By Priam Nepomuceno
MANILA – French defense manufacturer Naval Group has expressed willingness to help the Philippine Navy (PN) develop Subic Bay in Zambales into a modern naval base capable of handling submarine operations once it bags the contract for the sophisticated warship capable of underwater operations.
“Naval Group will support the PN in designing and retooling the location in Agila Subic to make it a modern naval base. Naval Group will also support the PN in the implementation of its national support system to ensure the country’s full autonomy of use and throughout the maintenance and life cycle of the submarine force,” Naval Group corporate sales director for the Philippines Loïc Beaurepaire said in a presentation with a group of select reporters Thursday.
The PN has earlier announced that Subic Bay will be the location of its submarine base.
This includes proposals for docks capable of handling more than two submarines and surface ships needed to support the growth of the force, operation zones for the squadron’s command center, maintenance yards and logistics depots, and the Philippine Submarine Force Training Center that includes classrooms and simulators.
Beaurepaire also said they will also support the “training of maintenance specialists” along with the development of partnerships with “local industry to transfer our know-how and technology for maintenance operations.”
He added that they will also work for the “qualification of a local supply chain.”
Naval Group is the manufacturer of the Scorpene diesel-electric submarine which is included on the list of preferred submarine platforms of the country and was evaluated by naval and defense officials in 2019.
The firm opened on Wednesday its Philippines Office symbolizing French commitment in supporting the country’s bid to “strengthen its sovereignty and developed its maritime security capacities.”
Under the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Modernization Program, the country is planning to acquire two to three submarines to beef up its fleet.
Defense experts earlier said that having submarines in its inventory will allow the AFP to achieve a credible defense posture aside from enhancing the PN’s maritime defense capabilities.
Acquiring submarines is part of the desired force mix of the PN which consists of frigates, corvettes, offshore patrol vessels, landing docks, fast attack interdiction craft-missiles or FAIC-Ms, along with multi-purpose attack craft (MPAC) and amphibious assault vehicles.
Under this plan, the PN is planning to acquire six anti-air frigates, 12 anti-submarine corvettes, and three submarines along with other naval assets.
This force mix will enable the AFP to achieve a credible defense.
Also, the acquisition and development of submarine warfare capability will better equip the Navy to fulfill its primary mandate on territorial defense, security and stability.
Defense experts said submarines will enhance the country’s maritime defense capability and can effectively carry out anti-access/area denial, maritime surveillance, maritime interdiction, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.
The submarine is the most effective ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) platform and the best killing machine in the Navy inventory.
A submarine capability will provide deterrence against aggressors, credibility to the PN, international consideration of the Philippines, and recognition of the AFP from other armed forces.
“Submarines are undetectable and could be anywhere patrolling around the WPS (West Philippine Sea) to act firmly if necessary. Having an operational submarine at sea will be a game-changer for the PN. Contenders will have to take into consideration the probability of facing a submarine at any time, anywhere, without any warning, hence will affect their entire assessment of the tactical situation and their behavior,” they added.
Once acquired, these submarines will be equipped with a large number of weapons.
“It can infiltrate an enemy task force to hunt aircraft carriers and landing docks, and provide decisive superiority with a single lethal hit,” defense experts pointed out.
These same defense experts also opined that the Philippines could have awarded the winning bidders to the PN submarine acquisition program in 2021 if the Covid-19 pandemic did not break out in March 2020.
The timeline for the submarine contract signing would have been in the second quarter of 2021.
However, the pandemic forced the government to devote much of the funding to the Covid-19 pandemic response, forcing a postponement of the program.
The budget for the PN’s submarine acquisition program is estimated at PHP70 billion to PHP100 billion.
This includes two submarines and their integrated logistics support package, along with the initial basing requirements. (PNA)