Asia Defense | Security | East Asia | Southeast Asia

New Frigate Upgrade Deal Puts South Korea-Philippines Military Ties Into Focus

The contract announcement highlighted ongoing defense collaboration between the two sides.

Prashanth Parameswaran
New Frigate Upgrade Deal Puts South Korea-Philippines Military Ties Into Focus
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Last Friday, the Philippine defense ministry announced that a South Korean firm had won a contract to upgrade some of the Southeast Asian state’s vessels. While the development was only one aspect of the wider South Korea-Philippine defense relationship, it nonetheless highlighted ongoing efforts by both countries to boost their military ties.

As I have observed before in these pages, South Korea has been among the key defense partners for the Philippines as Manila looks to boost its growing but still limited military capabilities. While the defense relationship between the two sides includes a wide range of areas – including visits, exchanges, and exercises – the aspect that unsurprisingly receives the most attention is defense equipment, whether it be in the form of deals for fighter jets or frigates, with some deals constituting among the top line items in ongoing Philippine defense modernization continuing under Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

The attention to this aspect of South Korea-Philippines security ties has continued on into this year as well. Indeed, just earlier this month, in a ceremony welcoming the BRP Conrado Yap, a South Korea-donated Pohang-class corvette, Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana had shed light on some future developments in Philippine-South Korea defense collaboration when he noted that Manila would order two new corvettes from shipbuilder Hyundai Heavy Industries – further advancing already existing collaboration with the company – while also accepting two more donated vessels from Seoul as well.

Last week, the defense aspect of the relationship was in the headlines again with a confirmation of a new deal involving the two countries. Per the Philippines’ Department of National Defense (DND), a South Korean defense manufacturer won a contract to upgrade the capabilities of Philippine frigates.

According to the notice of award (NOA) from the DND, Hanwha Systems Co., Ltd had won the contract for the Philippine Navy’s Del Pilar Class Frigate Upgrade Project. Per the NOA, the project, which a contract price of 1.304 billion pesos, is designed to help boost the ship’s capabilities in various areas including its combat management systems, sonar capability, and electronic capabilities.

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The project represents an ongoing effort by the Philippines to strengthen the capabilities of its existing ships to address a range of security challenges. The Del Pilar class vessels – BRP Gregorio Del Pilar (PS-15), BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PS-16) and the BRP Andres Bonifacio (PS-17) – originally three former U.S. Coast Guard Hamilton-class cutters, were handed over to the Philippines as part of defense collaboration between the two treaty allies and subsequently converted into frigates.