A ranking Philippine Navy official said they will need more and bigger ships to protect the nation’s maritime borders miles away from one of the longest coastlines in the world.
Rear Admiral Jose Luis Alano, Philippine Fleet (PhilFleet) commander, said the country has no choice but to acquire ships like the US Coast Guard’s Hamilton-class cutters because of seasonal changes in the South China Sea that make it treacherous to smaller vessels about half of the time each year.
Alano and Armed Forces chief Gen. Jessie Dellosa formally accepted delivery of the USCGC Dallas, the 378-foot, 3,250-ton sister ship of the Hamilton that was turned over to the Philippine last year and rechristened the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, during formal rites in Charleston, South Carolina May 22.
Bigger ships, especially like the high-endurance, all-weather Hamilton-class cutters, can sail through huge waves and stay longer at sea, he explained.
He downplayed reports that like the Hamilton, the US had stripped the Dallas of its advanced weapons and electronic equipment despite a request from Philippine officials last January to keep them. They retained the 76mm Oto Melara but removed the 2 Mark 38 25mm cannons and the more sophisticated sensors.
Alano told the Manila Mail that since the Dallas underwent its last major retrofit in 1988, many of the machinery and equipment aboard needed replacement anyway.
He added that the Philippine Navy is buying its own Mark 38 “Bushmaster” chain guns that can spew 200 rounds per minute to distances of as far as 6 kilometers. One will be installed on the Dallas (to be rechristened BRP Ramon Alcaraz) and the 2nd will be installed on the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, after the Dallas arrives in Manila sometime in November.
Alano revealed they are also putting in new surveillance and command and control equipment. “This is part of arrangements when the vessel’s capabilities will be upgraded,” he explained. The equipment is being procured on “cash basis” under the US Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program.
But he admitted their bigger concern is how to sustain the naval modernization after decades of neglect. He said the development of a private-sector defense industry is crucial to the military’s long-term plans to build a credible defensive deterrent.
That is why they are excited about an ongoing acquisitions of Philippine-made 65-foot Multi-Purpose Attack Crafts (MPACs). A local company is constructing them, borrowing technology from Taiwan and Sweden. The MPACs have a top speed of 48 knots.
Although they are not exactly the “big ships” the Philippine needs to operate in the disputed parts of the South China Sea, Alano said the deal can kick-start a modest but home-bred naval defense industry. In the US, he noted, private companies – not the military – are the most active proponents of military modernization and are not timid about lobbying the Pentagon and Capitol Hill for funding.
A domestic defense industry would also help create demand for workers that have the skills needed for staffing a modern military. Alano explained that unlike ground forces, the Philippine Navy will need to recruit and train additional sailors who can operate the electronics and complex gadgets standard to most new warships.
He said they plan to buy up to 40 MPACs but most of them will go to replacing older patrol crafts that have become too expensive to maintain.
Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said the government will award 138 contracts worth about P70 billion (about $1.2 billion) before July to boost military modernization.