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The Philippine Air Force's Mil Mi-171 Heavy Lift Helicopter Program In-Detail

The acquisition projects of the Armed Forces of the Philippines usually involve military equipment originally from the West, especially from the United States and several European countries like Poland and Italy, along with established defense partners like South Korea and Israel. Russia is recently gaining attention about this subject matter.

DISCUSSION OVERVIEW
A Mi-171 Helicopter was utilized in operation. Image Source.

The first idea on the Armed Forces of the Philippines' plan on buying Russian hardware started in 2017, at the time when there was the hype that surrounded this idea, especially at that time when Russia docked its warship in the port of Manila, attracting bystanders and enthusiast alike upon seeing an Udaloy-class Destroyer with its crew and fitted weaponry up, close and personal.

It was at this time that the Philippine Air Force still formulating and ironing out ideas for its Horizon 2 lineup in which, along with other branches of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, were still in preparation as that Horizon were about to be implemented a year later, having projects in the pipeline ranging from Offshore Patrol Vessels to Multirole Fighters, as well as procuring more Combat Utility Helicopters.

Speaking of Combat Utility Helicopters, there was one candidate for the project which was originated from Russia, which is now similarly the one being pushed for this Philippine Air Force acquisition project, only this time, this was primarily aimed at acquiring heavy-lift helicopters for the air branch of the Philippine Armed Forces which is clearly different from the once-implemented Combat Utility Helicopter Acquisition Project which was won by Poland's PZL Mielec and its S-70i Blackhawk Helicopters.

Now that PZL Mielec being in the process of delivering these Blackhawk Helicopters to the Philippine Air Force, both themselves and the Department of National Defense is now keen on securing this project, even if it came with the risk of getting sanctioned by the United States under CAATSA which will be discussed in detail throughout this article.

In this topic, we will discuss this Russian-made air platform that was developed during the Cold War era, wherein it is still being produced by that country's military-industrial complex, which now has the increased chance to get in the Philippine defense market, showcasing these platforms despite the risk that is associated to the deal and on this acquisition project.

THE ORIGINS OF THE MIL MOSCOW HELICOPTER PLANT
The Mi-17 Hip of the Indonesian Army (Angkatan Darat). Obtained from Sputnik.

The origin of the modern Mi-171 traced from Mi-17, which in itself is derived from Mi-8, built by the Soviet Union in the 1960s, which is basically the time when UH-1s were the thing for the countries that were aligned with the United States, developed, and produced during that time by the Mil Moscow Helicopter Plant and Designed Bureau through its partner helicopter production facilities during that time.

About the company, Mil Moscow Helicopter Plant was founded in 1947 by Michael Mil, a Soviet Legendary rotorcraft designer during that time and is the one that produced this known Soviet-era combat utility helicopter design that is still being used across the globe, much like the ones that Bell Helicopters made in the United States still in service like the UH-1 Huey and succeeding variants like the Bell 412 in the Philippine Air Force inventory.

Currently, Mil Moscow Helicopter Plant is part of the infrastructure of the holding company Russian Helicopters, which in turn is part of the Russian state-owned company Rostec, a primary investor for Russian-made defense and military technology, as well as Russian-made high technology advances that will help the country propel its capability further by employing its existing and future designs, research, and development on both military and civilian aspects.

Mil Moscow Helicopter also developed other helicopters aside from the iconic Mi-8/17/171 utility helicopter, which they also made the older designs like the Mil Mi-2, Mi-4, and Mi-6, as well as the equally iconic Mi-24 Hind helicopter gunship and the larger Mi-26 heavy-lift helicopter, in which the two latter platforms are currently in service with the Russian Armed Forces as their rotary logistics platform alongside Mi-8/17.

This company serves as one of the pillars of the Russian military-industrial complex, aside from other Russian aerospace companies like Sukhoi, Mikoyan Gurevich (MiG), Yakovlev, Tupolev, and Ilyushin (all of which are now part of Russia's United Aircraft Corporation), and others like URAL Automotive Plant, Uralvagonzavod, Rubin, and JSC United Shipbuilding Corporation.

DEVELOPMENT FROM MIL-8 TO MIL-171
A Polish Air Force Mil Mi-8 "Hip" Helicopter. Image Source.

In the early 1960s, the Mil Moscow Helicopter Plant started to develop and improvise what will be the Mi-8 "Hip" helicopter during that time, replacing the Mil Mi-4 piston-powered helicopter that was developed and produced from 1953, in a bid to improve logistical capabilities over its predecessor by obtaining a more powerful turboshaft engine, as well as obtaining a larger fuselage that can accommodate more than Mi-4 "Hound" helicopter's 14 personnel.

The first prototype of the Mi-8 took its first flight on the 9th of July, 1961, followed by multiple power testing that allowed the developers in Mil Moscow Helicopter Plant to improve its engine composition that can lift the whole helicopter with ease, wherein it took the Helicopter plant five (5) more years until the Mil Mi-8 "Hip" Helicopter finally introduced to the Soviet Air Force in 1967.

Since then, Mil Moscow Helicopter Plant produced thousands of Mil Mi-8 helicopter copies that were then distributed to both military and civilian users all throughout the Soviet Union (of which it is still in service on most of its successor states, including Russia), as well as countries in Eastern Europe that were once part of the Soviet-aligned Warsaw Pact such as Poland (as seen in the image above).

The success of the Mil Mi-8 prompted Mil to further improve the design that was associated with this utility helicopter, resulting in the advanced, multimission variant now designated as Mil Mi-17 "Hip" helicopter, with its primary purpose as being a version of Mil Mi-8 with the export market in mind, expanding the Soviet's defense export market further the Eastern bloc and to countries like India, Indonesia, and China.

The first flight of the Mil Mi-17 "Hip" Helicopter took place in 1975, which took six more years until it was introduced in 1981, which both the Mil Moscow Helicopter Plant and another Soviet aerospace factory, the Kazan Helicopter Plant, produced at around 12,000 copies of the helicopter with multirole configurations and role as a gunship, VIP transport, and search and rescue, aside from its typical logistics/cargo design capability.

From here, multiple variants of Mil Mi-17 "Hip" Helicopter were developed and produced, of which one of those variants is the marketed Mil Mi-171 helicopter that the Philippine Air Force and the Department of National Defense are seeking for its Heavy Lift Helicopter Project, currently produced by Mil, through Kazan and Ulan-Ude helicopter plants.

Like other products, the Mil Mi-171 is still being improved today, with one of the recent developments involve an update to its A3 variant, which is a longer-range version that is designed for the offshore and gas market, with its passenger capacity increased to 24 and its specifications complying with international oil and gas transport standards.

SPECIFICATIONS
The specifications of the Mi-17 Hip Helicopter. Image Source.

Take note that the specifications shown above are for the Mi-17 [Mi-8MT] Hip Helicopter, which is also shared with its other variants like the Mi-171 that the Philippine Air Force is seeking, with the only difference being the engine which the latter was upgraded to the more powerful 2x Klimov TV3-117VMA 2,070shp turboshaft engine (or 2x Klimov TV3-117VM turboshaft engines for the Mi-171Sh), as compared to the 1,950shp Isotov TV3-117MT turboshaft engine.

For it to be a heavy lift helicopter requires a powerful engine, which both the Klimov and the Isotov can deliver at the platform's gross tonnage of 13,000kg, capable of carrying around 5,630kg - 5,900kg, albeit the Klimov turboshaft engine allows the Mi-171 helicopter to fly at greater rates of climb and hover ceilings, adding up to the performance that the helicopter needs, especially for rapid deployment.

It is worth noting that for the Heavy Lift Helicopter Acquisition project, we discussed the possibility of having Chinook Helicopters to the Philippine Air Force, which in itself is a known dedicated cargo/lift helicopter in western militaries like in the United States and the United Kingdom, that can be used as the measurement of specifications and comparisons to fit on this topic and the air branch's procurement program.

The Mil Mi-171 Helicopter has a main rotor diameter of 21.3 meters, whilst Chinook's dual main rotor has a diameter of 18.29 meter, powered by the Klimov TV3-117VMA turboshaft at 2,070shp (with the Mi-171Sh having the option of having the VK-2500 turboshaft engines at 2,700shp) and Lycoming T55 turboshaft engine at 4,777shp, respectively, clearly giving the Chinook its advantage in this category in terms of raw lifting power capability as showcased in its engine output.

Meanwhile, Chinook's fuselage is obviously larger than the Mil Mi-171 helicopter (given its double main rotor configuration), with the former having the carrying capacity of 33 troops (with litter capacity of 24), whilst the latter obtains a carrying capacity of 24 troops and cargo (or 33 troops + 3 crew for the Mi-171Sh), which is augmented further with the maximum sling load capacity of 11,793.40kg (26,000lbs center hook) and 3,000kg (4,000 for the Mi-171Sh), respectively.

In terms of pricing meanwhile, it is clear that Russian military technology and goods, in general, are less expensive than military technology and goods that have originated in the west, making it advantageous to the Department of National Defense, especially from the standpoint of limited budgeting allocations, given the current situation that portions of the annual funding are currently being reverted or realigned to solve the current health crisis that any nation like the Philippines are still facing.

While Chinook is clearly on the advantage in terms of cargo capacity and raw engine power against the Mil Mi-171 helicopter, it is not only the measurement that compels procurement planners in making a decision, as it includes the availability of spare parts, the proportion of the price offer to the package that the supplier provided, and political factors like the potential CAATSA issue and the risk it has to any buyer of Russian military technology.

THE ACQUISITION PROJECT
Specifically, the variant of Mi-171 that the Philippine Air Force is about to have will be
the Mi-171Sh one.
From AIN Online.

The Heavy Lift Helicopter Project, while being in the implementation and with the Philippines pursuing this deal with the Russians, the whole acquisition project in itself is not new, since this was also pushed in the original AFP Modernization Program, under R.A. 7898 (alongside other projects inserted under R.A. 10349 like the Multirole Fighter Jets, Frigates, Armored Vehicles, and others), which was not pushed through all thanks to the economic windfalls of the time, an effect after the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis.

Originally under the Horizon 3 phase of the Revised AFP Acquisition Program, it was reported that the Heavy Lift Acquisition Project frontloaded to Horizon 2, making these current deals involving the Russians possible, even though it does not go smoothly without any obstacle, especially with the United States' current implementation of CAATSA or the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.

The law, signed by then-President Donald Trump on August 2, 2017, was specifically designed to impose sanctions against North Korea, Iran, and Russia, which made things tricky for countries like the Philippines that has a strong alliance with the United States, to negotiate with the Russians for the Mi-171 helicopters without considering the real consequences this law bear.

Getting around the sanctions imposed by CAATSA is something that the Department of National Defense is working hard for the Philippine Air Force to attain this project, and with that came the delay for the implementation of the project as these institutions seek a third-party financial institution that will help provide resources for this project without getting the wrath of the United States' imposition of sanctions that will inflict harm to the current modernization efforts of the Philippine Armed Forces.

This was the case that is currently happening in Turkey when their government decided to buy Russian-made S-400 surface-to-air missiles, which also affected their defense industry like the Turkish Aerospace Industry or TAI, the company responsible for exporting T-129 "ATAK" dedicated attack helicopters to the Philippine Air Force, which is now on production phase as the United States was said to have provided certification for the export of engines to power these war machines.

The contract amount for the project is slated at Php 12,797,509,932.00, intended to procure 16 units of Mi-171Sh, a military transport variant currently in service with countries like Peru, Croatia, Czech Republic, Ghana, Bangladesh, and Burkina Faso,  with one unit reported as a VIP-configured freebie, said to be the Mi-171A2 VIP helicopter with the Department of Budget and Management said to have released two Special Allotment Release Order (or SARO, one of which is renewed) for the project.

THE MI-171SH HELICOPTER
The Mil Mi-171Sh helicopter is marketed on the Rosoboronexport website. Screenshot.

This helicopter variant is one of many Russian-made military assets that is currently marketed by Rosoboronexport, a key Russian state-owned defense export entity that is included on the list of sanctioned companies and other entities under the United States CAATSA, specified on Section 231(e) Defense and Intelligence Sectors of the Government of the Russian Federation.

This is one of the reasons why the Russians showcased their state-owned shell company "Sovtechnoexport" on the deal involving these Mi-171Sh helicopters, representing on behalf of Rosoboronexport in dealing with the Philippine government in finalizing and securing this contract under the Heavy Lift Helicopter Acquisition Project.

Like the Mi-24 and some variants of the Mi-171, the Mil Mi-171Sh helicopter is also capable of carrying armaments which apparently, was derived from the former with this platform having two stub wings with a total of 12 hardpoints for various weapons such as the Shturm-V or Ataka-V anti-tank missiles and Igla-V air-to-air missiles, pods with 57 mm and 80 mm unguided rockets, and bombs that can only be found and supplied by countries that use such platforms like Russia.

While having those armaments consider as a plus in terms of the Mi-171Sh's capability, the Philippine Air Force and the Department of National Defense stick only on having these units as heavy-lift cargo platform (although it is clearly considered as a medium-lift helicopter), given the obvious reason of having light and dedicated attack helicopters that are either in materialization or already in active service which only makes it redundant, not to mention logistical issues in obtaining those armaments.

With the government still pursuing the deal for the Mi-171 helicopters under the Heavy Lift Helicopter Project, it may only take a matter of time to see these Russian-made air asset on Philippine soil, where it bears the Philippine Air Force insignia, adding to the mix of assets that the 205th Tactical Helicopter Wing will operate that includes Bell UH-1 Huey Helicopters, Bell 412s, and the recently-added Sikorsky S-70i Blackhawks.

IN CONCLUSION
The modernized Mi-171A2 VIP Helicopter, designed for offshore oil and gas operations. Image Source.

The Heavy Lift Helicopter Acquisition Project is one of the procurement programs that the Armed Forces of the Philippines pursued since the original AFP Modernization Program, under RA 7898, which was added again to the recent iteration, under RA 10349, along with other key projects that have aimed to improve the military organization's ever-growing capabilities.

Once delivered, shall it pushed through, it will be the first time that the Philippine Air Force to operate, obtain, repair, and maintain a helicopter platform that was designed and produced from a country like Russia, a country that was and still seen as a key adversary of the United States of America, alongside the ever-growing power of the People's Republic of China that risk shifting the power balance in the Indo-Pacific region.

This development came as the current administration, at the time that this article published, came with a friendlier approach to the Russians aside from the Chinese to the extent that the former's naval ships visited the country, and for some instances, donated its Cold War-era equipment like Kalashnikov assault rifles, steel helmets, and old, Ural utility trucks, with the Mi-171 helicopter being an addition to the list of everything Russian that the Armed Forces of the Philippines currently obtain in its inventory.

With all of this development, the fact remains that CAATSA is real and is actively being implemented by the United States government as part of their foreign policy push, forcing the Russians to set up a state-owned shell company and for the Philippine government, through the Department of National Defense, to look for a third-party financial institution that is willing to take the risk just to fulfill the project.

Nevertheless, it will be interesting as to how both parties will manage to pull the project to completion, all without risking the alliance that the Philippines have with the United States, and in the process, the other military acquisition projects with US-made technologies in it, given that all of these acquisition projects are considered important for the Armed Forces of the Philippines for its minimum credible defense posture.




(c) 2021 PDA.
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Discussing the BRP Mariano Alvarez (PS-38) and the U.S. Cyclone-class Patrol Vessels

The Philippine Navy operates with its naval vessels serving through the years, with the ships coming from the Offshore Combat Force having discussed here as its large vessels define the branch's current capabilities in terms of operating sophisticated vessels obtained when the Revised AFP Modernization Program was initiated from 2013 up until to the present day.

In this topic, let us discuss a sole vessel of its own class within the Philippine Navy's Littoral Combat Force as the other vessels of its class in the United States Navy were recently retired and have the possibility to be added to their naval inventory shall it pushes through.

OVERVIEW
BRP Mariano Alvarez (PS-38), Philippine Navy, Cyclone-class patrol vessel
BRP  Mariano Alvarez (PS-38) docked at the portside. This is the single Cyclone-class vessel that the Philippine Navy currently has in active service. Obtained via DefensePH Forum Website.

Through the years, the Philippine Navy is undertaking a massive transformation to its organizational setup and capabilities as they are making improvements as they based their assessments on the DOTMLPF papers its brilliant personnel came up, with the number of procurement projects, budget proposals, construction of facilities, and recruitment of personnel is underway to sustain their growth in line to the objectives laid under the Revised AFP Modernization Program or the Republic Act. 10349.

It is at this period of growth that warships of both old and new are seen as viable options for the Philippine fleet to take, provided that they fit the mission requirements and other factors that the leadership made based on the DOTMLPF analysis they created, as it bears fruit multiple projects that the organization fully utilize presently, such as the Del Pilar-class Offshore Patrol Vessels and Jose Rizal-class Frigates that were discussed thoroughly on this website.

The ships that were just mentioned usually came in threes or in pairs, by which one can replace or augment together in protecting the country's maritime domain without disruptions, especially if one or more ships have undertaken preventive maintenance schedule or repairs and upgrades that will improve the overall capability of a warship in terms of its sensors and firepower, that is essential in safeguarding the country's territorial integrity such as the one currently taking place in the West Philippine Sea.

In this discussion, we will provide a story about a vessel within the Philippine Navy in which it is a class of its own, at least in its present sense as it actively serves the fleet in its full service as the other ships that comprise the country's naval fleet, and that may change as this single vessel may soon end up having a companion that will surely add the number of ships in its class.

Speaking of numbers, it is not surprising that the Philippine Navy is badly in need of warships, both new and used, as it went to the decommissioning spree where it put its old, Second World War-era vessels to rest without any immediate replacement for them as of this article's posting, with the hopes that the deals they currently materializing will push through eventually and start the required works of replenishing the fleet of renewed gray hulls of various age, size, and shape.

THE BRP MARIANO ALVAREZ (PS-38)
BRP Mariano Alvarez (PS-38), Philippine Navy, Del Pilar-class OPV
BRP Mariano Alvarez (PS-38) was seen moored alongside a Del Pilar-class Offshore Patrol Vessel.
(c) David's World 2011, obtained via Flickr.

Currently, the BRP Mariano Alvarez (PS-38) serves actively in the Philippine Navy's fleet as a lone class of its own, wherein it was once known as the USS Cyclone (PC-1), which was also the leading ship of its fleet during its service in the United States Navy from 1991 to 2000 until it was acquired by the Philippine Navy in 2004 which still serves its role until today.

The USS Cyclone Coastal Patrol Vessel was laid down June 22, 1991, in Lockport, Louisiana, by Bollinger Machine Yard and Shipyard, a shipbuilder known for building several vessels for the United States Coast Guard like the USCG-154 Sentinel-class Fast-response cutters and USCG-110 Island-class Patrol Boats which are mostly in active service within USCG fleet as of the date this article was published.

From its service life alone, one might say that it served more years in the Philippine Navy than it was with the United States, with its decade-long service with the fleet. Also, the BRP Mariano Alvarez is considered the oldest vessel among its class of ships, in which the Cyclone-class vessels that were decommissioned in the United States Navy are worth getting for the Philippine Navy to supplement the numbers further for its fleet to operate efficiently since they decommissioned older World War 2 era ships recently.

Before newer-built naval combat vessels like the Multipurpose Attack Crafts (MPAC) and the Jose Rizal-class Frigates, the BRP Mariano Alvarez (PS-38) was considered the newest and youngest vessel of its time, which is considered younger than the Jacinto-class Patrol Vessels that the Philippine Navy received from the United Kingdom in 1998 and the rest of the fleet which were basically old that time with most of the ships now already decommissioned from service.

Its operational achievements throughout its active service in the Philippine Navy were thoroughly reported and documented in several news outlets, such as this 2012 Sunstar article involving smuggled goods that were confiscated in Zamboanga Sibugay, where the officers and crew of BRP Mariano Alvarez successfully intercepted the questionable vessel, with its crew given the Bronze Cross Medal for the accomplishment.

Its other operational achievements involve multilateral naval exercises such as this 2018 four-day trilateral security exercises, wherein it took place in the City of Zamboanga involving neighboring countries Indonesia with its Tentara Nasional Indonesia - Angkatan Laut (TNI-AL) ship KRI Sura 802, and Malaysia with its Royal Malaysian Navy ship KD Pari, going alongside Philippines' very own BRP Mariano Alvarez PS-38.

With most of its operations described as it took place in Western Mindanao, particularly in Zamboanga City, it goes to show the performance of BRP Mariano Alvarez as a coastal patrol vessel that can deter littoral threats in the sea, especially given the situation that the seas surrounding the area, as well as in the Sulu Sea and Moro Gulf areas came with threats ranging from radical terrorists to economically-destabilizing smugglers that can give relief to larger ships into patrolling areas like the West Philippine Sea.

OTHER CYCLONE-CLASS VESSELS DECOMMISSIONED FROM THE UNITED STATES NAVY
Three Cyclone-class coastal patrol vessels patrolling in the Persian Gulf in 2015.
(c) U.S. Navy Photos, obtained from Wikimedia Commons.

Out of fourteen (14) Cyclone-class patrol vessels that were produced for the United States Navy, one is currently with the Philippine Navy as the BRP Mariano Alvarez, with the remainder being with the United States Navy (USN), with three vessels recently decommissioned from the latter, lowering the number of active ships in the USN further down to 10 units.

The three Cyclone-class patrol vessels that were recently decommissioned from the United States Navy were the USS Zephyr (PC-8), USS Shamal (PC-13), and USS Tornado (PC-14), all of which were based in Mayport, Florida, with the rest still assigned in the Persian Gulf, specifically based in Manama, Bahrain.

These three Cyclone-class patrol vessels aforementioned are considered younger than the BRP Mariano Alvarez PS-38,  as the USS Zephyr (PC-8) was commissioned to the United States Navy a year later than the then-USS Cyclone (PC-1) in 1994, with USS Shamal (PC-13) and USS Tornado (PC-14) originally entered service in 1996 and 2000, respectively. Having these ships may also mean extending their service further, with their performance and maintenance coming in parallel to the BRP Mariano Alvarez (PS-38), which is easier for the Philippine Navy to have from a logistical standpoint.

In the report provided by the Philippine News Agency (PNA), the Philippine Navy chief Vice Admiral Giovanni Carlo Bacordo, the fleet will be glad if they can acquire at least five (5) Cyclone-class coastal patrol vessels from the United States Navy. This means that three newly-decommissioned Cyclone-class vessels are not enough for the fleet to take and still lack at around 2 units more to complete the number, totaling it up to six units overall, lining it up to the rule of three principles.

The acquisition of at least five (5) Cyclone-class coastal patrol vessels from the United States Navy may still depend on the assessments of the fleet's Joint Visual Inspection (JVI) team that will determine the feasibility and condition of the decommissioned vessels to their extent of wear and tear during its service with the United States Navy before it is considered good to be acquired and to be turned over to the Philippine Navy for littoral security use.

Given the extent of operations that Cyclone-class vessels served during their active duty in the United States Navy, it will not be 100% that such vessels will be transferred to the Philippine Navy as some units may end up as sold for scrap or as a vessel on another navy that also sees interest into having these ships (even though the Philippine Navy has the great advantage due to BRP Mariano Alvarez's service in its fleet).

These newly-decommissioned vessels are something that the Philippine Navy direly needs as their fleet needs additional vessels that will add the number of active warships securing the country's long coastline, along with the territorial and Exclusive Economic Zone waters that surround the Philippine Republic.

SPECIFICATIONS
Click the image above to enlarge and see the details. Source.

The length and beam of the ship shown above are typical for a coastal patrol vessel, coming at around 51.62 meters and 7.62 meters, respectively. Its size, comparatively, is larger than the newer Parola-class Multirole Response Vessels that the Philippine Coast Guard currently obtains. 

Meanwhile, the vessels are roughly smaller than the World War 2-built Malvar-class Corvettes the Philippine Navy aims to decommission throughout the duration of the Revised AFP Modernization Program, which is from 2013 to 2028, obtaining its own length and beam of 56.2 meters and 10 meters, respectively.

Its propulsion system came with a Valenta 16CM Diesel Engine made by Paxman (which is now a subsidiary of MAN Energy Solutions-UK), with a rating of 3350 bhp @ 1500 engine rpm, and it came with 4 units per vessel, in which it can operate at the maximum speed of 35 knots. 

The maximum speed it can operate suffices enough at its size,  between the 25 knots provided by larger vessels like the Jacinto-class Patrol Vessels and Jose Rizal-class Frigates (albeit this also the cruising speed allowable for the Cyclone-class Coastal Patrol Vessels), and the approximately 40 knots provided by smaller vessels like the Multipurpose Attack Crafts currently employed by the Philippine Navy and Fast Attack Interdiction Crafts-Missile (FAIC-M), in which Israel Shipyard's Shaldag Mk. V is the primary contender in the project.

Regarding its superstructure material, meanwhile, it is interesting to know that it was built with 5086 Aluminum Alloy, long before Aluminum-built concepts came into discussions in Philippine Defense such as the Philippine Coast Guard's fully Aluminum-built BRP Gabriela Silang OPV-8301, which its current largest vessel to date, and Austal's participation to the Philippine Navy OPV project (although it will be steel-based construction with aluminum superstructure, which is their first one).

Having a capacity of carrying 39 personnel (including 30 crew) and only having 10 days of endurance, the patrol vessels are designed as intended on its function as a littoral security asset, limited near coastlines and territorial seas like the Sulu Sea area, in which with the added numbers that the Philippine Navy desires to have will relief better, capable ships that are required to do offshore security missions such as in the West Philippine Sea.

Summarizing the specifications as provided, the Cyclone-class coastal patrol vessels like the BRP Mariano Alvarez (PS-38) is just sufficient as it is designed to do, with adding similarly-capable vessels surely add the capability of the Philippine Navy in terms of dedicated coastal patrol assets, as the allocation of resources allow other vessels to be designated somewhere else, given the country's vast maritime domain that needs to be secured and covered.

KNOWING BOLLINGER SHIPYARDS
Fisheries research vessel NOAA OREGON II (R 322) in Miss Darby drydock at Bollinger Shipyard, Louisiana.
Image Source - Reddit.

This article will not be complete without understanding the shipbuilder behind the construction of the Cyclone-class coastal patrol vessels, which is a known contractor of different maritime agencies in the United States that looks in creating and maintaining small and capable ships of different agencies, from the United States Navy to the United States Coast Guard, down to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or NOAA (as seen above).

The company currently operates 14 shipyards, with 42 dry docks at its disposal, which are all essential to its operations as a repair and maintenance contractor, as well as a notable shipbuilder that produces small and medium vessels for different agencies of the United States government and eventually trickling down to the other users of different countries like the Philippines through its naval force.

Its beginnings started in 1946 when the shipyard was founded by Donald G. Bollinger in Lockford, Louisiana, the place where the Cyclone-class Coastal Patrol Vessels were built, and also where their business started by building barges and work vessels, as well as fishing vessels intended for small players at that time and also in-part thanks to the oilfield boom in their area that time.

It was not until 1971 that the company expanded its operations throughout the state of Louisiana,  by which they took a decade more until 1984 when they first won the contract with the United States Government for the construction of the 34 meter-long Island Class cutters for the United States Coast Guard, which it paved the way for more contracts from the government which included the vessels that may find its way to the Philippine Navy.

The company is still in operations today, receiving contracts from the United States government in producing newer ships for different government agencies like the United States Navy and Coast Guard, and in the repair and maintenance of ships that upkeeps the seaworthiness of vessels that helps the company keeping its profitability projections in check, and in enhancing their skills and reputation further as a known U.S. shipbuilder.

WHAT REMAINS TO BE SEEN

The Philippine Navy badly needs additional vessels that will help protect its maritime domains, particularly at the borders that came with multiple threats from local radical terrorists that endanger lives and peace situations in the south and the ever-capable regional adversary creeping in the western seaboard.

The planned acquisition of newly-decommissioned Cyclone-class Patrol Vessels from the United States Navy is just seen as one of the plans that the service branch sees in improving its capability, along with other projects that involve the purchase of submarines, corvettes, landing platform docks, and offshore patrol vessels.

This decision to go after these newly-decommissioned coastal patrol vessels is a logical one, especially with the Philippine Navy's current operating vessel, the BRP General Mariano Alvarez (PS-38), belonged to this same class of vessels that were decommissioned and is currently the sole country outside the United States that operates such type of vessel in its fleet.

The experiences that the Philippine Navy has in operating BRP General Mariano Alvarez (PS-38) served as an advantage for the country shall it pursue the acquisition of other Cyclone-class coastal patrol vessels, especially that it will relieve other better-capable vessels that it will be defending and securing other maritime areas of the country such as the Philippine (Benham) Rise and the West Philippine Sea.

All that is left is to let the time tell the outcome of this plan, especially in the idea of buying these decommissioned vessels, as the process of acquiring military assets usually come with uncertainty, with factors ranging from the country's economic performance to the government's taxation collection efforts play a role on how things will prefer to the implementation of the project.

Nevertheless, just as with other projects, this idea comes with hopes and aspirations that the Philippine Navy, along with the rest of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, will eventually modernize with its capabilities satisfied, personnel quota met, and military projects for weapons acquisition and facility building accomplished, all to obtain a minimum credible defense posture by the year 2028.




(c) 2021 PDA.
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