Surface Forces: Corvettes, Frigates And Sturdy Second-Hand Ships

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January 20, 2022: The Philippines Navy recently ordered two 3,200-ton corvettes from South Korea. Each will cost $227 million and both will be delivered by 2026. Each corvette is 116 meters (371 feet) long and armed with a 76mm gun, eight VLS (vertical launching system) tubes with anti-ship missiles, a 35mm CIWS, six tubes for anti-submarine torpedoes as well as much better electronics, in including an AESA radar.

Because of the threat from China, the Philippines has been seeking to obtain six new frigates/corvettes and so far, has ordered four of them from South Korea. The first two were ordered in 2016. These were 2,600-ton Jose Rizal class ships and both now in service with the Philippine Navy.

The Jose Rizal class frigates are armed with a 76mm gun and a SMASH 30mm autocannon RWS (Remotely Operated System). The Italian 76mm cannon is also RWS and can fire 85 rounds a minute at targets up to 20 kilometers distant. Rizal is equipped to handle a CIWS (close in weapons system) like Phalanx but is not yet armed with one. There are also mounts for four 12.7mm machine-guns. The Rizal is called a missile frigate because it has lots of missiles. These include four South Korean anti-ship missiles (sort of improved Harpoons) with a range of 160 kilometers. There are also four South Korean 320mm lightweight anti-submarine torpedoes with a range of 19 kilometers. There are two twin-launchers for Mistral heat-seeking anti-aircraft missiles with a range of six kilometers. There is space for an eight cell VLS and, as with the CIWS, the fire control system can handle these if installed. There is also a hanger and landing pad for a helicopter. There are also two RHIBs (rigid inflatable speed boats) for boarding parties.

Leaving out the CIWS and VLS cells and using the simpler Mistral anti-aircraft missiles kept the price down. The Rizal can also handle a towed sonar but does not have one. There is a sonar built into the hull. There is a 3-D air search radar as well as a navigation radar, a fire control radar and an electro-optical tracking system. The Rizal has a crew of 65 with accommodations for twenty more sailors and 25 passengers. Top speed is 48 kilometers an hour with a range of 8,300 kilometers. Endurance is 30 days. While the Rizals are capable of long-range cruises, most of their time will be spent patrolling coastal waters and the Filipino EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) which extends 360 kilometers from the coastline. Given that the Philippines consists of 7,600 islands, there is plenty of coastline. Some of those islands are in the South China Sea and claimed by China.

The two new corvettes are 600 tons heavier and are better armed and equipped than the Rizals. The new ships have the same power-plant as the Rizal, which means they are slower. This puts them in the corvette class. Centuries ago, in the age of sail, frigates were the smallest type of ocean-going warship. Corvettes were smaller and generally used for coastal and offshore patrol. By the late 19th century sail had been replaced by steam and the frigate and corvette categories remained. The U.S. Navy called its corvettes cutters and these served with the coast guard. In wartime, coast guard ships serve with the navy. During World War II the U.S. Navy used some British designed corvettes that were considered patrol boats and similar to American designed ocean-going ships called destroyer escorts. Since World War II the terms frigate and corvette have often been used interchangeably.

Such is the case with the new warships purchased from South Korea, which has long been one of largest commercial ship builders in the world and since the 1980s became a major warship builder, for the South Korean Navy as well as a growing list of export customers.

South Korea is also donating two used Pohang-class corvettes to the Philippines. One was delivered in 2019 and another will arrive when the next one is retired from South Korean service. The 1,200-ton Pohangs are small ships, with 24 built in the 1980s. They are 88.3 meters (290 feet) long with a crew of 95 that operates a large number of weapons. There are four Harpoon anti-ship missiles, two 76mm cannon, two twin-40mm autocannon, six torpedo tubes (each with a Mk46 324mm/12.75 inch anti-submarine torpedo), and twelve depth charges. Max speed is 59 kilometers an hour, cruising is 28 kilometers an hour. Endurance is about ten days.

The United States donated three retired 3,200-ton Hamilton-class coast guard cutters. These are ocean-going ships armed with a 76mm gun and three autocannon plus several heavy machine-guns. The Philippines uses them for patrol and training new sailors. Twelve Hamiltons entered service between 1967 and 1972 and all were retired between 2011 and 2021. Eleven are still in service, after refurbishment and donation to foreign navies.

 


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