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Monday, April 15, 2024

Sub ‘killers’ on the prowl

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ANY country without a functional and efficient anti-submarine warfare capability is a “sitting duck” from stealthy and deadly submarines lurking deep and silent below the waves.

These deep-sea vessels have the ruthless capability to fire their weapons at any floating target, either it be a warship or a merchant vessel.

The threat is very real for nations surrounded by vast seas and so-called archipelagic states like the Philippines, which, until now, has yet to acquire a single submarine of its own. But that’s an entirely different story to tell.

One of the two AW-159 “Wildcat” anti-submarine helicopters of the Philippine Navy.

While damage to an unwary naval force bereft of any capability to detect, hunt and destroy this undersea threat could be horrific, at the least, submarines running amuck in the so-called sea lines of communication or SLOC could torpedo any commercial vessel within its periscope range, be it a bulk or a container ship, tanker or even your ordinary passenger liner.

The slaughter and the mayhem could force any country to surrender to the terms of its submarine-equipped adversary as continued sinking of its merchant ships can severely constrain its means of carrying out its campaign and even fully disrupt its economic life.

Naysayers would probably be dismissive of this scenario and call it the wild imagination of someone who had read too much of American writer Tom Clancy’s techno-thriller novels.

But a simple research would show that Great Britain’s capability to carry out its military campaign was severely affected by the unrestricted submarine campaign carried out by Germany during the First World War and the Second World War, while the Americans have nearly annihilated the Japanese merchant fleet aside from taking considerable toll on the warships of its then Imperial Navy.

Tandem of defenders

AGAINST this historical backdrop, the AW-159 AgustaWestland (now Leonardo) “Wildcat” anti-submarine helicopter makes its debut to the fleet of our very own Philippine Navy (PN) as a deterrent against any possible threats from hostile submarines.

With its integration to the Navy, the Wildcat will be backed by the PN’s Jose Rizal-class frigates, which also has the capability to detect, track and, if necessary, sink hostile submersibles found intruding into the country’s territorial waters.

The helicopters are expected to increase the offensive capabilities of BRP Jose Rizal (FF-150) and BRP Antonio Luna (FF-151) in going against submarines. Both ships have hangar facilities capable of basing these rotary-wing aircraft while on sea patrol.

Incidentally, these two helicopters are the first-ever aircraft in Navy service capable of “prosecuting” (tracking and sinking) a so-called submarine contact.

The AW-159s were delivered to the Navy on May 7, 2019, and fully commissioned into service on June 17. They were acquired for P5.4 billion, including its munitions, mission essential equipment, and integrated logistics support.

The AW-159, previously called the Future Lynx and Lynx Wildcat, is an improved version of the Westland Super Lynx military helicopter. The helicopter has been ordered for the Royal Navy and British Army, and is capable of speeds of 291 kilometers per hour, a range of 777 kilometers, a ferry range of 963 kilometers 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, the so-called “dipping flash sonar,” for tracking down submarines.

These two helicopters were declared “mission ready” in early 2021, which means pilots and their aircrew can safely take off and go about their task.

Shipboard integration work for AW-159s is still ongoing, though. Deck landing and other shipboard integration processes are now commencing to ensure the safe and efficient pairing of these helicopters to their mother ships.

The phase was highlighted in a Facebook post by the BRP Jose Rizal on August 11 of this year, which stated that the frigate is now qualified to land and receive on its flight deck the AW-159.

“Traversing the path of fleet interoperability, Team FF-150 held deck landing qualification (DLQ) together with the ASW (anti-submarine warfare) ‘Wildcat’ Helicopter AW-159 (NH-441) last 09 August 2022,” the socmed post said.

The DLQ is part of a series of flight deck operations to further test and improve existing procedures, check connectivity, system integration and leveling of officers, pilots, sailors and aircrew on flight operations.

Before the actual deck landing, the ship’s crew and flight crew of the anti-submarine helicopter squadron had a series of lectures and workshops to ensure the preparedness and safety of personnel and flight deck equipment.

“This activity marks the beginning of warfare interoperability operations between our air and surface assets, which complements the detection and engagement
capability of both units,” it added. The activity concluded safely with no casualties and any faults from both platforms.

More AW-159s eyed for the Navy

ACKNOWLEDGING that having an efficient anti-submarine capability is a hallmark of a modern Navy, then PN chief Vice Admiral Adeluis Bordado, in an interview this September, said there are plans to acquire more anti-submarine helicopters to partner with their incoming major surface naval assets.

These aircraft will be paired with two incoming corvettes coming from South Korea’s Hyundai Heavy Industries. Bordado said that this is being considered to boost the Navy’s anti-submarine capability as a whole, a recognition of the security threats posed by hostile submersibles.

Steel cutting for the two corvettes is expected to start in the last quarter of this year or early 2023.

Image credits: helicopters.leonardo.com, Rex Anthony Naval

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