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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