Distinctions between a Corvette and a Frigate in a Navy Fleet

Warships have its own distinctions in the fleet varying to its roles as well as the way nations categorize their naval ships. And with different nations categorizing their vessels the way they want, there comes a small distinction between a naval corvette or a frigate where there is a thin line separating these two kinds of warships.

Navantia's Avante 2200 was once tendered as a frigate in the deal
won by Hyundai Heavy Industries, albeit that it served in Venezuelan
Navy as Patrol Vessel or a Corvette once armed further to the teeth.
Photo from Navantia's Flickr account.
Navy ships serving within the fleet have its own duties and responsibilities considering that each vessel is essential for the Naval Group to do its mandate which is primarily to defend the territorial waters from both internal and external elements coming through the sea. They are also to augment the role of the coast guard with that regard with maritime security and domain awareness in mind.

The warships by that detail play different roles in the fleet. One type serves as a patrol vessel for conducting presence in a disputed area or to practice sovereign rights within its area of designation. Another type serves as a logistics vessel where it transports primary military needs ranging from supplies like ammunition and basic needs like food to military equipment like artillery and armored personnel carriers which are needed by ground troops in the battle zone for their mission as well as for humanitarian purposes when calamity strikes. 

And there are types of warships specified for surface/subsurface combat missions that are loaded with weapons designed to destroy other warships as well as the ones lurking underwater such as submarines. Corvettes and Frigates in this case falls under the combatant category which, aside from patrolling like patrol vessels usually do, these ships pack some sheer firepower to eliminate hostile elements seeking to wreak violence within territorial and exclusive economic zone waters.

Talking about corvettes and frigates, it usually made some confusion to the ones who are not keen on defense-related matters where platform size, combat capabilities and roles seem to be similar in nature where it varies as to what the way a navy categorizes them and their primary purposes. This discussion is to seek to understand their distinctions and variations on their roles.

Note: This was meant for educating people that are less knowledgeable which by themselves also wanted to minimize the burden of researching up the search engine just to distinguish these warships. Add to this, the discussion will cover the Philippine Navy’s categorization of the ships as specified in its Sail Plan.

GRSE tenders its Frigate based on INS Kamorta where
in the Indian Navy, it served as an Anti-submarine Corvette.
Credits to the photo owner.
It is worth remembering about the Frigate Acquisition Project that the Department of National Defense initiated in which Hyundai Heavy Industries won and presently facing setbacks that only they can have a say about it. During the bidding, different prospective suppliers presented their products based on designs that were used as corvettes in other navies. One notable example is the Kamorta-class Corvette which was tendered as Frigate in the bid wherein Garden Reach Shipbuilding and Engineering almost won as the lowest bidder but lost to Hyundai due to financing standards as dictated by the Procurement Laws. 

This notable mixup may be confusing at first, but it gets clarified when details are presented especially on the specifications that the end-user like in this case, the Philippine Navy, is looking for a Frigate or in a Corvette. And speaking of the end-user, it definitely seems like it takes all the lessons taken from the mistakes in the Frigate Acquisition Project where as far as prospective Corvettes of Horizon 2 are concerned (If the budget requested for it is approved), it may get more capable than what Hyundai offered for FAP where a swap of roles from Frigates to Corvettes and vice versa may get happened in due time. Take note, it is still liquid, but it may happen in due time.

With interchangeability of classification of vessels varying as to how the Navy names them, these are influenced by factors such as tonnage, roles, politics, and the most essential of all, it's mission profile.


For in-depth on differentiating things out, here is an article from CIMSEC written by Chuck Hill.

One nation's frigate is another nation's corvette. There really is no formal distinction. That would really depend on the end-user though. That goes the explanation as to why Kamorta corvettes are being tendered in a frigate project which also goes with Navantia's Avante 2200.

Summarizing the CIMSEC article, a frigate is a league a bit higher than the corvette, and size and displacement really don't matter on this one. The distinction between the two classifications for small warships is thin where only the end-user designates them as such. 

Different nations have different measurements as to classifying their warships and, basically speaking, a warship only armed with medium caliber gun and heavy machine guns become more of an Offshore Patrol Vessel. 

Goes to say, mission profile weighs heavy in determining the difference on the ships where displacement, roles, size, capabilities, and at several times politics influencing such distinction of its own worth.

Given these details, these are simply measurements that serve as a guide for any Navy where they still are the ones who will determine as to how they classify the naval assets they obtain where, with their best knowledge, determine the fleet set up just like the way Philippine Navy wants it in their Sail Plan under the AFP Modernization Program.

This is the Philippine Navy Capability Upgrade Program that calls for 12 corvettes
and 6 frigates. Plans such as this are liquid and may change from
time to time.
Now it is understandable that it is upon the discretion of the end-user such as the Philippine Navy as to how they will categorize the ship they obtain in the fleet. Notwithstanding, the Navy's Desired Force Mix identifies the distinction between its Navy Frigate and Corvette.

Frigates by this nature will be the guided-missile ones where the roles will be more on 
anti-air and anti-surface mission profiles while the corvettes will be emphasized more on anti-submarine roles. 

Add to that the Del Pilar-class Frigates which are formerly Hamilton Cutters of the US Coast Guard presently categorized as Patrol Frigates until these ships will be upgrading its sensors as well as being armed with anti-surface weapons which it will become more capable than the downgraded ships Hyundai offered. 

Also to add, numerous World War 2-era vessels are still within the Navy and they are classified as corvettes like the Miguel Malvar-class which these ships will be replaced by more modern and more sophisticated ones as part of the Modernization Program. 

The Navy has their own specifications or requirements looking on a corvette or a frigate where they will never encounter any issues if these are met upon, taking the lessons from the Frigate Acquisition Project.

Speaking of roles, the way Philippine Navy categorizes them goes hand in hand with Chuck Hill's CIMSEC entry which mission profiles define more of the ship's classification rather than displacement and size. 

Add to that, the Navy's Desired Force Mix sets as a guide aside from the factors aforementioned as well as the lessons from previous deals which defines their standards that in turn defines the distinction between corvettes and frigates.

This was originally the Hyundai Heavy Industries' offer to the
Philippine Navy before the scale-down. Add to that, it's
capabilities will be surpassed by that of upcoming Corvette
and Frigate Projects which have doubled contract price per unit.
Photo from Hyundai. Labeling by both MaxDefense and Pitz Defense Analysis
Distinctions between a corvette and a frigate vary from different navies of the world and the way they classified it as such where it is their call to do it so. The same also applies to other ships such as destroyers and cruisers which there are different interpretations and categorizations per nation.

Narrowing it down under the Philippine Navy's context through its Desired Force Mix, a corvette and a frigate are specified on their mission roles which, capabilities-wise, can be swapped and get interchangeable upon their discretion depending on what they see as fit on the naval assets they obtain. Add to that displacement, capabilities, size and at times political factors may influence the categorization of the ships.

Both of these combatants are essential things that define a Navy fleet where it is on their mandate to defend the maritime waters from various threats that may happen at any time. And with the Modernization Program being on the roll with Horizon 2 coming next year, it will be exciting to see what to unveil especially on the upcoming projects that go side-to-side with the progress the country is undertaking.

1 comment:

OK said...

Corvette: fight offensively in only one dimension. Defensive capabiliest in others. Frigattes: can fight offensively in two dimensions (often ASW and ASuW). Destroyers fight offensively in tjree dimensions (ASW, ASuW and AA). Cruisers fight in, you guessed right, four dimensions (land attack cruise missiles)

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