Preliminary contract for new PH Navy warships signed in South Korea

JC Gotinga

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Preliminary contract for new PH Navy warships signed in South Korea
The Navy chief says they're figuring out where to get the P28 billion to buy a pair of brand new corvettes, which will be the Philippines' most powerful warships – if the plan pushes through

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Navy’s plan to acquire two brand new corvettes is a step closer to fulfillment with the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Department of National Defense (DND) and the South Korea-based shipbuilder Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI), said Navy Flag Officer-in-Command, Vice Admiral Robert Empedrad.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and HHI President Ka Sam-Hyun signed the MOU at the company’s shipyard in Ulsan, South Korea, on the sidelines of the sea launch of the navy’s second brand new missile-capable frigate, the BRP Antonio Luna, on Friday, November 8.

Empedrad, who was part of the Philippine contingent that witnessed the ship launch, spoke about the possible corvette deal to reporters on the sidelines of a ceremony marking the 69th “Birthday” of the Philippine Marine Corps at Marine Barracks Rudiardo Brown in Taguig City, on Monday night, November 11.

“It’s basically an understanding on how to implement the project once the budget is available for the corvettes,” Empedrad said, admitting the deal is tentative pending a final agreement, which he said Lorenzana is pushing to be drafted and signed by the end of 2019.

The two corvettes, a type of small yet powerful warship, would cost a total of P28 billion, and the DND has yet to secure a commitment from the Department of Budget and Management for the amount. Lorenzana earlier said the acquisition could be financed through a government-to-government loan agreement with South Korea, which Empedrad said was still an option.

The Navy chief said they would prioritize acquiring the two corvettes “even if we sacrifice some of the [other] modernization projects because this is a very important project of the Philippine Navy.” (READ: LIST: The Philippine Navy’s upcoming vessels)

The Philippines received a second-hand Pohang-class corvette from the Republic of Korea Navy last August. The vessel has since been renamed BRP Conrado Yap, and is currently the most powerful warship in the Philippine Fleet.

Empedrad said he asked Lorenzana to ask South Korea to donate another Pohang-class corvette that their navy is retiring this year.

Meanwhile, the two frigates HHI is building for the Philippine Navy are expected to be delivered 6 months earlier than scheduled. The BRP Jose Rizal, initially expected in September or October 2020, will be delivered by April or May, Empedrad said. The BRP Antonio Luna, which wasn’t expected until early 2021, will be delivered by September or October 2020.

The two frigates will be capable in the 4 dimensions of modern warfare: anti-air, anti-surface, anti-submarine, and electronic warfare. They will be fully equipped with surface-to-surface missiles, surface-to-air missiles, and torpedoes.

The planned brand new corvettes – not the Pohang-class ones – would be even more powerful than the frigates, which is why the Navy is pushing for their acquisition. The Navy is also planning to get 6 Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPV) and 8 Shaldag Fast Attack and Interdiction Craft with Missiles (FAIC-M) to build a credible maritime defense capability.

Kung mayroon tayong (If we had) 6 OPVs that can patrol Philippine Rise and the West Philippine Sea, and then we have 8 Shaldag from Israel, and we have 2 corvettes, 2 frigates, kayang-kaya na nating i-secure ‘yung maritime [territory] natin (we’d already be quite capable of securing our maritime territory),” Empedrad said.

The Navy plans to acquire 6 OPVs from the Australia-based shipbuilder Austal, for which Lorenzana said he would seek Australia’s exemption from President Rodrigo Duterte’s ban on foreign deals. Half of that number may be built at Austal’s unit in Cebu City.

As for the FAIC-Ms, Empedrad said the P10 billion budget for the project is forthcoming because it is one of Duterte’s priority projects. The deal needs to be signed by the end of the year if the vessels are to be delivered before May 2022, when Duterte’s term ends.

If the project pushes through, 4 of the FAIC-Ms will be built at the Navy’s shipyard at Sangley Point in Cavite City. Empedrad said the Philippines would benefit greatly from the “transfer of technology” when the planned vessels are built locally.

The Philippine archipelago faces security threats from the sea. Chinese coast guards, warships, and research vessels have been plying its waters largely unchallenged. Foreign extremists have been entering the country’s loosely guarded southern islands through the Sulu Sea. The priority deployments for the Navy’s new vessels will include the West Philippine Sea, which China spuriously claims as its territory, and the waters around southwestern Mindanao, to guard against bandits and terrorists. –

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JC Gotinga

JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.