This week, twin ceremonies were held with respect to two frigates that the Philippines had purchased from South Korea. The ongoing progress once again spotlighted a significant capability for Manila’s defense modernization amid wider security challenges that it continues to face.
As I have noted before in these pages, one of the key contemporary developments in Philippine military modernization was Manila’s purchase of two frigates from South Korea back in 2016. The Philippines and South Korean shipbuilder Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) had signed a contract for two missile-armed frigates for $337 million, which constituted one of the biggest line items in Manila’s ongoing military modernization.
The schedule for the construction and eventual delivery of the vessels has continued to progress since then in spite of some initial challenges. The steel-cutting for the first vessel, the BRP Jose Rizal, took place in April last year, followed by the keel-laying ceremony in October. The steel-cutting ceremony for the second vessel, the BRP Antonio Luna, occurred in November.
This week, this capability was in the spotlight again with ceremonies for the two frigates. HHI launched the first frigate on order for the Philippine Navy (PN), and also laid down the keel for the second ship as well. The ceremonies for both events were held on May 23 at HHI’s facilities in Ulsan, South Korea.
In recognition of the significance of the capability for the Philippine military, PN flag officer in command Vice Admiral Robert Empedrad told reporters that given its range of capabilities, the new frigate would effectively constitute “the most powerful ship in the PN.” The ships, built based on designs from a multipurpose frigate of the Republic of Korea Navy (RoKN), are fully equipped with surface-to-air and surface-to-surface missiles, torpedoes, launchers, and a range of weapon systems that can be used in anti-submarine, anti-surface, anti-air, and electronic warfare. They measure about 351 feet long and 46 feet wide, with a maximum speed of 25 knots, a travel range of up to 4,500 nautical miles, and a sustained operational presence of up to 30 days.
To be sure, there is still a ways to go before the vessels are actually completed and transferred over. With regard to progress as of now, the first frigate is still on track to be delivered in September 2020. Philippine officials have said that the vessels, once delivered, will be used for a range of functions, including securing maritime chokepoints and primary sea routes to include the South China Sea.