The newest acquisition of the Philippine Navy, the Ex-USCGC Hamilton, creates quite a hype to those who are monitoring the latest effort of the current administration to modernize, or should I say, upgrade the capabilities of the Philippine Navy Fleet. As such, I have decided to compare the last acquisition of the Philippine Navy (BRP Mariano Alvarez, Ex – USS Cyclone), the current flagship (BRP Rajah Humabon, Ex – USS Atherton) and the latest acquisition (BRP Gregorio del Pilar, Ex – USCGC Hamilton).

Brief History and Description of the 3 Ships

Ex – USCGC Hamilton (BRP Gregorio del Pilar)

The USCGC Hamilton is a US Coast Guard cutter built by the Avondale Shipyards. It was launched on December 18, 1965 and was commisioned on March 18, 1967. It is a US Coast Guard High Endurance Cutter (WHEC) with bow number 715. It was named after Alexander Hamilton the first US Secretary of the Treasury and founder of the US Revenue Cutter Service. Its main mission in the US Coast Guard is drug interdiction and EEZ patrol. The USCGC Hamilton frequently patrols the Bering Strait, near the Russian and American EEZ boundary.

The USCGC Hamilton was built by the Coast Guard with a lot of the comfort of the crew in mind. The USCGC Hamilton provides comfortable living compartments and areas and has central air conditioning for additional comfort. The Hamilton is also the first US Military Vessel to carry the now common aircraft jet turbine engine using controllable pitch propellers. As I have read on a forum in Timawa.Net, one of of the sailors said that the propellers move to better maneuver the ship. The Hamilton has two 18,000 horsepower Pratt & Whitney jet turbines that propel the ship to speeds of 28 knots. To save energy, the Hamilton has two 3,500 horsepower Fairbanks – Morse diesel engines that propel the ship to speeds of 17 knots and a range of 14,400 nautical miles. It also has a retractable/rotatable bow propulsion unit for better maneuverability in tight situations (like pulling out of port). The Hamilton also has a flight deck and retractable hangar capable of handling most Coast Guard and Navy Helicopters. The Hamilton has a displacement of 3,250 tons, length of 378 feet with beam of 43 feet. The Hamilton carries an Oto Melara 76mm rapid fire cannon controlled by an MK92 Fire Control System. It formerly carries an AN/SPS – 40 Air Search Radar and a Close – In – Weapons – System (CIWS, pronounced “SEA-WHIZ”) but was removed after the transfer to the Philippines. Undergoing a 3 year fleet renovation in 1988, the Hamilton was refurbished with new technology and given a complete space and machinery renovation. Given this renovation and overhaul, the Hamilton is capable of working with US Navy vessels seamlessly. The Hamilton was decommissioned last March 28, 2011 at Naval Base San Diego. The Hamiltons were decommissioned to give way to the new US Coast Guard National Security Cutters. The Hamilton was sold to the Philippines via the FMS program and was renamed the BRP Gregorio del Pilar (PF-15) on May 13, 2011.

Ex – USS Cyclone (BRP Mariano Alvarez)

The USS Cyclone is a Coastal Patrol Ship (PC) on the US Navy with bow number 1. It is the lead ship of the Cyclone class ships of the US Navy. The primary mission of the Cyclone class was conducting maritime special operations, including interdiction, escort, noncombatant evacuation, reconnaissance, operational deception, intelligence collection, and tactical swimmer operations. It is designed for Special Operations Forces insertion and extraction missions. In mid 1990′s, barely a few months from commisioning, the Special Operations Command, rejected the Cyclone as too large for its missions. The regular Navy also rejected it as too small for their mission, so she was decommisioned on February 28, 2000. The next day she was commissioned as USCGC Cyclone, because the US Coast Guard was looking for a Coastal Patrol Vessel that is sized between its 110′ Patrol Cutters and its 210′ Medium Endurance Cutters. But then a problem aroused because the Cyclone class ships, being US Navy ships originally, have a high maintenance cost and was therefore inactive most of the time.

Special Operations being its main mission, the Cyclone class is light and relatively small compared to most Navy ships. With a displacement of only 331 tons and a length of only 170 ft and a beam of 25 ft, the Cyclone is not really an ocean going vessel but is more of a coastal patrol vessel. The Cyclone is powered by four Paxman Valenta 16V RP-200CM Diesel Engines creating 13,400 horsepower that propels the vessel to speeds of 35 knots and a range of 2,900 nautical miles with an endurance of 10 days. Since the Cyclone is a Special Operations Vessel it carries one 20 foot Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat (RHIB). The Cyclone has an aft entrance for fast deployment of the RHIB in Special Operations Missions. After being transferred to the Philippines in 2004, the Cyclone changed its sensors and processing systems. It now carries an AN/SPS – 64 (V) 9 I – Band Surface Search Radar, 2 Sperry Vision RASCAR 2100M Combat System (Sperry Vision RASCAR 3400C X-band Navigation/Surface Search Radar, Sperry Vision RASCAR 3400C S-band Navigation/Surface Search Radar), Wesmar side-scanning hull-mounted Sonar, Marconi VISTAR IM 405 IR System. The Cyclone class is heavily armed but does not really carry that much “punch”. For electronics warfare it has a Privateer AN/APR-39(V)1, ESM radar warning and it carries one Mk52 Mod 0 Sixtuple Chaff Launchers. Its weaponry consists of one Mk38 Bushmaster 20mm Cannon, one Mk96 stabilized Bushmaster 20mm Cannon, two Mk19 40mm Grenade Launchers, four .50 caliber Machine Guns and four 7.62mm Machine Guns. Being commissioned to the Philippine Navy in 2004, the USS Cyclone (USCGC Cyclone) was renamed BRP Mariano Alvarez (PS-38), and has been a valuable asset to the Philippine Fleet specially on the war against terrorism, smuggling and human trafficking.

Ex – USS Atherton (BRP Rajah Humabon)

            The USS Atherton is a Cannon class Destroyer Escort (DE) commissioned in the US Navy in 1943 with bow number 169. She was mostly assigned in the Atlantic Ocean conducting patrols and anti – submarine operations. She was credited to sinking the German U – Boat U – 853 on May 9, 1945. In mid – 1945 she was transferred to the Pacific Theater of operations until she was decommissioned and put on reserve on December 10, 1945. For her service she was awarded one Battle Star. On June 1955, the USS Atherton was transferred to the Japanese Maritime Self – Defense Force (JMSDF) and was renamed the JDS Hatsuhi (DE-263). Together with her sister ship JDS Asahi (DE – 262), they became the JMSDF’s first warships. On June 1975, they were decommissioned and returned to the US Navy.

The USS Atherton being a Destroyer Escort is mainly responsible with anti – submarine operations. Her standard displacement is 1,390 tons and she weighs 1,620 tons full load. Her length is 306 ft and a beam of 36.66 ft. She is powered by two GM EMP 16-645E7 (Turbo) Main Diesel Engines, two GM EMP 8-268A Auxiliary Diesel Engines with 200 kW Generator, and two GM EMP 3-268A Auxiliary Diesel Engine with 100 kW Generator creating 5,800 horsepower which propels the ship to speeds of 21 knots and a range of 10,800 nautical miles when sailing at an economical speed of 12 knots. Experiencing hull problems, she was repaired by the crew of the USS Salvor during CARAT 2002 dive training operations. After the repair she was upgraded with new electronics systems. Her sensors and processing systems include one Raytheon AN/SPS-64(V)11, one Raytheon SPS-5 G/H-band Surface Search Radar, one RCA/GE Mk26 I-band Navigation Radar, one AN/SQS-17B Hull mounted Sonar(?), one Mk52 GFCS with Mk41 Rangefinder for 3-inch (76 mm) guns, and three 3 Mk51 GFCS for 40 mm guns. The Atherton is heavily armed. Her weapons include three 3″/50 caliber gun Mk22 dual purpose guns, three Mk1 Mod2 Twin 60 caliber Bofors 40 mm gun, six Mk10 70 caliber Oerlikon 20 mm cannon, and four .50 caliber Machine Guns. After being transferred to the Philippines on September of 1976, she was renamed BRP Rajah Humabon and was classified as a Frigate (PF) with the bow number 6. Together with BRP Datu Sikatuna and BRP Datu Kalantiaw they were the largest ships in the Philippine Navy. The BRP Rajah Humabon was retired on 1993, but was overhauled and called back to duty on January of 1996 with a new bow number 11. This refit and overhaul led to the removing of most of her anti – submarine capabilities like her EDO SQS-17B hull-mounted sonar, a Mk9 depth charge rack, six Mk6 depth charge projects aft and a Hedgehog Mk10 anti-submarine projectors forward, as well as Mk38 anti-submarine torpedoes in two triple tube amidships. At the age of 68 years old, the BRP Rajah Humabon (Ex – USS Atherton) is the oldest active warship in the Philippine Navy and in the world. She is also the last remaining Cannon Class ship that is in active duty as of today. One of her sister ship the USS Slater is found near New York City and is used as a museum.

A Brief Comparison Based on Characteristics

            The BRP Rajah Humabon, BRP Mariano Alvarez and BRP Gregorio del Pilar are vessels of different types. BRP Rajah Humabon is a Destroyer Escort commissioned as a Frigate, BRP Mariano Alvarez is a Special Operations Vessel commissioned as a Coastal Patrol Vessel and the BRP Gregorio del Pilar is a Coast Guard High Endurance Cutter soon to be commissioned as a Frigate. Now I will be comparing them based on their characteristics to show you the difference in terms of our acquisitions in contrast with the current inventory which will be represented by the BRP Rajah Humabon. Age wise, the BRP Mariano Alvarez is the youngest of the three at 20+ years, next will be the BRP Gregorio del Pilar at 40+ and of course the oldest would be the current flagship the BRP Rajah Humabon at 68. In terms of size, the largest is the BRP Gregorio del Pilar at 378 feet, next would be the BRP Rajah Humabon at 306 feet and the smallest is the BRP Mariano Alvarez at only 170 feet. In terms of speed, smalllest is the fastest, at its top speed the BRP Mariano Alvarez is the fastest at 35 knots, but she does not last long with only a range of 2,900 nautical miles at the speed of 12 knots compared to the BRP Gregorio del Pilars 14,400 nautical miles. In terms of weaponry, the most heavily armed would be the BRP Rajah Humabon with 4 types of weapons totaling to 16 guns on board compared with the BRP Mariano Alvarez’s 5 types of weapons totaling to only 13 on board and the BRP Gregorio del Pilars single 76 mm gun, but technology wise the BRP Gregorio del Pilar and the BRP Mariano Alvarez sinks the BRP Rajah Humabon. The two ships carry modern targeting and fire control systems, in fact the BRP Mariano Alvarez even sinks the BRP Gregorio del Pilar because it carries the Mk96 stabilized Bushmaster 20 mm cannon which features an electro-optical fire control system with 27x zoom, infrared and low-light modes, a laser rangefinder, and an array of environmental sensors, which feed data into the ballistics computer to produce an accurate firing solution even while maneuvering at high speeds. It even has grenade launchers and a chaff launcher to confuse incoming missiles. But in terms of habitability, crew comfort and endurance the BRP Gregorio del Pilar tops the list having air conditioned spaces, and being assigned to the arctic region it is designed to house the crew for long stays even up to a month at sea. It can endure long travels in the open sea, it has a flight deck to support helicopter operations and and given its size it can travel even when the weather is not at its calmest state which is good in terms of the weather here in the Philippines. In terms of space for growth the BRP Mariano Alvarez and the BRP Gregorio del Pilar will outdate the BRP Rajah Humabon. The room for growth on the Rajah Humabon has been, should I say, exhausted. BRP Mariano Alvarez and BRP Gregorio del Pilar has a lot of room to expand. With the equipments removed by the Americans from these vessels, the Philippine Navy now has the capacity to reconfigure them according to their own design. One such example was the adding of a ramp on the BRP Mariano Alvarez to accommodate the 20 foot RHIB, it also has space for shoulder fired stinger missiles on board. The BRP Gregorio del Pilar on the other hand has been equipped with harpoon missiles in the past as seen in the photo posted on the Philippine Navy website. So the addition of this type of weaponry is not impossible. The platform for the CIWS also remains intact as seen on the recent photos of the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, and could also be used to install a new or used CIWS system or maybe another type of weaponry. But since it has not yet reached our shores, we still have to wait and see on what possible upgrades the Philippine Navy has in mind.

Conclusion

Therefore I conclude based on my observations and comparisons that the Philippine Navy is slowly swimming to the surface. Acquisitions are becoming much better. The acquisition of a large ocean going vessel is a sure sign that the present government is concerned with the safety of the country and its assets. These acquisitions are more or less a sign that the Philippine Navy is being upgraded to the best of its capabilities. These are signs that the Navy is steaming ahead and will be given newer equipment in the future.

Resources:

BRP General Mariano Alvarez – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BRP_General_Mariano_Alvarez_%28PS-38%29

BRP Rajah Humabon – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BRP_Rajah_Humabon_%28PF-11%29

USCGC Hamilton – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USCGC_Hamilton_%28WHEC-715%29

BRP Gregorio del Pilar – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BRP_Gregorio_del_Pilar_%28PF-15%29