PH Navy expands presence with missile, blue water capability

MANILA 2018, which will end in a few days time, can be considered as a banner year for the Armed Forces of the Philippines, especially the Philippine Navy (PN), as it formally entered the missile age and demonstrated its capability to sail beyond its territorial waters during deployments to the US, South Korea and Russia.

This is aside from projected deliveries of new assets for 2019, such as the AgustaWestland AW-159 "Wildcat" helicopters and the "Pohang"-class frigate donated by South Korea to the Philippines.

The PN's formal entry to the missile age took place off Lamao Point, Limay, Bataan last Nov. 21, when three of its multi-purpose assault craft (MPACs) fired the newly-acquired and installed Rafael Advanced Defense Ltd. Spike-ER (extended range) surface-to-surface missile during a capability demonstration witnessed by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Navy flag-officer-in-command Vice Admiral Robert Empedrad.

During the exercise, the MPACs fired two Spike-ER missile rounds, which hit two surface targets. The said craft also utilized remote-controlled .50 caliber machine guns to neutralize another target.

An AgustaWestland AW-109 attack helicopter armed with 2.75-inch high-explosive rockets also provided air support to the MPACs by firing its weapons. "Impressive. Not one (missile) round was wasted," Lorenzana said in describing the Spike-ER capability demonstration, which he witnessed aboard the BRP Davao Del Sur (LD-602).

He said this is no mean feat considering that the seas were quite rough at the time. "(Modern) technology has come to the Navy and we will use this technology to protect our seas," the DND chief emphasized.

A single Spike-ER missile round costs an estimated PHP10 million, which makes accuracy for the PN a virtue.

The first test-firing of the Spike-ER missile took place last Aug. 9 in the same location.

The weapon was fired from one of the PN's three Spike-ER armed MPACs.

The MPACs were constructed by the Subic-based Propmech Corporation and activated on May 22, 2017.

The PN MPAC Acquisition Project entered into a contract with Rafael, through SIBAT of Israel Ministry of Defense, for the supply and integration of the weapons systems to three Mark III MPACs.

On April 15, 2017, Lorenzana approved the Notice to Proceed.

The Spike-ER system, which arrived in the country last April, is the PN's first missile weapon capable of penetrating 1,000-mm (39 inches) of rolled homogeneous armor and has a range of eight kilometers.

More missile-armed MPACs needed to defend PH waters

Empedrad, meanwhile, said missile-armed MPACs can be utilized to defend Philippine waters through the so-called "swarming tactic", where these craft will be committed to engage larger and more capable ships posing a threat to the country's waters.

The PN chief added that the Navy needs an additional 42 MPACs to further enhance its capabilities to defend the country's waters.

"Based on our matrix, dapat magkaroon tayo ng (we should have) 42 of these type of vessels, (the) MPACs. (We only have) nine, (with another) three coming over next year with the same missile capability. So kung sabay-sabay gumalaw yan (If these ships will operate simultaneously), when we are under siege, I think this will do harm to any threat whether internal or external," Empedrad said last Nov. 21 aboard the strategic sealift vessel BRP Davao Del Sur.

MPACs are high-speed naval craft capable of speeds in excess of 40 knots and can be utilized for a variety of naval missions like patrol and fire support missions for troops.

It can also be armed with machine guns, missiles and a variety of other weapons.

In the same briefing, Lorenzana said the Spike-ER missile system acquisition will be followed by big-ticket items like frigates and corvettes, which will also be armed with more powerful and longer-range missiles.

He also added that the Spike-ER is an indication that the PN is now being upgraded and modernized to be at par with its neighbors.

Aside from deterring intruders off Philippine waters, the PN's brand-new MPACs are also ideal for suppressing pirate threats in Sulu waters, the defense chief added.

He added that with its high-speed and modern armament, the MPAC is well suited in neutralizing pirates and other threats infesting the same waters. Empedrad supported this observation by the defense chief as the MPAC's secondary weapn, the remote-controlled .50 caliber machineguns are ideal for anti-piracy missions.

"(The) .50 caliber (machineguns) can be used for pirates. Certainly we will not use (a Spike-ER) missile to destroy (a) small banca nanaka-board na Abu Sayyaf, but we can use the .50 caliber machinegun, (it's the MPAC) secondary capability. Automated siya, (and) kahit maalon we can hit the target very accurate(ly)," he added.

And when it comes to using the expensive Spike-ER missiles, Empedrad said that they have a doctrine to use when its comes to the usage of the weapon. "For the missile, we have a doctrine (to follow) when to fire the missile because it's (worth) PHP10 million. Alangan naman iputok namin sa isang bangka ang PHP10 million na missile, so lugi tayo diyan (Of course, we won't fire on a boat a missile that is worth 10 million. It's uneconomical)," he added.

More missile weaponry in the pipeline for PH Navy

With the successful integration of the Spike-ER surface-to-surface missile in the PN's MPAC squadron, more capable and powerful missile weaponry are now in the pipeline for the Navy, according to Navy spokesperson Commander Jonathan Zata.

"(Yes). It (Spike-ER) ushered the Navy and the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) to the missile age and also prepares for the forthcoming acquisition of a more sophisticated and powerful weapons systems and capabilities," he said.

Source: Philippines News Agency

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