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Phl Targets 5 Second-hand Warships From US

Phl Targets 5 Second-hand Warships From US
The BRP Conrado Yap (PS-39) docks at Pier 13 in Manila on Aug. 20, 2019. The ship is the Philippines’ most heavily armed unit, made in South Korea. Photo by KJ Rosales, The Philippine STAR

The Philippines aims to boost its maritime capability in the face of rising tension with China over the Julian Felipe Reef by acquiring five second-hand warships from the United States, the Philippine Navy chief said on Saturday, May 1.

In December, the US offered to transfer some of its mothballed Cyclone-class vessels under the Excess Defense Articles (EDA) program of the State Department, Vice Admiral Giovanni Carlo Bacordo said.

“We are targeting at least five Cyclone-class after we decommissioned several vessels in 2019,” Bacordo told The Philippine STAR in an interview. “We need more ships to patrol our territory.”

The Philippines has few ocean-going vessels that could “show the flag” in the country’s sovereign waters in the Spratly Islands capable of patrolling the disputed sea for more than a week.

It has one Cyclone-class patrol boat, a Pohang-class corvette, BRP Conrado Yap, three Jacinto-class former British Royal Navy Peacock-class offshore patrol vessels and several World War 2-vintage vessels.

But the remaining old ships will be decommissioned late this year after the Navy got two guided-missile frigates from South Korea – BRP Antonio Luna and BRP Jose-Rizal.

It was also expecting nine fast attack interdiction craft armed with anti-ship missiles from Israel.

The US has made a commitment to help the Philippines modernize its armed forces to stand up against China’s bullying in the West Philippine Sea.

For nearly two months, hundreds of Chinese fishing and militia vessels are deployed in the Spratlys, including in four of Philippine-occupied land features.

In response, the Philippines has sent Navy, Coast Guard and maritime law enforcement vessels to challenge the “lingering” presence of Chinese vessels.

The US transfer of the Cyclone-class vessels will give the Philippines a shot in the arm to sustain its maritime operations in the disputed areas.

The US transferred one of 14 Cyclone-class vessels in 2004, which was renamed BRP Mariano Alvarez. The rest were deployed by the US Navy in the Middle East to guard the Persian Gulf.

In the Philippines, the Cyclone-class vessel was used to conduct coastal patrol and special operations to interdict and monitor Islamist militant activities in the southern Philippines as the lead ship of Task Force Stingray.

With a maximum speed of 35 knots an hour, the 51-meter long warship has two 25-millimeter cannons, four .50 caliber machine guns and two M60 machine guns. It can operate at sea for 10 days.

The US has decommissioned three of its Cyclone-class vessels in February 2021 and was offering the warships to a foreign military partner, the Navy said.

The Philippines is the only country outside of the US that operated a Cyclone-class patrol ship.

“We are just awaiting an official approval from the State Department for the transfer of the Cyclone-class vessels to the Philippines,” Bacordo disclosed.

He said the Navy will send a team to the US for a joint visual inspection of the Cyclone-class vessels as soon as the approval is given.

The State Department, through the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), also informs the US Congress about the transfer.

“While waiting for the approval, the Philippine Navy has already requested for the price and availability of the Cyclone-class vessels in order to identify the acquisition cost for planning purposes of the end-user,” Bacordo said, adding the price and availability are expected to be given anytime next week.

Bacordo bared the Philippines was also given an option to acquire another second-hand US Coast Guard Hamilton-class weather high endurance cutter, which is much larger with longer endurance vessel.

In 2011, the US transferred to the Philippines the first of three Hamilton-class vessels, which was renamed BRP Gregorio del Pilar.

Two of 12 vessels are still in operations in the US but will soon be mothballed. The others were also transferred to foreign partners. Two each went to Nigeria and Bangladesh and one each to Sri Lanka and Vietnam.

The Navy currently has three Hamilton-class vessels – BRP Gregorio del Pilar, BRP Ramon Alcaraz and BRP Andres Bonifacio transferred in 2011, 2013 and 2016 respectively.

BRP Ramon Alcaraz caught fire after a deployment in the Middle East to rescue Filipino overseas workers after tensions between the US and Iran heightened in January 2020. All are getting upgrades and on maintenance.

“Given the limited budget, we are more interested in acquiring several Cyclone-class vessels than one Hamilton” Bacordo said, adding one Hamilton will cost much more than the Cyclone-class vessels.

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