Navy ramps up strength

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The Philippine Navy (PN) will get a boost in its capability this year with the expected return to service of its flagship BRP Gregorio del Pilar before the end of 2019, as well as the delivery in March of two anti-submarine helicopters and four amphibious assault vehicles.

BRP Gregorio del Pilar, which ran aground off Hasa-Hasa Shoal last August, is expected to be available for operations before the end of 2019, according to Vice Admiral Robert Empedrad, PN flag-officer-in-command.

The ship sustained extensive damage to its two propellers as a result of the grounding, requiring total replacement.

“We need to get replacement propellers from the US. It is expected to be available by yearend. But if the delivery of the propellers is hastened, we will be able to fix them immediately,” he said.

At the moment, the patrol and other duties of BRP Gregorio del Pilar are being carried by her two sister ships, the BRP Ramon Alcaraz and BRP Andres Bonifacio.

The BRP Gregorio del Pilar is one of three Hamilton-class cutters acquired by the PN from the United States Coast Guard and converted into frigates.

The frigates have a gross tonnage of 3,250 tons, a length of 378 feet, a beam of 43 feet and draft of 15 feet while their propulsion systems consist of two diesel engines and two gas turbine engines, giving them a top speed of 29 knots.

These vessels have a cruising range of 14,000 miles and have a sea and loiter time of 45 days. They are armed with a 76 mm Oto Melara automatic cannon, 25 mm and 20 mm light cannons and .50-caliber machine guns.

Meanwhile, Empedrad added the PN is set to receive in March its first two anti-submarine helicopters and four out of eight amphibious assault vehicles it has ordered for the Marine Corps.

“Aside from the two anti-submarine helicopters, there are amphibious assault vehicles for the Marines. We actually ordered eight but the first four will arrive in March,” he said.

Empedrad was referring to the AgustaWestland AW-159 “Wildcat” anti-submarine helicopter, which the PN has contracted for two units worth P5.4 billion, including weapons, mission essential equipment and integrated logistic support and the eight AAV acquired from Hanwha Techwin for P2.42 billion.

The anti-submarine helicopters will give the PN the capability to detect and neutralize underwater threats while the AAV will boost the Marine Corps’ sea-based capability, according to Empedrad.

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