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.

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.

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 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.


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.

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".


Pitz Orpiano said...

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Unknown said...

uuuy may bitterness

Anonymous said...

Ikaw ba may blog?

BrylleVlogs said...

Thank you for keeping us up to date for the modernization program. Hopefully sa pagpili ng mga barko ay walang halong corruption.

Rey Luis A. Montesclaros said...

An archipelago nation like the Philippines cannot allow itself to have a weak navy and airforce. Is it not enough to have suffered so much humiliation for decades now.Running away from challenges with tail between the legs? Budget is not the reason but the millstone in the neck of this republic which is its DEMO-CRAZY. We should have abolished that goddamned extra debating club called the Philippine Senate (with each 24 senator and staff receiving 100 million pesos per year) and used the money saved to improve navy and airforce assets years ago.

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