The Philippines plans to buy another 15 Israel-made fast gunboats on top of an existing order for nine of these vessels to modernize its arsenal and military fleets, the Navy chief said Monday.
Rear Adm. Toribio Adaci Jr. announced the plans after the commissioning ceremony for two of the nine vessels at the Naval Station Jose Andrada, the Navy’s headquarters in Metro Manila.
“We plan to get 15 additional Acero-class boats on top of these nine boats,” Adaci said, adding that the additional boats would “meet our requirement for patrolling the seas of our country.”
“We are still discussing where they shall be deployed, but most likely priority areas are of course in the West Philippine Sea and the southern Philippines,” he said, using a Philippine term for the contested South China Sea.
The two missile boats commissioned on Monday, the BRP Nestor Acero and BRP Lolinato To-Ong, were delivered two months ago. They are the first of the nine fast attack interdiction craft missiles (FAIC-M) ordered by the defense department under its military modernization program at a cost of 10 billion pesos (U.S. $176.6 million).
Adaci said the two boats have “accurate, high-performance and quick-intercept capabilities that are adequate for addressing current and emerging security threats.” He added that their missiles could hit a target 32 km (20 miles) away.
“It (a missile) can be fired indirectly so it’s a non-line-of-sight capable system. Even if the target is on the other side of the mountain, you can still hit the target as long as the target acquisition is accurate,” he said.
Four of the FAIC-M ships will be armed with non-line-of-sight missiles while the other five will be armed with Typhoon-mounted 30 mm cannons and .50-caliber heavy machine guns.
Three ships are to be constructed locally at the shipyard at the Naval Station Pascual Ledesma in Cavite province just south of Manila, starting in 2024.
Adasi’s announcement came days after U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris visited Palawan, an island in the country’s southwest considered to be the frontline of the Philippines’ territorial dispute with China.
As the Philippines’ decades-old military ally, the U.S. is prepared to “uphold international rules and norms” in the South China Sea and elsewhere, she said.
Visiting a fishing community where many locals have been harassed by “foreign vessels” entering into Philippine waters, Harris promised U.S. help to the local Coast Guard.
“We must stand up for principles such as respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, unimpeded lawful commerce, the peaceful resolution of disputes and the freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea, and throughout the Indo-Pacific,” she said.
Harris reiterated that Washington supports a 2016 international arbitral ruling that rejected China’s expansive claims to the region.
In the wake of a stand-off with China that led to the 2016 ruling, the Philippines decided to embark on a naval modernization program. The government laid out an ambitious program, including a plan to add submarines to its fleet – but that plan was shelved recently.
The Navy acquired two used U.S. Coast Guard cutters and the government signed a contract for 12 F/A-50 multipurpose fighter jets from South Korea. In July 2020, the Navy commissioned its first brand-new guided missile frigate, the BRP Jose Rizal from South Korea.