PH Navy to keep legacy ships for now after COVID-19 disrupts program for new vessels

by Inquirer | July 18, 2020

MANILA, Philippines—A plan to decommission legacy ships of the Philippine Navy has been pushed back as the anticipated acquisition of new vessels was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Early this year, the Philippine Navy said it was planning to retire at least 20 vessels—mostly World War 2-era ships—between 2020 and early 2021 to save on maintenance costs and to make way for the entry of modern platforms.

“The decommissioning of all legacy Navy ships will push through. The schedule, however, has been altered,” Chief of Navy Vice Adm. Giovanni Carlo Bacordo told INQUIRER.net.

The schedule of the anticipated procurement of two landing docks, eight fast attack interdiction craft with missile (FAIC-M), and six offshore patrol vessels has been adjusted due to the pandemic, he said.

No contracts have been signed for these programs so far.

Bacordo said that based on the original timetable, the first two of the eight FAIC-M would arrive in the latter part of this year. The first of two landing docks would be delivered in 2021 and the first of six OPVs would have been delivered also in 2021.

The projects, however, are now seen to be delayed by more than one year as a result of the economic fallout from the pandemic.

The Navy chief said a “phase in, phase out” plan would have been implemented, which meant old ships would be retired as new vessels come in.

“As soon as the landing docks are in, phase out the landing ship tanks. As soon as the FAIC-Ms are in, phase out the small patrol boats and patrol craft,” he said.

“As soon as the OPVs are in, phase out the patrol craft escort and minesweeper frigates,” he added.

The defense department was one of the agencies that suffered drastic budget cuts as the national government diverted more funds from programmed appropriations to COVID-19 response.

In May, P3 billion was cut from the 2020 budget of the DND. This was on top of the P6.7 billion fund slashed from the agency in April.

Just recently, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told the government-run Philippine News Agency that the acquisition of two corvettes for the Philippine Navy had been moved to Horizon 3, the military modernization phase plan for 2023 to 2028.

This means the planned acquisition of another refurbished Pohang-class corvette from South Korea could be affected as well.

“That may materialize only if the corvette deal will push through with HHI (Hyundai Heavy Industries),” Bacordo said.

Last week, the Philippine Navy commissioned its first purposely-built warship, the BRP Jose Rizal. It is the first of two frigates procured from South Korean shipbuilder HHI for P16 billion.

The second ship, the future BRP Antonio Luna, is expected to arrive in the next six months.