The Philippine navy has announced plans to buy another 15 Israeli-made fast gunboats to stiffen its deterrence against foreign incursions into its sprawling territorial waters.
The country has already ordered nine of the Shaldag Mark V missile-capable fast attack interdiction craft (FAIC-M) from the Haifa-based Israel Shipyards Ltd., at a cost of $176 million, as part of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ military modernization drive.
The announcement of the new planned acquisition was made yesterday by the chief of the Philippine Navy (PN), Rear Adm. Toribio Adaci Jr., after the commissioning ceremony for two of these nine vessels, which the PN has designated the Acero-class, at the Navy’s headquarters in the capital Manila.
“We plan to get 15 additional Acero-class boats on top of these nine boats,” Adaci said, adding that the vessels would “meet our requirement for patrolling the seas of our country.”
Adaci said that four more of the nine FAIC-Ms would be delivered sometime in 2023, with the remaining three slated for completion the following year. The latter is slated to be built at the PN shipyard at the Naval Station Pascual Ledesma in Cavite, south of Manila, which Israel Shipyards will help rehabilitate as part of a technology transfer to the Philippines.
“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,” Adaci said.
The West Philippine Sea is the term that Manila uses to refer to its portion of the South China Sea, a region that is hotly disputed by the Chinese government, which over the past decade has encroached repeatedly into Philippine-claimed areas. Indeed, as I noted earlier this week, in the first 70 days of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s term, which began on July 1, the Philippines lodged 52 protests against Beijing’s “incursions” and “illegal presence” in the Philippine regions of the South China Sea.
This culminated in a curious incident earlier this month, in which a Chinese coast guard vessel reportedly seized Chinese rocket debris from Filipino navy personnel, who found it floating off the shore of Philippine-occupied Thitu Island. The incident prompted Manila to seek a formal explanation from Beijing.
The acquisition of a fleet of swift, 32-meter vessels represents a potent upgrade for the PN’s Littoral Combat Force. Four of the FAIC-Ms will be armed with non-line-of-sight missiles that can hit targets with pinpoint accuracy at a range of 25 kilometers. The other five will be armed with Typhoon-mounted 30mm main cannons and .50 caliber heavy machine guns.
In presiding over yesterday’s commissioning ceremony for the first two FAIC-Ms, which were christened BRP Nestor Acero and BRP Lolinato To-ong, Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin described the new vessels as the PN’s “fastest and most advanced gunboats,” which would be “capable of operating in the littorals and can be deployed very quickly in their designated areas of operation, especially on our sea lanes of communications.”