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How Ideal is a 4th Hamilton Cutter in the Philippine Navy?

The Philippine Navy at present obtains three ex-Hamilton cutters or as what the Philippine Navy calls it, the three Del Pilar-class frigates. In this lies the question where several defense outlets are discussing: "Will there be a 4th Del Pilar-class frigate?" But with it comes with considerations where stance, technicalities, and other things are highlighted.

BRP Gregorio del Pilar in a crimson sunrise.
Courtesy of its FB page.

Way back in 2015, the Philippines already have two Del Pilar-class frigates in its inventory. Apparently, the discussion of additional ships does not only stop to buy another one but also focusing on the possibility of procuring two more. 

It was then noted in the Coast Guard Acquisition Directorate [pdf; refer to page three] way back in 2011 upon the purchase of BRP Gregorio del Pilar that the Philippines opted to buy three more ships aside from Del Pilar. That in which arises the possibility of having a 4th Hamilton cutter in the Philippine Navy. 

It is known that on the date this article is written, the Navy already has its third Del Pilar Class Frigate BRP Andres Bonifacio (FF-17) painted gray and was sent to Malaysia for Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition 2017

In having three Del Pilar frigates in the inventory, having the 4th one seems like a possibility wherein Twitter, the United States Coast Guard reportedly will decommission USCGC Morgenthau (WHEC-722). In this case, one may ask about the idea of obtaining it for spares or having it as a whole where it can complement other vessels. In this discussion, it will answer three questions:

1. How certain really is having a fourth Hamilton cutter given the situation that pertains or arises at present?

2. Presuming the acquisition was pushed through; How ideal is this Hamilton cutter in the Navy will be - as a whole frigate that patrols alongside its other three sister ships? Or as a spare parts provider where the ship itself will be cannibalized and be put to scrap?

3. What is the underlying idea of the navy about the number of ships in respect to the rule of thirds like having three Del Pilar-class frigates (2019 Update: Offshore Patrol Vessels) as what the Sail Plan suggests?

So, let us check on the answers to these questions...

BRP Andres Bonifacio FF-17. Courtesy of GMA News.

Given the present situation between the US and the Philippines as well as the respective policies both governments undertake, it seems that it may be less possible for any materialization to take place. Not to mention that aside from the Philippines itself, other nations are after the USCGC Morgenthau which may potentially be either Bangladesh or Nigeria which are also obtaining ex-Hamiltons in their navies. 

In this case, however, will remain to be seen as there will be several changes without prior notice or other things for that matter where it may favor the Philippines or not. Speaking of which, it is at best to keep a close watch for any updates about this ship's decommission and its fate. Moreover, the AFP Modernization Program, through the Philippine Navy's Sail Plan, really calls to procure only three Del Pilar-class frigates rather than four vessels for that matter. The underlying concept of the rule of thirds will be explained below in this article on the third question.

In such a manner, one is asking in the sense that the navy, being keen to the plans at having three patrol frigates (2019 Update: Offshore Patrol Vessel) like the Del-Pilar vessels as what the Sail Plan suggests, why it has still opted for a fourth one? It may pertain to the thing the second question is asking which is the fate of such a ship within the navy.

As an active vessel or as a spare parts resource
Via Francis Karem Neri's FB page.

Given a hypothetical scenario where it may be awarded to the Philippines, it is ideal to see as to the nature of these ships wherein its fate is also uncertain even at this point given that the navy in itself may encounter two issues that still persist even at present -- spares for old ships including the ex-Hamiltons and the necessity of having more hulls.
BRP Ramon Alcaraz with a World War 2 corvette. It was then noted that
the Philippine Navy decommissions old ships and cannibalized them for spares
for several in service to continuously operate.

To be specific, the fate of the alleged fourth Del Pilar frigate given the best of luck may be divided among two extremes -that is, either serving as an active vessel where the Philippine Navy badly needs more hulls to patrol the whole archipelago which is one of the largest there is aside from Indonesia or rather, serving as a spare parts stash where the ship will be cannibalized and scrap where its spare parts will be used for the three ships considering that no company ever made any spare parts for these ships for years.

With regards to using it as an active vessel alongside the other Del Pilar-class frigates, one may say that it is a necessity where the Philippine Navy badly needs more hulls to do its mandate to patrol the longest of coastline this archipelagic nation obtains in the sense that upon the presumption of rotational patrols in an idealistic scenario, such vessels may be seen on patrol in different areas of concern ranging from the Sulu Sea to Bashi Channel or rather from Benham Rise to the West Philippine Sea wherein aside from several coast guard vessels, these ships will further enhance presence when it is needed. 

This is, on the maintenance view wherein on all these ships obtained, there will be two of these frigates that are available for patrols, one in a dock for minor repairs as well for reinforcement and one on drydock for major repairs. And it is done at a routine. This is, assuming that a fourth cutter was received and became an active vessel.

Meanwhile, using the cutter as a spare parts stash where the ship will be cannibalized and scrapped while any usable parts will be used for the other ships to operate is also a good idea considering that these 1960s era ex-Hamilton cutters don't have any producers of spares where all of those are gone long ago. Speaking of which, it will be worthless for the other Del Pilar ships considering that it's already-long lifespan will further lengthen through this idea which it was already done against old World War 2 vessels the Philippine Navy have where ships decommission to be cannibalized for the other ships to keep on operating and doing its mandate wherein as part of the Sail Plan, newer hulls may give the chance for old ships to take its rest. 

In the case of the Del-Pilar class vessels, the spare parts will help them operate at longer periods of time considering that being a stop-gap offshore patrol vessel, it improves naval capabilities with regards to safeguarding the waters better than the older World War 2 era ones while newer vessels are planned and yet to be materialized if ever anything goes well.

Choosing between these options is deemed difficult to assess given the areas that are needed to consider especially on the condition of these ships in terms of maintenance as well as the overall condition of the navy where it badly needed hulls both old and new to do its mandate. Speaking of which, the Philippine Navy alongside the Hamilton cutters are also looking after the Countinho-class corvettes of Portugal as well as the Pohang-class corvettes from South Korea wherein sophisticated weaponry aren't really matter, but rather focus on the endurance of these said ships that it is really important to give presence where the said navy ships may help to show presence in disputed waters to prove that the nation fight for its national interests.

Availability of hulls is a necessity to do a certain patrol on the seas done. And for it to be achievable, the availability of spare parts is badly considered. In such a manner, one may say that there shall be a compromise on these forms of availability where the two extremes are either followed completely or partly considered as well as considering not to take these things at all given the uncertainty of things. 

It can be that for example, presuming the deal for Portuguese vessels and Pohang-class corvettes went well make decision-makers having a 4th WHEC a spare parts stash, or rather it can be as a full, functioning vessel if the other deals aren't gone that well or rather, such interest is no longer being considered.

Drydocking is one of the routines in the rule of thirds concept.

So, here is the military concept with regards to the rule of thirds. Given the description, this concept pertains to a military unit or force where one third is in an operation, another one third is preparing for an operation and one third after being in an operation, is under the period of recuperation. 

In this case, the same applies to these Del Pilar-class frigates where one is on active patrols, one is on a dock preparing for patrols and one, being after operations will be returning to the dock for minor maintenance or in drydock for major ones. This is where realizations have been made as to why it is ideal to have three ships or six or 12 for that matter when it comes to procuring them. Speaking of which, this may be the good, if not the best explanation as to why the Sail Plan calls for six missile-armed frigates, three patrol frigates and etc...


Given the present situation, it is less possible for the Philippines to procure this ship given the prevailing policies both the governments of the US and the Philippines have. But presuming or for instance that the plans of having a fourth Hamilton cutter taking place, it may be good either as an additional asset or as a spare parts resource where the ship will be cannibalized varying to the situation where other lookup options like the Pohangs and Portuguese corvettes may influence its fate if given the situation. 

Overall, it is at best to have a fourth Hamilton in the sense that it is more to be like a spare parts stash. Having three of these activities in service is enough to suffice the needs where the Sail Plan calls for newer assets to come where these ships will be a stopgap as well as a platform in the transition from World War 2 vessels to modern, more sophisticated ships like the brand new frigates from South Korea.

Things That You Need To Know About Benham Rise

This additional part of the so-called Philippine Continental Shelf is promising where its hidden riches will help the country's economy to improve significantly where lives will get any better. However, with present encroachments and international law technicalities, it is to know about how laws observed and actions with suspicion seen as a threat to national security.

Gathered via Philnews website.

The Benham Rise is a submerged volcanic ridge within the Philippine Sea plate, has discovered by American Surveyors and has named after Admiral Andrew Ellicott Kennedy Benham. In 2009, the Philippines lay the claim in Benham Rise for partial territorial waters claim through the United Nations Commission of the Limits of the Continental Shelf in which the main purpose is to expand its territorial baseline and exclusive economic zone (which includes Scarborough Shoal and the Kalayaan island group) as per the Philippine Archipelagic Baselines Law which was also enacted on that year. Apparently, the said law has used as the basis for the claim wherein upon examining the underwater geography of the area through its location lying east of Luzon and west of Philippine Basin and the seismic and the other geological features lie in this claim where it really conforms to the requirements given by the United Nations Convention on the Law Of the Sea (UNCLOS). It was then in April 2012, around three years later, that they awarded the claim to the Philippines, where it gives more validation for confirming that the Benham Rise is a continental shelf part of the Philippines.

A Chinese Navy Type 636A Survey Vessel

Recent news shows up that the Chinese have their survey ship wandering in the Benham Rise apparently where it has discovered through the satellite photos provided by the allies. It has also reported then that a survey ship lurked in the area for around three months, intending to seek submarine shelters wherein one may see it as a strategic zone accessing the large body of water, which is the Pacific Ocean. In this sense, it seems to be a national security concern considering that Benham Rise, being in the other side of the Philippines where it is far away from China or any of the key flashpoints of the West Philippine Sea, is still being lurked by a Survey Vessel which by technicalities made by UNCLOS are valid. How could that be? It is a national security concern where the said vessel is suspicious in its actions, yet by international law they have treated as they acted accordingly? This is how UNCLOS guidelines set in.

A guide for archipelagic baselines. Via Asian Maritime Reviews.

Apparently, the Chinese' actions are justified through innocent passage wherein they are outside the usual 12nm territorial waters and within 200nm EEZ which, in terms of Freedom of Navigation, does considered as international waters, in which ships of different nationalities freely pass the area without intrusions.

With that, let us take the perspective of UNCLOS. As for the Benham Rise, they considered it as a continental shelf of the Philippines. Apparently, article 76 of UNCLOS refers to the definition of "continental shelf" in the sense how it has interpreted through the eyes of international law. 

Also, the article 77 further reiterates about the role of a coastal state or an archipelagic one like the Philippines wherein it clearly states that the said state having exercising its rights over its continental shelf shall not infringe or result in any unjustifiable interference with navigation and other rights and freedoms of other states as provided for in this Convention. 

Speaking of which, there are justifications because albeit the considerations for Benham Rise being a submerged feature belonging to the Philippines, the said country shall not fully enforce any maritime violations against like for instance, the survey ship of China wherein as for the statements the Chinese Foreign Ministry have, has been there under the rule of innocent passage. 

However, it will be a different scenario for the Philippines if the said country like China for example, drills for Natural Gas in the area where it is in direct violation from UNCLOS in the sense that resources within the Exclusive Economic Zone or in the Continental Shelf such as the Benham Rise have reserved for the Philippines to use. 

That comes in the sense that there is no permission had made, which is sufficient for the Philippines to justify its actions in order to defend the country and its national interest.

The articles in the UNCLOS convention agreements set a bar for each nation to follow, especially the Republic of the Philippines. The national interest in the Exclusive Economic Zone or Continental Shelf goes under the international law, wherein things will be gone orderly. In this sense, the guidelines and its interpretations are so clear about the exercises of rights and privileges, as well as the limits regarding that matter.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana. (Via ABS-CBN News)

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that the actions the Chinese survey ship has in the area is indeed worrying in the sense that it threatens the national security of the nation. 

The actions made by the Chinese, albeit the conditions qualifying it as an innocent passage by UNCLOS, have not really seen as what the SND Lorenzana explicate considering that the said ship was loitering there for weeks or apparently for three months. Speaking of which, the Chinese explanation at this point of view is really not that convincing given the Chinese's long record of deception starting from their incursions of the Mischief Reef in the mid-90s. 

The palace being alarmed on the situation and as it gets worrying; the government mulls to increase patrols with the use of coast guard vessels and building structures in the area where the latter may consider as something that is difficult to have, considering that the sea it is situated is too deep to put up a structure unlike those in the West Philippine Sea where shallow features exist. In simplifying this matter, it may count as  good news for the matter that the government is aware about the matter and will definitely do necessary actions to ensure the safety of the country as well as securing its national interest especially on Benham Rise where it may come with its rich natural resources that may benefit the economy of the country once exploited in due time.

BRP Gregorio Velasquez (ex-Melville), a survey ship of the Philippine Navy, which is a gift from the US.

Given the situation in Benham Rise, it may count as an incursion made by the Chinese that made things alarming but in accordance to the international law, it may be seen as a valid move considering that UNCLOS implies the Exclusive Economic Zone as international waters where any vessels are free to navigate which is also considered as innocent passage. 

However, the suspicion about the loitering of the ship (which differs from passage) makes it worrying to the government especially the defense department that prompts them to seek an explanation of the Chinese Government on the matter where in return, they said that the Philippines cannot claim Benham Rise as its territory, which holds some truth in it since it only pertains to continental shelf as per the article 76/77 of the UNCLOS rules. 

But that does not convince the government wherein return the Philippines are seeking to increase patrols in the area and looking for more plans to assert its stance in the area by mere presence. Speaking of which, it may serve as a driving force for the Department of National Defense to further enhance the so-called Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) not only on Benham Rise but as well on the more complicated disputes of the West Philippine Sea. In this, the country will not only defend its very existence against foreign and domestic adversaries but also assert its national interest where it may find the best in the sense that every citizen will benefit interest will make lives better.



The BRP Ramon Alcaraz (FF-16) conducted patrols in the Benham Rise in which it counts as a good move from the Philippine Navy considering that deploying it in the area is to be seen as a show of flag or rather, a good presence wherein that it gives the sign that this part of waters is under the Philippines' national interest and being within its sovereign rights as a nation to exploit its rich, natural resources.

Here, it counts as a promising thing that in matters like this, as the Philippine Navy still lacks ships to do its mandate and still in improving its fleet, they are still patrolling the Benham Rise with only one ship capable of staying there for a month and capable to take in the large waves of the Pacific Ocean. These in which gives hope and an idea to further enhance the Modernization Program through Sail Plan 2020 where national interest will be much secured than ever and it will be nothing to worry about by its citizens of the republic.

(c) 2017 PDA. First edition 8-5-2022.

The War Scenario on the Execution of Swarm Tactics in the West Phil. Sea

It's always been an idea of a certain military planner that deploying MPACs for swarm tactics in the West Philippine Sea is the good one where a certain large warship is being overwhelmed with the number of small, maneuverable vessels like for instance, a Multipurpose attack craft or MPAC. However, it is not always the case.

Soldiers of the Philippine Marine Corps disembarking from the MPAC
Mk.2, an asset that is currently in service with the Philippine Navy.
Image courtesy to the Nation States website.
Swarm tactics by nature are to ensure speedy and well-coordinated attacks where the main purpose is to overwhelm the enemy's defenses and to sink or either damage it. That is what the then Philippine Fleet spokesperson Rommel Rodriguez have said last 2014 in this article by InterAksyon. Since then, the said tactics are being raised again and again until most recently the Iranians employ such tactics in the Strait of Hormuz which causes the US Naval Forces to change course wherein it gives an insight as to the ideas where it can also apply to the Philippines as well against the Chinese. 

Speaking of that though, the way Iranians deploy such tactics may inspire Philippine military planners to do the same thing where these cost-effective MPACs may wreak havoc against a certain ship, for instance, a frigate patrolling in the disputed waters. But then again, all of these things come up into consideration. That is, how beneficial is such a tactic in the Philippine war effort in the sense that it boost morale or rather, showing its effectiveness in comparison to the losses that the navy could bear in the said tactic?

Iranian Navy Fast Attack Crafts in the Strait of Hormuz. Source
In this case, in a swarm tactic, several parameters need to see where the number of vessels needed per target ship, as well as the kind of military vessel used and the capabilities such craft, obtain in such a manner wherein it will use to induce damage on a target ship like for instance, a military frigate. 

The main point of such a tactic is for the ship's defense system like secondary guns in a form of RWS or CIWS will be divided where there will be multiple targets to get shoot at for that matter wherein there will be at least one or two craft manage to destroy some vital parts of the ship or even sink the ship varying to the extent of the damage made by an attack.

The use of Multipurpose Attack Crafts

The main idea of using MPACs for a swarm tactic traces back to 2014 in a statement made by the Philippine Fleet spokesperson wherein an ideal number of having six MPACs hunting a frigate like a wolf pack closing in on its prey.

The first two batches (Mark 1 and 2) of MPACs are only armed with machine guns while the third batch (Mark 3) will be armed with a Spike-ER missile from Israel which was produced by Rafael. The approximate range of the missiles is 5.3 kilometers at its full effectiveness. Apparently, these crafts are designed for an amphibious mission, maritime interdictions like law enforcement and patrols, and other purposes the Navy sees it working like the so-called swarm tactic offensives.

In this manner, with the present number of Multipurpose Attack Crafts in the inventory (3 Mk 1s, 3 Mk 2s, and the incoming 3 Mk 3s) is still not sufficient where Chinese shipyards are churning warships were in a short span of time are already completed and ready for combat. Moreover, the range of the Spike-ER missiles as comparable to the ship's guns larger than 40mm will not save those on board the craft where the ship's defense will surely destroy an MPAC to pieces. Not also to mention that having missiles or even torpedoes for that matter, installed on an attack craft like an MPAC will affect the overall speed of the vessel wherein it undermines the tactical effectiveness. Add to that the hull of these Multipurpose Attack Crafts are only capable to handle Sea State 3 where it can only capsize in the West Philippine Sea's Sea State 4 and above environment, unlike the target frigates where it can endure such conditions.

The better thing for the MPACs to do for its purpose is simply being a Littoral Vessel where the other roles aforementioned will be done in the sense that the full benefit of the craft will be at hand. Not to mention that in a swarm tactic, many MPACs will be lost in the process in parallel to its procurement that usually separates in batches and projects divided into lots where one is for the hull and the other is for armaments as well as the time building the crafts. These things which we need to consider.

Overall, deploying crafts into battle is somewhat comparable to a suicide tactic where the chances of death by attacking the ship full throttle is deemed high as well as it is also costly considering that losing experienced personnel like the craft also takes time. Therefore, such a tactic of using these small assets is not an ideal thing.

The use of Fast Attack Crafts

The use of fast attack crafts (FACs) in a swarm tactic is already a mainstream thing in Iran where recently it involves US warships. In that sense, these said fast attack crafts will be a bit larger than the usual 15 to 18-meter long MPACs were given estimates of having a size at around 50 to 60 meters.
Sheldag Mk. V by IAI Elta Israel.
One may say that these said vessels are a bit larger to employ a swarm attack unless we have other interpretations of it such as the Iranian crafts which are a bit smaller than MPACS. It may be in a greater size in the sense that it has better firepower than the MPACS. A handy of these vessels say with a long-range Anti-ship missile being armed in these ships will be sufficient enough to wreak damage on the target ship like for instance, a Chinese frigate.

For an emphasis in this matter, let us take the points of somebody working at CIMSEC commenting on the thread about swarm tactics and fast attack crafts. 
**Note: For the sake of privacy, profile photos have been omitted.**

In such a manner, a missile boat or a fast attack craft armed with a better anti-ship missile system will wreak havoc against the larger warships in the sense that a swarm tactic may be employed in a different stance. In this case, one can see a number of these vessels firing missiles altogether in a fully coordinated attack. Given the circumstances where speed and counteractions for that matter, it may be sufficient enough for a strike to take a toll on the ship where significant damage had been made or in a better case, a sinking ship.

Given the plans of the Philippine Navy on FACs, they are eyeing Israeli shipyards where last year they visited Israeli shipyards where they are offered by the company their product which is the Sheldag FAC. Being larger in dimension than the MPAC, as well as
being equipped with the NLOS which has a longer range than the ER, one can say that obtaining them will be helpful in a scenario when a mission involves sinking a frigate with swarm tactics. But with few reports about the outcome of this project, that remains to be seen.

The Strategy in General

Now back to the reports involving the Iranian Navy employing swarm tactics in the Strait of Hormuz against the Americans. One may say that if it works in this part of the world, then it should also work in the West Philippine Sea. However, that is always not the case.

First and foremost, the Iranians do such tactics in the Strait of Hormuz which geographically speaking the sea passages are narrow and confined which only leaves a little room for larger combat warships like frigates and destroyers to maneuver which a smaller craft can exploit, operate, and have its mission to destroy a big ship be possible while the West Philippine Sea is dotted with features like reefs and rocks lying in an open, wide ocean where a larger warship can freely operate and can dictate its range and speed of an arrangement as well as the endurance of the ship that puts these ships in an advantage over the smaller crafts where a possible shooting spree may take place. Another is that in engaging terms, the Chinese tend to fire first and throwing accusations later where the said swarm tactic in the open sea will be rendered useless as a portion of the attacking fleet will be gone before any execution to open fire and destroy the targets if it is in the case for the crafts like the multipurpose attack crafts. Somehow, the highly dedicated fast attack crafts may stand a chance where long-range missiles, presumably in this case may reach their target where the said attack crafts may still have time to maneuver themselves out to protect themselves from counterattack.

In such a case, the tactics themselves are ideal if the weapons platform used is also that ideal. Not also to mention that the said swarm tactics can be also used by the Philippine Fleet within territorial waters where respective islands serve as a cover for initiating an attack. However, the enemy has no intention of entering the said waters or it may invoke the Mutual Defense Treaty which surely pulls the US at war. Moreover, these tactics may be employed properly if the use of FACs as well as having other combatants in the back for support like missile-armed frigates for instance doing proper coordination between these units may be a thing between defeat and victory. (You may check this post about this discussion)

Ships like the Del Pilar-class frigates have better endurance than
smaller crafts in an open sea. Courtesy of BRP Gregorio del Pilar FF-15 FB page.
Swarm tactics, like the use of submarines in asymmetrical forms of warfare, are ways of ensuring victory over the enemies. In such a case, the decision-makers do see a nice idea over this concept where it divides primary defense guns of a warship on aiming multiple targets. 

However, it also comes at a cost where a portion of small vessels wiped out in the open with personnel killed in action. In such a case, MPACS are better seen as a littoral vessel designed to do amphibious missions and territorial interdictions in the way the BRP Tarlac is also used only with the advantage of being a command center. This in which one may think that the Landing Platform Docks with MPACs inside may be the hybrid form of swarm tactic they may looking for, but there is more unto that. 

Fast attack crafts on that case, a bit larger than the MPACs in the case of either Super Dvora or the Shaldag which are both from Israel may be a good platform to do such tactic where speed, maneuverability, coordination, and longer-range missiles will do a thing but their certainty of being procured remain uncertain. But one thing is considered. That is, the idea of Swarm Tactics if properly executed and with the use of proper weapons will be successful. But with only having a handful of MPACS in inventory, it is at best to set aside this strategy for a while, not until fast attack crafts or corvettes rather are being procured. 

This is to minimize losses as well as putting naval assets in the proper way in which as the AFP Modernizes itself, the possibility of having the fullest of activities will be at hand. With that, it is deemed better on sticking with deterrence where military power is at balance and properly calculated among nations alongside diplomacy.




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