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


2015: What’s happening with the AFP modernization program

Whereas 2014 was the year of the “Notice of Award”, 2015 was the year of deliveries. No less than 18 projects — for all three services — saw their first or full deliveries this year, making it the most active project-conclusion period since the first acquisitions of the AFP Modernization Program in 2003.

Among the capabilities that the AFP acquired this year are:

  • Supersonic flight with a limited capability for conducting air interception missions
  • Close air support platforms that can engage ground targets at night
  • Significant increase in cargo transport capability, both by air and sea
  • Armored, night-fighting-capable, mobility for mechanized troops
12342662_789719857823897_8823577461804422775_n 921233_1255251084501797_5414908113821209557_o
Commissioning ceremony for various PAF assets. Photo c/o DND Armored recovery vehicles during the 80th anniversary of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Photo c/o DND

To give a more complete view of the state of the modernization program, this year’s article is divided into the following sections, presented here in reverse order:

  • Pending acquisitions – these are acquisitions that have been publicly announced, either in conventional media or on the DND Website, that are still in various stages of completion. Some are still awaiting results of bids or re-bids. Others have had Notices to Proceed (NTP) to issued. Notable examples of projects in this state are the Philippine Army Shore-based Missile System and the Philippine Navy Frigate projects. Both of which have experienced very public reversals over the past year.
  • Awaiting delivery – these are are projects for which the acquisitions are in the process of being built from scratch, or are currently undergoing mandatory refurbishment, and have yet to be formally turned over to the AFP for operational use. A notable examples of acquisitions in this state would be the Strategic Sealift Vessel which is currently underconstruction in Indonesia and the ex-ROKN Mulkae class LCU, which is already in the Philippines, but is still awaiting refurbishment before it can be commissioned into service.
  • Acquisition list – these are items that are officially in the possession of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

In addition to the various official acquisitions, South Korea has committed to providing the Philippines with one surplus Pohang Class corvette (see here). To this date, details of this project have not been firmed up. It is unclear if this project will materialize.

Note: This article is also available on the forum on the long standing What’s happening with the AFP modernization thread that’s been documenting the progress of the up-arming effort since 2003.

The acquisition list

The following list focuses on actual deliveries of equipment that were made in 2015.

PAF_mod Surface Attack Aircraft / Lead-In Fighter Trainer touchdown After an arduous 5-year process — from concept to signing — the Philippine Air Force is finally slated to return to supersonic flight operations after almost a decade with the acquisition of twelve (12) Korean Aerospace Industries FA-50PH Fighting Eagle aircraft worth P18.9B. These will also be the first brand new supersonic aircraft that the PAF will acquire since the factory-fresh F-5A Freedom Fighters that were delivered in the 60s. Subsequent fighter acquisitions had focused on excess defense articles such as the F-8 Crusaders which were recovered from AMARC and 2nd-hand F-5As from South Korea. The first two aircraft were delivered to Clark Air Base on November 28, 2015 with the first aircraft touching down at 10:23AM GMT+8. Details here.

The screen capture on the right was taken from the official PAF video timeline of the event.

Attack Helicopter Acquisition Project ah3 The DND awarded the contract to supply eight Agustawestland AW109E helicopters in late 2013. Training of flight and maintenance crews commenced in Italy in 2014. The first two units were delivered in late December 2014 along with two Philippine Navy Multi-purpose AW109s. The remaining six were delivered this year and commissioned on the 5th of December.  Details here.
Combat Utility Helicopter (CUH)
bell-helicopter Not to be confused with the Arroyo-era CUH project that acquired the W-3 Sokol in 2009, this P4.8B project sought to acquire eight additional helicopters for combat and VIP duties. This project went to Bell Helicopter which will delivered Bell 412EP aircraft by 2015. Three of these helicopters will be delivered in VIP transport configuration. See here.
Refurbished UH-1 acquisition project
11700717_290856624418335_7202593519125218769_o  This P1.26B project sought to acquire 21 refurbished UH-1 Iroqouis helicopters. The helicopters eventually bought were ex-German “D” versions, built under license in Germany aircraft that were equivalent to the “H” versions that were already in service with the PAF. This effort was marred by scandal with allegations of extortion, resulting — intially — in the cancellation of the deal while deliveries were being made, and then made even more controversial by the DND’s self-exoneration of all charges without the benefit of a third-party investigation. Details of this convoluted affair are available here.
Medium-Lift Aircraft acquisition project 11054305_10206004349448771_7413833246222450866_n Notice of award for this P5.3B acquisition was issued to Airbus for the delivery of three C-295 aircraft on February 2014. The first aircraft was delivered on March 30, 2015, while the second aircraft arrived on September 15, 2015, and the third arrived on December 11, 2015. Details here.
Rockwell OV-10 Bronco refurbishment 12308321_785915654870984_333680633146237671_n  OV-10 #636 returned to service in November 2015. This was part of a PhP16,490,363.56 effort to return two OV-10s to active duty. #402 is also slated for refurbishment See here.

PN_mod  BRP Ivatan (AT-298)
 11807421_10153158676842956_1690246829469356166_o On the 2nd of July 2015, Philippine Navy personnel arrived in Australia to take possession of two Balikpapan Class Landing Craft Heavy (LCH): HMAS Brunei and HMAS Tarakan. They were donated by the Australian government as part of an aid package promised in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan. Both ships were commissioned into the Royal Australian Navy in 1973 and were subject to navigational upgrades before being turned over to the Philippines.

The former HMAS Brunei entered service with the Philippine Navy as the BRP Ivatan on July the 23rd, 2015.  See Timawa discussion here.

BRP Batak (AT-299)
11794552_10153158676787956_6652083775256194849_o The former HMAS Tarakan entered service with the Philippine Navy as the BRP Ivatan on July the 23rd, 2015 and was donated by the Australian government along with the HMAS Brunei as described above. See Timawa discussion here.
BRP Lake Caliraya (AF-81) 11261072_974376752614795_17840048_n The first of three tankers that the Philippine Navy received from the Philippine National Oil Corporation (PNOC) was commissioned into service on the 23rd of May 2015 as the BRP Lake Caliraya . Timawa discussion here.
Agustawestland AW-109E gunships
 aw109e  Two armed AW-109E gunships were commissioned into Philippine Navy service on August 10, 2015. These joined the three AW-109s that were delivered in December 2014. These aircraft featured combination 0.50 cal gun and 2.75 inch rocket pods comparable to those carried by PAF AW-109s.

The photo on the left shows one of these gunships on a deck qualification landing on the BRP Gregorio del Pilar. Photo c/o of the Philippine Navy.

Britten Norman Islander refurbishment
 12063733_1030630973637808_5887084342542447356_n  The Philippine Aerospace Development Corporation (PADC) delivered a refurbished Philippine Navy BN Islander (#PN320) on July 21, 2015 sporting a new grey color scheme. See Timawa discussion here.
PF-16 weapons upgrade f19fa51e220de68bc2d1b9159ef748fb_zps3ece26f4 The two Mk.38 25mm RCWS were initially slated for installation prior to the ship’s departure from South Carolina but had been delayed. Timawa discussion here.
General Purpose Machine gun 7.62mm  Capture On January 4, 2015, the Philippine Marines received 220 units of US Ordnance M-60E6 General Purpose Machine Guns via FMS. See Timawa discussion here. Photo c/o Philippine Star.
71155_327179393712_8339928_n ex-Belgian Army M113 Armored Personnel Carriers with RCWS
 elbit2 The first six of 28 ex-Belgian Army M113s from Israel were delivered on July the 28th. These units were armed with Elbit Remote Control Weapon Systems (RCWS) which featured .50 cal machine guns in a gyro-stablized mounts. In an interview with the PNA, Army spokesperson Lt. Col. Noel Detoyato reported that fourteen of the remaining M-113s were configured as fire support vehicles, four as infantry fighting vehicles, and another four as armored recovery units. See Timawa discussion here.
ex-US Army M113A2 Armored Personnel Carriers
acdo3_zps8f095354 The Philippine Army acquired 114 M113A2 armored vehicles, in various configurations, from the US as Excess Defense Articles (EDA) (Timawa discussion here). While the transfer of the vehicles were completed as early as January 2014, difficulties in arranging for transport delayed actual delivery, which eventually cost the GRP P67.5M. The first 77 units were delivered to Subic on December 9, 2015
High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle – Ambulance variant 901a0724  Thirty units of HMMWV ambulances with associated shelter and medical equipment acquired. Twenty-three were delivered on January 26, while the remainder arrived the following month. Total value for this acquisition was 229,944,149.10. Details here.
AFP_philippines_seal Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear protective and detection gear
 2 The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)  received $1 million worth of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) protective gear and detection equipment from the United States intended for the Army Support Command on Thursday at Camp Aguinaldo. According to the US Embassy press release about the donation:

The Dismounted Reconnaissance Sets Kits and Outfits (DRSKO) is a portable collection of Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) protective gear and detection equipment used to support dismounted Reconnaissance, Surveillance and CBRN site assessment missions. This increases the AFP’s capabilities to conduct CBRN site assessments to mitigate risks and gather intelligence on Chemical Agents, Biological Agents or other potential chemical hazards. The DRSKO is designed to equip a team of 27 CBRN personnel.

The photo shown on the right was taken from the above-mentioned embassy press release. See Timawa discussion here.

ga GA Special Purpose Rifle (SPR) / Designated Marksman Rifle (DMR) 10872891_714195705362405_2481804744076689959_o Government Arsenal produced 70 units of these SPR/DMR for the Philippine Marine Corps and Philippine Army. For the Marines, this involved upgrading existing Marine Scout Sniper Rifles (MSSR) from their Generation-3 configuration to this, which could be called “Gen 4”. For the Philippine Army, particularly the Scout Ranger Regiment, the GA upgraded unused lower-rifle components for M-16A1s that were previously in LOGCOM storage. See Timawa discussion here.
GA 5.56 16 inch mid-length barrel
 12032201_758301020947817_4679245858536353050_n  The Government Arsenal undertook refurbishment of 400 existing M-16A1 rifles to their GA Carbine 16 inch mid-length standard. First units were issued to JSOG and NAVSOG. See Timawa discussion here.

In addition to acquisitions via bidding, South Korea has committed to providing the Philippines with one surplus Pohang Class corvette, a landing craft, and several rubber boats.  These and the aforementioned Korean acquisitions have yet to be delivered and have therefore been omitted from the list above.

Awaiting delivery

A significant number of high-profile projects remain pending, and have been omitted from the acquisition list. These are listed immediately below.

Service  Ongoing projects
C-130T acquisition – Two C-130T Hercules are being acquired from the United States as EDA and are due for delivery in 2016. The photograph on the right, c/o of the US embassy in the Philippines, shows PAF personnel inspecting one of the aircraft. See Timawa discussion here. C130a
Light-Lift Aircraft acquisition project – This is an P814M project to acquire two brand-new Light-Lift aircraft to supplement or replace the PAF’s existing Nomad aircraft. This project went to PT Digantara of Indonesia which will be supplying two CN212 aircraft. See here. 12247043_215928185405782_8011054129263123361_n
Strategic Support Vessel (SSV) – Construction for both SSVs are underway. Steel-cutting ceremony for the first SSV took place on January 22, 2015. Delivery of the first vessel is expected in March 2016, with the second vessel to be delivered in 2017. Details here. Photograph of fully assembled SSV-1 below c/o “Mr Kruk” of Kaskus Forum Indonesia. The steel cutting ceremony for the second SSV took place on June 5,2015. 11-27

ex-ROKN Mulkae class (LCU-78) – South Korea promised this EDA item in June 2014 and quietly delivered the boat in July 2015. As of writing the ship remain queued for a refit costing P27,138,295.51, and has not yet been commissioned into PN service. See Timawa discussion here.

LCH 3, 4, and 5 – efforts are underway to acquire three more Balikpapan class Landing Craft Heavies from Australia. Invitiations to bid have even been issued for equipment associated with these vessels. See here.

Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAV) – Samsung Techwin was declared the lowest single calculated bidder for the P2.5B AAV project. Details here.


155mm Towed Howitzer project – the Philippine Star reported that Elbit Systems, an Israeli defense company, won the bid to supply 12 units of 155mm howitzers. A Notice of Award for this project was issued on June 17, 2015. Deliveries are expected in 2016. See here. 12295515_10154172773179123_8435373251160167289_n

5.56mm assault rifle acquisition – this project went to Remington to supply rifles to both the Philippine Army and Philippine Marines in 2013 with deliveries made in 2014. However, issues with rifle quality hounded the acquisition which in faced termination earlier this year. The AFP announced that by August, Remington had replaced all defective rear-sights and that they were satisfied with them. It was unclear whether or not other quality related issues (e.g., quality of hand guards, rumored Front Sight Block alignment issues, etc.) were also resolved. Another batch of rifles is due for delivery.

Rocket Launcher Light Acquisition Project – Airtronic USA, Inc. was selected to supply 400 US-made RPG7 rocket launchers, and associated 40mm rockets, as part of a Foreign Military Sale (FMS) deal. While components of this deal have reportedly been delivered, the remainder remain obscure. For that reason, this project remains listed as “awaiting arrival. See Timawa discussion here.

Laser etching machine. The photo on the right shows GA staff inspecting With completion of a P35M acquisition of laser etching and packaging machines, the GA gained the ability to place serial numbers on EACH individual cartridge it produces and then package them in 30-round cartons which will then be bar coded. This acquisition was designed to facilitate accounting and traceability of ammunition. This was a good governance measure undertaken in light of past controversy over AFP ammunition being found in the hands of enemies of the state. See Timawa discussion on this acquisition here. 1

Pending acquisitions

A significant number of high-profile projects remain pending, and have been omitted from the acquisition list at the bottom of this article. These are listed immediately below.

Service Pending projects
 PAF_mod Long Range Patrol Aircraft acquisition project – the DND declared a bidding failure in August due to documentation deficiencies among bid participants. see here.

Close Air Support Aircraft acquisition project – the bid for this project failed for the second time in December 2015. Based on procurement rules, the DND is now authorized to pursue negotiated procurement. However, an announcement to that effect has yet to be issued. See here.

Air defense radar acquisition project – like the SAA/LIFT project, this P2.68B acquisition is part of the PAF’s systems approach to reviving the country’s ability to enforce the Philippine Air Defense Identification Zone (PADIZ). This project has been the subject of much speculation, with very little official discussion. The TPS-77 and Elta ELM 2288 are touted as contenders for this project, however media reports have touted the Israeli contender as being favored. See details here.

SAA/LIFT munitions – the ordnance that SAA-LIFT aircraft will carry are being acquired via a separate acquisition project. These include Air-to-Air Missiles (312 Pieces), Air-to-Surface Missiles (125 Pieces), 20mm ammo (93,600 Pieces), and Chaffs/IR Flares. Details here. Upon arrival of the first two FA-50s, however, the PAF revealed that this project had fallen behind and would not yield results till three years.

 PN_mod Frigate Acquisition Program – this P18B project seeks to acquire two brand new multi-role frigates in a complicated two-stage bidding process. To date, the following shipbuilders have signified interest in the project: Navantia Sepi (RTR Ventures), STX Offshore & Shipbuilding, Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering Co Ltd, Hyundai Heavy Industries Inc., Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers Ltd of India, STX France SA. Details here.

Anti-Submarine Helicopter Acquisition – as of writing, Agustawestland was the only company that qualified to take part in the bidding in November. Second-stage bidding set for December 22, 2015. See here.

USCGC Boutwell (WHEC-719) – On November 17, 2015, the Office of the President of the United States issued a press statement that confirmed a planned transfer of the USCGC Boutwell to the Philippines as an Excess Defense Article item. This confirmed various US news reports circulating the month before of the impending transfer. Incidentally, the first crew of the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, previously the USCGC Hamilton, served on board the Boutwell as part of their training for accepting the PN’s first Hamilton class WHEC. See Timawa discussion here.

Jacinto Class Patrol Vessel Upgrade Phase 3 – this project sought to upgrade the weapons and electro-optical systems of all three ships of the class. See Timawa discussion here.

Jacinto Class Patrol Vessel Upgrade Phase 2 – this is a sought, among other things, to overhaul and improve the main propulsion system, electrical, and various auxiliary systems of BRP Artemio Ricarte (PS-37). Other members of the class had already been upgraded to this standard.  See Timawa discussion here.

Marine Forces Imagery and Targeting Support Systems (MITSS) – this P684.32M project sought to acquire 6 sets of Small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, 9 sets of Target Acquisition Devices, and 12 kits of Tactical Sensor Integration Subsystems. Details here.

40mm automatic grenade launcher – the DND issued a Notice To Proceed (NTP) in favor of Advanced Material Engineer / ST Kinetics, represented locally be Floro International Corp, to supply and deliver eight (8) units of 40mm automatic grenade launchers for the contract price of P19,750,672.00 on March 4, 2014. Details here.

 71155_327179393712_8339928_n Shore-Based Missile System – arguably, the AFP modernization controversy of the year was the deferral of the Philippine Army’s Shore-Based Missile System (SBMS) to an as yet undisclosed “horizon” of the AFP Modernization Program. This was discussed on the Timawa forum on the following thread. Funds for the P6.5B project — which originally became public in 2011 and discussed on the forum here — were realigned to acquire force-protection equipment instead. It was a stunning reversal of a territorial defense initiative that drew boisterous condemnation on defense social media and earned the Chief of Staff AFP, General Hernando Iriberri, the monicker “General Helmet”.

To date, it is not clear to which horizon the SBMS had been moved. A new FPE project has been initiated to replace an earlier acquisition that also ended in controversy.

60mm Mortar Acquisition project – 150 mortars are being acquired. Details here.

KM-450 1/4-ton truck acquisition – on October 19, 2015, the DND issued a Notice to Proceed to Kia motors for the supply of 717 trucks to the Philippine Army. See here.

KM-451 ambulance acquisition – on October 19, 2015, the DND issued a Notice to Proceed to Kia motors for the supply of 60 units of Field Ambulances to the Philippine Army. See here.

Related articles:

2014: What’s happening with the AFP modernization program

2013: What’s happening with the AFP modernization program

2012: What’s happening in the AFP capability upgrade program

Flashback: AFP modernization – 2003 to 2006

Flashback: The AFP’s modernization plans in 1995

FA-50s on the way from South Korea

The Philippine Air Force posted the following on their FB page


Korean Aerospace posted pictures of the take off sequence here.

For updates on the progress of the aircraft, see the following thread on Note that this Timawa thread will eventually be merged with the original SAA/LIFT thread, so the first link will eventually be deactivated.

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

Manilaliveware: From parody to plagiarism

Update: Within 12 hours of complaints by multiple Timawans on Manilalivewire’s Facebook (FB) page, Manilalivewire quietly — with no admission of wrongdoing — adjusted their article. See here.

Many thanks to the forum members who lent their voice to the protest. It is unfortunate that the mere act of calling attention to their malfeasance got you banned from their FB page.

Details of adjustments made are available at the bottom of this article.

What was plagiarized?

Compare the Manilalivewire article captured below with the following article. The parody site’s entry, dated September 28, is a word-for-word copy of this blog’s article dated September the 26. Right down to the acknowledgement of “Indonesian Timawans” — but without the context for what a Timawan was. A “Timawan” in the original article’s context referred to the members of the forum.


The post-complaint modifications to the Manilalivewire article include:

  • Removal of references to “Indonesian Timawans” and replacement with “Indonesian media and Wikipedia”. Which by itself still ignores the work put in by Indonesian Timawans who monitored Indonesian media to bring the photos, used in both this and the Manilalivewire article, into focus
  • Removal of references to SSV-1 being the largest combat vessel in Philippine Navy history, and comparisons to BRP Mactan
  • Removal of references to the “improved Makasaar design”, and even references to original designer: Daesun Shipbuilding & Engineering of South Korea

The word-by-word copy of the descriptions of the photographs remain however.

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

A role for seaplanes in the Armed Forces of the Philippines

Seaplanes and flying boats are aircraft with the unique ability to travel to any marine destination, at fixed-wing-aircraft speed, and then land and take-off from water. It is a category of aircraft that is — theoretically — well suited to an archipelagic country like the Philippines.

The Philippine Navy’s 15-year development plan calls for the acquisition of eight (8) Amphibious Maritime Patrol Aircraft. More recently, the Philippine Air Forces issued a P2.6B invitation to bid for three Search and Rescue seaplanes in November 2013. Both acquisitions, however, are currently on-hold. This suggests that while the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) recognizes the value of this category of aircraft, they are not particularly high in the priority list. Which is unfortunate given the unique missions that only they can perform.

In this article, let us explore this category of aircraft, the different sub-categories within, their operational challenges, and the roles they play.

Seaplanes, flying boats, atbp.

The term “seaplane” is often used to describe all planes that take off and land on water. But this really only correctly describes one type of machine.

Seaplanes have floats beneath their aircraft upon which they land on water. The floats serve as their landing gear, and are typically permanently suspended beneath the plane. This aerodynamic penalty is the price paid for marine operation.

Flying boats, on the other-hand, have specially designed fuselages designed to operate in water. This makes for an aerodynamically clean fuselage. Some designs have additional floats on the wings to keep the plane upright in the water, while others have specially designed extensions that serve this purpose.

“Amphibians” are a sub-category of flying boat that land on water exclusively, and only use their landing gear to taxi from water on to land. On paper, this is the type of aircraft that the Philippine Navy is eyeing. Lack of clarity about the Authorized Budget for Contract that will be allocated to the project makes it difficult to predict the outcome of the project.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines has operated both seaplanes and flying boats over the years, but have since retired them.

airjuan-grand-caravan-seaplane  hu16d_01
Cessna Grand Caravan seaplane.
Photo c/0 Air Juan Website
PAF HU-16 Albatross Flying boat

In the early 20th century, when limitations on aircraft endurance necessitated more refueling stops than there were aerodromes, flying boats like the PanAm Clippers were the only way to fly, for example, from San Francisco to Manila. This could be done by way of water landings at Honolulu, Midway, Wake, and Guam. The path they took appears in the map below, taken from the Website

 Photo c/o

Advances in aviation design have since made it possible to fly previously unimaginable distances without refueling. Today Philippine Airlines regularly flies the San Francisco  to Manila route via direct 13-hour flights.

Since World War II, seaplanes and flying boats have been relegated to specialized roles, and only by a drastically reduced number of countries. Early champions of the aircraft type, the United States and the United Kingdom, have all retired their floatplanes without replacements. Japan, Russia, and Canada are the only remaining players in the military / government flying boat market. Other manufacturers, like Cessna and Dornier, are mainly aimed at the civilian market which focus on light aircraft for niche applications.

The reasons for this decline are multi-faceted and are beyond the scope of this article. But among them are the challenges inherent to this aircraft type.

Operating seaplanes

The book Corsairville: The lost domain of the flying boat by Graham Coster is a travel book that sought the story behind a British flying boat that crashed in the Belgian Congo. As part of that exploration, the author chronicled the changing attitudes towards seaplanes and flying boats. It contained numerous interesting insights into the challenges of operating seaplanes, which could be summarized as follows:

  • Salt vs aluminum
  • Water landings
  • Foreign Object Damage concerns

Salt vs aluminum

Salt water is corrosive. This is obvious to anyone who’s been on a ship or frequents the coasts. While marine aluminum is more corrosion resistant than steel (corrosion rate of 1mm/year versus 120mm, see here), corrosion still occurs. This necessitates measures to combat this phenomena.

The following quotes from the book directly reference this issue. Note that “Seaplane” and “Pan-Am Air Bridge” were seaplane operators that the author used for his research into seaplane operations.

A floatplane did little more that dip its toes in on each landing, but at the end of everyday, Seaplane‘s Cessna had the hose turned on it for an hour and a half.

. . .

Two out of Pan-Am Air Bridge’s (aka Chalk’s Ocean Airways) 5 Mallards needed work . . . That insinuating, continuously destructive, salt again: everyday they had to run fresh water through the airframes, wash down the hull, apply all kinds of preservatives, coat rivet lines and joins with grease. ‘For every hour we fly’ . . . your going to take 3 to 4 hours of maintenance.

Philippine aircraft operators are no strangers to salt. With a significant portion or all airports and airfields being close to the sea, and salty sea spray, measures to control the build-up of this corrosive substance, ideally, ought to be common place knowledge. However, an aircraft that deliberately makes contact with salt water will require additional attention to ensure longevity.

Water landings

Whereas salt water’s effects on the seaplane’s airframe presented what amounts to an inconvenience to its maintainers and the organization that operates them, the floatplane’s operating environment presents challenges for its pilot.

The book presented insights from a former Sunderland pilot. The Sunderland is a British flying boat shown blow. This particular photo shows an Australian example of the aircraft.


Here are the pilot’s thoughts about the idiosyncracies of floatplane flight:

For a take-off, once you were out on the water, everything was variable. ‘It won’t just sit on the runway — it’ll roll — so the wings won’t stay level: you have to use the ailerons. Then, because of the torque of the engines, it’ll swing: you have to use the rudder to keep it straight’. Because the swing was habitually to port, you opened up the port engines first, and built up speed to 50, 60 knots until the flying boat’s 5-foot draught was out of the water and the craft was planing on its step . . .

The variability of the landing surface also requires an additional skill for pilots: “reading the water”. The following excerpt from the book illustrates this skill, c/o an interview with an Alaskan seaplane pilot.

See those black spots in the water?’ They were like scuffmarks, bruise-shadows in the indigo bay. ‘That’s where the wind is denting the water — coming down over this mountain and kind of bouncing off it’. Cat’s paws was the aviator’s nickname for them, because they also looked like a scatter of prints: the sight of them warned you that as you descended below that mountain the gusts could knock you about. Over east in the next bay . . . the water was fish-scaled silver . . . like silver-thread cloth, but said Fred, that fish-scaling was the wind whipping up the water. Try to land near that and both descent and touchdown would be a lot rougher. ‘We learn to read the water.’

The Federal Aviation Authority’s seaplane manual highlights the conditions that pilots have to “read”:

While a land plane pilot can rely on windsocks and indicators adjacent to the runway, a seaplane pilot needs to be able to read wind direction and speed from the water itself. On the other hand, the landplane pilot may be restricted to operating in a certain direction because of the orientation of the runway, while the seaplane pilot can usually choose a takeoff or landing direction directly into the wind.

Even relatively small waves and swell can complicate seaplane operations. Takeoffs on rough water can subject the floats to hard pounding as they strike consecutive wave crests. Operating on the surface in rough conditions exposes the seaplane to forces that can potentially cause damage or, in some cases, overturn the seaplane. When a swell is not aligned with the wind, the pilot must weigh the dangers posed by the swell against limited crosswind capability, as well as pilot experience.

While landing gears provide some level of forgiveness during hard landings, such landings for a flying boat have serious consequences, as shown in this excerpt from Corsairville:

Ken Emmott had once had to swim for it . .  in Southampton Water when his BOAC captain had landed too fast, bounced their Sunderland off the water and cut away a large section of the nose before they sank to the bottom.

The Federal Aviation Authoriy’s seaplane manual affirms the plane’s sensitivity to hard landings

Because floats are mounted rigidly to the structure of the fuselage, they provide no shock absorbing function, unlike the landing gear of landplanes. While water may seem soft and yielding, damaging forces and shocks can be transmitted directly through the floats and struts to the basic structure of the airplane.

Foreign Object Damage concerns

The unique handling characteristics of seaplanes and flying boats require specialized training and flight experience. But there is one issue that no amount of flight training can completely address: debris.

The FAA seaplane manual offers the following guideline for seaplane landings:

It is usually a good practice to circle the area of intended landing and examine it thoroughly for obstructions such as pilings or floating debris, and to note the direction of movement of any boats that may be in or moving toward the intended landing site. Even if the boats themselves will remain clear of the landing area, look for wakes that could create hazardous swells if they move into the touchdown zone.

Ocular surveys from the air, however, can only go so far. As Iren Dornier and his crew demonstrated spectacularly at an Austrian airshow in Salzkammergut in July 2015.

Dornier, the pilot, is the grandson of the German Aviation Pioneer Dr. Claude Dornier and has significant investments in the Philippines to include South East Asian Airlines (SEAir) and a flying boat factory at the former Clark AFB in Pampanga, where his company manufactures the S-Ray 007 amphibian. He and his crew had been flying their refurbished World War 2-era DO 24ATT flying boat as part of a round-the-world tour to raise funds for the UNICEF, and were thus experienced flying boat operators. His floatplane credentials and lineage are impressive. That, however, did not make him or his crew them immune to floating debris.

The following photographs show what happens if a flying boat makes contact with unseen floating debris (believed to be a tree trunk) during landing. The object tore a fist-sized hole in the side of the DO 24ATT flying boat, which then took on water. The plane had to be towed to shore. None of the crew were injured.

dornier2 dornier3
dornier4  dornier5
 dornier6  dornier7

Video of the event available below

Given the amount of debris in Philippine water ways, from flood water run-off, garbage thrown off ships, and cast-offs of various marine economic activities, the probability of similar contact is not insignificant

Bodies of water are constantly changing. Even if a seaplane were to take off and land from the same location. The condition of that landing point will never be same as it was when the plane took off from it. What was safe when the pilot left it, might not be so upon return. It is that variability that increases the uncertainty.

Seaplanes alternatives

Arguably, one contributory factor to the decline of the seaplanes and and flying boats was the rise of the helicopter. It replaced the floatplane as the preferred platform for non-aircraft-carrier-based aerial missions. Seaplanes used to perform reconnaissance, liaison, and search and rescue missions from ships large enough to accommodate them.

In World War II, some vessels could launch their planes using catapaults. However to recover them, the ship had to stop to bring the plane back onboard — a risky and time consuming maneuver. If the sea state around the recovering ship was unfavorable, landing alongside the recovery ship would be impossible.

float-plane-12 floatplane-19
 Catapault launch photo c/o Seaplane recovery photo c/o

Helicopters on the other hand could land on ships while underway, and in a broad range of sea states. They could also rescue individuals in the water, without needing to risk the aircraft in a water landing, by hovering above them and lowering a rescue winch.

Long range maritime patrol missions have also been traditional fixtures the flying boat’s offerings. The same qualities that made floatplanes the principal means of air travel across the Pacific, also made them the ideal maritime patrol aircraft for their time. Their ability to take off from water meant that they could be based closer to the intended patrol area without needing runways, and could be refueled and re-provisioned by ship.

However advances in aviation technology have given conventional land-based aircraft the range and reliability to perform such missions, all from the safety of a non-variable runway . Furthermore, land-based aircraft do not require the aerodynamic compromises imposed by water landing requirements (e.g., floats and associated struts, etc.) thus improving performance.

Air forces simply no longer needed flying boats for the bulk of their traditional missions. But . . . not all.

Flying boats, and to a large extent seaplanes, retain the advantage of speed over helicopters. Whereas a relatively slow World War II flying boat like a PBY Catalina only flies at 189 mph, the Philippine Navy’s newest multipurpose helicopter, the AgustaWestland AW109 only had a maximum cruising speed of 177 mph. That speed advantage is a key differentiator.

11180636_1465213630446253_8275562330979501449_n agusta_zps2f72ac6a
 PAF PBY Catalina photo c/o Francis Neri Albums  AW109 photo c/o Philippine Navy

Justifying the risk

Water take off and landings compound the dangers already inherent in flying. If a helicopter or a conventional plane can do the mission better and safer, then the suitability of a floatplane for that task is debatable. However, there are specific missions that only seaplanes and flying boats are able to perform. These are unique requirements that justify their expense, both in pilot training and additional maintenance for the aircraft, as well as the risk inherent to operating from water.

No place in the Republic of the Philippines better illustrates the potential for floatplane use better than the garrisons in the West Philippine Sea. Among them, the BRP Sierra Madre, which serves as the republic’s outpost on Ayungin reef. Because of its proximity to Panganiban Reef, known internationally as Mischief Reef, this ship is on the frontline of the EEZ conflict between the Philippines and the People’s Republic of China.

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AFP Western Command resupplies this station by sea and by air. These missions are performed on a regular schedule, and the station itself is stocked with supplies to accommodate unexpected delays that, in the past, have doubled the tours of duty of the Marines guarding the ship.

Troop rotations are performed by boat. For Operational Security (OPSEC) reasons, exactly how resupply boats reach the station despite the Chinese blockade will not be discussed here.

Consumables and care packages, on the other hand, can be air dropped to the ship. Items are placed in sacks which are then enclosed in plastic along with bouyancy aids such as styrofoam. These are then dropped in the water beside the the outpost and the resident Philippine Marines simply bring them onboard. See inset on the photo below on the right.

 999642_610321529003252_1266993513_n 11403109_1464861363814813_6684020412641144776_n
 Logistic air drop. Photo c/o Philippine Navy  Philippine Navy islander dropping cargo. Photo c/o Philippine Air Force

To summarize the state of logistic affairs on Ayungin, existing techniques allow for either slow transport of large quantities of personnel and provisions, or rapid delivery of modest quantities of supplies. Neither method, however, can be used for rapid extraction of men or materiel. Which also means that neither method would be suitable for Medical Evacuation (MEDEVAC) missions. If AFP personnel on these outposts ever fall seriously ill or are injured, they will be in for a long wait before they can be given proper medical care.

Heli-deck equipped vessels, such as the Del Pilar class frigates, Frank Besson LSVs, even Philippine Coast Guard Tenix boats, could presumably dispatch helicopters to recover a stricken individual from the outpost. Rotary-wing aircraft could fly over any Chinese blockading ships to reach their destinations. But the ships would still have to travel to within helicopter-flying distance to be effective. Furthermore, the medical facilities on these ships are limited — none are normally equipped for tertiary care. Once the patient is onboard, they would still have to sail at best possible speed to an alternative medical facility.

Seaplanes and flying boats would be the logical choice for the MEDEVAC role, as they are the only aircraft that can embark passengers from WPS outposts, and travel with sufficient speed back to air bases in Palawan, Metro Manila or at the very least to the medical health center on Pag-asa island.

These aircraft could also be used to satisfy the MEDEVAC needs of Philippine Navy and Philippine Coast Guard ships on patrol or remote island communities in other parts of the Philippines. While acquired primarily for a military purpose, it has windfall benefits for the general population.

This is an operational challenge that needs a solution. The defenders of the West Philippine Sea deserve nothing less than the country’s best effort in ensuring access to medical treatment within the all-important Golden Hour, during which medical intervention will yield the most benefit. Philippine Navy or Philippine Air Force floatplanes, whichever service gets them first, offer the best means for satisfying this need.


About this article

The base research for this article was completed in 2006, as part of back-end work for the following thread on the forum: Operating Seaplanes.

Promoting your blog at the expense of your sources and operational security

The modernization community is very very small. What you choose to reveal about a project can very well betray your source. Details that, in reality, you should not even know in the first place . . . if it were not for the trust that that person placed in your discretion. The deeper you get into modernization research, the more you encounter information that you CAN’T reveal. That’s why RESPONSIBLE people who are in-the-know, tend to just shut up about the various projects both for operational security, as well as the personal security of the people that confide in them. In your effort to promote your blog as the go-to source for defense information, you could have very well just ended a career or two, and tainted a bunch of others. EGAD

Strategic Sealift Vessels (SSV) on the way

The Philippine Navy’s two Strategic Sealift Vessels are now both under construction, with the steel cutting ceremony for the second SSV taking place on the 5th of June. The first vessel had its equivalent ceremony in January and is expected to be launched in November 2015 with full completion by May the following year.

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 incidentally had the license rights to the Makasaar class LPD — and then rename 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.

9ptmwn 10325232_120852901579978_6070209847343383435_n
 SSV-1 steel cutting ceremony SSV-2 steel cutting ceremony

As shared by an Indonesian Timawan with ties to PT PAL, the shipbuilder responsible for the construction of the two vessels, construction of the keel for SSV-1 is well underway. Credit for the following photographs of the SSV-1 keel, and translation of the Indonesian news article, go to the member who goes by the username “Gombaljaya” (or Alberth Minas on the Timawa FB extension)

ssv 11391187_120853174913284_8662390969724609522_n

As the ships themselves are progressing, so too are other components of the original Multi-Role Vessel package. The contract to supply Amphibious Assault Vehicles (AAV), which comprise part of the SSVs offensive punch, are slated to be awarded to Samsung Techwin, which will provide the South Korean version of the American AAV7 amtrack.

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

Strategic Sealift Vessel – 1

Strategic Sealift Vessel – 2