Tag Archives: EEZ

Changing EEZs

PacificEEZ
Pacific Exclusive Economic Zones. David Butler/Globe staff, click on the chart to enlarge

An interesting discussion took place in the Boston Globe about how to deal with potential changes in the world’s Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) as rising sea levels change the shape of land areas, perhaps resulting in the complete disappearance of some sovereign nations.

One of the possibilities is that the EEZs may be frozen in their current configuration and become an asset of the population, even after the land becomes uninhabitable or disappears completely, and that this asset may be sold, traded, or leased away. We know territorial sovereignty can be sold, after all, the United States benefited from the Louisiana Purchase and Seward’s Folly (Alaska).

A Chinese corporation has been attempting to build a new port complex on “reclaimed” land in Sri Lanka. “Located next to the Colombo Port, the US$1.4 billion project will add about 233 hectares of reclaimed land to the capital and house luxury office buildings, apartment blocks, a golf course, a water sport area, medical facilities, education institutions, hotels, a theme park and marinas.” The project is on hold right now, but if it goes forward, the Chinese firm would be granted  20 hectares (49.4 acres) on an outright basis and 88 hectares (244.6 acres) on a 99-year lease.

This is not a transfer of sovereignty, and  Sri Lanka is not in any danger of disappearing, but it does indicate the scope of China’s interest in the area and, located right off the Southern tip of India, it is sure to feed into India’s fears of being surrounded by a Chinese “string of pearls.”

Potentially more serious is the decision of the government of the Maldives, “The law passed by the Parliament will now allow absolute foreign ownership of land in Maldives if the investment is above USD 1 billion. The caveat to the law is that 70% of the land has to be reclaimed from the sea.” 

The Maldives, with an average elevation of 1.6 meters,  is one of those island nations in danger of being adversely effected by rising sea levels. If anyone takes the Maldives up on their offer, it will probably be the Chinese, who have already shown a lot of interest in the Indian Ocean island nation, despite Maldivan assurances to India that no Chinese military base will be allowed on its land. Again this is not a transfer of sovereignty, but it may be a harbinger of things to come

Besides I really wanted everyone to see the chart of Pacific EEZs. A lot of that is U.S. EEZ.

This article can be found in its original form on Chuck Hill’s CG blog. Chuck retired from the Coast Guard after 22 years service. Assignments included four ships, Rescue Coordination Center New Orleans, CG HQ, Fleet Training Group San Diego, Naval War College, and Maritime Defense Zone Pacific/Pacific Area Ops/Readiness/Plans. Along the way he became the first Coast Guard officer to complete the Tactical Action Officer (TAO) course and also completed the Naval Control of Shipping course. He has had a life-long interest in naval ships and history.

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Protecting the Exclusive Ecconomic Zone – Part II

Feature Picture: LÉ Samuel Beckett the latest OPV of the Irish Naval Service (Trilogy Corporate Site 2014)

Geographical and Oceanographical Factors

When designing OPVs the core question a nation will need to ask itself is how big in terms of area, where the EEZ is (i.e. Northern waters, or Equatorial waters), how far is it that area from the nation’s bases and how much is the EEZ worth.  Vessels which are required to operate in stormy or icy waters (i.e. those operated by Denmark) will need to be as structurally strong and survivable as possible, with a high freeboard to help with large waves, as well as having as much of their equipment internalised as can be, and all equipment that can’t be internalised made easy to clear of ice. In contrast vessels which are to operate in warmer areas (i.e. to an extent France) will need enhanced cooling systems, not only to keep the personnel at a workable temperature, but also the computers and machines. A vessel which could find itself in both situations equally (i.e. those operated by Australia or Britain), will of course need both attributes; it is very difficult to retrofit sufficient cooling into a small ship built to be strong, equally it is very difficult to strength a ship that is not built to be strong. Simply put, a lot of thought needs to be placed at the very beginning of the conception and design process with OPVs as to what is needed, what is wanted and what is best to make sure: because there is not the space available to do much rectifying at a later date.

  8Figure 8. Denmark’s EEZ, total area of 2,551,238km2 encompasses a large area of North Atlantic and the Arctic[i]
9Figure 9. France’s EEZ totals in at 11,035,000km2 and is spread all around the world[ii]
10Figure 10. Australia’s EEZ, total area of about 8,505,348km2 that straddles the South Pacific and Indian Oceans, whilst encompassing a large chunk of Antarctica[iii]

 

Supplementary Missions

OPVs, especially those deployed to patrol distant territories or honour commitments to allies, will often be the nation they represent first responders to natural disasters; therefore building a measure of preparation into the design, i.e. storage space for medical supplies, power tools, tents and portable water purification equipment would be of advantage. This is a situation where a nation has the opportunity to engage in a win-win scenario; they help another nation (nations are not altruistic but they do like to look good and earn favours), they get to build a closer relationship with the nation experiencing the disaster and that nation gets some help. Much the same can be said for an OPV’s role in Search and Rescue operations, most nations have some form of lifeboat organisation – whether it is part of the government, independent or a mix differs from nation to nation. OPVs are of course not lifeboats, but if they are present then they can again be crucial first responders, especially in the case of mid-ocean emergencies. There is though a war (or at least combat) orientated mission, which has been highlighted by the events of October 2014 in Sweden; anti-submarine warfare, or ASW[iv].

11Figure 11. HDMS Ejnar Mikkelsen a Knud Rasmussen class OPV of the Danish Navy[v]

Now it is reasonable to pose the question ‘how useful could a vessel without a sonar (with the exception of the Danish Knud Rasmussen class[vi] which take advantage of stanflex technology[vii] to acquire one) or torpedoes be to an ASW operation, after all it isn’t a frigate?’ In fact OPVs, even those being proposed in this paper are not even corvettes (being closest in armament to a gunboats), do have something to offer ASW operations, especially those with the ability to support helicopters and operate UAVs. Helicopters have become the cornerstone of ASW operations; whilst Long Range Maritime Patrol Aircraft and ships with towed sonar arrays are very capable assets which really do make a difference: a legacy of the Cold War has been an almost dominance of helicopters in the practice of ASW[viii]. Helicopters of course make use of sonar buoys and dipping sonar to locate enemy submarines, such equipment could also be transferred in time to suitably capable UAVs – some of which are already in operation[ix]. This is in many ways an argument for building in flexible spaces into ship designs, as the one thing that can’t be easily added into a ship is space, yet it is space which serves best to future proof it.

It’s not only ships though that need to be future proofed, so do crews and commanders. Small ships, like OPVs, offer almost unique opportunities for navies to test out commanders at junior ranks with a fair amount of responsibility; at a far lower risk than if the achieve higher rank and untested make their mistakes when in command of far more expensive vessels.  Furthermore, a naval commander will often find themselves acting in a diplomatic capacity[x] a fact which has been highlighted by Julian Corbett as well as other authors[xi] throughout the years. Therefore Command of an OPV, especially when despatched to the edges of an EEZ or to patrol distant territories will provide young officers a plethora of opportunities to develop their skills and gain vital experience in this role. The reason that OPVs are unique in this regard is because the other small vessel type, the mine countermeasure vessel (MCMV), is becoming more and more specialised – even as the equipment becomes more containerised and dependent upon unmanned vehicles (although divers retain a vital role in the work); meaning that command of such vessels acting in that role itself requires more and more specialised knowledge.

Possible Missions

“The unassailable political lessons of the Falklands are that disregarding a threat does not make it disappear”

James Cable[xii]

The same can be said for ships, and most definitely for OPVs – disregarding, or down playing the likelihood of circumstances that will require their capabilities doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Even in this work, there are possible missions which OPVs could be used for, beyond those it has discussed. For example, with a suitable CIWS, and dual-purpose deck gun these vessels could make a very much needed war time point defence assets for MCMVs, auxiliaries, ships taken up from trade[xiii] and amphibious ships (including landing craft). In a time of shrinking forces, these are not frigate or destroyer replacements, but they would be able to help; they are able to be the ‘quantity’. Which leads to another scenario for the future. That OPVs cease to exist as they are now, and that nations begin to pursue something more similar to where the Danish model has already gone.

Under this scenario the future is a ship of ~2400tons, with a range of 6-7,000nmi, and which in its basic OPV form is armed with probably either a 57mm or 76mm deck gun[xiv], a CIWS and two single 20mm or 30mm mounts, would carry a rotary UAV and have the ability to deploy and recover boats from a ramp. However, by making use of a system similar to that of the Stanflex modular system, can be quickly modified with additional modules[xv] to make it an MCMV, Oceanography vessel or Point Defence ship (with addition of self-sufficient surface to air missiles which don’t require specialist radar, like the C-Dome is reported to be[xvi]) as required by operation. Although to maintain those skills and to meet ongoing operational commitments some vessels would have to be virtually permanently tasked as the former two; with other ships taking over as required by maintenance. This is because as said above the work of MCMV vessels is particularly specialised, and requires a lot of practice to keep at the level it’s required for war time. Oceanography is of course and ongoing commitment, requiring its own cadre of specialised staff, and equipment, which are easier to leave in place as long as possible so they can ‘bed down’. This all though is not to mean that there are not significant requirements for British Patrol vessels, as Figure 12 (below) highlights; the British EEZ is very expansive.

12Figure 12. Britain’s EEZ incorporates an area over 6,805,586km2, and whilst world encompassing is concentrated in the Atlantic[xvii]

In the case of the Royal Navy which is currently upgrading its forces to seven River Class OPV’s, operates eight each of the Hunt and Sandown class MCMVs, two Echo Class multi-purpose survey vessels, representing a force of twenty-five ships. Now if all those ships were of the same design, then instead of it being seven OPVs, sixteen MCMVs and two survey vessels, it would be a pool of twenty five vessels (with operational cost savings from streamlining training and maintenance that could be twenty-eight, or even more should Britain continue its focus on reserves and decide to give the Royal Naval Reserve proper ships again[xviii]) that could be orientated as required by circumstance.

Now this is nothing new, the RN’s MCMVs already often do secondary duty as OPVs, and in fact the scenario outlined is to an extent (common hulls), what the Mine Countermeasures, Hydrography and Patrol Vessel (MCHPV) program envisaged[xix]. Unfortunately, and despite the publication of the Black Swan sloop Concept[xx], when the opportunity came to order three more ships for the OPV role – it was not this program which was sourced, but the existing River Class[xxi], suggesting that it has at least been put back if not having been sacrificed for the time being on the altar of the Type 26 Frigate. What is worse is actually the base design of the River class, with its proven track record, adaptability and RN operational experience, would actually (on the face of it) make the perfect base pattern for the MCHPV to be built from.  Britain though would not be the only nation which could benefit from such a design, so could other nations such as Japan, South Africa, India, Australia and Canada.

All those nations are nations which are building themselves up in the maritime sense, they have to really, as the world has got more complex and sources of danger have diversified the necessity to protect what is theirs has grown. For the Japanese who have a strong escort force they would be most likely less interested in the point-defence adaptability, but considering their ‘peacetime’ problems of East China Sea EEZ patrol and probable war time issues with mines an adaptable force could prove a very workable and cost effective solution. For Australia and Canada with such vast areas to cover in such hostile seas then the more OPVs the better, more importantly with their relatively small force sizes, some second tier fighting ships might well be an attractive foundation on which to grow operational capabilities. India which has for a long time prided itself on being the strongest Asian naval power, is now facing challenges and a future where there are now easy strategic choices or even black & white decisions – making procurement of a flexible asset of the form of OPV/specialist duty vessel a more practical methodology of future proofing.

This is though beginning to sound similar to a ship design which has dominated American procurement discussion in recent years, the Littoral Combat Ship or LCS[xxii]. This was billed as the go everywhere, do everything low level combatant. Which has become its millstone, because it was supposed to be a jack of all trades it is good at none. Everything was designed from scratch, tailor made to fit this new class of warship. Unfortunately that design included a fixation on stealth, primarily because of the ‘Littoral’, meaning close to shore, in its name. The important difference between the LCS, OPVs and even what is being proposed is that the latter two vessel types are not supposed to do everything. The whole way through this work a constant refrain has been, ‘not a frigate’; OPVs do not need to be stealthy to the extent of the LCS, they do no need multiple hangars or even custom equipment – because that level of equipment is not needed by their mission set. Everything that an OPV needs, even the adaptable ship proposed in this section, is procurable ‘off the shelf’ – theoretically offering governments the opportunity to keep very tight control of the costs because they are known in advance. Even with all its capability the LCS has because of its failure to be able to do everything, had its procurement cut short and the USN are now looking for a frigate. One of the options for which is actually an upgraded version of the Coast Guards National Security Cutter[xxiii].

13Figure 13. the Austral’s Independence class LCS, the second of the two designs, its trimaran hull form and distinctive menacing stealth design has already made it a feature of cinema, but also make it cost wise firmly in the frigate classification, despite its limited weaponry[xxiv].
14Figure 14. Russian Steregushchiy class corvette[xxv], the Russian equivalent of the LCS, it bristles with weapons and is not really adaptable: these vessels (like the Chinese Type 056) are most definitely small warships rather than a patrol vessel.

Conclusion

“…the greatest value of the Navy will be found in events that fail to occur because of its influence”

Prof. Colin Gray[xxvi]

As has hopefully been shown these words of Prof Gray could be the watchwords for OPVs.  Whether in terms of design or employment, the mission of such a vessel is to prevent events from happening through their own presence, and through the influence that being present gives a nation.

At the beginning of this work a very simple question was asked, ‘What do OPVs need to be able to do, to do what they do?’, the answer unfortunately is not so simple. The first part of the question though that needs to be answered is actually the second. This is because what a ship does is ultimately the crucial overarching idea which must dictate their design. In theory the OPVs overarching design idea is to be able to maintain their nation’s EEZ through patrolling, and maximise their nation’s security in general through presence. The trouble is that, whilst put like that it sounds like a two plus two sum scenario, the reality as has been discussed is far more complex. There are reasons that the Nigerian OPV version of the Chinese corvette displaces 300tons more; to start with it is operating primarily in the South Atlantic rather than the more gentle waters of the Pacific, beyond this is the fact that whereas the corvettes can call in support of larger ships – the Nigerian navy hasn’t yet reached that point. This serves as an example as to why it’s so difficult to compare one nations OPV to another’s, as every nation has unique needs, and  an its own global perspective which will impact upon what they think they need, therefore what they build.

This complexity then feeds into the first part of the question, for if a vessel is conceived to carry out a primarily fishery protection role then it’s armament beyond machine guns becomes rather unnecessary; if however it is likely to be facing off with other nations warships – then perhaps it needs to be more corvette/small frigate, less OPV. The trick for any nation will be in getting the balance right, because getting it wrong will be far more expensive in lives and treasure. To get it right though then a nation must first properly gauge the threat that its ships will likely face, and just as importantly what level of support they are likely to receive – for a ship that will be on its own and only receive support under the best of circumstance must by necessity be more self-sufficient than one for which possibly overwhelming firepower, medical support or stores are just a beep away.

OPV are because of all this a very revealing class of vessel to watch, by this it’s meant that a nation’s choices will demonstrate much about what their intentions are. The longer the endurance of an OPV the more a nation would seem to be intent on achieving constant presence within their EEZ. This though is not answering the question, the answer to the question is that once a nation has decided what it needs to do, and what it wants to do then it must equip its OPVs accordingly; but they can’t go too far wrong if that OPV is equipped with UAVs, a decent deck gun, a CIWS, the appropriate sensors and possibly most importantly the ability to rapidly deploy and recover boats. Everything beyond that is up to the nation involved.

Dr. Alexander Clarke is our friend from the Phoenix Think Tank in the United Kingdom and host of the East-Atlantic edition of Sea Control. 

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[i]            (Wikipedia 2014, Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) 2009)

[ii]           (Wikipedia 2014, Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) 2009)

[iii]           (Wikipedia 2014, Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) 2009)

[iv]           (Marzal 2014)

[v]           (www.prismdefence.com 2010)

[vi]           (CASR 2008, naval-technology.com 2014)

[vii]          (Seaforces.org 2014) – this is a brilliant system which allows for a whole range of mission modules to be changed in and out re-rolling a ship in a matter of hours; advantages of this system include reducing maintenance & upgrade costs – by being able to carry out the work inside at a pace dictated by the work, not by the need to get the ship back to sea.  The problem with it are that whilst it is really a better version of ‘fitted for not with’ (a famous phrase attached to many RN vessels), as the ships can be fitted very quickly, a small ship will always be restricted to being a general specialist rather a general purpose ship. That though is really not that big a bug to bear.

[viii]         (Holmes 2014, USN 2014)

[ix]           (Clarke, August 2013 Notes: Possibilities of Future RN AEW 2013, Clarke, August 2013 Notes: UAVs = Cruise Missiles = UAVs… what does the future look like for Navies? 2013)

[x]           (Clarke, August 2013 Thoughts: Naval Diplomacy – from the Amerigo Vespucci to a Royal Yacht 2013)

[xi]           (J. S. Corbett 1911, Lord Chatfield 1942, Cable, Gunboat Diplomacy 1919-1979, Political Applications of Limited Naval Force 1981, Mahan 1987)

[xii]          (Cable, Britain’s Naval Future 1983, xiii-xiv)

[xiii]         Which have been a part of warfare forever, and have been a core part of war time planning for many years – as best displayed in the work the USN did on War Plan Orange (Miller 1991, 86-99)

[xiv]         In the case of the UK which seems to have enforced a no new gun policy, then there would seem to be a perfect opportunity for some inter-service collaboration, the new army 40mm gun would seem ripe for a sea going conversion, and whilst not being much better than the 30mm option, it would provide a better than nothing increase whilst not requiring a new gun.

[xv]          Optimum number would probably be two – four, depending upon whether the CIWS and Deck Gun were also modular installations or were traditionally emplaced.

[xvi]         (Eshel 2014)

[xvii]         (Wikipedia 2014, Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) 2009)

[xviii]        Yes this may look a little ‘pie in the sky’ in the light of recent decisions, but considering even a cursory glance at what this force is required to do includes:

  • Provide presence/maritime security patrols in the Caribbean, Gibraltar and the Falklands; the only one that a standing OPV presence is maintained at the moment is the Falkland’s, with the Caribbean being covered by a Bay class auxiliary, and Gibraltar having something only when it’s passing through.
  • Fishery Protection/Counter Terrorism patrol of the UK; the OPVs are constant alert for this, whilst Scotland maintains its own Fishery Protection vessels, they don’t do counter terrorism.
  • MCMV patrols in the Middle East, Faslane for the Strategic Deterrent, Portsmouth for the Carriers and Plymouth for the Amphibious Task Group; possibly the most overworked vessels in the fleet, with
  • Survey Ships are often either doing or doing the equivalent of around the world voyages in order to maintain up-to-date maps of the oceans beneath the waves to support ASW and submarine operations.

When that is considered, alongside the fact that many of these commitments requiring multiple ships, it could make anyone wonder how the RN manages it with a force of just 25 vessels – which are not ‘interchangeable’ as those proposed would be.

[xix]         (naval-technology.com 2012)

[xx]          (Ministry of Defence 2012)

[xxi]         (Navy News 2014)

[xxii]         (Defence Industry Daily Staff 2014)

[xxiii]        (Axe 2014)

[xxiv]        (Defence Industry Daily Staff 2014)

[xxv]         (naval-technology.com 2014)

[xxvi]        (Royal Navy 2014)

 

 

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Protecting the Exclusive Economic Zones – Part I

Feature Picture: LÉ Samuel Beckett the latest OPV of the Irish Naval Service (Trilogy Corporate Site 2014)

Introduction

Maritime security is at its heart an exercise of risk reduction, action deterrence and event response – no nation ever has enough resources allocated to enable its forces to be everywhere they need to be all the time. So in reality defence and security has become a bit of a mirage; aiming to look more substantial and solid that it actually is. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the circumstance of maritime security, and the protection of a nations Exclusive Economic Zones, or EEZ. An EEZ is the area of sea/sea bed that a nation administers, for want of a better phrase ‘owns’, and therefore can control/monetize the extraction of resources (such as Fish, Gas, Gold or Manganese) from, and which are becoming increasingly important to national economies – in fact their societies as a whole. However, a nation cannot control or monetize anything if it doesn’t actually have control of it, and just as a city cannot be policed from the secured, nor a battlefield secured just from air[i], neither can an EEZ. Due to this, a specific type of vessel has not so much appeared (as navies have always fulfilled the role with other vessels) as evolved as the areas required to be patrolled have expanded. Although instead of reviving one of the old names, Brig, Sloop or Swan, as was done with ‘Frigate’ in WWII, a name based upon the role the vessel carries out has been generated; OPV.

OPV is of course an acronym, and stands for Offshore Patrol Vessels a name which whilst being apt is also a little bit of a let-down; especially as with the expansion of EEZs across the world these vessels might be better termed Ocean Patrol Vessels, or perhaps even EEZPVs. That however is long past the point of debate, what is not though is the role that these vessels fulfil for the nations which operate them. Whether they are naval patrol ships or coast guard cutters, OPVs can be usually be defined as vessels which displace less than 3,000tons, are capable of operating in open ocean, and which are the maritime presence equivalent of the ‘police foot-patrol’ (or ‘bobby on the beat’), fulfilling a similar position in terms of maritime security. They are not therefore, nor can they ever be, ‘frigate replacements’[ii], but they are vessels which have a different mission spectrum that brings its own requirements in terms of armament, equipment and sensors.

These factors are of course dictated primarily by their projected mission profile. However, whether or not the nations possess vessels other than the OPVs, for example as in the case of Australia, Britain, France and Japan with frigates and destroyers; their OPVs do not need to be as well armed as nations for which OPVs constitute the primary surface vessel type. Furthermore, there can also be factors of internal or inter-governmental politics which can have an impact as to how a ship is designed – for example depending upon whether the vessels are domestically constructed, equivalent of the foreign ministry might well have influence as to where they are constructed. Beyond these factors are can also be things like tradition (possibly better termed habit). These are all things which factor into a design, many are not entirely relevant to the question as they have no direct bearing on what OPVs do. There is though, an impact on design which must be discussed, for both its negative, as well as positive impacts – and that is the matrix planning system.

1Key:

  1. Civil or military threats calling upon MACA (Military Aid to Civil Authorities).
  2. Terrorist outrage – may be multiple, internal or external in origin.
  3. Piracy, hijack, kidnap and ransom – may be multiple.
  4. Terrorist threat from abroad – may be multiple, currently from fundamentalist tinder points of Islamist extremism and their fault-lines with the UK.
  5. Major terrorist attack (on the scale of 9/11, or an enhanced Mumbai).
  6. Cyber attack de-stabilising critical national infrastructure / defence functions.
  7. Imperative to contribute to international peace-keeping or stabilisation.
  8. Serious interference with shipping.
  9. Serious interference with airways.
  10. Politico-military threat to Falkland Islands and South Atlantic dependencies, and their EEZs.
  11. Threat to UK dependencies generally, and their EEZs.
  12. Imperative to help defend an ally under attack by a third party.
  13. Major airborne attack on UK from sea or another land-mass.
  14. Serious threat of nuclear attack on UK by another nation.
  15. Credible threat of invasion of UK.
Figure 1The Framework for an objective comprehensive Strategic Defence Review, published by UKNDA February 2010 – Senior Author R.Adm Jeremy Larken DSO[iii]

Everything looks so neat and ordered in matrix, the world is nicely divided up and in many ways it as excellent representation of what is needed for what missions – unfortunately there is a problem with it. The world itself is not so neatly divided up. There is no way of factoring what a government wants to be able to do in comparison to how much it is willing to pay. It can in many ways also become a substitute for proper operational planning and analysis, as individuals fall back on “well this is what the matrix projects is likely to happen” logic. Why is this a specific problem for OPVs? This is because the majority of what they do either doesn’t have a place on the matrix, or fits in the Minor or Limited categories.

There is also the point that while something may be unlikely, that if someone had asked the question in 1913 ‘will there be a World War starting next year which will last five years, cost millions of lives and see the emergence to practicality of whole evolutions of equipment?’ – the answer most likely would have been a no. However, while an event might only be predicted to happen just once in a hundred years, will it happen in year 19 or year 99 of that 100 year span? What was the likelihood that the next World War would take place a little over two decades after the first? This creates a problem, because if something isn’t going to happen for a long time according to odds, it becomes very tempting to cost conscious governments with bills to pay to think they can put it off till they need it.  The reality is though with procurement cycles taking twenty plus years before equipment enters service this can have a big impact, as something as complex as a warship cannot be procured overnight. This is an impact most visible when considering vessels at the opposite end of the spectrum of naval warships.

In 1967 when the British government made a decision not to procure aircraft carriers[iv], they certainly didn’t believe that less than fifteen years later they would be fighting a war which was entirely dependent upon naval aviation[v]. In 2010, when the British government again decided that an aircraft carrier capability gap was necessary (without taking the precaution of arranging cover); who would have predicted the Arab Spring, Syria, the rise of the Islamic State, the Ebola Crisis, and Russia acting up? These and all sorts of other minor crises where organic carrier air power wouldn’t have necessarily been the first response, but would have been very useful as a bedrock capability from which to conduct/lead/support operations and project influence.

In the case of OPVs, it’s more complicated to show, as so much of what vessels of this type do is only really shown when they’re not there to do it. It’s like the security guard or the police officer walking the beat[vi]; what value can be placed on the crimes which are not committed because the would-be perpetrators decide to go elsewhere for less risky pickings? These though are concepts which are readily understood, the concept and role of an OPV is less understood, because unlike the police officer walking his patrol, or the security guard at the entrance, people see them every day – they are the familiar shapes, a recurring presence, that makes many feel safer. Unfortunately for OPVs much of their work is not only beyond visual range, it is so far over the horizon that many lack any comprehension of what they do; a situation compounded by the fact that much of what they do is definitely not eye-catching or dramatic enough for modern revenue driven news media to pick up and put on television, the news-stands or online.

Primary Mission – Protecting & Patrolling the EEZ

When discussing the bounty of the sea, the first thing which will occur to most people is fish, and fishery protection, i.e. the enforcement of quotas, rights, and ground. Now these can all become complicated when looked at in detail, but in reality it comes down to the question of ‘who fished what, where?’. This is therefore a mission which requires an OPV to maintain very good situational awareness of its patrol area, and the ocean beyond that. To do so it will probably need to be able to receive and process large volumes of data from external sources, i.e. international systems like the European Maritime Surveillance Network[vii]. Finally of course when they do find vessels which are contravening the rules, or look suspicious they need to be able to deploy and support ship search teams in order to examine that vessel more forensically than is possible by radar. Fishery protection has developed a harder edge in recent years, probably starting with the second and third ‘Cod Wars’ between the United Kingdom and Iceland[viii] ; but progressing significantly now with events in the South[ix] and East China Seas[x] where fishing vessels and their protection of fishery rights has become almost a proxy for territorial (or EEZ) expansion at the expense of neighbours territorial rights[xi]. That this might induce repercussions and copycat actions in other parts of the world, is something that nations can only discount at their own peril.

Design Requirements of Fishery Protection:

  • Surface Search Radar.
  • Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)[xii] for wide area search, and visual inspection (as well as to allow the OPV to visually monitor activity from out of sight/beyond visual range) – it can also be used to provide look down/blind side cover for search teams entering potentially dangerous situations.
  • Ability to deploy & recover boats quickly; recently this has led to vessels, OPVs in particular, having ramps at the stern so that instead of using a crane or davits to launch and recover the boats which takes time and is very difficult, they literally let the slip off the stern and recover them the same way.
  • Ability to interface with a wide variety of external data sources

Bold = not previously mentioned

Fish though are not the only bounty of the sea, oil, gas, as well as many other minerals and ores are all to be located and extracted from it[xiii]. With the modern understanding of the environmental impact of such activities, and combined with their sometimes great distances from land mean that for governments the mission of oversight is both very important and very complex. OPVs and other naval vessels will often be a principle methodology of government in keeping over watch over these activities. There has also been in recent years, growing examples of nations using Rigs, as well as fishing fleets, to try to expand or strengthen their claims to watery territory. This has been most recently seen in the South China Sea[xiv], but have also been a feature in disputes between the United Kingdom and Argentina in the former’s EEZ around its Falkland Island Territory[xv], as well as Africa. The fact is once rigs are in place they are very difficult to remove without damaging that which a nation would wish to preserve or causing an all-out conflict; therefore the best method of dealing with these threats is by prevention – which requires presence. Put another way, if possession is nine-tenths of the law[xvi], and it is possessing the sea that a nation can draw sustenance from the sea, the presence is how a nation shows and maintains that possession.

2

Figure 2. USCGC Waesche (WMSL 751), the second of the US Coast Guard’s National Security Cutters to enter service, shown in this picture with KRI Sultan Iskandar Muda (SIM 367) and KRI Banda Aceh (BAC 593) a corvette and landing platform dock of the Indonesian Navy[xvii].
Design Requirements of Resource Protection:

  • Surface Search Radar.
  • UAV, again for wide area search and to enable the OPV to rapidly get eye’s on any potential situation.
  • Ability to deploy & recover boats quickly.
  • Ability to stay on station for long periods of time, in range of adverse weather conditions.
  • Potentiality of lethality – more important than for fishery protection, to deter the potential for adverse events a ship involved in this mission needs some capabilities for defence.

Bold = not previously mentioned

Trade protection is a mission set which is both larger than Fishery Protection and Resource Protection, but at the same time more narrow. In the ‘peacetime’ context of navies, it is a counter piracy, counter-interdiction/interdiction, Freedom of the Seas and navigation which for the pillar groupings of this mission set[xviii]. Furthermore, unlike the previous two mission sets there are just as definite advantages to using larger ships than OPVs for some operations, as there are definite advantages to using OPVs for them[xix]. Before examining the capabilities required though it is probably best to define three of the missions, as whilst piracy and its resulting counter-piracy missions regularly make the press, counter-interdiction and Freedom of the Seas missions are not so frequent. Interdiction and Freedom of the Seas could be confused as the same mission, as both involve disruptions through trade – however, whilst Interdiction refers to undue checks being imposed or a targeted mission by a nation on a specific merchant vessel (i.e. if the Argentinians had tried to stop the oil survey ship conducting its mission in the Falklands EEZ that would have been an Interdiction) whereas Freedom of the Seas refers to a more ‘blanket’ denial of movement. Due to these differences though the level of justifiable response (or proportional response[xx]) and international response can be very different (as after all a Freedom of the Seas situation would most like generate a multi-national task force response) and therefore require different things from the nation, so obviously require different things from its ships.

The advantages of larger ships is of course greater endurance, more firepower, more personnel/space to do things with and most importantly they are a bigger statement of interest – something which can be especially important when the mission is Freedom of the Seas orientated. On the other hand though smaller ships can establish precedent, and the self-defence armament of an OPV could be viewed as ‘less provocative’ – although at the same time this means they could be less able to protect themselves if something goes wrong. In the end for such operations it might well be in the future, depending upon the threat level judged sensible to have the OPV do the actual Freedom of the Seas demonstration or Counter-Interdiction while a larger vessel (probably a destroyer as that would be most suitable due to its area air defence capability) stands off to provide support. This though is not the only role for which there are advantages on both sides.

Counter-interdiction is arguably the most complicated mission, and one which has been a far more frequent occurrence than Freedom of the Seas. Interception of specific vessels or a specific nation’s vessels by another nation can be an attractive policy; for example the activities of Argentina with British survey vessels (which are announced but not carried out)[xxi], China with American intelligence ships[xxii] or Israel with Gaza[xxiii]. In the case of each of these nations, the policy has been weighed up and found to be advantageous – the problem though for other nations is how to prevent interdiction. This can be a very sensitive mission, in the case of Britain it is arguable that it was the presence of naval ships in the region, the OPV HMS Clyde[xxiv] and the ‘Atlantic Patrol Tasking South’[xxv] – a frigate or destroyer and an auxiliary, that discouraged the Argentinian Government from active interdiction rather than using diplomatic efforts to passively impact operations by getting other nations to deny access to ports[xxvi]. This is a form of interdiction which is of course not able to be solved by modern definitions of ‘gunboat diplomacy’[xxvii] due to modern perceptions on the action of nations; but the Argentinians stopped at these more passive measures. Just as counter-interdiction is a role for OPVs, so is interdiction itself; primarily from the perspective of counter smuggling operations – the smaller size of an OPV in relation to other naval ships allowing it to get closer to shore to support its boats if a smuggling vessel tries to make a dash for it through shallow water. These though are principally (or worst case scenario in terms of interdiction) state-on-state issues, the other two pillars, navigation and counter-piracy, are of course non-state in origin.

3

Figure 3. HMS Clyde on patrol in the South Atlantic[xxviii], often her and her crew are the only British presence for hundreds, if not thousands of miles; this is not an unusual situation for an OPV to find itself in and therefore has to be a principle consideration in their design.

Navigation, could seem a strange addition in the age of satellites capable of providing accurate measurements of a ships position down to the nearest meter anywhere on the globe. Unfortunately, not all ships have that technology; although such a state is becoming increasingly rare.  Still though navigation is important, especially in making sure ships stay in their ‘correct lane’. This might seem strange but in the oceanic choke points like the English Channel, Straits of Gibraltar, Strait of Malacca and Strait of Hormuz, there are so many ships that that the effect of leaving their lane would be much the same as a car driving the wrong way on a busy road – mayhem. Whether it is down to inaccurate navigation equipment, engine malfunction, steering difficulties or human factors, much the same as with cars on the road, the authorities have to resolve the issue. This mission is exacting on a ship, it requires it to be powerful and strong so it can act as a tug if necessary, it needs to be able to operate in all weathers and sea states and its needs to be reliable so will  need to have perhaps even more redundancy built into it that normal ships. Despite the disasters which have happened when governments haven’t been adequately equipped for navigation events, it is the non-state trade protection role of counter-piracy the garners most attention.

Whether on the East or West Coasts of Africa, the Singapore Straits (or further up into the Straits of Malacca) or in the Caribbean[xxix] piracy impacts on not just the way ships are operated, but costs of shipping insurance is increased, some shipping lines are turning to armed guards others using naval architecture – and all these costs will inevitably be passed on to consumers. The role of OPVs in this is course obvious, they are not about tackling the causes of piracy (whether that is economic weakness, greed or politics), but about providing a cost effective presence to deter potential pirates by raising the potential cost for them. The fact that so far it is usually a frigate or destroyer that nations have deployed, is not only testimony to the almost explosive capability boost that can be offered to OPVs by UAVs (and the benefits of organic air power enjoyed by most modern escort vessels), but also to dearth of vessels available to (especially western) navies after the post-Cold War ‘peace dividend’[xxx]. Furthermore, OPVs are due to their more limited equipment, considerably less expensive to acquire, so for those nations which wish to not rely upon other nations to provide counter-piracy cover in their waters, they represent a more viable option than even perhaps a more war orientated small vessel such as a corvette.

Design Requirements of Trade Protection:

  • Surface Search & Air Search Radar.
  • UAV, again for wide area search and to enable the OPV to rapidly get eye’s on any potential situation, providing a beyond visual range detection system to monitor for possible small craft movements, and of course giving cover to boarding teams.
  • Ability to deploy & recover boats quickly.
  • Ability to stay on station for long periods of time, in range of adverse weather conditions.
  • Strong hull and powerful engines in order for the vessel to be able to act as a ‘tug’ and take large merchant vessels under tow.

Bold = not previously mentioned

Border patrol, just as with land borders and air space, a nation has to patrol its maritime borders; such an action is enshrined in Fishery and Resource protection roles, but in reality is its own set of missions.

When a nation challenges another by entering its national waters[xxxi], there are of course various responses available to most nations – but the most effective is of course an ‘equivalent’ or ‘proportional’ response. Put another way, whilst aircraft can overfly a ship, they have to return to base, whereas a ship can shadow, can if necessary send a party across to enquire in person as to what is happening; in simple terms a ship is a far stronger response to a ship, even if smaller, as long as it’s able to keep up and stay on station, protect itself if some suddenly changes and fly’s the flag high that will all count for a lot. This is not just something small nations have to contend with, for example in 2014 Britain dealt with two separate incidents, one involved HMS Severn (one of Britain’s River class OPVs) having to escort Russian Landing Craft through the English Channel[xxxii]. However, when the Russian aircraft carrier, Admiral Kuznetzov[xxxiii], and its task group enacted a similar performance Britain of course required a ‘bigger presence’ therefore HMS Dragon (a Type 45 Destroyer[xxxiv]), the Fleet Ready Escort[xxxv], was called upon[xxxvi].

4Figure 4. Chinese built Nigeria OPV, based on the Type 056 Corvette design[xxxvii]
5Figure 5. Chinese Type 056 Corvettes[xxxviii], the Chinese answer to the problems of maritime border patrol, well-armed, produced in large numbers and soon to feature ASW versions[xxxix].
Design Requirements of Border Patrol:

  • Surface Search & Air Search Radar.
  • Ability to deploy & recover boats quickly.
  • Ability to stay on station for long periods of time, in range of adverse weather conditions.
  • A Close in Weapon System, probably of the gun/laser variety as that is less demanding in terms of technology support than a missile system, and a main gun preferably with a calibre of 57mm or higher so that they present a capability: the fitting of anti-ship missiles or torpedoes would only really be necessary in a navy which doesn’t have larger ships – and would also turn the OPV into a Corvette.
  • Self-Sustaining; it is important that backups are built into the systems on the ships as well as spare parts, because operating at a distance from home means if anything goes wrong an OPV’s crew will need to be able to take care of themselves.

Bold = not previously mentioned

6Figure 6. HMS Severn alongside HMS Belfast on the Thames (Author’s Own Collection) – Britain’s tools of Presence Past and Present.

Another diplomatic role that OPV’s have to undertake is that of ‘presence’, showing the flag, port visits, etc. Presence is about demonstrating a visible and most importantly ongoing commitment to a region, with the aim of promoting stability and protecting national interests. This is a mission which all naval ships are required to carry out, because by the nature of the presence mission, quantity becomes a quality of its own[xl]. This is because each visit represent an opportunity to build relationships.  The more that can be done to build, and strengthen, relationships, the greater the foundation that will be constructed for the exercising of diplomatic power (sometimes referred to as informal or even soft power). This matters because in the world of shrinking defence budgets, relationships with the potential that they represent for co-operation, information and alternative options, could well be crucial either by having better intelligence to enabling heading off of potential troubles before they become trouble, or being able to respond more efficiently/prepare forces when trouble happens.

Design Requirements of Presence:

  • Entertaining space & enhanced (in comparison to that required purely for crew) Catering facilities.
  • Advanced communication systems, to enable vessels to act as rapid conduits for information gathered.
  • Ship needs to be well appointed, kept in good order, and preferably look efficient
  • (in case of an OPV) Sufficiently well-armed to present itself as a capable, if not necessary threatening, adversary.

Bold = not previously mentioned

Counter-terrorism is its own area because it is a growing problem, despite their similarity to, and often overlap with, counter-piracy missions. This is due to the fat that whereas counter-piracy missions have a degree of predictability about them (enabling scalable resources to be deployed in the vicinity), terrorist missions are not as predictable; most importantly the difference is in motive. Piracy is about financial gain, if it happened on the high street it would be called robbery; terrorists might seek financial gain to support operations, but they are not motivated by it. Furthermore, whilst traditionally the deployment of marines or naval infantry with machine guns have been sufficient augmentation of firepower to deal with any eventuality this will not always be possible[xli]. Another difference is in comparison to pirates, as time has gone on terrorist organisations have been growing in terms of equipment, firepower and training; currently this has mostly been felt in terms of land conflict[xlii]. However, it can only be a matter time before these organisations or similar take to the sea[xliii].

The reason this is so, is because of the value of targets available in comparison to the relative lack of security, and the likely response times of government forces must make them attractive. Should these forces take even basic anti-tank missiles, or surface to air missiles, to sea with them, then many nations could find the lightly armed OPVs they have in service literally overwhelmed. Even at current levels, in order to have enough firepower aboard them, then under most circumstances either the nation will have needed to be forewarned, or it will be scrambling to react to events – and the ships themselves will not have enough of the ‘right’ personnel (i.e. marines or equivalent) to effectively deal with the situation.

7

Design Requirements of Counter Terrorism:

  • Need to have the space aboard to accommodate, support and sustain a rapid increase in personnel at very short notice.
  • A flight deck large enough for a medium or bigger helicopter to land/refuel/take off, in order to facilitate rapid transfers of personnel.
  • Increased firepower from remotely operated weapons systems, to provide protection for crew (+ capability if either the extra personnel do not arrive in time and/or to counter increased terrorist firepower[xliv]) and a scalable response to principle weapon system.

Bold = not previously mentioned

Figure 7. P840 HNLMS Holland, lead ship of the latest class of Dutch OPV’s, at 3,750 tons, they are bigger than some navies frigates: but with a crew of 50 and space for 40 more, a hangar that can accommodate a medium helicopter, a 76mm Oto Melara Super Rapid main gun, a 30mm Oto Melara Marlin mounted in its ‘B’ position, supplemented by two 12.7mm Oto Melara Hitrole  and six 7.62mm machine guns (the only manually operated weapons), when this is combined with an impressive sensor suite and a range of 5000nm at 15kts they represent a significant capability[xlv].

 

To be continued in Part II

Dr. Alexander Clarke is our friend from the Phoenix Think Tank in the United Kingdom and host of the East-Atlantic edition of Sea Control. 

[i]            (Masi 2014, Agencies 2014)

[ii]           The nation most likely to face such a notion would be the UK, and really it shouldn’t as its current escort strength of nineteen frigates and destroyers is already well below that which is required by its patrol and task group commitments; it’s also a very strange situation to be in, as for example when the US Coastguard buys cutters, the USN navy doesn’t get told to buy less escort vessels, so why does the Treasury in the UK. Although this is not a recent phenomenon,  John Ferris  in his 1989 book Men, Money and Diplomacy; the evolution of British strategic foreign policy, 1919-1926 (published by Cornell) highlights the sometimes circtacious and often illogical in terms of naval or military strategy interventions by those seeking to secure the public purse – interventions which nearly always end up costing vastling more in the long run; something which has been well illustrated by story of the Queen Elizabeth II class  (naval-technology.com 2014, Tovey 2014). As said above and a point which will be reiterated; OPVs and Frigates are very different ships, one is a relatively cheap maritime patrol asset, the other a high value anti-submarine asset that is capable of providing task group point air defence, naval gunfire support and viable anti-ship platform.

[iii]           (Larken, et al. 2010, 17)

[iv]           (Friedman 1988, 327-44)

[v]           (Clapp and Southby-Tailyour 1997, Woodward and Robisnon 2003)

[vi]           In this scenario, Maritime Patrol Aircraft are a sort of mobile CCTV equivalent, in the right conditions can provide identification, and are a sort of deterrent; but short of warfighting scenarios where they can actively engage targets they have limited capabilities to carry out the sort of missions discussed by this piece, e.g. unless they are seaplanes they can’t launch and recover boarding teams.

[vii]          (European Defence Agency 2014)

[viii]         (The National Archives 2014), recommend look up the history of the Turbot Wars

[ix]           (BBC 2014)

[x]           (Smith 2012)

[xi]           (Dingli, et al. 2013, Hosford and Ratner 2013); interestingly the 1985 Plenary meeting of the Chinese leadership focused on hegemonism and expansionism as being primary causes of limited war – something they felt more likely to occur than full scale nuclear conflict (Tien 1992, 277). This can be read as especially interesting, considering recent the Chinese naval boom (reference), because as has been discussed since Julian Corbett wrote his Some Principles of Maritime Strategy 1911, the only truly limited war is that which takes place between two island powers or those separated by the sea (J. S. Corbett 1911, 48).

[xii]          Rotary Wing UAVs are most likely (with current technology) probably the best choice, as whilst small fixed wing/net recovery UAVs like Scan Eagle (Insitu 2013, Defense Industry Daily 2014, Boeing 2014) offer much in terms of surveillance, the idea of ‘crashing’ any aircraft with live weaponry into anything when it can be justifiably avoided is illogical. The result could well be that OPVs end up carrying a mixture of such unmanned aircraft, maybe even more than their larger brethren as their role (which often include being on their own far away from support) depends upon maximising both the image and impact of their presence.

[xiii]         The value of the sea’s resources have been known and understood for a long time, to such an extent that Sergey Gorshkov, Admiral of the Soviet Union used as a central platform for his arguments for the Soviet Union to build a stronger navy (The Sea Power of the State 1980, 6-27)

[xiv]         (TheGuardian 2014, Tiezzi 2014, Heydarian 2014)

[xv]          (Russian Times 2013, Drury 2010, Halliday 2014, MacErlean 2014)

[xvi]         (Horrell 1991)

[xvii]         (United States Government Work 2012): Whilst the National Security Cutters are included in this study, as they are OPVs in role and armament; in reality with a displacement of 4500tons they exceed some navies’ frigates in size.

[xviii]        In ‘wartime’ it becomes arguably one of the most muddied and brutal parts of the conflict, and also is one of those areas where not a lot can be one, but everything can be lost (Bacon and McMurtrie 1940, 140-56). It is also an area of naval work is often difficult to ‘sell’ to political classes and the wider public, especially in times of financial hardship (in the 1920s & 1930s this brought out significant political skill and bargaining in the Admirals of the day (Babij 2009, 172)) – as Trade protection is possibly the least ‘insurance’ looking defence spending of any part of the defence budget, it is entirely deterrence and response. As such, when it works well no on notices it, and when it goes wrong the losses cannot be easily remade. The fact which makes getting it right, or at least the forces available as capable as possible, so important.

[xix]         In a different time, there was a very wide ranging debate over the merits of cruisers, because within the limits of treaties they could either be made good for battle or good for trade protection, one requiring speed and firepower, the other requiring endurance and seaworthiness (Field 2004, 30-8). It is rather similar with the modern debates of Frigates and OPVs (especially the larger vessels of this type, like the French… and the USCG National Security Cutter); neither is actually really suitable for the others role, and it is an artificial argument when they are set up against each other.

[xx]          (Anzalone 2010, Beehner 2006, Keiler 2009)

[xxi]         (Russian Times 2013, Drury 2010, Halliday 2014, MacErlean 2014)

[xxii]         (Shanker 2009, BBC 2009, Tyson 2009); but they Chinese have also despatched their own vessels to monitor multi-national exercises, even ones they are participating in (BBC 2014, LaGrone, China Sends Uninvited Spy Ship to RIMPAC 2014)

[xxiii]        (Palmer, et al. 2011, Spelman 2013)

[xxiv]        (Royal Navy 2014)

[xxv]         (Royal Navy 2014)

[xxvi]        (Gardner 2011)

[xxvii]       (Cable, Gunboat Diplomacy 1919-1979, Political Applications of Limited Naval Force 1981)

[xxviii]       (Royal Navy 2014)

[xxix]        (Comcercial Crime Services 2014)

[xxx]         (Marshall 1993)

[xxxi]        (Cable, Gunboat Diplomacy 1919-1979, Political Applications of Limited Naval Force 1981, 193-258)

[xxxii]       (Corcoran 2014)

[xxxiii]       (Clarke, Carriers; Fully Loaded – Admiral Kuznetsov 2009)

[xxxiv]       (naval-technology.com 2014)

[xxxv]       (Royal Navy 2014)

[xxxvi]       (Farmer 2014, Bannister 2014, Royal Navy 2014), a similar incident took place with Australia in 2014, when a Russian Task Group positioned itself in international waters to the north of the country – requiring the response of multiple Royal Australian Navy ships (LaGrone, Australian MoD: Russian Surface Group Operating Near Northern Border 2014, Dean, Lee and Noble 2014, BBC 2014, Dearden 2014, Pearlman and Parfitt 2014).

[xxxvii]      (defenceweb 2014)

[xxxviii]     (Chinese Military Review 2013)

[xxxix]       (Rahmat and Hardy 2014)

[xl]           (Clarke, October 2013 Thoughts (Extended Thoughts): Time to Think Globally 2013)

[xli]          As the Egyptian Navy itself discover recently when a patrol boat engaged what are presumed to have been smugglers (LaGrone, Egyptian Patrol Craft Attacked by Ships with Possible Ties to Terrorist Arms Trade 2014)

[xlii]         (Beaumont 2014, Paul Bremer III and Sonnenberg n.d., Council on Foreign Relations 2013)

[xliii]         In fact it seems to have taken place whilst this work was being written, (LaGrone, Egyptian Patrol Craft Attacked by Ships with Possible Ties to Terrorist Arms Trade 2014)

[xliv]         Some nations seem to already be taking this in to account, for example the Dutch Holland Class (navyrecognition.com 2013) and the Danish Knud Rasmussen Class (naval-technology.com 2014)

[xlv]         (navyrecognition.com 2013)

Philippine Navy Frigate Program: An OPV by Any Other Name?

By Armando J. Heredia

The Philippine Navy has unveiled bidding specifications to purchase it’s first new major surface combatant in several decades. Titled “Frigate Acquisition Program,” this key milestone of the Capability Upgrade Program will reorient the nation’s military from decades of COIN operations and enable a credible defense against conventionally-armed opponents.

090906-N-0120R-068A closer look at the program’s bid specifications along with missions that are likely to be met by the platform, reflects the balancing act between cost and capability that all naval forces must perform when seeking mid-to-low assets. Is it really a frigate that they’re looking for? Or is it more of a corvette? Or even an Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV)?

It’s worth noting that at a functional view, the distinctions today between frigates, corvettes and OPVs are subtle; and in most cases, the label used is more about political expediency than clear-cut delineations about capabilities. For purposes of this article, an OPV leans towards enforcement or constabulary duties as opposed to being a dedicated combatant vessel, with a minimal weapons fit necessary to fulfill it’s function.

A Philippine Navy Desired Force Mix paper published in 2012 identified gaps in several operational specialties including Anti-Air Warfare (AAW) and Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW); roles traditionally filled by frigates and corvettes. The bid specifications at a high level paint a picture of a multi-role combatant with embarked helicopter that meets both those capabilities, plus a moderate surface warfare punch.

However, a closer look at the requirements calls into question if the program is really seeking a frigate:

  • Perform Economic Zone Protection Roles
  • Operate up to Sea State 6
  • Operational Range of 4,500 nautical miles @ 15 knots
  • 30 Days Endurance
  • Minimum upper speed of 25 knots

Starting at the top, the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) specification combined with high endurance and rough sea-state handling gives signals that we’re looking more at a patrol vessel for primary use. The contemporary history of spats with China over the resource-rich Shoals and the Spratlys is a stark reminder that asserting claims in the maritime space is one of the Philippine’s political drivers for modernization. Currently, the Navy has only two vessels capable of sustained operations to the edges of the EEZ; namely the newly acquired High-Endurance Cutters (WHEC) from the U.S. Coast Guard. It’s logical that follow-on ships would enhance those same patrol and presence operations.

The lower speed range (most combatants top out at 30+ knots), large operating radius, modest cruise rate and long endurance time reinforce the idea of patrol rather than dedicated offensive operations. While a specific propulsion type is not mentioned, one of the reasons the Philippines did not leverage wide availability of gas-turbine ships in the used defense market is a concern for their high fuel consumption rates. That may be explained in some part by the doubling of the Navy’s Petroleum, Oil & Lubricants (POL) expenditure; seeming to coincide with the initial operating year of the gas-powered Hamilton WHECs. While the cutters by themselves cannot be the sole cause, it’s a reminder that with new acquisitions comes a increased overhead – there are no free lunches. Gas-turbine plants are also a novelty, having been introduced to the Fleet only on the WHECs – and an older model to boot. Given all that, it’s likely that the winning bid will be diesel-based. This is also a characteristic of patrol vessels, prioritizing fuel efficiency and a greater operating range while trading off reduced speeds for sprints, evasive maneuvers and transits.

Other aspects to consider:

  • Embarked helicopter and rigid hull inflatable boat (RHIB) facilities, including full hangar space for the aviation asset
  • Accommodations for special warfare or other occupants
  • Selection of a 2D air search radar and Electro-Optical (EO) sensors
  • A quadruple Surface-to-Air (SAM) launcher with infrared or semi-active homing missiles (5km minimum range)
  • Two dual-box Surface-to-Surface Missile (SSM) Launchers (total of four missiles, 50 km minimum range)
  • 76mm main gun
  • One (1) secondary stabilized gun

Again, some subtle differences delineate this vessel’s requirements from a pure combat craft. Helos and RHIBs are common to both ship types – force multipliers that enable presence, intelligence-gathering and and if needed, kinetic reach well beyond the ship’s limits. Conversely, they can also be used for search-and-rescue (SAR) and law enforcement. A possible supporting indicator is whether the winning bid uses ramps versus davits. The latter method is more versatile and enables SAR operations in rougher seas that would swamp a ramp-equipped ship. The additional accommodations, while noted for special warfare detachments, can also double as holding areas for refugees, survivors or detainees.

When selecting a sensor suite for a frigate, there are no advantages to having a 2D radar versus a more capable 3D radar that facilitates, among other things, effective anti-air warfare. Coupled with the minimal SAM armament that is purely defensive in capability, this cannot be one of the ships meeting the AAW role. The under specification of the SSMs (eight missiles are nominally found on most warships) is another indicator of the balance between versatility and weapons fit, potentially indicating that deckspace is either at a premium or needs to be freed for other purposes. The 76mm main gun leverages operational and maintenance commonality, as the Oto-Melara is present on other ships in the fleet. It is also just about the largest caliber that can be found on patrol vessels. No explicit Close-In Weapons System, a staple in modern warfare against missile-equipped opponents, is another tell. Very rarely are OPVs armed with last-ditch defense systems, and their secondary gun is usually a slower-firing weapon in the 20-35mm range rather than high-speed multi-barrelled Phalanxes or GoalKeepers.

Of the eleven prospective bidders, what are some of the offerings that might fit? The tight budget requirement really drives baselines to be a small hull, likely accompanied by a custom sensor/weapons fit that may not tick all the boxes.

Navatia’s Avante 1800 is an excellent candidate, ticking and in most cases, exceeding the requirement checkboxes. South Korea could be sitting pretty, as the pending sale of FA-50 fighters could put them at the top of the list to leverage same-source efficiencies. But it will take a lot of corner-cutting to get Hyundai’s Incheon-class frigate down-specified to fit the bill. While not in the prospective bidders list, other close alternatives are BAE’s Amazonas-class OPV, and ST Marine’s Fearless baseline platform. Other alternatives may be immediately disqualified on the basis that they must be “proven vessels,” – i.e., previous successful sales of the platform in the past ten years.

Given the short period that has passed since publication of the technical specifications, it’s not surprising that the bidding deadline moved to the end of November, granting interested parties more time to build competitive proposals. Of all the hurdles they face, the one that may be most daunting is the projected total budget of roughly USD400 Million for both units plus integrated logistics support. The situation is further complicated by the notorious 2-Stage Bid Process that has derailed previous acquisition programs.

A term that will likely puzzle and frustrate the bid analysis is “Fitted for but not with” – meaning, “yes, we’d like to have Feature X, but if your bid doesn’t have it, it might still be okay and we might actually have the money for it but we can’t tell you right now.” It’s a very big symptom of the program’s tone of uncertainty. If no changes are issued to the technical specifications, then only pre-bid Q&A will enable prospective companies to tailor their offerings.

The program could quickly run out of steam if winning bids don’t emerge. If that happens, the bid process resets with accompanying waiting periods. Several factors are lining up that would make such delays to a successful signed contract fatal. For starters, the monies allocated will need to eventually be reset if not spent, requiring passage again through an already lengthy and onerous legislative process. President Benigno Aquino III’s term will end in 2016, and there is no guarantee that the following administration will be as supportive of military modernization. Finally, there is growing call for a rejection of purchases that are not addressing immediate security needs such as the Sabah and Zamboanga crises. Assuming a bid makes it past, they will still have to reckon with Stage 2, where potentially something as small as a documentation omission or error could force a reset back to the beginning as well.

To succeed, the Frigate Acquisition Program needs to move away from a minimums-only approach on technical specifications. A Request-for-Proposal that states minimums exclusively will beget minimums – driving the bidders to a cost-sensitive solution. By emphasizing what this platform really should excel at (i.e., surface warfare or AAW), this gives maneuvering room for the suppliers to build in additional selling points under the bottom line. This gives the Philippine Navy a solution that should satisfy cost limitations and deliver the most value.

Armando J. Heredia is a civilian observer of naval affairs. He is an IT Risk and Information Security practitioner, with a background in the defense and financial services industries. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, any particular nation’s government or related agency.