The first of our Strategic Sealift Vessels (SSVs) was finally launched a couple of months ago and has been officially named as the LD-601 BRP Tarlac. As of this writing it has already completed and passed its Sea Trials, and is scheduled for delivery to the country by May 2016. However, while there are plans to arm the ship with modern weapons, it will be arriving without them. In fact, it doesn’t seem like the budget for those has been set aside or approved yet. In light of this, I am speculating on how it will be initially armed, and also offering my opinion on additional weapons and defensive systems that I feel at the very least it should have.
’The Tarlac Class
We call these ships as SSVs, but most navies around the world also classifies them as Landing Platform Docks (LPDs), ships that are designed to support Amphibious Landing Operations by carrying a combination of Helicopters, Vehicles, Landing Crafts and Troops. The BRP Tarlac is the first of two such vessels we ordered from Indonesia’s PT PAL for USD 46 million each, with the second one due to be delivered no later than 2017.
These Tarlac-class LPDs are a variant of the Makassar-class ships that were designed for the Indonesian Navy by the South Korean company Daesun Shipbuilding and Engineering Co. They are some of the newest ships of our Navy, and also the best-looking ones for now, having benefited from having some of the aspects of the Sigma Corvettes that PT PAL was building at the same time as it incorporated into its external appearance.
The Tarlac class is 123 m long with a breadth (or width) of 21.8 m and Draft of 4.5 m. It weighs 11,583 tons fully loaded, making them the biggest and heaviest ships of our Navy for now. To put it in perspective, the Tarlac is more than three times heavier than the previously heaviest Surface Combatant our Navy had, the Gregorio Del Pilar class Frigates. It has a Crew of 126, and can carry an additional 500 fully equipped and armed Marine personnel. It can also carry three 10-ton Helicopters, two Landing Craft Units (LCUs) and around a dozen or so Amphibious Vehicles. It has a Maximum Speed of 16 knots, Maximum Range of around 17,300 km and a Maximum Endurance of 30 days.
A vessel of this size and capability would naturally be a prime target for our enemies out there, just imagine not only the loss of equipment (dozens of Helicopters, LCUs and Vehicles) but also of lives (over 600 Passengers and Crew) if such a ship is sunk. Naturally these ships will go around most of the time with armed Escort Vessels, but I feel it is important for them to have their own weapons also for a number of reasons, first of which would be for REDUNDANCY. We wouldn’t want our SSV to be completely helpless if its escorts are incapacitated or sunk.
Also, we can’t expect it to have escorts all of the time, there will be times when its escorts will have limited coverage, like when it is at Port, for example. Another reason for the SSV to have its own weapons is for IMPROVED SURVIVABILITY as the more weapons that can be used for its protection, the better are its chances of surviving an attack, especially against “Saturation Attacks” wherein the enemy sends over a number of missiles to try to overwhelm the ship’s defenses.
Any weapons the ships will have should be mainly for DEFENSE only, meaning it will only have to defend itself against the enemy’s weapons. Any OFFENSIVE WEAPONS for use against enemy weapons platforms like other Ships, Aircraft or Submarines I feel is best left with its Escort Vessels. This ship’s main function is to transport and support Troops and Equipment, and survive while doing so for reuse again and again as much as possible. Aside from defense, its weapons should also be able to provide Fire Support for an Amphibious Landing if needed.
So for me, below are the main purposes that the SSV’s weapons should have:
– Anti-Hijacking/Suicide Boats/Small Boat Attacks
– Missile Countermeasures
– Torpedo Countermeasures
– Fire Support
Internally, I think the ship’s biggest threats are first, Small Boat Attacks where attackers could use weapons like Rocket Propelled Grenades or Grenade Launchers to harass and damage the ship; Another would be Hijacking, where the ship could be boarded, taken away and sunk with Explosives; Last would be Suicide Boats where small, fast boats loaded with a lot of explosives are used to ram the ship. The militants have been getting pretty good with making Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) lately, so if they can get some dumba#@ willing to die for their cause or religion, then they are in business with a weapon that could potentially sink even a ship the size of the Tarlac.
Our local Insurgents and Religious Extremists has not done anything like these so far lately, but who knows, with such a big, tempting target, they might be motivated to do so. Externally, of course the main concern will be enemy Missiles and Torpedoes, especially the latter since they are quite sneaky and the Tarlac on its own without Sonar equipment will virtually have no warning that it is already under attack.
’Likely Initial Weapons’
The way things are right now, the Navy will likely arm these ships the way they have done with so many of their vessels, and that is with Machine Guns and Cannons. I expect the Tarlac ships to be initially armed with at least four .50 cal. Machine Guns spread evenly around the ship; At least two 20 mm L70 Oerlikon Cannons, maybe on the Bridge Platforms; And at least one 40 mm L60 Bofors Cannon as its main gun. I assume we have plenty of Oerlikons and Bofors leftover from our old ships, and these can be installed on the Tarlac.
The Tarlac armed like above I feel will have good defense against Suicide Boats, Hijackers, Armed Small Boats, etc. and maybe limited Fire Support capability with its Bofors Cannon fired from up to a kilometer or so. However, it will have virtually no Anti-Missile or Torpedo capability of its own as those World War Two-era, manually aimed and loaded cannons are almost useless against Missiles and Torpedoes. This means the ship will have to rely heavily on better-armed escorts for defense against those.
’Mk 38 Mod 1 Guns on the SSVs’
On a side note, reportedly almost all of our Andrada-class Patrol boats are armed with the Mk 38 Mod 1 Gun, one of the most modern guns in our Navy. It uses the 25 mm caliber M242 Bushmaster Autocannon on a motorized, stabilized platform controlled thru a Joystick behind the gun. Now it might be worthwhile to remove those guns from some of our Andrada boats and put them instead on our new SSVs.
The Andradas where the guns are removed could instead have the Bofors 40 mm L60 guns as replacement for their Mk 38s. That way, our most modern, brand new ships will at least have some modern weapons, while the Andradas get a more powerful albeit older weapon. This is just a suggestion, of course.
The Navy does have plans of arming these ships with better weapons, it’s just that they haven’t gone around to buying them yet, or even setting aside their budget. As per the Navy, their plan is to eventually arm them with one 76 mm Cannon as its main gun, and then have two 25 mm Cannons as its secondary weapons.
The main cannon will likely be the Oto Melara 76 mm Compact gun as five of our ships are already using it, so it makes sense for logistical purposes to use the same cannon also. The secondary cannons will likely be the Mk 38 Mod 1 or Mod 2 Cannons as more than a dozen of our ships are already using either of them. It’s possible that the newer Oto Melara 76 mm Super Rapid (SR) version will be used instead for the main gun, but then again I think the older model will be enough, especially if it will save us some money.
The above setup will provide the ship with excellent Anti-Suicide Boat capability as those cannons are Stabilized and can be fired remotely or even autonomously, and thus they have much further effective ranges than the World War Two era Bofors and Oerlikons. The 76 mm main gun will be able to provide ample Fire Support from a much further range of up to 16 km. As for missile defense, if the cannons are armed with ammunition with Proximity or Timed Fuses that allow them to shower targets with shrapnel, then they will have a FAIR Anti-Missile capability.
This means that the ship will no longer have to rely on its escorts exclusively for missile defense, it will have some of its own. This adds redundancy for its defense, leading to a more effective defense overall as more weapons can be bought to bear against an enemy attack. That still leaves the Torpedo though as the threat with which it has no countermeasures against.
’Additional Weapons and Equipment’
Even if the planned purchase of the 76 mm and 25 mm Cannons push thru, I am suggesting a couple of other useful equipment and weapons that can help defend the Tarlac LPDs more effectively, and these are the following:
Missile Decoy System – As I had blogged about before, Decoy systems have proven to be very effective so far in terms of making Anti-Ship Missiles (AShMs) miss almost all of the time based on the very limited number of actual combat situations involving AShMs. Hence it would be prudent to add at least one system to the Tarlac-class. Our Del Pilar-class ships are already using the Mk 36 Super Rapid Blooming Off-board Chaff (SRBOC) Decoy Launcher, so it would be great if we can use these also on the Tarlac-class ships.
Despite its name, the SRBOC can launch other types of decoys as well, like Infra-Red (IR) Flares and even more sophisticated types of decoys. One set on each side of the ship will be needed. If we have more budget then we could add a Mk 53 Nulka Decoy Launch System which is the current standard used by the US Navy as decoys against missiles with Active Radar Seekers of their own. It is made by an Australian company and is designed to actually float for a couple of minutes near the ship to lure Missiles to it.
Surface to Air Missiles (SAM) – Guns are good, but in the end missiles are still better because they are guided and have longer ranges than most guns, so as an added layer of protection against aircraft and missiles, a SAM system would be best. It doesn’t have to be a large one, a Man Portable Air Defense System (MANPADS) would be a good start, like either the Mistral Simbad/Simbad RC or Dual Mount Stinger (DMS). At least one on each side of the ship could be deployed. Ideally, however, if we have more budget then we could go for the RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) because it has longer range and heavier warhead that makes it more effective.
Torpedo Decoy System – Against stealthy Submarines and their Torpedoes, I think the best way for the ship to defend itself is by using a Torpedo Decoy. The main purpose of the decoy is to lure a Torpedo to hit it instead of the ship. The decoy has to be deployable from the ship as needed, reusable if it isn’t hit and replaceable in case it does get hit. Our Navy does not currently have this in its inventory, but the current standard being used by the US Navy is the AN/SLQ-25C Nixie. A ship of Tarlac’s size should be able to deploy two Torpedo Decoys at a time, enabling it to potentially evade at least the same number of Torpedos at any given time.
To summarize, the Tarlac-class will likely be initially armed with 40 mm L60 Bofors and 20 mm Oerlikon Cannons, plus .50 cal. Machine Guns which will be enough for internal threats and provide very limited Fire Support, but they will not be enough for Missile and Torpedo defense and thus the ship will have to rely exclusively on its escorts for that. If the Navy’s plan to acquire 76 mm and 25 Cannons pushes thru, the ships will then have some Missile defense of their own and good Fire Support capability, but still no Torpedo defense.
The most ideal situation would be for the Navy to push thru with the 76 mm and 25 mm cannon acquisitions, and then add Decoy and MANPADS systems. This I feel would be the minimum, realistic defense capability that the ship should have in order for it to maximize its survivability.
But of course, the plans to equip the Tarlac class ships with modern weapons all depends on whether the next President will be supportive of the continued modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). If somebody like Rodrigo Duterte is elected President this coming May 9, 2016 elections, then that won’t likely happen as Duterte has already criticized some of the equipment that the AFP just bought, saying that we would be “better off with just Gunboats” and that the FA-50PH aircraft were just a “waste of money”.
If Duterte wins, then we would likely see these Tarlac-class ships as being equipped with just the WW2-era Oerlikon and Bofors cannons during the next six years of his term, and thus would be losing valuable time in terms of properly arming and equipping these wonderful new ships of our Navy …
^ Second warship for Philippines to be launched in September,
^ PT PAL readies lead Philippine SSV for first sea trials,
^ Switzerland Oerlikon 20 mm/70 (0.79″) Mark 1 / United States of America 20 mm/70 (0.79″) Marks 2, 3 and 4 / Britain 20 mm/70 (0.79″) Mark I and Mark II,
^ Fact vs. Folklore; the 40mm “L-60” Bofors Gun,
^ The Naval Institute Guide to Combat Fleets of the World 15th Edition by Eric Werheim, page 553
^ Mk-38 Machine Gun System (MGS), Mod 1 and Mod 2,
^ PT PAL outlines weapons fit for Philippine Navy SSVs,
^ Oto-Melara / Oto-Breda – 76/62 Compact – 76/62 Super Rapid,
^ Modern Large Ship Naval Battle Lessons,
^ Mk 36 SRBOC Chaff and Decoy Launching System,
^ MK-53 Nulka Decoy Launching System (DLS),
^ MANPADS as CIWS for the Philippine Navy,
^ Raytheon (General Dynamics) RIM-116 RAM,
^ Buying F-16 fighter jets a mistake, says Duterte,
^ Duterte calls new fighter jets ‘waste of money’,