The Philippine Navy published an updated version of their “Desired Force Mix” last December 2015 on an article in their official website, and it turned out to be quite interesting, although it was just a brief overview contained in one graphic. It lacked many important details like the exact timeline or the budget they needed to get all those equipment. But they did note down the exact quantities and the description of the equipment they want, as well as a general or approximate timeline of when they intend to get them. Below is the said graphic:
As we can see, the procurement is divided into three different “Horizons” which was first mentioned by former Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Gregorio Catapang in 2014. So far the AFP has not released to the public the SPECIFIC details of these Horizons, they just provide bits and pieces about it here and there in news reports every now and then. As far as I can tell, the Administration of Benigno Aquino Jr. covers the FIRST Horizon, and so I assume that the next two Administrations will be the second and third Horizons.
The Philippine Navy Desired Force Mix 2015 (PNDFM-2015) is quite ambitious, consisting of 25 different line items with a total of around 211 weapons and equipment. Assuming that all of the items in the First Horizon will be bought, then only around 9% of the total will be acquired under the PNoy Administration. The bulk of the purchases or around 65% are expected to be bought in the Second Horizon, and remaining balance of 26% in the Third Horizon. The next sections cover my general observations and opinions about the PNDFM-2015.
One of the first things I noticed and liked about the list was the emphasis on Over the Horizon (OTH) targeting. The Navy has realized how important it is to be able to Detect, Track and provide targeting information of the enemy over long ranges up to hundreds of kilometers away, and has now put a mixture of OTH Radar and Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) in their list.
Most Radar Systems operate only by Line of Sight (LOS), meaning they won’t be able to “see” below the natural curvature of the Earth or below the horizon. But there is a type of Radar that is able to go around this weakness and it’s called (naturally) the OTH Radar. This type of Radar either bounces Radar signals off the Ionosphere, or uses Low-Frequency Band Radars that can actually follow the curvature of the Earth. The installation of OTH Radars on our shores fronting the West Philippine Sea (WPS) will allow us to monitor enemy activity in that area.
One main disadvantage of these OTH Radars though is the need for very large Antennas, typically in tens or even hundreds of meters across depending on the range desired for them to reach. These large antennas makes them impractical to be mounted on mobile platforms like Ships, and therefore are limited to be deployed only in static locations. The Navy is asking for four OTH Radar Systems in the PNDFM-2015.
’Maritime Patrol Aircraft’
Another problem with OTH Radars is that the data they can provide of the targets are not very accurate, with their range errors usually measured in kilometers. This does not make them good sources for targeting data, especially for moving targets. They are good enough for Early Warning, to tell that there is an enemy ship out there, but better radars are needed to obtain better information enough for accurate weapons deployment.
Now in such cases, aircraft are the preferred platform for these better radars because of their ability to travel quickly to the area, and this is why the Navy is planning to buy six MPAs. The combination of the OTH Radar and MPAs will enable our Navy good OTH Observation and Targeting capability, something which we have not had much of so far.
As for the weapons that could make use of the information from the MPAs, these could be mounted on Naval Vessels, Air Force aircraft or Army Vehicles if they are all connected thru Datalink.
The Navy also specified the use of Cube Satellite (CubeSats) Systems in their PNDFM-2015, these are very small Satellites shaped like a cube with a standard dimension of 10 x 10 x 10 cm and weighing around 1 kg. This is the basic unit of CubeSats which is called a “1U”. These 1U CubeSats can be stacked up on top of each other to build a bigger satellite if needed, like for example three of them can be used to build a “3U” CubeSat. These CubeSats are not cheap, though, with a typical 1U CubeSat costing around USD 100k. But then again this is a lot cheaper compared to most commercial Satellites out there right now which tends to cost in the millions of dollars.
I am not sure for what purpose exactly the Navy intends to use these CubeSats, but I think they will either be for COMMUNICATION, for OBSERVATION, or a combination of both. If the purpose will be for Observation, then these CubeSats will likely carry Imaging Equipment or Cameras that would help complement the OTH Radars to monitor Ship activity in the WPS. And like the OTH Radars, information from these Satellites will likely be for Early Warning purposes only and not for targeting purposes.
Another good thing about these CubeSats is that since they are small, they are harder to detect by radar and thus will be harder to shoot down, and China does have Anti-Satellite capability. The Navy wants a total of nine CubeSats for redundancy and attrition, so China will need to find and then shoot down many of them to take away our ability to observe from and/or to communicate thru space.
Another strong emphasis on the list is for Amphibious Operations capability. This capability is important if we want retake some our territory in the Spratly Islands if they are invaded, or if we want to invade ourselves some of the enemy territory in that area. This will also improve our ability to defend our mainland as it enables us to land a good amount of troops with good firepower support anywhere in the country.
The Navy wants two Landing Platform Docks (LPDs), which has already been bought as the Tarlac class of ships, and one Landing Helicopter Assault (LHA) ship. LHAs are basically bigger versions of the LPDs, but optimized to carry more and heavier air assets. These three ships will carry between them the 33 Amphibious Assault Vessels (AAVs), three Landing Craft Cushions (LCCs) and Landing Craft Units (LCUs) that the Navy wants to use to land Marines on the beach.
The two LPDs will carry the four Close Air Support (CAS) Helicopters that will provide cover fire for the Marines if needed. Also six Land Attack Rocket System (LARS) were specified, these will likely be spread out among the LPDs and LHA to also provide fire cover support for the Marines. The six Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) that the Navy is asking for could be used as Forward Observers (FO) to provide targeting information for the rockets and naval guns. The LHA will likely carry the three Heavy Lift Helicopters that will provide logistical support to our Marines once they have established a beach head.
The LCCs are a bit of a surprise because only the US and Japan operate them as of now, probably in part because of their high maintenance costs. These crafts after all use Gas Turbine Engines (GTEs) which give them high Power to Weight Ratios, but also at the same time high fuel consumption. But I can understand why the Navy wants them, they are fast and can travel not only on water but also on land. And because we work very closely with the US Marines, our own Marines in turn are now very familiar with its operation and advantages.
’Fast Attack Crafts’
The Navy also now wants Fast Attack Craft (FACs), they now seem intent to have the capability to provide some Sea Denial capability against China in the WPS. FACs are small, fast, agile and heavily armed ships intended for offensive Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW). Their use has its roots in the French Naval Strategy of Jeune Ecole in the 1800s of using smaller ships against larger vessels.
Since then it has become a favorite strategy of smaller nations going up against superpowers, mainly because FACs are cost effective and yet still are able to provide a heavy punch on the enemy. An example would be like Taiwan going up against China, or Iran going up against the US Navy. Taiwan has around 46 missile armed FACs while Iran has over a hundred missile or torpedo-armed FACs.
42 FACs with four Anti-Ship Missiles (AShMs) each means a total of 168 missiles that the Chinese fleet will have to contend with, and with these spread out to three and half dozen platforms means a big headache for them to hunt and neutralize each, especially if those FACs have decent self-defense capabilities also.
The picture of the graphic seems to be that of an MRTP-33, and if that or similar to it is what they want, then it’s great because I feel it is one of the best FACs in the world right now. It has a relatively low weight of only around 120 tons, and generally the lower the weight, the less costly the vessel is. And yet the MRTP-33 can carry four AShMs in the weight class of the RGM-84 Harpoon AShMs. In terms of self-defense capability against aircraft and missiles, it can carry Surface to Air Missiles (SAMs) and Decoy systems.
Due to their small size and large numbers to be ordered, I think this will be a good opportunity to either design and build them locally, or to license-build a foreign design locally. I think the latter will be better as long as we go for a proven design in service with other navies. We will likely need to build more of them at a time though, like at least half a dozen at a time to convince the manufacturers to allow the license-building of their designs.
For the big vessels, the PNDFM-2015 requires three Patrol Frigates, and these are probably the Del Pilar-class Frigates that we already have. Next are seven Guided Missile Frigates, with three of them being bought in the first Horizon. This is a bit of a mystery since we know that we are only buying two new Frigates, so I am not sure where the other one will come from. Whatever it is, it will probably be revealed in time.
The Navy is also asking for eight Corvettes, I assume this is on top of the three Jacinto-class, two Rizal-class and five Malvar-class Corvettes it already has. I think that the World War Two-era Rizal and Malvar-class Corvettes will be retired once these new (or newer, if refurbished ships are bought) Corvettes enter service. The incoming PCC-759 Mokpo Pohang-class Corvette will probably fill the first of these eight Corvettes.
Last would be the requirement for three Diesel Electric Submarines, which would be an excellent start for our Navy. I have always felt that using Submarines is the best way to counter China, but the problem is their high acquisition and high maintenance cost. On top of that there is also a high technical requirement to run them effectively, meaning finding good, competent people with the right technical qualifications, and allowing for a couple of years of experience for them to use the Submarine well.
And now for everybody’s favorite, the ‘misels’. The Navy wants a total of 45 Man-Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS), and I am not sure what they are for. They could be distributed to the troops (specifically the Marines) just like the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLAN) which has twelve QW-1 or QW-2 MANPADS per Battalion (thru one embedded Anti-Aircraft Platoon). These MANPADS will give our Marines some Air Defense capability, although I don’t think we will be able to match the kind of numbers the PLAN has. Our distribution will likely be less at around three to four per Battalion.
Or, these could be instead/also installed on the Del Pilar/Jacinto/Tarlac-class and other ships to give them better air defense capability. MANPADS may be rudimentary for use against AShMs, but I feel they are still better than using just the ship’s Naval Guns.
Next would be the requirement for three Medium Range AShMs which interestingly matches the three Del Pilar-class Frigates that we already have, so this could finally be the long-awaited plan to arm them with ‘misels’.
’2012 Version Comparison’
The Navy did release a Desired Force Mix in 2012, so it would be interesting to see what changes they made from that list. Below is a list of both versions side by side, note that the item descriptions don’t exactly match so I decided to just match which ones I think are the nearest comparisons.
First difference is that there are less Line Items in the old list, only 16 compared to 25 in the new one. But it does have slightly more total number of weapons and equipment at 216 compared to only 211 in the 2015 version. The 2012 version though contained a lot more vessels, it fact it contained almost exclusively just ships unlike the 2015 version which contained a lot more variety like Radars, Missiles, etc.
The 2012 version intended to land troops to the beach using LCUs and Multi-Purpose Attack Crafts (MPACs), but the 2015 version changed this to AAVs and LCACs. The LCUs are able to carry a lot more troops per ship, but then AAVs and LCACs have better protection and firepower, allowing them better chances of survival against a well-equipped enemy. The AAVs and LCACs also have the advantage of being able to travel not only in water but also on land, enabling them to land their troops nearer to the target or further up the beach.
The 2012 list had a lot more helicopters, 26 versus only thirteen on the new list, but the new list was more specific on what type of helicopters they wanted. There is also less stress on patrolling in the new list as it did away with the 40 gunboat requirement and cut down the number of Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) from 18 to just three Patrol Frigates. The stress has been transferred to naval combatants that could challenge a strong enemy Navy by removing the requirement for the MPAC entirely and replacing these with FACs. I am assuming of course that the Navy does not mean armed MPACs as FACs because as I mentioned in a previous blog, I think it is too small to be able to survive against strong opposition.
Overall I think the 2015 version is better, it has more variety that allows it to focus more on dealing against a strong external threat. It seems to also require a smaller budget which is more realistic given our limited financial situation.
It’s good that our Navy now has a more solid and detailed plan for its modernization. If it pushes thru, it will enable them to have:
– Long-range Surveillance and Targeting capability;
– Sea Denial capability against China;
– Much improved Amphibious Operations capability.
Just too bad that they only gave us a glimpse instead of releasing in public the entire plan like what the Air Force did with their “Flight Plan 2028”. At any rate, the realization of the Navy’s plan will depend very heavily on the kind of President the Filipino people elects in May 2016. If he or she will be as supportive to the AFP Modernization as PNoy is, then we will see most of it to materialize.
However if the next Administration is not as supportive, then we won’t see it happen. Which would be too bad as the bulk of the purchases were planned for the next Administration, so if that doesn’t happen, then program will be set back by more than half a decade.
I do have some reservations with the PNDFM-2015 in that the scale of the purchases seems to be still quite large, despite it already being less expensive than the 2012 version. I think a more realistic expectation then would be that not all but only a majority of the purchases will materialize, and that it will be stretched out over the next two Horizons instead of the bulk purchases being made in the Second Horizon. So good luck to the Navy and to us, hoping to see most of these acquisitions happen within the next decade.
^ A Memory of the Past: Full Throttle for PN Modernization,
^ The price AFP needs to pay to become ‘heavyweight’ military,
^ OTH Radar Antennas: 20th Century Behemoths,
^ ELM-2270 – OTH (Over The Horizon) HF Coastal Surveillance Radar,
^ Delfi Space Nanosatellite Cameras,
^ Through a Glass, Darkly
Chinese, American, and Russian Anti-satellite Testing in Space,
^ Amphibious Assault Ships – LHD/LHA(R),
^ The Navy’s Landing Craft Air Cushion: Uncertainty Over How It Will Be Used With Amphibious Forces,
^ The Jeune École and Its Lessons for Today,
^ How Taiwan Would Defend Against a Chinese Attack,
^ Iranian Military Capabilty 2011 – Naval Forces, https://web.archive.org/web/20141228214842/http://thearkenstone.blogspot.com/2011/03/iranian-military-capability-2011-open.html
^ Onuk MRTP 33 Fast Patrol / Attack Craft,
^ The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Since 1949: Ground Forces by Benjamin Lai, location 468