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ANY warship, regardless of its high-tech cutting-edge design and ultra-modern weapons arming it, is just a floating piece of metal vulnerable to being sunk by its foes without a skilled crew manning it.

In this regard, training the future Filipino submariners on the nuances of submarine operations and warfare is as important as acquiring and building the highly capable and complex vessels touted as the “game-changer and force multiplier” in modern naval conflict.

The Naval Group said it is willing to help the Philippine Navy develop Subic Bay in Zambales as a modern naval base capable of handling submarine operations.

With this in mind, French defense contractor Naval Group, should its proposal be selected by the Philippines, has expressed its willingness to facilitate the training of the Philippine Navy (PN) personnel who will be picked to man these modern diesel-electric submarines.

The company is the manufacturer of the “Scorpène” diesel-electric submarine, said to be high on the list of preferred submarine platforms of the country. It was evaluated by naval and defense officials in 2019.

Naval Group corporate sales director for the Philippines Loïc Beaurepaire, in a presentation on Thursday, July 13, said they are willing to “train the submarine squadron, to ensure that they have the know-how to plan and manage the missions.”

He added that this includes organizing the sustainment capabilities of the proposed submarine force so that it can “operate autonomously in the long run” immediately.

And since the PN is bereft of any experience in operating submarines, Beaurepaire said Naval Group is willing to start the training from scratch with the goal of producing fully trained crewmen capable of operating the Scorpène.

Once this is achieved, Beaurepaire said these personnel could become “trainers for future crews.”

He also proposed that “two crews and a reserve team” be trained for four years in France using “French standards, both ashore, on simulators, and on-board submarines.”

The exact number of the crew was not defined but Naval Group’s Scorpène diesel-electric submarines are known to have a complement of 31 officers and enlisted naval personnel.

PHL training center

IN support of the proposed training in France, Beaurepaire said that a “Philippine Submarine Force Training Center” would be set up in the country, “to be installed in the Philippines for further training of the first crews and to train the new ones.”

Beaurepaire said the proposed training center will be equipped with “essential tools, including training simulators.”

“Training will be conducted by the Filipino instructors trained in France, supported by Naval Group,” he added.

And with more than 400 years of expertise, Naval Group—with the help of the French government—declares itself very capable of delivering the extensive support required to create and train a submarine force from scratch.

Also, the company is a partner to more than 50 navies around the world, bringing its “breadth of experience and unrivalled technical expertise in ships and submarines with combat systems and all critical equipment and services.”

The Scorpène being marketed to the PN is a 2,000-gross-ton diesel-electric submarine designed by Naval Group for all types of missions, such as anti-surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare, long-range strikes, special operations or intelligence gathering.

It is capable of speeds up to 20 knots and is stealthy. It also has a level of operating automation that allows a limited number of crew, which reduces its operating costs significantly.

It is armed with six tubes capable of firing torpedoes and missiles and can carry 18 weapons on board.

It also has range of 6,500 nautical miles, equivalent to 12,000 kilometers.

The Scorpène units can also be easily adapted to specific requirements of customers.

And, the continuous improvement of the Scorpène ensures the seamless integration of the latest technology onboard.

Sub ops in Subic

THE Naval Group said it is willing to help the PN develop Subic Bay in Zambales as a modern naval base capable of handling submarine operations.

“Naval Group will support the PN in designing and retooling the location in Agila Subic to make it a modern naval base. Naval Group will also support the PN in the implementation of its national support system to ensure the country’s full autonomy of use and throughout the maintenance and life cycle of the submarine force,” Beaurepaire said.

The PN earlier announced that Subic Bay will be the location of its submarine base.

This includes proposals for docks capable of handling more than two submarines and surface ships needed to support the growth of the force, operation zones for the squadron’s command center, maintenance yards and logistics depots, and the Philippine Submarine Force Training Center that includes classrooms and simulators.

The company will also support the “training of maintenance specialists” along with the development of partnerships with “local industry to transfer our know-how and technology for maintenance operations.” Naval Group, he added, will also work for the “qualification of a local supply chain.”

Part of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Modernization Program is a plan to acquire two to three submarines.

Defense experts earlier said that having submarines in its inventory would allow the AFP to achieve a credible defense posture aside from enhancing the PN’s maritime defense capabilities.

Acquiring submarines is part of the desired force mix of the PN, which consists of frigates, corvettes, offshore patrol vessels, landing docks, fast-attack interdiction craft-missiles or FAIC-Ms, along with multipurpose attack craft (MPACs) and amphibious assault vehicles.

Under this plan, the PN plans to acquire six anti-air frigates, 12 anti-submarine corvettes, and three submarines along with other naval assets.

This force-mix will enable the AFP to achieve a “credible defense posture.”

The acquisition and development of submarine warfare capability is also seen to better equip the Navy to fulfill its primary mandate on territorial defense, security, and stability.

Submarines will enhance the country’s maritime defense capability, allowing the military to effectively carry out anti-access/area denial, maritime surveillance, maritime interdiction, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

“The submarine is the most effective ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] platform and the best killing machine in the Navy inventory,” defense experts stressed.

A submarine capability will provide deterrence against aggressors, credibility to the PN, international consideration of the Philippines, and recognition of the AFP from other armed forces.

“Submarines are undetectable and could be anywhere patrolling around the WPS [West Philippine Sea] to act firmly if necessary. Having an operational submarine at sea will be a game-changer for the PN. Contenders will have to take into consideration the probability of facing a submarine at any time, anywhere, without any warning, hence will affect their entire assessment of the tactical situation and their behavior,” they added.

Once acquired, these submarines will be equipped with a large number of weapons.

A submarine “can infiltrate an enemy task force to hunt aircraft carriers and landing docks, and provide decisive superiority with a single lethal hit,” defense experts pointed out.

These same defense experts also opined that the Philippines could have awarded the winning bidders to the PN submarine acquisition program in 2021 if the Covid-19 pandemic did not break out in March 2020.

The timeline for the submarine contract signing would have been in the second quarter of 2021.

However, the pandemic forced the government to devote much of the funding to the Covid-19 pandemic response, forcing a postponement of the program.

The budget for the PN’s submarine acquisition program is estimated at P70 billion to P100 billion.

This includes two submarines and its integrated logistics support package, along with the initial basing requirements.

Still on the shopping list

EARLIER, President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. announced that the plan to acquire submarines for the PN “is not off the table” during the service’s 126th anniversary on May 26.

“There is a plan. But it’s still being developed, dahil ang commitment para mag-operate ng submarine is not a small commitment. It is a very large commitment because of the training that is involved, the equipment that is involved and the operational requirements that are involved are quite significant,” the Chief Executive added.

Marcos stressed that acquiring submarines for the PN is still part of the plan but at the moment, the military is still focusing on its anti-submarine warfare capabilities.

“So, it is still part of our plan. But right now, we are in the middle of developing mostly our anti-submarine capabilities. So, ’yun ang uunahin natin [we will do that first] and then hopefully when the time comes and the conditions are agreeable then we might be able to acquire those submarines,” the President stressed

Marcos said that some countries with submarine offers also come with proposals to build the submersibles here in the Philippines.

Some of the countries that have earlier expressed interest to participate in the PN submarine acquisition program are France, South Korea, India and Turkey.

He added that such a proposal is important as this would boost the country’s defensive capabilities and create additional job opportunities.

“If they are built here and we can actually build submarines here and provide those submarines to other countries then that’s another source of jobs, and of income and increased capability for our Navy,” the President said.

Earlier, the Department of National Defense (DND) said that acquiring submarines for the PN is not a priority at the moment as it is focusing on the implementation of modernization contracts signed by the previous administration.

These include the contracts for the two missile corvettes to be acquired from South Korea, the Brahmos missile system from India, 32 more S-70i “Black Hawk” combat utility helicopters from Poland, and another six offshore patrol vessels also from South Korea.

The funding for these contracts is already assured by the government.

“Although submarines are on our wish list for Horizon 3, the department is prioritizing the implementation of contracts signed during the previous administration, cognizant of the limitations in the resources available to the government,” the DND added.

The DND also stressed that it is recalibrating its proposed projects under the AFP Modernization Program, which is divided into three Horizons.

Horizon 3 is slated from 2023 to 2028, while Horizon 1 started in 2013 to 2018, while Horizon 2 is from 2018 to 2022.

Image credits: Naval Group