Last week, the Philippine navy chief offered an update on the arrival of a vessel that South Korea had donated to Manila. While this is only one manifestation of relations between the two countries, it nonetheless put the spotlight on the ongoing activity in the defense aspect of the relationship between them.
As I have noted before in these pages, South Korea has been among the key defense partners for the Philippines as Manila looks to boost its limited military capabilities. While the defense relationship between the two sides does cover an array of areas – including visits, exchanges, and exercises – the aspect that receives the most attention is defense commerce, whether it be in the form of deals for fighter jets or frigates.
This has continued on into 2019 as well, with the Philippines continuing to develop its military capabilities and South Korea looking to continue to realize opportunities not only in its relationship with Manila, but in its ties with Southeast Asian states more broadly as part of its New Southern Policy. Indeed, as I noted last week, this aspect of the relationship was in the headlines again with ceremonies held for two frigates that the Philippines had purchased for South Korea that constituted one of the biggest line items in Manila’s ongoing military modernization.
Among one of the several manifestations of the South Korea-Philippines defense relationship was a donation of a vessel by the South Korean government to the Philippines. The South Korean government had donated a Pohang-class corvette to the Philippines, which was subsequently assigned the name the BRP Conrado Yap.
The BRP Conrado Yap, which measures about 88.3 meters long with a beam of 10 meters and draft of 2.9 meters, has a displacement of 1,216 tons and is capable of sustaining a crew of 118 personnel and operational presence of 20 days. It can move to a maximum speed of 25 knots and a distance of 4,000 nautical miles, and is armed with main guns, automatic cannons, anti-submarine torpedoes, and an array of sensors.
Since then, the focus has been on when the BRP Conrado Yap will officially arrive in the Philippines and be ready for operation. Earlier this year, Philippine defense officials had indicated that the vessel would be formally turned over to the Philippine Navy (PN) in March or April. But this was subsequently moved to the second half of June, following the completion of dry-docking and repairs of the ship.
Last week, this aspect of the bilateral relationship was in the headlines again with indications that the BRP Conrado Yap would now be expected to arrive in July. The indications came following a visit by a Philippine delegation led by Navy Chief Robert Empedrad to Jinhae naval base in Busan where the ship is currently located.
Per Empedrad, the ship is expected to be delivered to the Philippines by the end of July 2019. PN spokesperson Jonathan Zata was also reported as saying subsequently by the Philippine News Agency (PNA) on May 24 that this would come after the repair work and after the completion necessary operational and warfare training for the crew for 13 weeks facilitated by the Reserve Ship Maintenance Squadron in Jinhae.
Following the delivery of the ship, the attention will shift to how it will be operated and utilized by the Philippine military. Zata said that the ship would “greatly enhance” the Philippine fleet’s capabilities in areas that include anti-air warfare, anti-surface warfare, and anti-submarine warfare.