Category Archives: Philippine Navy

AFP was a user of Chinese equipment long before Duterte

The 48th anniversary of the 250th Presidential Airlift Wing, on the 13th of September, 2016, gave President Duterte’s critics yet another treasure-trove of “Duterteisms” that have since become fodder for punditry on defense social media and even generated international interest in Philippine foreign policy. In this latest episode, Duterte stated, among other controversial assertions, his openness towards equipment AFP equipment from China and Russia.

While its worth noting that in a separate speech in Cebu, President Duterte also mentioned interest in sourcing equipment from Israel, indicating a policy of broadened equipment sourcing beyond traditional sources, critics — and numerous media articles — focused on the “China” aspect of the discussion.

The prospect of Chinese weapons complicating the AFP’s logistics picture with equipment that are incompatible with the existing Western-oriented support infrastructure is cause for legitimate concern. Should Sino-PH tension escalate, Chinese equipment could very well be subjected to a spare-parts embargo. Other than being part of an “unconventional warfare” operation, use of a potential opponent’s weapons also introduces operational security (OPSEC) risks because the opposing force knows as much about weapon’s capabilities as the user — if not more so.

These risks however, arguably, are not lost upon AFP planners, and the chain of command. Sourcing equipment from China is not, in fact, new and have hitherto been restricted to non-kinetic equipment. It is actually very likely that all we will see will simply be more of the same.

The following Philippine Star article from May 27, 2007 relates one instance where the PRC offered assistance to the AFP:

DND seeks more military aid from China
Updated May 29, 2007 – 12:00am

The Department of National Defense (DND) has called for sustained defense and training exchanges with China, including military aid, following a security cooperation dialogue between the two countries last week.

Defense Undersecretary Antonio Santos relayed this message to Lt. Gen. Zhang Qinsheng, deputy chief of staff of the People’s Liberation Army, who led the Chinese delegation to the 3rd Annual RP-China security cooperation conference at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City Friday.
. . .
On top of allowing Filipino troops to undergo military schooling in Beijing, the Chinese government donated heavy military engineering and medical equipment to the Armed Forces of the Philippines last year. – Jaime Laude

An article on the same story presented the following photograph of the donation of PY165H graders and unidentified bulldozers.


Since then, these Chinese donated engineering equipment have been seen in the colors of all AFP services. Photographs are care of various Timawans.

 8  164018_1758656526807_1250847882_31938028_7774210_n OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Philippine Navy Philippine Air Force Philippine Army

Exactly what Chinese equipment Duterte is prepared to acquire for the AFP is unclear. What is certain, however, is that the potential equipment that can be had from China is as broad as its manufacturing base. Such equipment need not even be military in nature.


Why 5.56mm sniping rifles for the AFP?

On August 21, 2006 the Timawa forum saw a discussion between a Philippine Marine Colonel (MBLT6) and a Singaporean Army Major (Shingen) about sniper rifles an engagement distances in the the Philippine setting. The end result was a glowing response from Shingen as follows:

This is one of the best post, or not the best post i have seen so far in this forum. Thank you so much for clarifiying things, all your examples are very clear and informative, especially no. 3. Would add this to my scrapbook and use it as material if required back camp.

This accolade elevated this discussion to a “reference thread” which moderators took special care in keeping troll free.

10872891_714195705362405_2481804744076689959_o-1 barret
Marine Scout Sniper Rifle (5.56mm) Barret (12.7mm / .50 cal)

In an effort to preserve this discussion from database crashes and similar incidents, this section the following thread has been replicated here:

First, lets define terms. The term primary sniper rifle refers to primary range. Our (Marine Corps) doctrine requires three types of sniper rifles ie., primary range (max 600m for company level) , intermediate range ( 800m max and a Bn organic) and long range (1000m and a Brigade organic). We practice combined arms concepts which means higher units may attach thier organic units to subordinates in order to tailor fit their capabilities to the environment they are operating in and the threats they are facing. secondly, the term sniper rifle does not dictate on the caliber. Its defined as a rifle with a scope accurized with high quality parts (match grade) and uses match grade ammunition. The 5.56mm round in the MSSR qualifies per our doctrines and international definition.

Why have 3 types of sniper rifles? Based on our experience in battling communist, muslim seperatist and military adventurism for 30+ years in different terrains in the Philippines. We had learned that under different sniping conditions the characteristics of a type of sniper rifle has its pros and cons.

Example 1. a sniper stalks his prey that requires moving at the least observation by the enemy the reason he has to be a master of camoflauge to avoid detection. It will be diffucult to crawl with a cal 50 barret. The MSSR will be a favorite in this conditions.

Example 2: The MSSR or primary range rifle is the king of 600m engagements simply due to lesser recoil. It accounted most of the kills in our year 2000 campaign in central mindanao. Why? against multiple targets and follow through shot in case of a miss nothing beats the 5.56mm round. the lesser recoil ensures target acquisition after recoil. We tested this with the equally accurisided M-21 7.62mm. each equally skilled sniper were required to shoot 6 poppers each and armed with the M21 and MSSR at 400m. The MSSR finished his 6th popper while the other was just starting to aim for his 3rd – FOV issues due to recoil i’m sure you know. Example 3: the cal 50 barret has the needed characteristics for longer range simply because of of its heavier 750 grain bullet which is less prone to that devil wind that all snipers fear. The MSSR cannot compete with this at longer range. But at shorter ranges below 600m the barret has distinct disadvantages. It has a louder sound report, flash and concussion (leaves/bushes moves) allowing easier detection and wow expect counter fire from the enemy. A sniper always ensures he is not detected please don’t do this in engaging the enemy with highly trained countersnipers. The barret is best in engagements at 1000m+ in a jungle environment if you can find one. the rule is more max at 400m. The MSSR has a an almost negligble flash an sound report. The 24 inch barrel has its advantages it ensures the total burning of the propellant before the bullet exits the muzzle hence lesser flash as well as higher velocity means lesser leads in moving targets – the 5.56mm round does have at least 250+ fps higher speed the the 7.62mm and cla 50 round – right?. longer barrels adds more velocity and having more range and lethality. and of course lesser concussion and sound report compared to the 7.62 and cal.50 round. the MSSR was adopted by us in 1996 and copied by the IDF and US in 2000 you are more than welcome to learn from our experiences.

I really had the same perceptions in my youth when I was a Lt 24 yrs ago. The macho 7.62mm or even the cal 30 (7.62mm x 54) M-1 garand round were superior in all aspects. But my experience change that with advancements in weapons technology as well as my combat and competition experience. I was amazed with the results of our 2000 year campaign as well as the success of the M-16 in the Service Rifle Competitions in Camp Perry,Ohio which since 1996 it had dominated the championships beating the favorites as the M-1A1 and military versions M-14 rifles. We in the Marine Corps have the only existing sniper school in the Philippines since 1967. We load our own match ammo for 5.56mm and 7.62mm in 69 grain Sierra BTHP match, 75 grain Hornady and 168 grain Sierra in 7.62mm BTHP match as well as subsonic rounds for both calibers for use in our Night Fighting Weapon System. Don’t know if there are existing sniper schools in other in southeast asian countries. And please no more lethality issues – shot placement at 600m is not an issue for the MSSR our snipers are trained to hit head shots at 600m and even a cal .22LR at shorter distances can ensure that kill. I’ve seen that – we operate in the most volatile region in Southeast Asia.



How are “special units” in the AFP different from each other?

At one point or another, military enthusiasts ask this question. Typically in relation to discussions that dwell on the ascendancy of one special unit versus another. “Who is more elite?” When faced with such queries, professional often point out there each special unit is trained for a specific task and require individuals suited for such tasks. That does not inherently make them better than anyone else.

To put things in perspective, the author put together the following summary to differentiate between the units that were frequently the object of the “Who is the most badass?” inquiry. Pros on the forum reviewed this summary favorably, and has since been treated as a reference thread.

Special Forces – force multipliers; unconventional warfare experts as MikeLogics pointed out. Their job is to win over the local populace to the government’s side and to organize/lead them against the enemies of the state. This is the reason why CAFGU organization was originally their domain (and remains so to a certain extent). Their arsenal is not limited to their weapons, but include their smiles and personality. (There’s a reason why a lot of times they’re the ones manning the exhibits during Philippine Army day)

Based on the “A” in their acronym [SFRA], they have a thing about jumping out of aircraft that are working just fine.

Scout Rangers – tip of the spear. COIN is about offering the choice between the carrot and the stick. The rangers are the stick. Whereas SF and SOT teams mingle with the population, Rangers avoid contact to keep the enemy guessing about their whereabouts. (This, according to Victor Corpuz, is the reason why Ranger-only operations don’t work — you need an SF/SOT component)

Force Recon – vanguard of the MBLTs. The PMC reportedly doesn’t really consider Force Recon an elite unit. Since PMC doctrine emphasizes combined arms tactics, all units are part of a whole and just have different jobs. Force Recon’s job is harder than of other units since they’re the ones who are supposed to find / make first contact with the enemy, and consequently fire the first shots.

NAVSOG/SWAG – just add water. When you need an offensive punch from the sea, short of a full-scale amphib operation, these guys are it. (No idea if there are any doctrinal limits to how far in-land they can be used). Armed seaborne operations, such as underwater demolition and hostile-boat boarding are part of the menu.

Modernization projects don’t die. They just get re-labelled

In the twilight of the Arroyo administration, the AFP was poised to embark upon its most ambitious, most expensive project in AFP history. What would become the largest naval vessel ever to join the fleet the Multi-Role Vessel (MRV) project.

As per PN sources, it was supposed to have consisted of one South Korean-built LPD based on the Makasaar class coupled with a partnership agreement with a yet unselected local partner to build 5 more in the Philippines. After years of negotiation, the DND and the Republic of South Korea had agreed upon project pricing as well as a cap on project escalation costs. The initial vessel would have included the following components


By September 2010, P2B had already been allocated for the project — taking advantage of the then brand new budgetary instrument the DND’s arsenal: the Multi-Year Obligating Authority.

To the horror of the individuals intimately involved in MRV negotiations, when the Aquino administration took over power from Arroyo, all existing projects were suspended. Budgets already allocated — to include the P2B already set aside for the MRV — were earmarked for re-allocation.

The MRV project, as already negotiated, was dead.

However . . . a mere five years after that calamitous turn of events that saw career PN officers resigning their commissions having lost sight of the way ahead for the Philippine modernization program, the BRP Tarlac entered service.


Gone was the original in-country manufacturing deal. In its place was a boost for the Indonesian shipbuilding industry. The AAV component had been spun off into a separate project that is also slated to be awarded to South Korea. The mobile hospital component was no more.

The specific of the MRV project had morphed into the Strategic Sealift Vessel. The Philippine Navy still got its ship.

Fast-forward to 2016. Another President . . . another project.

Reports emanating from the grapevine strongly suggest that the P18B Frigate Acquisition Project is headed for a deal-cancelling delay. While Hanjin Heavy Industries’ bid cleared post qualification hurdles the continued viability of its tender in the face of deferral of actual notice of award is causing the same concerns and general consternation as the original delay of the MRV.

This really should not come as a complete surprise. With a price tag of “P18,000,000,000.00”, it is simply too large of deal to slide through to the contract-signing-state without scrutiny or any form of due diligence on the part of leaders who would then be answerable to taxpayers for the selection.

Will the FAP go the way of the MRV project? There is cause to believe that it would.

That leaves open a number of interesting questions:

Does that put an end to the Philippine Navy’s efforts to acquire Frigates?

Absolutely NOT.

Sail Plan 2020, and the plans that came before it, are products of careful study of the country’s maritime security requirements. While many aspects of the minutiae of requirements definition may post technical challenges, the broadsrtokes for the necessary capabilities are well established. If not completed within the Duterte administration . . . it will be pursued in the next.

As demonstrated by the SSV project . . . the PN will put in the work to get the ships that it needs.

If the deal is indeed cancelled, does this mean that we are back at the start of the bidding process?

What Duterte ultimately decides will be known when he makes it. Predictions about what that decision will ultimately be is a function of the analyst’s faith in — or lack thereof — in the President’s capacity for reason. Setting crystal-ball-gazing exercises aside, we can at least look at the procurement framework within which the President is operating to see what he can do if he so chooses.

Short answer is NO

When the Aquino administration select the FA-50PH as LIFT, it represented the only time that it exercised the following provision in the Implementing Rules and Regulations for the government procurement law:

Negotiated procurement

Negotiated Procurement is a method of procurement of goods, infrastructure projects and consulting services, whereby the procuring entity directly negotiates a contract with a technically, legally and financially capable supplier, contractor or consultant only in the following cases:

. . .

g. Upon prior approval by the President of the Philippines, and when the procurement for use by the AFP involves major defense equipment and/or defense-related consultancy services, when the expertise or capability required is not available locally, and the Secretary of National Defense has determined that the interests of the country shall be protected by negotiating directly with an agency or instrumentality of another country with which the Philippines has entered into a defense cooperation agreement or otherwise maintains diplomatic relations: Provided, however, That the performance by the supplier of its obligations under the procurement contract shall be covered by a foreign government guarantee of the source country covering one hundred percent (100%) of the contract price;

Promulgation of the Defense System of Management (DSOM), comprehensive requirements definition and equipment selection process, within the AFP should have given the Aquino administration the doctrinal and budgetary definition for outright selection of equipment . . . WITHOUT the need for time consuming bids.

Sadly, for reasons that hopefully will come to light in time, after the FA-50 acquisition the Aquino administration refused to leverage this capability for subsequent modernization projects. As a consequence . . . the Frigate Acquisition Project is where it is now. Caught between two administration with an uncertain future.

Will the Duterte administration be gun-shy about using this authority to do away with public biddings and simply pick up where the Frigate Acquisition Project left off, and select South Korean frigates outright?

You be the judge

Contractors with lowest bid not the best for Duterte
Published August 2, 2016 9:53pm
President Rodrigo Duterte said on Tuesday that he would not follow the government’s “lowest bid” rule in awarding contracts for government projects as it led to corruption and usually left the government with sub-standard equipment.

. . .

The president explained that he did not want to purchase equipment that would not be durable.

“Pahabulan ng presyo, pababaan mo ang presyo mo. Iyong iba, 100, ipabili nito ng 20, eh ‘di ipabili mo nalang sa akin iyong made in–alam mo na. Huwag muna ngayon kasi may alitan tayo. Tapos sabihin ng mga sundalo, ‘Sir, nasira agad.’ Kagaya ng jeep ng police. Tignan mo iyong binili nila. Wala na. Sabi ko, ‘Huwag mo akong bigyan ng sh-t na iyan.’ Ako, ang pulis ko doon [Davao City], Isuzu, and it will last for about three to five years. Huwag lang ibunggo ng mga buang,” Duterte said.

“Iyong [medical] equipment ninyo, state of the art. Bahala na mahal. Ayaw ko iyong gagamitin, nasisira,” he emphasized.

Duterte said that to get the best, he would ask experts to guide him on which had the best value.

< Edited >

– See more at:

This article is also available on the forum here.

PN’s 3rd Del Pilar Class frigate now in Alameda, CA

The Philippine Navy’s third Del Pilar Class frigate, the former USCG Cutter Boutwell, is now at Coast Guard Island in Northern California. Originally turned over to the Philippine Navy at its final duty station in San Diego, CA in April of this year, the ship got underway in the evening of June the first, traveled along the California coast, and arrived USCG Base Alameda following day.

The last occasion a PN vessel was at Coast Guard island was in 2011, when BRP Gregorio del Pilar, the first WHEC, was turned over and then stationed at this USCG for the duration of the Filipino crew’s training program.

full_aspect  gun
 Full aspect view  The sixth Oto Melara 76mm gun in the fleet
 mizen  fcs
 Mizen mast  Main mast

Why not turn over the BRP Ang Pangulo to the Philippine Coast Guard?

President-elect Duterte announced in a press conference that he intended to put up the Presidential Yacht, Ang Pangulo (AT-25), for sale. The following is an excerpt from a GMA news report.

DAVAO CITY — Presumptive president Rodrigo Duterte on Sunday said he will put presidential yacht, the BRP Ang Pangulo, up for sale to the highest bidder.

Duterte said this in an interview with reporters at Hotel Elena after meeting with prospective chiefs of the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines.

Both President Estrada and President Aquino made similar statements prior to being sworn into office, and for good reason. A “Presidential Yacht” smacks of government excess. A luxury item that a poor country could ill-afford.

But is a yacht really all it can be?

Given how long it takes government to acquire assets through its byzantine procurement process, prudence demands continual exploration of other options for a historical asset that is already in the government’s possession. Additional hulls, especially new-build ones, could very well take years to obtain. The AT-25 is already there!!!


Suitability of the ship for Coast Guard duties will depend on its internal configuration, the material condition of the ship, as well as its hydrodynamic and sea-keeping performance. However, barring any major issues in these areas of consideration, the following facets of the AT-25’s design holds interesting potential for the PCG.

Size matters

A common engagement tactic among protagonists in EEZ conflicts — from the Cod War of the 60’s between Iceland and the UK, and in the West Philippine Sea today — is ramming. The following video below shows one such between the Chinese and Vietnamese Coast Guard shows how such an engagement can occur. With a displacement of 2,239 tons, the AT-25 — theoretically — has sufficient mass to engage in such encounters with all but the largest Chinese Coast Guard vessels.

Unparalleled range

The current largest PCG vessels, the 56-meter Tenix Search and Rescue Vessels, have a range of 2,000 miles at 15 knots. In contrast, the AT-25 has a range of 6,900 miles travelling at identical speed. This makes the AT-25 an interesting platform for long-endurance patrols, or for conducting extended surveillance on Chinese vessels that are anchored within our EEZ.

Photo from Chinese Coast Guard vessel anchored off Ayungin shoal

Mobile Coast Guard station

Given its current role as a command and control vessel, which will be taken over by the Tarlac class SSVs, the AT-25 is also well suited to function as a mobile Coast Guard Station. One that can be moved at will, anchored at a troublespot, and have the endurance to stay on station far longer than any existing PCG or BFAR vessels — all without taking purpose-built SAR vessels away from their normal duties.

Improve its sensor-suite and it could theoretically perform, at the very least, as a Vessel Traffic Management System platform, or a most a radar picket vessel.

The US implemented a similar concept in the Persian Gulf with its Afloat forward staging base-interim concept. The American solution, which is based on the retired LPD USS Ponce, however is at a much grander scale. As shown in the previous section, the Chinese Coast Guard is also performing this function in Ayungin. If the Ayungin station becomes uninhabitable, and a replacement facility remains elusive, AT-25 could theoretically take its place.

RHIB carrier

Coupled with the range advantage described above, the AT-25 is also a potential Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat (RHIB) carrier. RHIBs are essential for conducting Visit, Board, Search, and Siezure (VBSS) operations which are integral to the PCG’s Maritime Law Enforcement (MARLEN) mission. The ship has existing davits for the embarkation of motor launches. These davits, however, could theoretically either be modified, or replaced entirely, to launch RHIBs in the same manner as the Del Pilar Class frigates.

davit DSC_7289
 Motor launch on AT-25  RHIB on Del Pilar Class frigate. Photo taken while PF-15 was still in Alameda, CA

Tale of the stats

To get the ball rolling on discussions in this direction, the following is a comparison between it and the largest rescue vessel in the PCG inventory: the 56-meter Tenix Search and Rescue Vessel.

BRP Ang Pangulo   56m Tenix SARV
Displacement 2,239 tons  540 tons
Speed 18 knots 24.5 knots
Dimensions 83.84m x 13.01m x 6.4m  56m x 10.55m x 2.5m
Armament 2 single 20mm Oerlikon Mk. 10 AA

2 single 127.7mm MG

 Small arms
Machinery 2 Mitsui-Burmeister & Wain DE 642 VBF 75 diesels

2 props

5,000 bhp

2 x 260 kw Caterpillar 3406 diesels
Range 6,900/15  1,000/24, 2,000/15
Crew 8 officers, 73 enlisted, 48 passengers  8 officers, 30 enlisted, 300 survivors
 3452218463_7c84e5c5e7_o  120l

Transfer of ex-South Korean Pohang class corvette underway

Nothing confirms the impending transfer or an EDA asset like a PhilGEPS invitation seeking bidders for contracts to refurbish the acquisition target. The long reported, and mysterious, Pohang class corvette from South Korea has not only been confirmed in this manner, it has also been identified. See the relevant PhilGEPS invite below:


Rumors of a potential Pohang class transfer first surfaced in 2011. However a formal announcement of the transfer was not made till 2014. Both events were discussed on the Timawa forum on this thread.

The ROKS Mokpo (PCC-759) was the fourth ship in the Pohang Class to be built. Produced by Daewoo SB & Hvy Mach., Okpo in 1988. It is the last of the class to be optimized for Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW) and armed with Exocet Surface-to-Surface Missiles (SSM). Subsequent members of the class geared towards for Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) missions.

In Korean service, it was armed with 2 MM38 Exocet launchers, a single 76mm Oto Melara DP gun, 2 twin Emerlec AA guns, and 2 triple 324mm ASW torpedo tubes. Its air search capability stemmed from a Raytheon SPS-64 radar, and for ASW functionality, it was equipped with a Thales PHS-32 hull mounted sonar. As of writing it is unclear how much of this equipment would be retained in the transfer.

Unlike the Hamilton class WHECs whose gas turbines were of an older variant that were used exclusively by the class, the Pohang is powered by the significantly more commercially successful General Electric LM-2500 which is the gold standard for marine gas turbines. For low-consumption transit, the Mokpo relies on its two MTU 12V956 diesel engines.

 Photo c/o


Combat Fleets of the World, 15th Edition


Strategic Sealift Vessel (SSV) No.2 coming together

The two largest warships in Philippine Navy history are currently under construction at the PT PAL shipyard in Indonesia. The first vessel, tentatively named “Strategic Sealift Vessel (SSV) No.1”, is due for delivery in May 2016. Progress of construction for that vessel is chronicled in the following article: Strategic Sealift Vessel No. 1 taking shape. This article, on the other hand, chronicles the progress of SSV No.2, whose construction lags behind SSV No.1 by six months.

Both vessels are based on the Indonesian Navy’s Makassar class Landing Ship Dock (LPD), particularly the last two members of the class referred to as the “improved Makassar”, which were both built at PT PAL, based on a design by Daesun Shipbuilding & Engineering of South Korea. The resulting vessel should appear similar to the KRI Banda Aceh shown below.

 KRI Banda Aceh c/o Wikimedia

The data assembled below largely comes from open-sources and is thanks in no small part to Indonesian members of the forum who monitor Indonesian news reports and share them with the Timawa community. Supplemental data was gleaned from the international press.

Event / Date photo was shared   Imagery 
January 8, 2016. TR4 block of SSV-2 being moved into position.  tr4block
December 22, 2015. Blocks prepared for keel laying  12377770_227958797536054_4626429217158248112_o
October 25, 2015. Hull block completed. Shared on the Timawa FB extension  12189873_206785486320052_785769008714247769_n
October 5, 2015. Various photographs of keel construction. Shared with the Timawa community’s FB extension on this date. See here
12045651_198447087153892_1997960952488803064_o 12028854_198447263820541_2293746152529941027_o
 12138430_198446993820568_5121954137107230135_o  12132543_198447453820522_3936053513577010719_o
June 5, 2015. Steel cutting ceremony for SSV-2 held at PT PAL Indonesia. Photo c/o
10325232_120852901579978_6070209847343383435_n 11377271_120852951579973_8824712173173054642_n




The Strategic Sealift Vessel project is the Aquino administration’s implementation of two older Arroyo administration projects:

Strategic Sealift Vessel – this was reportedly crafted by the Center for Naval Leadership and Excellence (CNLE) and originally envisioned to acquire a 2nd-hand civilian Roll-On Roll-Off (RORO) vessel from Japan. Delays in the execution of the project resulted in an aborted attempt as the Japanese vendor choose to sell the prospective vessel to another buyer.

Multi-Role Vessel (MRV) – this project sought to acquire a brand-new Makasaar class Landing Ship Dock directly from South Korea complete with an amphibious assault package and a sophisticated mobile hospital. The following image of a Philippine Navy poster displayed on Navy Day shows what this project sought to acquire as a single project.

 The original project that was broken up onto different components

The current administration opted to break up the MRV project into multiple components, award the contract to South Korea’s partner in Indonesia — which had the license rights to the Makassar class LPD — and then renamed the project to the current SSV title. The latter decision initially created confusion among long-time defense enthusiasts who had been aware of both projects, but were not privy to project decisions.

Discussions about the two SSVs are available on the forum at the following locations:

Strategic Sealift Vessel – 1

Strategic Sealift Vessel – 2

Strategic Sealift Vessel No. 1 taking shape

Update: SSV-1 now named “BRP Tarlac (LD-601)” and launched.


The largest combat ship in Philippine Navy history is well on its way to completion. The still un-named Strategic Sealift Vessel (SSV) No.1 is reportedly due to be launched next year, and as revealed during the 80th anniversary of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, delivery is expected in March 2016. The SSV is based on the Indonesian Navy’s improved Makassar class Landing Ship Dock (LPD) shown below, and is being built by PT PAL in Indonesia from a design by Daesun Shipbuilding & Engineering of South Korea.

 Photo of KRI Banda Aceh c/o IHS Jane’s

Based on technical specifications for the Philippine Navy version of this design have been made public (see here), this variant of the class has expanded spaces for command and control systems, which allows it to function as a flagship, and incorporates semi-stealth technology. It has a displacement of 7,3000 tons, and is 120 meters long, which is twenty-two meters longer than the previous Philippine Navy record holder: the 103-meter supply ship BRP Mactan.  The ship has maximum speed of 16 knots, with a cruising speed of 13 knots. Based on insights gleaned from its Indonesian sisterships it has a range of 10,000 miles, and can remain at sea for 30 days. It is equipped with a bow thruster for, among other things, autonomous in-port maneuverability.

This article chronicles the progress of construction. The data assembled below largely comes from open-sources and is thanks in no small part to Indonesian Timawans who monitor Indonesian news reports and share them with the Timawa community. Supplemental data was gleaned from the international press.

Event / Date photo was shared   Imagery 
January 19, 2016. After the PT PAL spillway had completely flooded, the BRP Tarlac was floated out and brought along side an adjacent pier where work continued on its internal spaces. Photograph c/o Gombaljaya on the Timawa FB extension. 5321224_20160120075447
January 18, 2016. Launching ceremony for SSV-1, now christened “BRP Tarlac (LD-601)”. Photographs c/o the Philippine Navy and ship details c/o PNA article

image-8d9c2af5c4e0d7ed18b308afe3c2506d78e249e14e1589df95777e1b49f218e7-V-620x465 PH-Navy-1-620x465
 PH-Navy-2-e1453135382952-620x448  SSV
January 17, 2016. Sporting buntings for the launching ceremony
12493775_240644432934157_1420845710230292492_o  12565621_240712102927390_8712156977312283182_n
January 16, 2016. More hull details Photo shared on Timawa FB honeypot by Alberth Minas and the main Timawa forum by Tonnyc@TMW.
12493587_240158219649445_821002365815144592_o 12507301_239890636342870_901763300755676383_n
10572223_240271876304746_4442669726345964596_o kBCt4j7
CjfdpbH rEul3Cn
January 15, 2016. Hull number revealed: “601” Photo shared on Timawa FB honeypot by Alberth Minas 12485871_239416543056946_8133680059234221790_o
January 12, 2016. Painting in progress. Photo c/o Alberth Minas on Timawa FB honeypot. 12419005_238592803139320_1478214818312064828_o
January 6, 2016. Propellers are now being installed. Shared on Alberth Minas on the Timawa FB honeypot here. Photo clearly shows that the propeller was manufactured by MAN propeller
December 20, 2015. View of the ship in the slipway. Shared on Timawa by Pudge@timawa. The photo was originally posted on Forum Sejarah & Militer 12377637_1018160904873020_2974104353048843067_o
November 27, 2015. Mast, and bow mated with the rest of the hull. Vessel outline as an improved Makassar class is now clearly visible. Photo shared on the Timawa FB extension, originally shared on Kaskus forum Indonesia.
11-27 ssv1
November 27, 2015. View of the well deck, helideck, and entrance to the hangar. While the photograph was shared on the Timawa FB extension on the 27th, the contributor, Alberth Minas reported that the photograph had been taken two weeks prior. 12309925_217791968552737_6416106263416888472_o
November 18, 2015. Port-side hull details. Shared on the main Timawa forum here by madokafc@timawa. 11-20
November 15, 2015. Closer photo of bulbus bow, attached to the rest of the hull, in the PT PAL drydock. Shared on the main Timawa forum here by firdausj@timawa. ssv-philippines
October 25, 2015. Main mast under construction. Shared on Timawa FB extension. 12186334_206301859701748_6258125763628040194_o
October 8, 2015. The well deck where Landing Craft Utilities (LCU) and amphibious craft embark and disembark from the ship. Shared on Timawa FB extension. 8oct15
October 6, 2015. SSV-1 on slipway. Shared on Timawa FB extension. slipway
October 4, 2015. Bulbous bow attached to forward segment. Shared on Timawa FB extension. bow
September 23, 2015. Attachment point for bulbous bow assembled. Shared on Timawa FB extension. 11155151_194326247565976_5863904272102864516_o
August 24, 2015. ASF-1F block completed, being lifted in place. Shared on Timawa FB extension ASF_1F_block
August 14, 2015. Engines being installed. Photos c/o
11863359_166442083687726_4890440072813755514_n Kapal-Perang-Filiphina-140815-MRH-1-629x420


July 30, 2015. Bulbous bow section completed bow
June 5, 2015. Assembly of completed keel components. Tribun news photos shared on the Timawa FB extension 11391187_120853174913284_8662390969724609522_n
May 13, 2015. Keel construction underway ssv
January 22, 2015. Steel cutting ceremony for SSV-1 held at PT PAL Indonesia 9ptmwn

The Strategic Sealift Vessel project is the Aquino administration’s implementation of two older Arroyo administration projects:

Strategic Sealift Vessel – this was reportedly crafted by the Center for Naval Leadership and Excellence (CNLE) and originally envisioned to acquire a 2nd-hand civilian Roll-On Roll-Off (RORO) vessel from Japan. Delays in the execution of the project resulted in an aborted attempt as the Japanese vendor choose to sell the prospective vessel to another buyer.

Multi-Role Vessel (MRV) – this project sought to acquire a brand-new Makassar class Landing Ship Dock directly from South Korea complete with an amphibious assault package and a sophisticated mobile hospital. The following image of a Philippine Navy poster displayed on Navy Day shows what this project sought to acquire as a single project.

 The original project that was broken up onto different components

The current administration opted to break up the MRV project into multiple components, award the contract to South Korea’s partner in Indonesia — which had the license rights to the Makasaar class LPD — and then renamed the project to the current SSV title. The latter decision initially created confusion among long-time defense enthusiasts who had been aware of both projects, but were not privy to project decisions.

Discussions about the two SSVs are available on the forum at the following locations:

Strategic Sealift Vessel – 1

Strategic Sealift Vessel – 2

Landing Craft Utilities (LCU) of the Philippine Navy

Landing Craft Utilities (LCU) are ships designed to transport troops and material to shore without the need for piers and similar facilities. Smaller than ocean-going Landing Ship Tanks (LST), these vessels are currently used for inter-island transport of AFP maneuver units as well as for disaster relief operations. In conventional amphibious operations, both LSTs and LCUs would be used for administrative landings on established beachheads already captured from an enemy. They are not designed for landings under fire.

 BRP Benguet, when it was still USN LST 692, with Mk.6 LCU #764 embarked. Photo by Joe Weber c/o

The Philippine Navy’s use of the term traces its origins to the landing craft it obtained from the US Navy. The USN originally called these vessels “Landing Craft Tank” during World War II, but reclassified them as LCUs in 1956.

The following table compares the four operational classes of LCUs in the Philippine Navy. Data for all vessels were either taken from Janes Fighting Ships 2014-2015 edition or Combat Fleets of the World 15th Edition. Because of a lack of direct information for the South Korean Mulkae class, the entries and photograph here were extrapolated from the LCU 1610 of the US Navy from which the South Korean boats were copied. Capacity information for the BRP Tagbanua, however, was obtained from members of the now defunct Philippine Navy Modernization Office, which oversaw the acquisition and sea trials of the vessel.

ex-USN Mk.6 LCU   ex-ROKN Mulkae LCU   ex-RAN LCH   BRP Tagbanua
DSCF2604_zpsfaf821b9 lcu78_credit  lch 640_ZZZ_022513_2_d
Displacement, tonnes  258 full load  415 full load  517 full load  579 full load
Dimensions, meters  36.3 x 9.96 x 1.02 41.07 x 9.07 x 2.08 44.5 x 10.1 x 2  51.4 x 10 x 1.52
Speed, knots  7  11  10  14
Range, miles  700 @7kt 560 @ 11kt  3,000 @ 10kt  n/a
Complement  12  12  16  n/a
Military lift  136 tons  143 tons  2 x M1A1  200 tons & 200 troops
Inventory BRP Tausug (AT-295)
BRP Bagobo (AT-293)
BRP Subanon (AT-291)
 Un-named LCU BRP Ivatan (AT-298)
BRP Batak (AT-299)
BRP Tagbanua (AT-296)

The bulk of these types of ships in Philippine Navy service consist of second-hand Excess Defense Articles (EDA), obtained from the United States and more recently from Australia and South Korea. Ships from the latter two countries arrived in 2015.

Two LCUs were built locally. One was commissioned into service with all the fan fare befitting a major Philippine manufacturing achievement. The other was quietly accepted under controversial circumstances. This second boat is best discussed in a separate future article, and will be omitted from this discussion.

The oldest ships in the fleet are ex-US Navy Mk.6 LCUs. Three of these World War II-era boats are currently in service: BRP Tausug (AT-295), BRP Bagobo (AT-293), BRP Subanon (AT-291). Though equally old as its sisterships, the BRP Tausug was a relatively new addition to the roster as it was recommissioned from the navy’s strategic reserves in 2009.

On the 30th of May, 2015, a Mulkae class LCU from South Korea, that had been donated to the Philippines in June 2014, arrived at the Cavite Naval Yard where it was slated to be refurbished. The Mulkae — which translates to “fur seal” — is the South Korean version of the US LCU 1610, of which six were built from 1979 to 1981. The Mulkae donated to the Philippines, designated LCU 78, entered South Korean service in 1981. As of writing the ship’s Philippine designation remains unclear.

On the 2nd of July 2015, Philippine Navy personnel arrived in Australia to take possession of two Balikpapan Class Landing Craft Heavy (LCH): HMAS Tarakan and HMAS Brunei. Both ships were commissioned into the Royal Australian Navy in 1973 and will be subject to navigational upgrades before being turned over to the Philippines. While the South Korean LCU’s designation remained unclear even after arrival in the Philippines, the names for the two Australian boats have already been announced, BRP Ivatan (AT-298) and BRP Batak (AT-299), while still overseas.

The first of the two new LCUs in the inventory is the BRP Tagbanua (AT-296). This ship is noteworthy, not only because it is not a hand-me-down, but also because it is a Philippine-built ship. It is currently the largest locally-built ship in the Philippine Navy, displacing the previous record holder: the Aguinaldo class patrol gunboats. AT-296 also remains the largest LCU in the fleet, surpassing the Balikpapaan class in both displacement and physical dimensions.

Another noteworthy differentiator for the Tagbanua was that it was designed specifically with the Philippine Navy’s intended use for these vessels in mind: inter-island movement of troops and equipment. For this reason, it can transport 200 troops within a passenger compartment, protected from the elements, in addition to carrying 200 tons or cargo.

Growing the force

In 2012, the Philippine Navy published what it called its Desired Force Mix. The mix laid out what the navy perceived as the minimum number of ships it required for various roles. The list identified a need for 18 Landing Craft Utilities. With only six LCUs either in service or due to enter service, there is a significant gap in amphibious capability. With that gap, however, comes opportunity for the Philippine shipbuilding industry.

When the tandem of Propmech and Philippine Iron Construction & Marine Works (PICMW) turned over the BRP Tagbanua to the Philippine Navy in November 2011, they not only proved that the local shipyards could meet military needs, they also demonstrated how widespread qualified shipyards in the country really are.  This shipyard isn’t based in any of the usual suspects: Subic Bay, Balamban, Cebu or Batangas which often draw attention for their hosting foreign owned shipyards like Hanjin, Keppel, and Tsuneishi. PICMW calls  Jasaan, Misamis Oriental home. This achievement shows that if the invitation to bid is made, industry players across the nation can respond with indigenous designs optimized for the AFP’s needs.

The acquisition project that eventually acquired the BRP Tagbanua had an Authorized Budget for Contract of approximately P190M. That translates to P2.85B worth of construction contracts that could potentially go to local shipyards if all 15 additional LCUs are sourced locally. Domestic manufacture, however, will always be hampered by one key consideration: “Time to deploy”.

Buying more EDA ships, like the Mulkae and Balikpapan class, would grow the LCU force faster. Especially when these assets are acquired in the form of a “hot transfer”, where the ship to be transferred is never actually decommissioned and simply changes crews. But this mode of acquisition not only deprives local shipyards of manufacturing opportunities, the resulting potpourri of ships also creates logistical issues by introducing a myriad of non-standard equipment. The existing six LCUs, for example, already involve four different engine types. Each of which will require a logistical trail.

Fifteen new locally-built LCUs following a single design would mean standardized equipment, and consequently simplify logistics. However, given how long it took the Tagbanua project to bear fruit, the DND-AFP would need to balance its need to fill the gap as-soon-as-possible, with other concerns to include its goal of supporting local manufacturing industries as part of the Self-Reliant Defense Posture (SRDP) program.

Arguably, the way forward for meeting the goals of the Desired Fleet Mix will require a combination of quick EDA acquisitions balanced with domestic production. The key will be in finding that balance, and designating a specific number that the domestic industry must be tasked — or challenged — to satisfy.


To discuss this article visit its companion thread on the forum here


Janes Fighting Ships 2014 – 2015

US Amphibious Ships and Craft

Combat Fleets of the World, 15th Edition