and Sonar Sensors.
* Additional requirement for the Ownership of the Design or License-building of the ship by the Navy.
* From none specified to requirement to meet DDS-079-01 Military/Naval specifications for the stability of the ships, the same standards used by the United States (US) Navy.
* From none specified to space and power allowances for an 8-cell Vertical Launch System (VLS), a Close-In Weapons System (CIWS) and a Towed Array Sonar (TAS) for future upgrade.
* Additional requirement for the main gun to have a minimum rate of fire of 120 rounds per minute. This rules out the older Oto Melara Compact 76 mm gun that our Del Pilar and Jacinto class are using, and puts the newer Oto Melara Super Rapid (SR) cannon as the ONLY candidate out there are there no other naval gun with a 76 mm caliber that has this rate of fire.
* Additional requirement for the secondary naval gun to have a caliber of 30-40 mm. One of the more common naval guns within those calibers is the Oerlikon 35 mm Millenium Gun, so the suppliers could go for that.
* From Primary and Secondary Guns to be installed to none specified.
* From a 50 km minimum range for the Anti-Ship Missiles (AShMs) to a minimum range of 150 km. This puts the minimum to be in the class of the RGM-84 Harpoon Block II missile.
* From a quadruple launcher for the Surface to Air Missiles (SAMs) to two twin-tube launchers. This puts the minimum to similar to the Mistral Simbad or the Dual-Mount Stinger (DMS) systems.
* From a defined minimum number of Ammunition, Missiles and Torpedoes to none.
* From a 2D Radar with a minimum range of 148 km to a 3D Radar with a minimum range of 185 km for air targets.
* Additional requirement of Medium Frequency for the Active mode and Low Frequency for the Passive mode for the Sonar System.
* From a general specification for Tactical Data Link (TDL) to a more specific one, for Link 16 and 22.
* From none specified to a Satellite Internet Access (for Facebooking! Don’t take this seriously, folks, just kidding …)
* Additional requirement against Torpedoes for the Decoy System.
* Additional requirement to up to 12 tons weight rating for the Flight Deck only. The hangar requirement remains at 10 tons only.
* Additional requirement for Close Circuit Television (CCTV) Cameras from just a few portions of the ship to almost all throughout the entire ship; Additional requirement also for the CCTV Cameras to meet Military specifications for Shock, Vibration, etc.
One of the good things about this new revision is the option for future upgrades. Before, there was no such options whatsoever, but now they do for the VLS, CIWS and the TAS. The specified allowance for a VLS with a height or length of 5.3 m jibes with the shortest of the Mk41 VLS, the Mk 41 VLS Self-Defense Module. This module allows the “quad-packing” (i.e., four per cell) of the RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM), each of which has a range of 50 km.
And with a requirement of eight cells, that means a total of 32 ESSMs could be carried by the ship. If and when in the future the Navy avails of this option, then we will have a ship that is not only capable of defending itself, but other ships as well if needed. The future option for a TAS is also important as that it will allow better Submarine detection by the ship.
For the CIWS, if they take up that option also in the future and choose something like the RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM), then that would make for a vastly improved CIWS against aircraft and missiles with the RAM’s larger 12 kg warhead and longer 9 km range compared to the Mistral/Stinger-type missiles.
Another good thing included in the revision is the requirement for Stealth features or characteristics. Whereas before there was no mention of it, now there is a STRONG emphasis on stealth against Radar, Infra-Red (IR) and Sonar Sensors. To reduce the Radar Cross Section (RCS) of the ship, for example, the requirement is for the Hull and Superstructure to be sloped, and to minimize angles formed between two (Dihedrals) or three (Trihedrals) surfaces as much as possible.
Complex structures are to be avoided, and Meshes or Grids must cover all openings. To reduce the IR signature of the ship, Insulation is required on high heat areas, and cooling systems must be in place for heat sources located in the outer surfaces. And to reduce its Sonar signature, low-noise equipment should be used and they should be mounted on mounts that dampen noise and vibration. Other equipment for reducing the noise of the Hull and Propellers are also required. Frankly before I wasn’t sure if these could be incorporated into the ship at the budget that we have, but apparently they can be, so now they have added these requirements in place.
’Design Ownership and License Building’
There is also now a requirement for the winner of the bidding to either grant ownership of the design to the Navy, or at least allow them to license build the design. This is a common practice in some navies, which is why you see ships being built in batches by different manufacturers.
This should also make the people insisting that we build these types of ships locally happy because it will allow the Navy to build the next batches in local shipyards, although I think our local shipbuilders will likely go and partner with foreign companies that have a lot of experience in naval shipbuilding in order to do this the proper way.
It’s likely that most if not all suppliers will choose to go with the License building rather than give away the design of the ship to the Navy for free because even if they do so, it won’t help them win the bidding as our laws require that the winner be based on the lowest price that can meet the specs. Unless of course the bidding rules allow them to factor that in to the price, but I am now sure how they can go about it.
As for the license building requirement, it is pretty general, so I think the suppliers will formulate the specific terms to be as advantageous to them as much as possible.
’ASW Helicopter and Torpedo’
A bonus provided from the revised document is that it showed us a glimpse on the likely Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Helicopter and its Torpedo that will be used with these Frigates. The last we heard about the ASW Helicopter was that AgustaWestland with their AW159 Wildcat Helicopter was undergoing Post-Qualification checks after the bidding, and in the document the Wildcat was featured prominently, with an illustration of it and the new Hangar dimensions also based on it on page 71. So it looks like that will definitely be the Frigate’s ASW Helicopter.
Another interesting clue is the mention of the “Blue Shark Torpedo” for the helicopter on page 46. This is the K745 Blue Shark Light Weight Torpedo (LWT) made by the South Korean company, LIG Nex1. It is also known as the Chung Sang Eo in Korean, it entered service with the South Korean Navy in 2005, and has a top speed of 45 knots.
’Minor Torpedo Issue’
One thing I noticed with the revised specs though, is that it doesn’t require the Torpedo used by the Ship and its Helicopter to be the same, but I think it should. So if the AW159 is using the Blue Shark torpedo, then the ship should also. Maybe the Navy is thinking of using a better Heavy Weight Torpedo (HWT) which has a more powerful warhead and longer range, but as far as I know these HWTs are almost exclusively used by Submarines only these days, very few ships use them.
Most ships use LWTs instead like the Blue Shark, probably because a Helicopter with a LWT can reach a target faster than any HWT can. Now if the ship ends up getting a different LWT than the Blue Shark, then that means having two different types of LWTs, and I don’t think that is ideal. This is because after some time when the LWTs need to be checked or refurbished, then we might end up approaching two different suppliers.
However, for me this is just a minor issue, especially if the non-Blue Shark LWT can also be used by the Wildcat. That means having two different LWTs won’t make much of a difference from the Point of View of Use.
’Midnight Deal Deadline’
Since the Bid Submission and Opening is now scheduled for March 10, 2016 (as of this writing), then to me this means that the project will now be part of the “Midnight Deal” transactions that the next incoming government will automatically review once it sits into power. This is because the Bid Submission and Opening is just one of the many steps in our long and complex bidding process, and according to the lead times provided by the Philippine Government’s Manual of Procedures for the Procurement of Goods and Services (GMPPGS), it will take another 67 days, or more than two months for the whole process to be completed even if no problems are found.
Below is the approximate process flow of the bidding starting from the final Submission and Opening of the Bids with their lead times, taken from the GMPPGS. Of course the lead times are just guides and they actually could do it faster, but given the complexity of this project and the usual Red Tape of securing document approvals at each stage, then it might really well end up that long.
I think the deadline for “Midnight Deals” is on March 9, 2016, or 60 days before the May 9, 2016 elections. Actually the minimum timeframe for such deals is 30 days before the elections, but there is no clear definition on what the maximum timeframe should be. It could be just 45 days before the elections, or maybe even more than 60 days. In my case, I am only assuming it will be 60 days.
’No Ammunition for the Weapons’
The biggest issue with this revision though is the status of the weapons. The Supplemental Bid Bulletin (SBB) number DND-PN-FAP-16-03 on page 3 changed the description of the project to just “The Acquisition of Two (2) Units New Construction Frigates”, removing the “With Ammunition” phrase that was present before. “Ammunition” is defined by Dictionary.com as “any projectile such as bullets, rockets, missiles, etc, that can be discharged from a weapon”. So no ammunition means no rounds for the guns and no missiles or torpedoes will be included in this bidding.
The main and secondary guns will be installed, as well as the launchers for the missiles and torpedoes. Without ammunition, it is likely that only the main gun would be operational when the ship arrives as the Oto Melara SR Gun is compatible with the ammunition used by the older Oto Melara Compact Guns of our other ships. The secondary gun would be doubtful even if a 30 or 40 mm caliber gun is used because the similar caliber ammunition that we have in our inventory might not be compatible with them as there can be several sub-variants of ammunition for the same caliber.
With only limited weapons available, the ships will not be fully mission-capable, and with no budget for the ammunition visible as of now, this puts the responsibility of buying them on the next Administration. Now if that Administration turns out to be not as supportive of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Modernization, then these ships would end up without advanced weapons.
This could partly explain the long delivery time of these ships, four years for just two of them. This gives the Navy more time to hopefully convince and secure the budget and conduct the bidding for the weapons or ammunition within the next Administration. Now if that doesn’t work out, then at least when the ships arrive, it won’t be too long of a wait until the next Administration is elected, and hopefully that Administration will finally allow the weapons/ammo for these ships to be bought.
I initially had reservations about buying just the launchers because those have limited compatibilities and thus would limit us to what weapons to buy later. I thought it would’ve been better to just get the launchers and missiles at the same time so we will have more options on what to buy. But then again maybe the Navy wanted to have the fastest and easiest integration of the weapons with the Combat Management System (CMS) and other systems as possible when we finally buy them.
With the launchers already there, then it will almost be just like “Plug and Play” once they arrive. Assuming of course that it won’t take us decades to buy those ammo because if so, then newer versions could be available and they might not necessarily be as compatible anymore.
I would say that most of the changes made were for the better and ensured that the best ship possible will be bought, despite the deletion of the ammunition. With the ships only partially armed, the acquisition of the ammunition will be very critical because if we don’t get them, then we will end up with expensive ships that can’t do their intended jobs effectively.
As for the bidding itself, in all likelihood it will be completed past the Midnight Deal deadline, or worst case is that it won’t even be completed when PNoy’s terms ends in June 2016. So hopefully it will be thorough enough to withstand the scrutiny of the next Administration. At any rate, we’ll just have to wait and see …
^ ACQUISITION II PN Frigates with License to Manufacture,
^ First rescheduling of the Bid Opening for the Frigate Acquisition Project,
^ Second rescheduling of the Bid Opening for the Frigate Acquisition Project,
^ Revised Philipine Navy Frigate Acquisition Project Specifications (February 2016),
^ Philippine Navy Frigate Acquisition Project Technical Specifications,
^ Navy allots P25M for consultant,
^ DND plans to sign P18-B Navy frigates project in July,
^ AgustaWestland now undergoing post-qualification checks for ASW helicopter project — DND official,
^ Government of the Philippines’ Manual of Procedures for the Procurement of Goods and Services,
^ SBB Number DND-PN-FAP-16-03,