Thursday, August 2, 2012

Philippines mulling purchase of Italian frigates

MANILA, Philippines -- The Philippines is eyeing the purchase of two "potent" Maestrale-class frigates from Italy to boost the country's capability to defend its territorial waters, particularly the West Philippine Sea. Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin told reporters Thursday that the refurbished frigates could arrive in the country late next year. Officials are just waiting for the enactment of the Armed Forces of the Philippines modernization law, which Gazmin said they expect by the end of this year, to continue negotiations with Italy. The two frigates are worth P11.7 billion. The ships are primarily equipped for anti-submarine warfare with anti-aircraft and anti-surface capabilities. The Italian Navy has used the frigates since 1982 but the website says they are scheduled to be replaced by newer ships next year. The frigates are equipped with missiles, torpedoes, naval guns and a 27-meter wide helicopter flight deck. Defense Undersecretary for Munitions, Installations and Material Fernando Manalo described the frigates as "more lethal" than the Navy’s BRP Gregorio del Pilar, a re-commissioned US Hamilton-class Coast Guard cutter. "This is more potent and strong," Gazmin also said. "Makakatulong ng maigi yan kasi bigyan tayo ng napakagandang (They will help us very much because they will give us a very good)defense posture." Manalo said if the contract is approved within the year, the two frigates will be "retired" from the service by the Italian Navy. The frigates will then undergo refurbishing, which will take up to nine months. He stressed that the frigates would not be stripped down like the Hamilton-class cutters. "We demanded that we will not accept what is less than what has been installed in the vessel. Nothing will be removed," Manalo said. Modernization in full swing Gazmin also said the military’s modernization is in full swing with about 60 percent of 140 contracts for the program already underway. The rest of the contracts will depend on the enactment of the AFP modernization law, he said. By the end of this year, Manalo said they are expecting the delivery of about 21 UH1H “Huey” helicopters, "two to four" attack choppers and two Multi-purpose Assault Crafts.