By Daniel Llanto i FilAm Star Correspondent

Missile-armed frigates are now part of Philippine Navy (PN) weaponry which can augment defense through the so-called swarming tactic.

The upgraded craft can now engage larger and more capable ships posing a threat to the country’s territorial waters.

Vice Adm. Robert Empedrad, Navy Flag Officer-in-command, said PN has formally entered the missile age and demonstrated this capability when it sailed beyond the country territorial waters during recent deployments in the U.S., South Korea and Russia.

Photo: Vice Adm. Robert Empedrad of the Philippine Navy (Philippine Navy Facebook)

However, Empedrad said the Navy could use more sophisticated assault craft, referring to the planned deliveries of new assets in 2019. These include the Agusta Westland AW-159 “Wildcat” helicopters and the Pohang-class frigate donated by South Korea to the Philippines.

The Navy’s formal entry to the missile age took place off Lamao Point, Limay, Bataan, last month 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 Sec. Delfin Lorenzana.

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

An Agusta Westland AW-109 attack helicopter armed with 2.75-inch high-explosive rockets also provide 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.

The Spike-ER system is the PN first missile weapon capable of penetrating 1,000 mm (39 inches) of rolled homogeneous armor and has a range of 8 kilometers.

“Based on our matrix, we should have 42 of these type of vessels. We only have nine, with another three coming over next year with the same missile capability.

So, if these ships operate simultaneously, when we are under siege, I think this will do harm to any threat whether internal or external,” Empedrad added.

MPACs are high-speed naval craft capable of speeds over 40 knots and can be utilized for a variety of naval missions like patrol and fire support missions for troops. They may also be armed with machine guns, missiles and a variety of other weapons.

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

esides deterring intruders, the PN’s brand-new MPACs are also ideal for suppressing pirate threats in Sulu waters, the defense chief added.

Empedrad said the MPAC’s secondary weapon, the remote-controlled .50 caliber machineguns, are ideal for fighting pirates.

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 PN spokesman Commander Jonathan Zata.

Zata said the PN will gain more capability to operate modern naval weaponry with the arrival of the Pohang-class frigate next year, “equipped with a better weapons system that the Navy can already use as it prepares for the delivery of the two purposely built frigates starting 2020.”

The Pohang-class frigate is equipped with a primary and secondary gun system, sensors and torpedoes for anti-submarine as well as sensors for anti-air operations, Zata said.

The construction of the first missile-armed frigate by South Korean shipbuilder Hyundai Heavy Industries is proceeding smoothly, Empedrad said, and it may arrive in February or March of 2020. The second one will come in 2021.

The Philippines and Hyundai signed a PHP 16-billion contract for two missile-armed frigates with another PHP 2 billion set aside for its weapon systems and munitions.

For the first time in its history, two PN ships, the BRP Davao Del Sur and BRP Andres Bonifacio (FF-17), joined the 2018 Rim of the Pacific, or Rimpac, exercises, in Hawaii recently.

Photo: BRP Davao Del Sur (Defense Visual Information Distribution System)

Rimpac is the world’s largest joint and combined naval exercise and included helicopter cross-decking, live-fire exercises, special operations training, ground-air-integration and replenishment-at-sea.

Lorenzana said at Rimpac, PN proved itself capable of operating with its more modern naval counterparts.