The last few days have seen news stories about the latest additions to two regional fleets, but the similarities of the intent of the announcements highlights the differences. Vietnam has seen the arrival of its second newly built Gepard Class Frigate while the Philippines has publicised the arrival of the largest vessel in the navy, a 44-year old former US Coast Guard Hamilton Class Cutter. The difference is stark given that both have had recent 'disputes' with China over incidents in the South China Sea.
Vietnamese Gepard Class Frigate (Source: Defpro.com)
Philippines Hamilton Class Cutter (Source: PhilStar)
“The next step is to give the ship missile capability. This is technically feasible for a song. Its 76mm gun, though rapid firing, is no match to the capability of the naval powers in the region, which can fire a missile salvo from way beyond the horizon,” he [Parañaque City Rep. Roilo Golez] said.
The ship has been re-designated as a Frigate and will become the flagship of the Philippines Navy. The same article discussed the use of the ship to defend the West Philippines Sea (aka the South China Sea). Naval power is not cheap and the Philippines is possibly spending good money after bad. This ship will be a symbol, it will need a fleet and aircover to make it a viable deterrent. Upgrading the ship will not be easy either. I am not sure to what standards a USCG Cutter is built to but I suspect that it was not built to incorporate the lessons that were learned in the Falklands War, especially as the Falklands occurred after the ship was constructed.
The same article quoted a defence 'shopping list' from the Philippines President:
For the Air Force
- jet trainers
- surface attack aircraft
- air defense radars
- long-range patrol aircraft
- close air support aircraft
For the Navy
- strategic sea-lift vessels
- off-shore patrol vessels
- naval helicopters
- possibly a submarine [My comment - a single submarine is not a capability, it is a waste of money.]
For the Army
- new assault rifles
- armor assets
- armored personnel carriers
- force protection equipment like helmets and bulletproof vests
I do not think this list is well thought out although I have not checked through the Defence White Paper to see if there is any strategic guidance behind this announcement. Although, if there was a white paper on defence then that would probably be from the previous administration and so the strategic guidance may be slightly different. The following comment from the President of the Philippines does not fill me with hope on the strategic direction being adopted.
“With regard to the equipment I want…I want everything. But what we will acquire, we have lead-in jet trainer… to keep the skills of the jet pilots, especially the fighter pilots still active. We won’t have the fighter jet but we will have these lead-in jet trainers to keep their skill levels,” Aquino told reporters at arrival ceremonies for the BRP Gregorio del Pilar at Pier 13 in Manila. (Source)