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Detailing the SPYDER Air Defense System of the Philippine Air Force

The discussion of having a decent ground-based air defense system or GBADS like Israel's Rafael SPYDER GBADS has made here in Pitz Defense Analysis, although the in-depth understanding of the technicalities of the system and its variants has not yet discussed in-detail.

This article will cover those details, giving a deeper perspective and information regarding the Philippine Air Force's most capable and modern air defense system it currently has in possession.

SPYDER-MR, Ground-Based Air Defense System, Philippine Air Force
The Philippine Air Force's SPYDER Ground-Based Air System from RAFAEL Systems Ltd., installed onboard Czech-made Tatra truck platforms.
Image Source @AlfredoGenom

Last November 2022, the Philippine Air Force inducted the first delivery of a single-battery SPYDER Ground-Based Air Defense System from Rafael Systems Ltd in Israel, of which this also includes a single C-295 medium-lift aircraft from Spain's Airbus subsidiary EADS-CASA, marking the country's introduction into bolstering its air defense systems ecosystem as planned on securing its Philippine Air Defense Identification Zone or PADIZ.

For the Philippine Air Force, purchasing these Ground-Based Air Defense Systems is a sign of the air branch's desire not only to defend the country's critical defense installations, facilities, and other essential military hardware, but also an integral part of defending the country's "national center of gravity", of which they mean critical government infrastructure, as well as other essential strategic areas of key facilities such as key business districts, airports, electric power plants, water reservoirs, and others.

The Ground-Based Air Defense System Acquisition Project, under the Horizon 2 of the Revised AFP Modernization Program or the Republic Act 10349, is one of the few key big-ticket projects pushed throughout 2018 and 2022, of which the Allotted Budget for the Contract for this project or the ABC amounts to PHP6,846,750,000, with the package including an integrated logistics support, a simulator for personnel to immerse on how to operate the system, a missile repair facility, and air defense systems missile training for personnel that are about to use these systems.

Signed on September 2019, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd., produced the SPYDER Ground-Based Air Defense System for the Philippine Air Force, which they took three years until the first ones were finally getting commissioned into active duty, officially a part of the organization's ever-growing array of military hardware ranging from aircraft like the C-295 Medium Lift Aircraft and S-70i Blackhawk Helicopters to projects that are on finalization like the additional C-130s and the Multirole Fighter Jet Acquisition Projects.

In this article, we are to discuss further in-detail about the variant of the SPYDER Ground-Based Air Defense System that the Philippine Air Force received; the different variants of the SPYDER Ground-Based Air Defense System that Rafael advertises to the general defense market; and the logistical truck chassis used for the air defense equipment fittings; all of which were not discussed in the previous article we've made for the SPYDER GBADS, itself tackling the Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd., and the dynamics of the Philippine Air Defense Identification Zone or PADIZ.

RAFAEL Systems Ltd Offer Philippine Air Force SPYDER System
Image: A SPYDER-MR GBADS, fitted onboard a Mercedes ACTROS 4141 Truck chassis.
Image Source.

The variant of the SPYDER Ground Air Defense System that the Philippine Air Force recently entered active duty is the SPYDER-MR or the Medium Range variant, among all variants that RAFAEL Systems Ltd., advertises to the broad and general defense market, just like the one seen on the image above when they showcased it on the 2018 Black Sea Defense and Aerospace Exhibition or BSDA 2018 that took place in Bucharest, Romania.

The range of a SPYDER-MR system, based on illustrations made by Rafael Systems on their presentation (screen grabbed) is at 2 kilometers to 60 kilometers maximum, although a different metric has presented on another reputable website, in which the MR variant apparently has the maximum range of 50 kilometers, with an altitude of fire off around 16 kilometers, or in a borderline between the Earth's atmospheric layers of troposphere and stratosphere.

Introduced in 2006, the SPYDER-MR Ground-Based Air Defense System carries at the maximum of at least eight (8) missiles, which can either be the Python-5 or the Derby Beyond-Visual Range (BVR) air-to-air missiles, of which the former counts as the most formidable and reliable air-to-air missile in Israel's inventory and has the weight of 105kg and a warhead weight of 11kg, whilst the latter comes with HE-FRAG warhead type, a wingspan of 64cm, weight of 118kg, and can reach a maximum speed of MACH 4.

While both Python and Derby air-to-air missiles are common munitions that are available on all variants of the SPYDER Air Defense System made by Rafael Systems Ltd., what makes SPYDER MR variant more potent regarding its range is the use of truck-mounted high performance surveillance radar, a support sensor system that expands the detection range of each battery, covering larger areas of responsibility especially the portions of the Philippine Air Defense Identification Zone.

Talking about a single variant of the SPYDER Ground-Based Air Defense System is one thing, while discussing the variants other than the Philippine Air Force's SPYDER-MR or Medium Range system is entirely different, whereby we can get the comparisons between many of the SPYDER Air Defense System variants, giving further details as to the capabilities of the one that the air service branch got to-date.

SPYDER-MR Philippine Air Force
Different SPYDER Launching Units for Short Range (SR), Expanded Range (ER), Medium Range (MR), and Long Range (LR).
@ Rafael Advanced Defense Systems.

Coming from Rafael Systems Ltd., the SPYDER Ground-Based Air Defense Systems came with at least four variants, each with its own configuration, like with the different launching units seen in an image above. These are the SPYDER-SR (Short Range), SPYDER-ER (Expanded Range), SPYDER-MR (Medium Range) like what the Philippine Air Force recently received, and the SPYDER-LR (Long Range).

Regarding each variant's specifications, aside from the MR or the Medium Range variant that the Philippine Air Force currently gets in its inventory, the SPYDER-SR or Short Range variant comes with a maximum range of 20+ kilometers, with an altitude of fire comes at around 9 kilometers, covering a short air cover for a small military facility or other critical government infrastructure.

As for the Expanded Range or SPYDER-ER variant, it comes with an increased range at the maximum of 38-39 kilometers, while having an altitude of fire of around 12 kilometers, at least 4 kilometers higher than the SR variant that came before it, sufficiently covering a small to a medium-sized city with a significant number of population against aerial threats, along with strategic areas in the covered zone.

While we already discussed the features of the SPYDER-MR or Medium Range variant, as this is the one that the Philippine Air Force currently has in its wide array of military hardware gained to-date, let us proceed right away to the most capable variant among the SPYDER family of air defense system, which is the Long Range or the SPYDER-LR variant, whereby it came with the maximum range of around 75-77 kilometers and an altitude of fire of 19 kilometers, well beyond the atmospheric troposphere layer and just well within the stratosphere.

Aside from the differing range and altitude coverage capability between the four variants of the SPYDER Ground-Based Air Defense System, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd., also pointed out the differing missile configuration that each of the variants used as munitions, although all variants used the same Python 5 and I-Derby missile munitions in their systems.

For the SPYDER-SR and SPYDER-ER variants, it uses the normal configuration of the Python 5 that came with a dual-band Imaging Infra-Red (IIR) and CCD Seeker; the 'I-Derby missile' fitted with an active radar seeker, and the 'I-Derby ER missile' or the Expanded Range variant of the known Beyond Visual Range missile, fitted with a 2-pulse rocket motor that for this longer range version of this missile.

Just like the first two variants, the SPYDER-MR and SPYDER-LR variants comes with a similar missile munition being the Python 5 and the 'I-Derby Missiles', although these air-to-air missiles now come with an additional booster assembly that significantly increases its overall range, making it possible for the latter two variants to achieve the widest air defense coverage as marketed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd.

Finalizing this up, all SPYDER variants came with a truck-mounted Command and Control Unit, with a radar sensor unit mounted onboard for the SPYDER-SR and SPYDER-MR versions, whereas the SPYDER-MR and SPYDER-LR versions came with its own dedicated truck-mounted radar unit, as well as it also came with support vehicles as part of the package and each unit in a battery can is transportable by a cargo aircraft like the Philippine Air Force's C-130.

SPYDER Air Defense System Czech Tatra Truck Philippine Air Force
Czechia's Tatra T815-7  High Mobility Utility Truck.
(c) Adam Hauner, Wikimedia Commons.

Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd., has the discretion in getting which truck chassis they will install their SPYDER Ground-Based Air Defense Systems, which varies to the different versions that the end-user militaries are seeking and also the provided budget to the contract in which it becomes a primary metric for the country's air defense requirements, whereby, in the Philippine Air Force's case, came as the Czech-made Tatra T815-7 utility truck.

Specifically, the one that the Philippine Air Force has got is the Tatra T815-7MOR89 8x8 high mobility heavy duty tactical truck, itself being a different variant that the one seen in the image above; itself being a 6x6 axle configuration that are lenient on carrying troops and light military equipment rather than entire sophisticated hardware installed onboard, which is something that the Tatra T815-7MOR89 8X8 axle tactical truck can do in carrying SPYDER Ground Based Air Defense components onboard.

As per product catalogue seen on Tatra's website itself, the T815-7 heavy logistics vehicle is commonly in production for customers outside Europe, albeit that its design came with NATO aircraft transportability in mind which makes sense given that the Philippine military comes with such aircraft like the C-130 Hercules, especially that the Philippine Air Force has the interest through the years in adding the more-capable C-130J-30 Super Hercules into its fleet of cargo aircraft.

The T815-7 trucks came with differing engine configuration, either it may be a Deutz engine, a Caterpillar liquid-cool engine, or a Cummins diesel engine, while having its own axle configuration coming into four variants - the 6x6, 8x8, 10x10, and 12x12 axles, with the latter two have steerable wheels on the two final axles as a design feature for easier steering in intersections.

The truck not only has military applications but also can go applicable to civilian ones as well, with several fire departments around the world use a Tatra T815-7 chassis on their firetrucks, designed to carry heavy equipment that put huge fires out, as well as it used as a heavy equipment itself, with one configured into a crane that can get deployed into areas such as a construction site.

Philippine Air Force Air Defense Battery SPYDER GBADS
A single battery of SPYDER-MR GBADS showcased on a display during the induction ceremony.
(c) Philippine Army, via Overt Defense.

The induction of the first batch of delivered SPYDER-MR Ground-Based Air Defense System for the Philippine Air Force makes it one of multiple countries that officially get this system from an Israeli defense firm Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd., with other countries in Southeast Asia being Vietnam with its SPYDER-SR and SPYDER-MR variants, and Singapore using the SPYDER-SR system.

Aside from getting alongside the aforementioned countries in Southeast Asia that already possessed the system, the Philippine Air Force, for the first time, finally get its first decent and fully sophisticated Ground-Based Air Defense System that is one of primary essential platform that define the country's initiative in putting more security for the entire Philippine Air Defense Identification Zone or PADIZ.

Rafael's SPYDER Ground-Based Air Defense System has shown recent interest, this time coming from European countries, whereby these nations in Europe, specifically Belgium, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, and Romania, are in active negotiation with Rafael Systems, although fruitful results from these deals are yet to be seen, although the interest is there all thanks to the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, with these countries now making sure that their airspace are further secured from any aerial threats.

Just like the ongoing conflict going on in Eastern Europe, we may hope that the Philippine Air Force may consider adding more batteries of the Ground-Based Air Defense System in its arsenal of military hardware, especially given the country's proximity to both China and Taiwan, of which this is a potential powder keg of war in the upcoming years as the former seeks to reunite the latter by all means necessary, even an upright invasion, to bring the latter to the former's helm under the mainland's communist red banner.

At the end, it's not about waging for conflict or amassing military hardware to wage a war, but to get and operate a capable system of interconnected defense components and units, of which include multiple batteries of a capable air defense system that covers the country's entire airspace, augmenting along capable units of the air force like its Multirole Fighters and multiple array of radar stations that monitor the situation 24/7, making sure that the country is fully securing itself from the threats originating from the sky.

(c) 2023 PDA.

JGSDF UH-1J Helicopters for the Philippine Army?

The Philippine Army is actively improving its capabilities, especially regarding its own varying divisions that may come with new military hardware, in which these augments the existing military tools that are available in their arsenal prior to these shopping sprees courtesy of the Revised Armed Forces of the Philippines Modernization Program or RAFPMP under the Republic Act 10349.

A fellow East Asia country expressed its interest to donate its military hardware to the Philippine Army, whereby the capabilities it has can augment the ones that are currently available to the Philippine Air Force, particularly as these involve logistical platforms that are both beneficial in wartime and peacetime operations.

Philippine Army, UH-1J Helicopter, Japan, JGSDF
Fuji UH-1J Combat Utility Helicopters, as used by the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force or JGSDF.
(c) Toshi Aoki - JP Spotters, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Japanese government has expressed interest to donate their UH-1J Huey Helicopters to the Philippine Army for the improvement of its Army (Hiraya) Aviation Regiment, the Philippine Army reported before the media last December 19, 2022, whereby they reiterated the commitments made by the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force during the Japan-Philippine-US Trilateral Key Leaders’ Engagement at Camp Asaka in Tokyo, Japan earlier that month.

The UH-1Js are the licensed copy variants of the known Bell UH-1 Huey Combat Utility Helicopters that the Philippine Air Force currently has in its inventory, known for being the primary workhorse of the air branch of the Armed Forces of the Philippines before they eventually opt for the more capable Sikorsky S-70i Blackhawk Helicopters made by their Polish subsidiary PZL Mielec, of which it possess added cargo capacity and higher engine power output than the Bell UH-1 Huey.

Getting UH-1Js from the Japanese Ground Self Defense Force through donation makes it viable for the Philippine Army's Aviation (Hiraya) regiment in having the old UH-1 Huey Combat Utility Helicopters of the Philippine Air Force transferred, although it comes at the discretion of the latter as the military air branch of the Philippine Armed Forces still uses the Bell Hueys for their operational use, augmenting alongside the S-70i Blackhawk Helicopters while the additional orders of 32 units are still in production.

The Philippine Army sees this as an opportunity not only to improve its air aviation capabilities but also to improve the relations between the Philippines and Japan, as they see these combat utility helicopter donation as a way for them to deploy their assets in the times of natural calamities that are both common in Japan and the Philippines as typhoons and earthquakes are a usual sight for both nations, with the donation projected to get delivered in the country in two to three years time.

As this donation may significantly provide additional boost to the Philippine Army Aviation Regiment's overall capabilities regarding its logistical chains of carrying troops and equipment both in wartime and in peacetime developments, we may provide the details regarding the license-built helicopters that Japan wishes to donate to the Philippine Army, while understanding its difference over the variant that the Philippine Air Force get in its inventory.

Philippine Army, UH-X, Bell 412 Helicopter, Japan JGSDF
Japan Ground Self Defense Force Subaru-licensed built Bell 412 Combat Utility Helicopter, a replacement for the UH-1J Helicopters that they once have in inventory.
Source: Helihub.

The UH-1J of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force, or JGSDF, is a licensed copy of the original Bell UH-1 Huey Combat Utility Helicopters from the United States, built locally by Fuji Heavy Industries or what is now called the Subaru Corporation, also the one who currently produces the licensed-built Bell 412 Combat Utility Helicopter for the JGSDF as they replace the older UH-1J, now open for a donation to a country like the Philippines.

These helicopters made by Fuji Heavy Industries came with an upgraded Kawasaki T53-K-703 (1,800shp) engine, main rotor and transmission used by Bell 212, IR exhaust suppressor, and AH-1S tail rotor, whereby the first production of these helicopters indigenously made in Japan started in 1962, with the development of UH-1J Hueys coming as a derivative of the UH-1H Huey they first produced.

Deliveries for the UH-1J Huey started in 1993, with 78 units delivered in 1998, making it younger than the multiple derivatives of the UH-1 Combat Utility Helicopters currently in service, such as the UH-1D variants that are getting replaced by newer S-70i Blackhawk Helicopters, and the UH-1H variants that came from the United States starting from the Vietnam War era production copies.

Apparently, the UH-1H Combat Utility Helicopters of the Philippine Air Force are currently in limited operational use, only being used as force multiplier on Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Response or HADR operations, especially when the helicopters went grounded after a fatal crash involving such platforms that took the lives of six Philippine Air Force personnel in 2021.

Being newer than the UH-1 Huey Combat Utility Helicopters of the Philippine Air Force, it is not surprising why the Japanese offer of donation to the Philippine Army seems appealing to consider, as obtaining them really gives a significant boost to the Army Aviation (Hiraya) Regiment, along with their willingness for getting less reliant, if not a logistical augmentation with their Air Force counterparts.

Philippine Army Subaru Corporation Fuji Heavy Industries
Fuji Heavy Industries, now Subaru Corporation, produces a line of products, from helicopters to cars.
Image Source.

It is recent knowledge that the Fuji Heavy Industries in 2017, marking its 100-year anniversary as a company, has renamed itself as the Subaru Corporation, itself originally founded in 1917 as an aircraft engine maker that has successfully expanded its line of production to other areas such as building licensed aircraft like the UH-1J Huey Iroquois and the AH-64 Apache Attack Helicopters for the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (see image above), as well as the line of cars that rank the company alongside other Japanese carmakers such as Honda, Toyota, and Suzuki.

Subaru Corporation's 100-year existence as an enterprise is a testament of its business experience and reliability to produce machinery and workhorses that ranges from the automobile industry to aerospace research and license-based production, enabling to showcase Japanese engineering for both local and abroad, benefiting the personnel within the Japan Self Defense Force and the end users of the automobiles sold by Subaru Corporation, whereby they made 436,000 units from their plant in Indiana, United States in 2016.

Digging deep through the company's history, it came from its roots when Nakajima Aircraft Co., has founded in 1917, which it existed until it has broken up by the Allied Powers at the end of the Second World War, at the time that Imperial Japan were beat badly by the victorious powers after their colonial adventurism and aggressive expansionism of power in the East Asia, with the spinoff company that is now Fuji Heavy Industries founded in Tokyo in 1953, thirty-six (36) years since Nakajima Aircraft Co., has founded and eight (8) years since the conclusion of the Second World War.

Speaking of Nakajima Aircraft Co., their company played a role in pushing the Japanese military industrial complex in producing aircraft from its inception up to the Second World War, whereby they produce a lot of Japanese-designed fighter planes and bomber fleets for the Imperial Japanese Navy for their primary aircraft carrier fleets, and the Imperial Japanese Army Air Service which was the country's Air Force during those times until the country's defeat after the war.

From hardships to good times, the company that became what is today Subaru Corporation has a lot of experience in producing not only aviation products both for civilian and military use but also regarding their production of automobiles that helped push forward the Japanese engineering that came alongside fellow car manufacturers, as well as being one of the key contributor to the development of the Japanese economy and self-reliance, as they provide several key military hardware to the current Japan Self-Defense Force.

Philippine Army, UH-1J Helicopter, Japan Ground Self Defense Force
Japan's improved and indigenously made UH-1J Combat Utility Helicopter.
Image Source.

Japan's locally made and improved variant of the Bell UH-1 Combat Utility Helicopter belonged to a family of its own type, of which includes its successor, the locally made Bell 412 Helicopter of which similar types are currently in-use by the Philippine Air Force with their Canadian-made variants, along with the older UH-1H Helicopters that this air branch of the Armed Forces of the Philippines currently uses in their fleet.

The original design for the UH-1 Iroquois Huey Helicopter came as a Bell 204 Utility Helicopter, whereby it made its first flight in 1956, of which it eventually entered service within the United States Army in 1959 in its current designation we know today, with several units sent to Vietnam a year prior, as it served as a transport platform for American advisors particularly for dustoff medical evacuation missions.

This helicopter is the primary workhorse of the United States Army in the Vietnam War, which comes at no surprise given its performance not only for medical evacuation or medevac missions but also in delivery of primary troops and equipment to the frontline, with the Philippines getting its own helicopters in the 1970s and is in the current process (at the time this article's publishing) of replacing them into the more modern and capable Combat Utility Helicopters coming from Sikorsky's Polish subsidiary.

As for the UH-1J Huey Iroquois Helicopters made by Fuji Heavy Industries, there were at least 78 units delivered from 1993 to 1998 (at the duration of five years), and these helicopters fully served in the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force or JGSDF in over two decades, until they went into decommissioning and now open for donation to countries like the Philippines for consideration.

With the offer that the Japanese government has regarding these Combat Utility Helicopters for the Philippine Army's Aviation "Hiraya" Regiment, it might be a delightful idea to expand this further into the prospects of the service branch's logistical chain, with an idealistic prospect for the Philippine Air Force to be at least focusing more on fixed-wing logistical aircraft like adding C-130s or combat aircraft like Multirole Fighters, while letting the Army doing its job regarding helicopter-related operations.

This is, of course, at the discretion of the leadership, intending to aim to minimize the redundancy of several duties and roles between service branches of the Philippine Armed Forces.

Philippine Army Aviation Regiment, UH-1J Helicopter, JGSDF
One of Japanese Ground Self Defense Force's UH-1J Combat Utility Helicopters.
Image Source.

Japan's pledge for the Philippine Army to donate ex-JGSDF UH-1J Huey Iroquois Combat Utility Helicopters is a sign of an ever-improving defense-related relationship dynamics between Japan and the Philippines, as the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force is about to replace them with newer and more capable Bell 412 Combat Utility Helicopters, also made by Subaru Corporation, formerly known as the Fuji Heavy Industries.

While the Philippine Air Force gets its own fleet of Combat Utility Helicopters like the newest S-70i Blackhawk Combat Utility Helicopters and Bell 412 helicopters that were purchased through Bell Textron Canada, the Philippine Army sees this as an improvement for its Army Aviation Regiment that helps it logistically deploy its own troops and equipment without relying too much to their Air Force counterparts.

The pledge made by Japan is just one of multiple steps that have has done in improving bilateral defense and security cooperation between both nations, especially that both the Philippines and Japan see a common adversary in China's current hegemony in the region, especially that this regional superpower has the desire of getting its power projected well beyond the first island chain, which both the Philippines and Japan are both on along with Taiwan, which mainland Communist China sees it as a renegade province that needs to be reunified.

This development may get followed up later on, with the prospects of increased cooperation not only between Japan and the Philippines but also with the United States may get intertwined together, in an essence that there may be more military hardware offered or provided by the Japanese in any type, shape of form, purchased or donated, all of which are a significant contributor to the military's increasing capabilities, aside from the plans and programs under the Revised AFP Modernization Program or R.A. 10349.

Now that these things come into play, from the military hardware to the improvement of bilateral relations between countries in East Asia, we may get into a wait-and-see scenario, whereby we may determine the outcome of the development surrounding the certainty whether the materialization of the transfer process of the ownership of the UH-1J Combat Utility Helicopters from the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force to the Philippine Army push through, and the hopes that this proposal gets into fruition, all for the benefit of the Army Aviation "Hiraya" Regiment's ever-growing capabilities.

(c) 2023 PDA.




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