‘No rest for the weary’


THERE could be no slackening off for the Philippine Navy (PN) in its business of protecting the country’s vast maritime domains against foreign encroachments or intrusions.

This, as one of its most capable surface units, the missile and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) frigate, BRP Jose Rizal (FF-150), started to undergo its first dry-docking and other related repairs at the Ulsan shipyard of Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) in mid-June.

“BRP Jose Rizal will undergo maintenance, repair and overhauling services to be rendered by HHI. The said services include repair or replacement of worn-out machinery parts, while fulfilling all warranty claims of the ship,” officials said in a Facebook post earlier this month.

And while not giving exact specifics on what these repairs are for security reasons, sources said these could include upgrades to the frigate’s sensors, electronics and weapons systems.

BRP Jose Rizal is the PN’s first warship capable of engaging air, surface and sub-surface threats and is armed with a variety of sensors and weapons tasked to neutralize these targets.

The timeframe for the completion of these engineering works was also not disclosed as of this writing.

BRP Jose Rizal’s ongoing maintenance activity in South Korea is the ship’s first major dry-docking period since its commissioning into PN service on July 10, 2020.

Incidentally, BRP Jose Rizal was launched at the Ulsan shipyard, where she is now undergoing refit, on May 23, 2019.

Its sister ship, the BRP Antonio Luna (FF-151), was launched in the same facility on November 8 of the same year.

The contract for the two ships was P16 billion, along with P2 billion for weapons systems and munitions.

These two vessels are capable of conducting anti-air warfare, anti-surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare and electronic warfare operations.

‘Wildcat’ now on WPS patrol

Meanwhile, as BRP Jose Rizal is undergoing a well-deserved refit, its sister ship BRP Antonio Luna and its AgustaWestland (now Leonardo) AW-159 “Wildcat” ASW helicopter are now patrolling the WPS.

This as the PN deployed these two modern assets to beef up the Puerto Princesa, Palawan-headquartered Western Command (Wescom).

“These two tandem ASW platforms have been deployed on the country’s western border for maritime and sovereignty patrols that ensure effective maritime presence, particularly, in the West Philippine Sea,” it added in a Facebook post on June 27.

Wescom said the deployment of the BRP Antonio Luna and the Wildcat anti-submarine helicopter represents a “full-mission deployment” for the PN.

It added that inclusion of the AW-159 also beefed up the “war­fighting package” of the country’s second missile and ASW frigate.

“The tandem platforms engage in different tests and training activities while patrolling the WPS,” Wescom stressed.

It added that the presence of these modern naval and air assets in Wescom’s joint operational area ensures the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) readiness and commitment to defending the country’s maritime interests against any potential threats.

“The deployment of these warfighting assets is a necessary step to protect the nation’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The FF-151 and AW-159 crews have also been working together to ensure maximum readiness during any eventualities,” Wescom pointed out.

It also said that the deployment of these assets serves as a critical deterrent to any hostile forces in the region.

“The combined warfighting capabilities of FF-151 and AW-159 better equip the AFP to defend the country’s sovereignty against any potential threat in its western frontier,” Wescom emphasized.

Growing PN ASW capabilities

AN AW-159 made its first successful landing on the flight deck of BRP Antonio Luna while the ship was under way 30 nautical miles off Corregidor Island on April 27.

This highlights the PN’s growing capability in ASW operations.

“Both the JRCFs (Jose Rizal-class frigates) and the PN Wildcats were products of the 1st Horizon Projects under the Revised AFP Modernization Program, which were delivered and commissioned into service in 2020/2021 and 2019, respectively. The JRCFs were built by Hyundai Heavy Industries of South Korea, while the PN Wildcats were built by Leonardo Helicopter Limited UK (LHUK),” the post further said.

The two AW-159s were acquired to increase the ASW capabilities of the JRCFs.

The AW-159s were acquired for P5.4 billion, including their munitions, mission-essential equipment and integrated logistics support.

These are capable of speeds of 291 kph (181 mph), range of 777 km (483 miles), a ferry range of 963 km (598 miles) and an endurance of one and a half hours (four hours and 30 minutes if fitted with auxiliary fuel tanks).

The AW-159s can also be armed with rockets, machine guns, missiles, torpedoes and depth charges, and fitted with modern sonar systems for tracking down submarines.

HHI eyes MRO facility in Subic

THEN Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, in his exit interview in June of last year, cited the possibility that HHI will construct its maintenance depot in Subic, Zambales.

Lorenzana said the facility may rise at the former Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction Philippines (HHIC-Phil) shipyard in Subic Bay, and would cater to the maintenance needs of all PN HHI-built naval vessels.

“They are planning to construct a maintenance depot here for all [HHI-ordered] ships,” he said.

Aside from building BRP Jose Rizal and BRP Antonio Luna, HHI also bagged the P28-billion contract for the two anti-submarine corvettes in December 2021 and the P30-billion offshore patrol vessel (OPV) deal in 2022.

The HHI is also the contractor for the South Korean Navy’s Pohang-class corvettes, of which one is now in service with the PN, and another one is expected to be transferred soon.

Aside from the OPV deal, both the DND and HHI also signed on June 27, 2022, a lifetime service support contract for the sustainment of the two Jose Rizal guided-missile frigates.

A part of the former HHIC-Phil shipyard was also converted into Naval Operating Base (NOB) Subic, which was activated May 2022 and now houses the PN’s capital ships.

The activation followed the recent approval of the lease agreement for the PN to occupy the northern portion of the former HHIC-Phil shipyard that spans around 100 hectares of the site’s more than 280 hectares.

The PN’s acquisition of this strategic harbor was made through the collaborative efforts of the Department of National Defense, the Office of the Executive Secretary, the Department of Finance, the Department of Budget and Management, the Department of Justice, Bases Conversion and Development Authority and Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority.

The activation and subsequent operationalization of NOB Subic are in line with the Navy’s scaled-up maritime operations to support the needed base services of the deep-draft vessels such as Jose Rizal-class missile-frigates, Del Pilar-class offshore patrol ships, and Tarlac-class landing docks.

The newly activated base will house select fleet marine units, maintenance, and replenishment facilities that will enable the fleet to sustain the operational requirements of the current and future capital vessels.

The NOB Subic is a vital component in the Navy’s modernization effort toward becoming a multi-capable naval force.