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The Perspective on the Status of the Philippine Fleet

The Philippine Navy, just like the other branches within the Armed Forces of the Philippines wants to become a capable organization where they can do their respective duties and responsibilities to protect the nation. With the series of unfavorable circumstances from budgetary problems to issues about system technicalities, let this be an avenue of gathering perspectives, understanding it and the essence of what is to gain or loss should a variable of circumstances may happen therein.

INTRODUCTION
The fleet is modernizing, but a bulk of it still
consists of old World War 2 era vessels.
Courtesy: Navy 2018 Calendar.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines have its Modernization program in the process where a share of resources like funding are distributed or allocated for these programs to materialize alongside paid salaries for military personnel, preventive maintenance schedules, and procurement of spares as well as improving facilities for sheltering personnel and material which is essential for morale and equipment lifespan.

In the case of the Philippine Navy, it procured multiple vessels and other assets in which it will definitely enhance further its intended mandate with its capabilities far better than what was obtained a decade before. From Patrol Frigates to Multipurpose attack crafts as well as Landing Platform Docks and Naval Helicopters, these things are indeed very useful in terms of multiple things ranging from patrolling territorial waters to Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Response that are beneficial for its purpose to partake. However, some things need to be done especially for more improvements to take place. This definitely includes putting older vessels to rest in means like decommissioning it as well as understanding the approach with regards to the planned assets that will replace them.

With the Navy's "grandest" modernization project in "full rough sailing" mode, it becomes problematic to the uncertain status with regards to the replacement of older vessels as well as the dire state of the fleet through the look of it wherein it provides the series of problems that the high ranks of the organization may definitely come up with a difficult decision to do where things definitely lie at stake with regards to the capabilities the Naval fleet may bring as time passes by.

PRESENT FLEET COMPOSITION - 2018 AS OF POSTING
BRP Rizal, a former World War 2 era vessel serving the United
States Navy.
Being one of those people witnessing the materialization of the AFP Modernization Program taking place, most of the updates at the recent date usually cover newly-brought naval vessels for capability enhancement where, in the case of the Philippine Navy, includes former 60s-70s era U.S. Coast Guard cutters which are now called the Del Pilar-class frigates, newly-built multi-purpose attack crafts (MPAC) for littoral usages, Indonesian-made Tarlac-class Landing Platform Docks, and several others.

Those vessels that were mentioned only define the portion of what the Philippine Navy fleet consists of. There are other vessels which are, although as not as capable as the ones given, but still an essential part of the fleet considering that the nation is an Archipelago in geographical terms where a country with a long coastline have a responsibility to protect and defend it from both domestic and foreign elements as well as the territorial waters surrounding it. And, if we are to add it further, that also means defending the so-called "sovereign rights" in Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) areas where there shall be exploitation on subterranean territory whilst every ship has the right to pass by under the premise of International Law through the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea or UNCLOS.

That being said, the remainder of the fleet primarily consists of patrol corvettes (Jacinto-class, Miguel Malvar-class, and Rizal-class), transport, and amphibious vessels (Landing Craft Units, various), and small patrol crafts. And to take note, this remainder of the fleet contains some of the vessels which are definitely old enough that badly needs to be replaced as time passes by. In that case, we are referring to the ones that are considered as World War 2-era vessels such as the Rizal and Miguel Malvar-class corvettes. These vessels are originally the ones used by the United States in the conflict against the Japanese Imperial Forces in the Pacific where the Rizal-class was then known as the Auk-class and Admirable-class vessels which are both designed and designated as minesweepers at that time.

These lightly-armed, fairly-old vessels are still operating even at present even though production for both the hull and spares was closed half a decade ago where maintaining these ships are a struggle for the fleet to have in a sense that several hulls needed to be decommissioned just to cannibalize it for spare parts where finding a replacement for an inactive ship faces difficulties of sorts.

Nevertheless, the Modernization Program in itself somewhat relieves the problem of having the potential shortage of hulls needed to defend the nation from unwanted elements at sea. However, things are needed to be done where, at these phases of the whole process, things in mind are needed consideration herein.

THE POINTS

The old ships which are still in service shall not be taken for granted if these are to operate further through the time. Case in the note, the urgency of having these old, obsolete platforms is there where projects ranging from Offshore Patrol Vessels/Multipurpose Patrol Vessels to Full, Battle Ready Combat Vessels shall replace these old ones.

Given the urgencies upon these matters, one of the most ideal as well as the immediate (or say, interim) solution to the problem was to purchase second-hand hulls to cover the requirements while newer assets are being planned and materialized in which time takes it so to set dates, requirements, and standards as well as building it where eventually, the vessels will get delivered on the date on which both sides agreed and written on the contract where it usually took place a year or two from signing of papers and the "Notice to Proceed" documentation. 

Given the history, the purchase of second-hand combat ships isn't new for the Philippine Navy. From World War 2 era vessels to the modern Del Pilar-class frigates, these ships are the testament of its former glory when it was still in service with their respective primary users as well as its usefulness being emphasized within the Philippine Navy service where each of these used vessels is still being utilized for patrolling territorial waters against various threats despite the age. Both the ships and their crew are worth commendable by this manner therein.

As of date, there are various proposals, both past and present with regards to purchasing both used ones and brand new ones. Speaking of the former, that includes the deal with the South Koreans over the Pohang-class corvette ROKN Chungju where its status at present is uncertain given the lack of latest updates about it. Others include the "supposed" Baptista de Andrade and Joao Coutinho-class corvettes from Portugal as well as the other "supposed" Maestrale-class frigates from Italy where, for various reasons, may not end up in the fleet of the Philippine Navy. Nevertheless, the latter may provide the tools the Philippine Navy needs where several projects are on planning as well as on the materialization stage as part of the Strategic Sail Plan 2028 of the fleet. Such plans include the Corvette Project that is set for Horizon 2 covering this period of time as per posting up the period where it will end five years later (2018-2022).

Alongside the frigate, plans for procuring multipurpose patrol vessels or offshore patrol vessels also in a place where these patrol gunboats may take over the roles of the Rizal and Miguel Malvar-class corvettes which is on patrolling territorial waters from threats like piracy and terrorism. Apparently speaking for these patrol vessels, sources provide the details that around six units will be built for the second horizon instead of eight which is almost the same replacement ratio as the number of the Malvar-class corvettes in service. Things like these definitely turn out to be beneficial where it may improve the status of the fleet so as replacements are provided, retaining the fleet composition which can be classified as a Green-Water Navy.

SAIL PLAN 2028 - THE BRIGHT SIDE

The Second Horizon, despite the shortage of funds, is still beneficial for the Philippine Navy where, should things go smoothly, will definitely help the fleet improve its composition of ships where older, antique vessels may finally put to rest.

The only obstacle as far as things are concerned is the two combat frigates that are still under investigation to the anomaly with regards to the details of the deal. The rest so far, are deemed hopeful where things definitely good to see where the hope is there for the projects to be materialized. Albeit the plans, the setup of the Philippine Navy's Horizon 2 plans may definitely change later on which will depend on the availability of spares with factors including the nation's economic performance.

The uncertainty on the plan in which it is reliant on the volatile economic conditions, also dictates what will be the future of the Navy's fleet composition especially of the World War 2 vessels that are still in service. It was there that the conditions will determine the remaining lifespan of those obsolete ships where, its aging is taking its toll to the hull of these Rizal and Miguel Malvar-class vessels wherein any poor conditions about the structure or the lack of spare parts to keep it operational may render it to be decommissioned, with or without any replacement on sight. Such a case happened to the BRP Antonio Luna where its hull filled with holes definitely compromised its structure, prompting it to be decommissioned beyond economic repair. Also, the BRP Emilio Aguinaldo is plagued with such a problem which, like its sister ship the BRP Antonio Luna, is also forced to be decommissioned. Or, take for instance the BRP Iloilo, a Malvar-class corvette which was put out of service February 2017 with spare parts being seen as the reason for its remaining sister ship, the BRP Sultan Kudarat, to function accordingly. Apparently, there are no replacements for the decommissioned ship at present.

By measure, it may be ideal that stop-gap measures shall be given so that there will be replacements to the ships that went decommissioned. And speaking of stop-gap measures, it is usually done by purchasing second-hand assets that went out of service in its respective navy. With the Pohang-class being the only second-hand asset so far as things are concerned (and latest information aren't available as of the moment), it may be ascertained that the old, World War 2 ships shall stay at service a bit more where it is still needed to protect the waters at present.

It was there that the old ships will be relieved from service once newer assets such as the MPPVs will get into service. Just to take note folks, building new ships takes time where components will get installed in its place as well as to weld the steel for the hull's integrity and other areas of consideration as dictated by the specifications given in the contract. Hence, a little sacrifice is still needed with regards to the service lifespan of both the Miguel Malvar-class and Rizal-class corvettes where the hope is there that the ships will finally get the rest it deserves.

CONCLUSION
BRP Ramon Alcaraz alongside a Rizal-class Corvette.
With the given age of the existing portion of active ships in the Philippine Navy Inventory especially to the ones built more than half a century ago, the urge of replacing them is getting stronger as the fleet gets modernized with new hulls and better second-hand assets filling the capabilities needed by the organization.

And in that comes the hopes of what Horizon 2 has in store to the Philippine Navy. Albeit the small budget which results to the fewer projects that the organization prioritizes like new Strategic Sealift Vessels, Corvettes, MPPVs, and others, it may be seen as sufficient enough to replace old World War 2 vessels in a sense that a portion will decommission to keep the remaining ships in place in which the relieved ones will get cannibalized for spare parts needed to keep the others running. At present, we can still see those old ships at sea, doing its mandate to protect territorial waters against threats with their presence being essential enough in connection to the nation's sovereignty. There are still many things needed to be done, and for the fleet, just like the rest of the Armed Forces, the journey is still a long way to go to achieve the Minimum Credible Defense Posture that it wants to attain. 

The time will definitely come that the old ships will be put to rest, and it will surely be missed by those who once served on those ships which they treated as their second home. But the necessity to move forward is there, where various threats, both internal and external ones, keeps influence the role of the Armed Forces with the primary mandate to protect the nation's sovereignty and the safety of its citizens. Let us end this article with a quote, and this sheds light on reality in this world: "Nothing Lasts Forever".
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The SAAB Gripen and the Marketing Over Philippine MRF Program

The Philippines with its Air Force is recently having its squadron of FA-50PH LIFT jets procured. And it is a well-taken note that the Second Horizon which is next year is eyeing for Multirole fighters that among the possible jets procured, the JAS-39 Gripen is being talked among the defense community as the best possible MRF that may take out in the deal given the attributes which explain its idealistic preference seen as a multirole fighter that the organization seeks.

Pitz Defense Analysis Note: The Philippine Air Force and the Defense Department may change the outputs of the Multirole fighter jet program or may have a different set of results on the set that at present, this project is still on the "drawing board" stage with request still needs approval as per posting. Hence, this article reflects the defense community's viewpoints that give relevance which gives the SAAB Gripen being the best possible contender in the deal. This, in any connection, was not sponsored for and by the said Swedish Company.

OVERVIEW
JAS-39 Gripen Philippines, SAAB JAS-39 Block C/D, Philippine Air Force
Gripen E's First Flight. From SAAB website
Just recently, the Swedish weapons and arms company SAAB has its latest version of fighter jet which is the JAS-39 Gripen E tested on its first flight. This comes to the hopes that such a fighter jet as being marketed by SAAB shall be the affordable and effective Multirole fighter jet in the military weapons market. And with that apparently, several articles have even compared this jet with its successive first flight to the Lockheed-Martin F-35 jet where the same article describes it as a troubled project.

As per the Philippine military procurements meanwhile, it is taken note that the AFP Modernization Program calls for 48 units of fighter jets for the whole Modernization Phase wherein it gives the vision of the armed forces to have an effective Philippine Air Defense System (PADS) as the main feature of the Philippine Air Force Flight Plan 2028 which eventually lowered down to a squadron due to problems regarding funding with an option to go for second-hand platforms. At present, the Multirole fighter jet project is in the planning phase where it is now on its way for materialization for Horizon 2 (2018-2022). All of these remain to be seen where the budget allocation shows an obstacle to the project itself. See more: Horizon 2 and the Budget Obstacle.

With these things being stated out, the JAS-39 Gripen was known across the defense community where several members envision an air force with such jets in the inventory or rather, having a nice viewpoint that in such a project (if proceeds smoothly), obtaining a multirole fighter jet will be the best thing the Philippine Air Force will have in the future. In this topic, the discussion will be aiming at the statistics, technicalities, and specifications that have led to the making of this discussion which is lovelily discussed among those who love military and defense issues.

STATISTICS AS A COST-EFFECTIVE FIGHTER
Given the chart at face value, it gives the idea that the cost
gets minimized starting from the first Gripen Edition.
Source: http://www.gripenblogs.com/default.aspx?page=72
The JAS-39 Gripen is regarded as a cost-effective fighter jet, with SAAB marketing it as such. It is ideal for countries with a sufficient but not excessive defense budget, such as the Philippines.

Moreover, SAAB is being aggressive in its marketing efforts that will push its product among the nations and their governments which include the Philippines. This, just like any other company, goes with the hopes that they will gain several respective markets which in turn correlates to more sales for the units and gain more for after-sales and upgrades to the discretion of the end-user. 

At present, JAS-39 Gripen is operated by several nations which include Sweden, South Africa, Hungary, the Czech Republic, the United Kingdom (through Empire Test Pilot's School), Thailand, and soon, Brazil which ordered a number of the latest Gripen E version which won their assessment with plans of local production together with Embraer S.A, which is the one who will supplement A-29 Super Tucanos to the Philippine Air Force. 

As specified in this article from a certain Brazilian Press, it was reported that their Government prefers this jet considering that it was the cheapest on the deal alongside the offers of the United States' Boeing F/A 18 and France's Dassault Rafale F3. Aside from that, the design phase of the New Generation (NG, or later classified as E/F version) and only having a single engine also influence the decision of the Brazilian decision-makers. The said deal with the Brazilians will be financially covered through a loan in which both sides agreed on a 25-year payment term for the said fighter jets.

The deal is enticing which the same thing may happen across the board as SAAB markets these jets across the nations which have the potential to procure fighter jets for its defense postures like in the case of the Philippines where the company opened its office in the country which signifies its push for their products to penetrate the market like the Philippine Air Force where its respective personnel or even the local aviators with flying experience sees it as a practical choice for the air force to have where it becomes a topic across local military and defense community. 

Nevertheless, it is still up with the main decision-makers whether these jets be purchased upon assessing it up to the standards which it holds such potential therein.

With the Philippines embarking on a project that will further improve its capabilities and SAAB's marketing of its product, it is nice to understand deeper with regards to the company and its product like the JAS-39 Gripen which pertains to its development and the rationale behind the success of the company and the fighter jet that it markets which just other aerospace companies, provides the capability a nation needs to defend its sovereignty against various threats, both internal and external.

THE DETAILS ABOUT THE COMPANY
SAAB, JAS-39 Gripen, Gripen Philippine Air Force
SAAB is hoping to have a firm market in the Philippines
which may take place should the JAS-39 Gripen be chosen.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
The success of the company and its product points from the developments of the past. SAAB Group, first known as Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebolag (Swedish Aeroplane Company, Ltd) was founded in 1937 in Sweden in the city of Trollhättan. In 1950, the company became what is SAAB is today through the merger of two aerospace companies in Sweden.

Being a defense-related industry, SAAB produces a lot of products from the span of its existence from half almost a century in which its products include sensors like the Sea Giraffe and Erieye radar systems, Naval Vessels through SAAB Kockums like the Visby-class Corvettes and A-26 submarines as well as military aircraft like the SAAB 340, Saab 35 Drakken, SAAB 37 Viggen, and the recently-produced JAS-39 Gripen.

Aircraft manufacturing began in the 1940s, during the Second World War. Sweden was neutral at the time, which explains why the planes SAAB developed at the time, such as the SAAB 17 and 18, although designed as war machines, didn't saw action. Nevertheless, in the span of the history of the company's existence, their know-how on military equipment increases as well as their reputation in which some projects and development on their products as well as their marketing put this Swedish defense-industrial complex on the map where several nations purchased several military weaponry from SAAB. 

SAAB's products form the portion of the military equipment of the Swedish Armed Forces (Försvarsmakten) which are active in service as well as serving its role to defend this Scandinavian Nation from various threats that may come into its territory. That gives the firm stance that this nation uses its indigenous or locally-produced and enhanced military weaponry wherein it comes with conformity about the products being in-service in a host country as well as on several nations that were sold, like in the case of the JAS-39 Gripen having operated by around six to seven nations.

Being successful in leasing or procuring in those nations aforementioned, SAAB is aggressively pursuing to have more nations with respective fighter procurement programs chose their JAS-39 Gripen in the sense that, just like any other business, aims to have additional sales on their portfolio in terms of units sold as well as on the spares and after-support programs in which both of these things bring profit to the company. Add to that, having more units in the market means more sources for spare parts which are essential for every operator to have in terms of maintaining the planes or rather, keeping them operational. 

IN THE PHILIPPINE AIR FORCE'S MRF PROGRAM
See more: SAAB Advertorial - Gripen for the Philippines
JAS-39 Gripen Sunrise, Philippine Air Force, Multirole Fighter Jet
A JAS-39 Gripen Fighter jet flying at sunrise.
The Philippines in the Second Horizon first wanted to pursue two squadrons of Multirole Fighters for its Air Force. With a restrained budget in its helm with the insufficient 150 billion peso allocation in place, it lowers the number of units planned for the Multirole fighter program from two squadrons or 24 units down to a squadron or 12 units. These pertain statistically for the option of purchasing brand new, with another option opting for second-hand ones, most probably outsourced from countries like the United States.

Even with the restrained budget, it still does not stop the Philippine Air Force in pursuing its aim to procure multirole fighter jets in which will drastically enhance the capabilities of the organization further as well as this will define the organization and its mandate of providing close air support for the ground troops, giving immediate transport in the air for deploying troops and goods especially in times of disaster and distress and most of all, defending the Philippine Airspace against various threats that pose danger to the citizens of the republic, especially if such threats come from the sky.

The determination is given by the air force still gives suppliers like SAAB a window to enhance the capabilities the Philippine Air Force needs wherein it needs to compete with the United States through General Dynamics/Lockheed Martin's F-16 fighter jet platforms. These platforms though are tough to consider considering that the F-16 has more users than JAS-39 Gripen presently have where the former obtains a lot of sources for spare parts which is a good necessity for the units to keep operating. Nevertheless, the latter still have a chance where some other nation may opt to buy these jets which increases the spare parts pool in the same way as the T/TA/FA-50s being marketed to other nations which in turn will indirectly benefit the Philippines in terms of after-support/maintenance of the jets to keep it operational. 

Aside from the Philippines, there are other potential buyers or say, another set of nations that may end up obtaining JAS-39 Gripen fighter jets from SAAB as they market their fighter jet product to these countries. According to SAAB in its Annual Gripen Seminar 2017, as reported by Mönch Publishing Group, they market these nations which include Botswana, Croatia, Malaysia, Slovakia, and the Philippines for the C/D variant while  Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Finland, and Switzerland for the E version.

Despite SAAB's marketing efforts, the decision will ultimately be made by the Defense Department, particularly in the case of the Philippine Air Force, which has expressed a strong desire for multi-role fighter jets, even if only a single squadron for Horizon 2. Nevertheless, all hopes and dreams for the air force are there where multirole fighter jets will finally make the organization much more capable where they can effectively conduct their mandate which is to protect the skies like the Navy and Coast Guard protecting the coastline, the Army protecting the land and the Police protecting the welfare of the people.

SUMMARY, HOPES, AND THINGS THAT MAY LIE AHEAD
The Philippine Air Force's desire for MRF is split between
Lockheed Martin F-16 and JAS-39 Gripen.
SAAB is attempting to increase sales of their JAS-39 Gripen multirole fighter jets, which will assist a specific country's air force in improving its capabilities to protect its airspace and territory from various threats that may jeopardize the peaceful lives of its citizens.

With Multirole fighter jets being one of the priorities set by the Philippine Air Force, suppliers like SAAB and its American counterparts are willing to sell their wares wherein in both ways, will definitely enhance the capabilities needed by the Air Force as well as the aspirations of obtaining this weaponry to become true. This desirable outcome for SAAB may still depend on what the planners have to say where at present, the project still needs approval with regards to their request. Hence, the hopes and dreams about the project are still here where the Philippine Air Force is adamant to have this project despite the small project in a manner that several projects needed to cut or postpone to the Next Horizon. Just to take note, this will be the most ambitious project in the organization and by that manner, SAAB JAS-39 Gripen is apparently the favorite jet for PAF to have, although competition is still in place.

Once these items are in place, the FA-50PH Lead-in Fighter Trainer will complement a squadron which is also considered to be a light-fighter aircraft by some. Should this ambitious project push through, the time will finally come that the Philippine Air Force will obtain dedicated Multirole fighter jets designed to do its job of enhancing the mandate of PAF which is to protect the skies as well as to eliminate targets through precision bombing. With SAAB pushing doing the marketing, it may be their chance that they may be the ones who will supplant the project, should things be going in their favor.
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