Austal's Guardian-class Patrol Vessel Offer to the Philippine Coast Guard

Additional white-hulled vessels are a necessity now for the Philippine Coast Guard, as the ever-increasing requirements for achieving frequent presence in areas like the West Philippine Sea require the number of vessels employed by the maritime law enforcement agency, let alone deterring any recent aggressions committed by external threats that illegally loitering the country's Exclusive Economic Zone.

With this requirement comes an offer that will help boost the numbers even by a bit, as this involves a pair of patrol vessels from a shipbuilder that the Philippine Coast Guard also eyes its three patrol vessels using its annual budget.

Philippine Coast Guard, Austal, Guardian-class Patrol Vessel, West Philippine Sea
The 40-meter vessel Guardian-class Patrol Vessel comes as one of Austal’s primary shipbuilding products.
Image Source.

China’s growing tensions and assertiveness in the West Philippine Sea, as reports blaring regarding the ever-increasing difficulty of the rotation and replenishment (RORE) mission for the troops of the Philippine Marine Corps assigned onboard the BRP Sierra Madre, comes as a growing concern for the Philippine government and its instrumentalities, as it really puts the country’s capability and resolve in this development. And the role of the Philippine Coast Guard plays a more essential role in this measure.

With the Philippine Coast Guard now having an increased responsibility to increase the country’s presence in the West Philippine Sea, along with its other roles like its usual escorting duties during the rotation and replenishment missions and survey missions, the operations presented serve as an impetus for the maritime law enforcement agency to purchase additional vessels that will add the badly needed numbers that is needed to deter the aggression and to improve the country’s resolve.

Previously, Pitz Defense Analysis discussed the planned acquisition of at least five (5) Teresa Magbanua-class Multirole Response Vessels or MRRVs from Japan, of which this has pushed through on the latter part of the year 2023 with the approval from the National Economic Development Authority or NEDA

Adding it further, the source of funds for this endeavor comes through the Official Development Assistance or ODA loans from the Japan International Cooperation Agency or JICA.

Subsequently, another proposal for additional white hulls for the Philippine Coast Guard also comes with the provisions and details provided in the 2024 General Appropriations Act, whereby a budgetary item gets highlighted for the acquisition of three (3) offshore patrol vessels from a shipbuilder like Austal, an Australian-based shipbuilding company with facilities in Balamban, Cebu. In context, this shipbuilder at one point marketed their offshore patrol vessels to the Philippine Navy, but lost eventually to HD Hyundai Heavy Industries.

Aside from the three (3) offshore patrol vessels that the Philippine Coast Guard seeks that may likely get awarded to the Cebu-based, Australian-owned shipbuilder, another piece of information coming up from the reports provided that the maritime law enforcement agency shows interest in purchasing at least two (2) units of the Guardian-class Patrol Boats, the same units that the Australian government provided to Pacific island countries as part of its Pacific Maritime Security Program.

If all the projects, plans, and programs pushed through without obstacles along the way, this means that the Philippine Coast Guard sets to have at least ten (10) units added in its growing fleet of white-hulled vessels, and the trend of increasing orders for new vessels will only go higher from here. 

Also, to take note, most of the vessels mentioned come with a minimum of 80 meters long, something that the Guardian-class is lacking in terms of size, as it only comes with half a length of its hull.

While the Guardian class patrol vessel comes smaller to the larger vessels that the Philippine Coast Guard sets to get that has the areas like the West Philippine Sea and the Philippine (Benham) Rise in mind, the acquisition for the aforementioned vessel comes as a worthy discussion, as the following details in this article will delve deep into the design development of the vessel, while providing additional info on its specifications and the Pacific Maritime Security Program whereby Australia provide these vessels as grants.

Guardian-class patrol vessels, Austal, Henderson, Western Australia, Philippine Coast Guard, Pacific Maritime Security Program
Three Guardian-class vessels moored in the Austal Shipyard’s Henderson facility in Australia.
Retrieved via Wikimedia Commons.

The design prospects into what became the Guardian-class Patrol Vessel started with the Australian government’s issuance of tender for at least twenty-one (21) 40-meter vessels under the Pacific Patrol Boat Replacement (PPBR) program, of which it aims to replace the aging Pacific-class Patrol Vessels that is long served the Royal Australian Navy. These vessels, decommissioned from the Australian naval fleet, have since transferred to other countries in the Pacific that also receive the Guardian-class.

According to the marketing webpage by Austal shipbuilding dedicated to the 40-meter Guardian-class patrol boats, the vessel’s design basis is from a proven platform that has originally developed to the Australian Customs Service, now called the Australian Border Force. 

Upon researching, the origins of the Guardian-class patrol boat’s design traces back to the Australian Customs Service’s Bay-class Patrol Boats made by the said shipbuilder, serving the organization from 1990s to 2010s until replaced by the Cape-class vessels.

Regarding the comparison to the design of the Bay-class patrol boats and the Guardian-class patrol vessels offered to the Philippine Coast Guard, the latter comes as a modernized design that has design attributes derived from the former, especially with the almost-similar sizes and structures like the bridge. 

Going further, the Cape-class patrol vessels come with a longer hull with a design reminiscent of the Bay-class patrol boats it replaces, designed accordingly to fit Australian Border Force vessel requirements.

The tender for twenty-one (21) 40-meter vessels under the Pacific Patrol Boat Replacement (PBBR) program started in March 2015 by the Australian government, in which Austal got selected as the preferred bidder of this program a year and a month later, in April 2016. The construction of the vessels under this project that will supplement patrol vessels in the recipient Pacific nation takes place in Austal’s shipbuilding facility in Henderson, Western Australia (see image above).

It took another year and three months for the first Guardian-class patrol vessel to have a milestone of keel-laying phase taking place in July 2017, of which it got launched ten months later in May 2018, with its first recipient being Papua New Guinea

The second vessel, this time intended for the Pacific islander country of Tuvalu launched in November 2018. For the Philippine Coast Guard’s case, if it pushes through, it will add the total number of Guardian-class patrol vessels ordered to at least twenty-three (23) units.

The first twenty-one (21) orders before the actual acquisition plan laid by the Philippine Coast Guard for two (2) Guardian-class patrol boats has an advantage of its own from the logistical point of view, as multiple Pacific island countries actively uses this platform to patrol their respective territorial and Exclusive Economic Zone waters as part of Australia’s initiative to have a secured region of dotted Pacific island countries. This might even give an impetus for the PCG to purchase more vessels of such type later on.

With the full scope of the historical development on its inception and eventual fruition of patrol vessel production with Pacific countries and Australia’s desire of securing its neighborhood in mind, the next portion to discuss delves into the specifications and other features of the 40-meter Guardian-class Patrol Vessel, of which the details going further into comparison with other vessels currently serving in the Philippine Coast Guard such as the 44-meter Parola-class Multirole Response Vessels or MRRVs.

Guardian-class Patrol Boat, Philippine Coast Guard, Austal Shipbuilding, Australia, Henderson Facility
Here are the features and specifications integrated in a Guardian-class Patrol Vessel.
From Austal shipbuilding's own brochure.

Discussions regarding a certain platform that is in the planning among the service branches of the Armed Forces of the Philippines or those belonging to maritime law enforcement agencies like the Philippine Coast Guard are not complete without discussing the specifications of the platform presented. At a glance, the Guardian-class Patrol Vessels come shorter than the mainstay Parola-class Multirole Response Vessels or MRRVs that the agency currently operates.

Going into the details, the size dimension of the Austal-built patrol vessel measures at 39.5 meters (rounded off to 40 meters), and an eight (8) meter beam. Its size comes with the vessel’s performance, whereby its maximum speed tops at 20 knots and can reach a maximum range of 3,000 nautical miles at the sailing speed of 12 knots. The propulsion that made the said performance possible is driven by two (2) Caterpillar 3516C engines that generate 2,000bkW at 1,600 rpm.

The vessel can accommodate at least twenty-three (23) Philippine Coast Guard crew onboard, of which this means that the maritime law enforcement agency requires at least forty-six (46) personnel overall to operate the pair of vessels once it entered active service, as the aforementioned crew requires undertaking any trainings and drills that refers to the operation and functionalities of the vessels. The small crew number is applicable primarily to small maritime agencies of the Pacific island countries.

Guardian-class Patrol Vessel’s hull space and weight reservation can accommodate a 30mm main gun or a .50-caliber machine gun mounts on the vessel’s port and starboard sides, although things may limit only to the machine gun mounts, as with the Philippine Coast Guard’s function comes less than a combatant like the Philippine Navy and more of a maritime law enforcement agency under the Department of Transportation during peacetime although it gets included to the Department of National Defense during wartime.

Like any other vessels presented, the Guardian-class Patrol Vessel also comes with a feature that fits primarily to the requirements of each maritime agency of the respective Pacific islander nations that are the recipient of these vessels. 

One of those features found onboard the vessels is the SOLAS-certified and approved fast-rescue Rigid-Hull Inflatable Boats or RHIBS, appropriate for interdiction and rescue operation objectives of the Philippine Coast Guard, shall the vessels get considered.

Completing the specifications are the communication and sensor suites found onboard the vessels, which comprise the usual necessities onboard a vessel such as VHF/DSC radios, VHF Airband Radio, UHF Military Radio, Inmarsat C, Satcom, HF and UHF Radio Direction Finders for communications, while the sensors comprise the usual navigational needs, such as the X-Band Radar, Electronic Chart System, DGPS, Gyrocompass, Autopilot, and Depth Sounder.

Based on the foregoing details, the vessel will come appropriately to the mission requirements and core mandates of the Philippine Coast Guard, while providing the badly needed numbers that the said maritime law enforcement agency needs in ensuring the country’s maritime domain awareness, aside from providing an added presence in the country’s territorial and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) waters such as the ones in the West Philippine Sea.

Philippine Coast Guard, Austal, OPV 83, 2024 Budget, PCG
The 2024 national budget includes the 83-meter offshore patrol vessel from Austal.
Image from Austal.

The Guardian-class Patrol Vessels are not the only offer that Austal has with the Philippine Coast Guard, as the agency also has another type of vessel in mind that it looks for its plan of expanding its fleet further, contemplating the existing platforms like the Gabriela Silang-class Offshore Patrol Vessels and the Teresa Magbanua-class Multirole Response Vessels. These Philippine Coast Guard vessels mentioned come at par or slightly better in terms of size, while having similar offshore patrol capabilities.

That vessel mentioned is the OPV-83 vessel design, the offshore patrol vessel that comes reminiscent to the original offshore patrol vessel offer primarily intended to the Philippine Navy’s acquisition project of that similar name, until they stopped pursuing Austal given the increased pricing of the vessels as compared to the contract, which prompt the decision-makers to settle and choose the HD Hyundai Heavy Industries’ HDP-2200+ (formerly HDP-2400) offshore patrol vessel design.

This design, originally made by Austal for the Philippine Navy’s Offshore Patrol Vessel Acquisition Project, is likely now on its way to fit into the Philippine Coast Guard’s own requirements for additional vessels as the provisions for the maritime service branch under the 2024 General Appropriations Act (GAA) specifically includes the acquisition of three (3) Coast Guard vessels, of which statements from the Senate at the end of the year 2023 provided an idea that the project will go to Austal’s shipyard in Balamban, Cebu.

Going to the details specifications of the patrol vessel design, Austal’s OPV-83 design, or Offshore Patrol 83 as described in its document linked here, it has an overall length of 83.4 meters and waterline length of 79.2 meters, while having a beam of 13.3 meters and hull depth of 6.5 meters and draft of 4 meters. Its communication and sensor suites come similar to the ones provided for the Guardian-class patrol vessels, and have accommodation for 52 personnel (berth), with space for 20 more onboard.

The armaments of the offshore patrol vessel design come reminiscent of the original offer Austal made for the Philippine Navy’s Offshore Patrol Vessel Acquisition Project, whereby it has a 76mm main gun (Oto Melara Super Rapid Gun), 25mm Remote Weapons System (RWS), and extra space intended for machine gun mounts. For the Philippine Coast Guard, the 76mm main gun might likely get removed, with the RWS and machine gun mounts remaining, plus installation of water cannons onboard.

This offshore patrol vessel design also sports a helipad for the Philippine Coast Guard helicopters such as the Airbus H145 helicopter to land and takeoff, with the capacity of catering helicopters with a maximum weight of at least ten (10) tons. 

However, the design lacks a helicopter hangar onboard, something that is available in both the current and upcoming units of Teresa Magbanua-class Multirole Response Vessels (MRRVs) and the BRP Gabriela Silang offshore patrol vessel.

Completing this, the Offshore Patrol 83 (OPV-83) vessel design from Austal comes with a performance speed of 22 knots at 85% MCR or Maximum Continuous Rating of the 2x Caterpillar C280-16 main engines that operate the vessel’s propulsion system. 

Aside from the speed, the vessel’s range can reach 3,500 nautical miles, achievable with a cruising speed of at least twelve (12) knots, or at least an extra 500 nautical miles range compared to the pair of 40-meter Guardian-class Patrol Vessels offered to the agency.

BRP Teresa Magbanua, BRP Cabra, Teresa Magbanua-class Multirole Response Vessels, Parola-class Multirole Response Vessels, MRRVs, Philippine Coast Guard, PCG, West Philippine Sea, WPS, Escoda Shoal
Here is the image of BRP Teresa Magbanua mooring in Escoda Shoal near the West Philippine Sea as captured by Chinese crew for more than a month now, much to the disappointment of the Chinese vessels in the area.

Considerations on acquiring at least a pair of Guardian-class Patrol Vessels from Austal, on top of its planned acquisition of at least three (3) Offshore Patrol 83 designed vessels from this Australian shipbuilder, helps increase the badly needed number that the Philippine Coast Guard needs in asserting its presence not only in its territorial waters but also in the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone and in areas of heated tensions such as the ones in the West Philippine Sea area.

In the image provided above, as ironically reported by Chinese authorities, it has proven that by just deploying a large Philippine Coast Guard vessel in a West Philippine Sea feature such as the Escoda Shoal already give the maritime law agency the much-needed presence that the Philippines need to have in a feature within the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone. Going further, the Philippine Coast Guard’s limited number of vessels might hamper its capability in patrolling other areas.

If all the plans push through, the Philippine Coast Guard might get at least five (5) patrol vessels from Austal, with the Australian shipbuilder benefiting on the contract for the construction of the patrol vessels, alleviating its financial concerns even further

This comes as companies are wrestling over the ownership of the shipbuilding company, with South Korea’s Hanwha Ocean, the one that offers KSS-III Submarines to the Philippine Navy, as among the assertive ones.

On the other note, the Philippine Coast Guard has another project relating to the additional five (5) Teresa Magbanua-class Multirole Response Vesselsadditional five (5) Teresa Magbanua-class Multirole Response Vessels, whereby this Japanese loan-funded project will help boost the number of the maritime law enforcement agency’s large-sized vessels. This will help the agency rotate its vessels in long-term mooring operations in areas like the West Philippine Sea, alleviating the ones like the BRP Teresa Magbanua from that type of deployment.

Since its inception, the 40-meter Guardian-class Patrol Vessels prove as an essential platform that provides added maritime security to the Pacific Islander countries, as part of Australia’s commitment in ensuring added security in the Indo-Pacific region, on top of its commitments with other countries like the Philippines regarding national security. The idea of providing this type of vessel for Philippine Coast Guard’s patrol use provides an extra mileage to this level of bilateral commitment.

As many Pacific Islander countries operate this type of patrol vessel from Austal, logistical requirements will not be much of a concern, as there are multiple sources of spare parts for this to cover up, not to mention that the Australian government has a commitment to provide additional support for the maritime security requirements of these countries that include replacing its vessels with the newer Guardian-class, something that the Philippine Coast Guard might benefit down the road.

Overall, the Philippine Coast Guard’s push for further modernizing its fleet of white-hulled vessels, including any potential patrol vessel prospects from Austal, helps increase the much needed numbers it needs in ensuring its presence in the country’s territorial waters, while maximizing its capabilities mechanism relating to maritime domain awareness that secures the country’s coastline by enforcing the country’s laws and provide support for the country’s resolve for territorial integrity like in the West Philippine Sea.

(c) 2024 PDA.


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