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The Philippine Navy Receives Its New Frigates

June 1, 2020

The BRP Jose Rizal. Via Philippine Navy.

After a five day journey the first of two frigates manufactured by Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) arrived in the Philippines on May 23. The BRP Jose Rizal, named after the national hero, belongs to the HDF-2500 class of missile-armed frigates in HHI’s naval catalog and was tailored for the Philippine Navy’s (PN) use. The PN ordered two HDF-2500’s several years ago as part of its “Sail Plan” modernization effort whose goal was to recapitalize an obsolescent fleet and enhance its operational range. The BRP Jose Rizal’s sibling, the BRP Antonio Luna, was launched in South Korea last November and is scheduled for delivery before the end of 2020.

The BRP Jose Rizal and the BRP Antonio Luna are the largest and most advanced warships ever acquired by the PN whose current inventory doesn’t have any vessels suited for actual combat. When the BRP Jose Rizal reached the western coast of Luzon a “meeting procedure” took place where three fast attack craft and two helicopters welcomed the frigate’s arrival. The exact characteristics of the BRP Jose Rizal are still under wraps but frigates of its size usually displaces at 3,000 tons and operating the ship requires more than a hundred crew. According to the PN the BRP Jose Rizal will be commissioned on June 19 to commemorate the birth of its namesake, the national hero Dr. Jose Rizal. The two-week gap following its arrival is also meant as a quarantine period for the crew who are serving in the frigate.

Commissioning ceremonies are practiced by all navies to mark the beginning of a vessel’s service life. These often take place months or years after the original launching ceremony in the shipyard that assembled the vessel. The BRP Jose Rizal was launched in May 2019 while its sibling the BRP Antonio Luna was launched in November 2019 amid great fanfare involving the PN leadership and HHI executives. But one aspect about the BRP Jose Rizal and Antonio Luna that’s been overlooked are their armament suites. While each frigate has a single 76mm gun on their bow the combination of anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles are a mystery. Photographs of the BRP Jose Rizal shared by the PN reveal its stationary launchers for anti-ship missiles are empty and at what point these are being installed is unknown.

The anti-ship missiles on frigates are often tucked in front of the structure that serves as the hangar for an anti-submarine warfare helicopter; the PN assigned this role to the Leonardo AW159. The BRP Jose Rizal follows the same layout with a pair of torpedo launchers directly across the anti-ship missile launchers. On paper, the armament suite of the BRP Jose Rizal is formidable and includes medium-range SAMs in vertical launchers located behind the bow-mounted 76mm gun. The PN later clarified the munitions for the BRP Jose Rizal and Antonia Luna are due to arrive in 2021 without specifying the exact quantity. A different South Korean manufacturer, in this case LIG Nex1, is the likeliest supplier for the BRP Jose Rizal’s subsonic anti-ship missiles and medium-range SAMs.

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