Up-Arming the Del Pilar-Class Frigates

The ships, since being commissioned in the Philippine Navy serve as an interim training and combat platform for the personnel to learn as well as to serve the nation where its capabilities are to be enhanced further than the World War 2 vessels the Navy obtains at present. These in which, upon installation, will become better and many capable vessels at the will of the decision holders that will up-arm the ships.

Pitz Defense Analysis Note: There are already articles that also discuss this subject matter. But with the recent events slowly unraveled within this year alone, it is now a good time to put this discussion up-to-date.

BRP Ramon Alcaraz FF-16 returning from Vietnam.
Courtesy of BRP Ramon Alcaraz FF-16 Facebook Page.
The United States government through the Foreign Military Sales program approves the purchase of SPS/ANS 77 or the SAAB Sea Giraffe AMB which is intended for installation in the ship that will enhance its radar/sensor system. This radar system is far greater than the older radars that were once installed in these ex-Hamilton class cutters before being stripped out for other active assets to use. Through the Excess Defense Articles (EDA) deal, the Philippines acquires three of these Hamilton ships which are now known as the Del Pilar-class Frigates (GMA News). The same radar system is said to be used in the U.S. Littoral Combat Ships like the U.S.S. Coronado as well as the Swedish Visby-class Corvettes.

These details give us an insight as to provide these ex-Hamilton cutters the eyes and teeth that is enough for it to be a capable unit where the radar system serves as a foundation for these vessels to get armed with a better weapons system such as missiles and countermeasures where it can be better branded as missile-guided frigates like the ones being procured from South Korea.

For this article, let us use the following abbreviations for simplified description:
CIWS refers to Close-in weapons system;
RCWS refers to remote-controlled weapons system;
AFP refers to the Armed Forces of the Philippines;
USCG refers to the United States Coast Guard;
PN stands for the Philippine Navy; and
DPCF stands for the Del Pilar-class Frigates.

This is how the Del Pilar-class will look like if armed.
Courtesy of Philippine Military Modernization Today.
The D.P.C.F.'s dimensional design is indeed spacious where the said class of ships can be upgraded with various weapons systems that will improve as well as enhance its firepower where it will complement the newer pair of missile-guided frigates from South Korea that is in the process and will arrive by years 2019 and 2020. Moreover, speaking of weapons systems applied in a ship, there are many options in the market that the Navy can choose with viable considerations in terms of compatibility, combat effectiveness, and of course, the budget allocated. Now, let us further dig in on the said weapons systems that can be filled in these ships.

Secondary Guns
These are the Mk. 38 Mod 2 Autocannons installed
in BRP Ramon Alcaraz. Courtesy of Timawa Forums.
The D.P.C.Fs upon arrival to the Philippines from the United States are not armed with secondary guns since the weapons systems installed once in the said ships serving in the United States Coast Guard are stripped out, in which only the main 76mm Oto Melara Gun was the only weapon left on board the ship. 

The same things happen to the other ex-Hamilton ships handed over to Nigeria and Bangladesh. Considering this, the PN opted to install machine guns on both sides of BRP Gregorio del Pilar and BRP Ramon Alcaraz, in which the latter has an automated machine gun installed, which is the Mk. 38 Mod 2 autocannon or Remote-Controlled Weapons System (RCWS) [seen photo above]. 

The Mk. 38 Mod 2 RCWS is indeed a big plus for the said ships considering that this kind of weapons system will guide the operator properly as well as aiming and firing on the target without risking being exposed to the enemy's bullets. 

Moreover, the said guns are using the 25mm M242 Bushmaster gun which is found to eliminate close-approaching targets from both surface and aerial threats to get the ship protected, in which it may be considered as a sort of Close-in Weapons System, which will also be discussed in this article.

The kind of RCWS is presently installed only on the BRP Ramon Alcaraz where the same weapons system is said to get installed on the BRP Gregorio del Pilar somewhere along the way in time.

Close-in Weapons System

Aside from the secondary weapons like the Mk 38 Mod 2 which can also serve as a CIWS, a fully-fledged Close-in Weapons System is also being considered where these said weapons, like the RCWS, can eliminate approaching targets to keep the ship safe from threats. These in which are with an advantageous range of ship protection from all threats, aerial and surface.

The Hamilton WHECs that are still in the service under the United States Coast Guard (USCG) are armed with Phalanx CIWS. The said system is one of those armaments removed by USCG to be reused in their newer National Security Cutters which will replace the existing Hamilton cutters they obtain.
A Phalanx CIWS firing. Via Pinterest.
In the case of the Philippines, the Phalanx CIWS may be seen as a good option since it was installed before in these ships. Such a weapons system is capable to do its job like the RCWS which is to shoot incoming targets at close range. That is, ranging from Antiship missiles to small vessels. Another good option is the Goalkeeper CIWS. It gives as well a good advantage on the ship's defense capability.

However, it comes at a cost as well as being heavy where it gives a disadvantage when choosing this as an option. Right now, a 50mm manually-operated machine gun is the ones presently installed in these ships where a CIWS was once installed which is in the stern. But all of it, in a certain way as it is given, will materialize with the new frigate's CIWS option be used as a benchmark for the sake of interoperability and easier logistics.

Anti-ship missiles
SSM-700K C-Star Haesong Missile.
Having a frigate is indeed a good thing to have especially on the Philippine Navy's given standpoint with the D.P.C.Fs. And all of it will become better with the idea of these ships being armed with anti-ship missiles which will definitely give teeth to these frigates.

Throughout its service in the USCG, the Hamilton cutters aren't equipped with an anti-ship missile with the exception of USCGC Hamilton (WHEC-715) and Mellon (WHEC-717) armed with Harpoon anti-ship missiles.
Photo of USCGC Mellon (WHEC-717) firing a Harpoon Missile.
Courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard
The Harpoon missiles in itself is indeed an ideal platform for the DPCFs since it was tested on the said ships. However, with regards to procuring these missiles, the Philippine Government shall undertake United States bureaucratic procedures that involve congressional approval before taking it as foreign military sales like the SAAB Sea Giraffe procured by the PN to these ships. 

As it is proven, it will take time as well as the uncertainty for it to get passed since the relations between the US and the Philippines, despite being a long traditional ally, is in the moot point.

These ships are indeed proven that said missile systems can be installed where it increases the capability of DPCFs to be considered a missile-guided frigate. Moreover, aside from Harpoon, there are also sources to gather such systems as French Exocet and South Korean C-Star Haesong.

In terms of missiles, it seems that the SSM-700K C-Star missile is the best option for the DPCFs right now citing that at present it is the same missile system being offered in the new frigates from South Korea under the Frigate Acquisition Project. Moreover, such things are as expected considering that logistics, interoperability, and commonality is an ideal thing wherein an organization like the PN, it is the practical thing as well as the most efficient one to do where maintenance isn't so much costly.

The Exocet meanwhile, it seemed like a good choice also given that the C-STA's maximum range is at around 148km or 92 miles (Deagel) and the Exocet's maximum range is better at 180km (military-today), these missiles can also be seen as a preferable choice for up-arming these missiles considering its reputation. Moreover, the Exocet is being considered several times but being put out in favor of C-Star given the reasons in the previous paragraph.

The main point here is that these ships are capable to have guided missiles installed within these vessels and are seen as planning will take place in due time. All of which, upon arrival of the new frigates made by Hyundai Heavy Industries in South Korea, will ensure the type of weapons systems that can be serve as an upgrade for the Philippine Navy Ships.


The Del Pilar-class Frigates, accordingly are in service both as training and a combat platform that at present it really gives a boost for the Philippine Navy to do its job protecting the higher seas from numerous threats ranging from drug smugglers to foreign adversaries. 

These in which will definitely serve more of its purpose and firepower if given the upgrades it needs. In the near future, upon the arrival of the newer frigates, these ex-Hamilton vessels will complement the newer hulls from South Korea one over the other in the sense that the Navy will definitely have it's minimum credible defense in the sense that in the timeline specified by the Sail Plan 2028, there are more vessels to get procured in due time. 

These in which will help in part improve the AFP all in all as a world-class Armed Forces with itself a source of national pride where at the present, the Del Pilar-class do its job just that, a baby step towards a promising future starting from the year 2018 where the Horizon 2 plans are prepared to get materialized.

As of March 5, 2017

The Defense Department from the US posted several contracts where some of these pertain to the Mk. 38 Mod 3 guns in which it was considered as an improved version of the Mk. 38 gun which is much better than the Mk. 38 Mod 2 of the BRP Ramon Alcaraz (FF-16). You can see the details about the Mk. 38 Mod 3 guns here.
The sample of Mk. 38 Mod 3 with a stealth-featured cupola.
From Defense Media Network.
Apparently, these guns will be installed not only to the BRP Gregorio Del Pilar (FF-15) but also to the BRP Andres Bonifacio as well. There are separate contracts per both ships wherein the delivery date of the guns for Del Pilar will be within this year possibly by next month of April whereas Bonifacio's guns will be expected by next year in May 2018.

The contracts are awarded to BAE weapons systems and were dated on different dates:
BRP Gregorio Del Pilar (FF-15) - September 2015 (Link to the contract here)
BRP Andres Bonifacio (FF-17) - October 2016 (Link to the contract here)

Speaking of which it will further enhance the ship's armaments where they are better armed than the Hamilton-class ships of both Bangladesh and Nigeria. Moreover, it is as well planned that the Sea Giraffe will be delivered and installed on an unspecified date as well as having missiles installed on the basis of the brand new frigates made in South Korea so as for compatibility and logistically effective uses. These will make the ships armed more to the teeth as the Philippine Navy enhances further its Sail Plan as part of the AFP Modernization Program.


BOB said...

All these gears that you have discussed (primary & secondary defensive weapons, AshM offensive weapon and radar) are vital parts to provide more teeth so to say to our DPCF’s. But other crucial equipment’s are also needed for the DPCF’s to enhance its survival and fighting chances with its adversaries (especially China). As you have mentioned in your article and most people know that these ships were almost devoid and de-weaponized. The more we need the DPCF’s to be upgraded in order for it to compliment the only two upcoming new frigates we ordered from South Korea.

To start with, since the Sea Giraffe Radar (AN/SPS-77) will be installed, we need to replace the Combat Management System which is vintage and incompatible. Install an electronic warfare suite preferably connected with existing Mk.36 Super Rapid Blooming Off-board Countermeasures (SRBOC) Chaff and Decoy Launching System which it did not have previously. Change or update if possible the Mk. 92 Mod. 1 Fire Control System and compliment it with an electro optical fire control system. Install SATCOM antenna, Install hull mounted Active & Passive Sonar if possible towed variable depth sonar to compliment an installation of an anti-submarine warfare torpedo tubes and towed torpedo decoys. In this modern times what I have suggested are “NOT” luxuries but are just necessities for our DPCF’s to fight again another day if that time comes.

Mike said...

It's good to have this kind of capabilities as this will boost the Navy's Capabilities in securing our territorial domain and waters

Stevanie Liem said...
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