BRP Ramon Alcaraz ex USCGS Dallas (photo : Philippines Embassy)
VICE Adm. Alexander Pama, Navy flag officer in command, on Sunday said the government has allotted funds to buy the weapons to rearm the second Hamilton-class cutter that was sold by the United States government without its weapons system.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, during their recent visit to Washington, requested the US government to retain the weapons system of the second cutter including the restoration of the same weapons that were removed from the first cutter, but to no avail.
The stripped weapons include missiles, search radar and close-in weapon system (CIWS), among others. What the Americans left only in the ship was a 76mm gun.
This led Gazmin to announce that the government is exploring defense articles from other countries, including the idea of buying new jet fighters instead of buying secondhand F-16s from the US.
“Well, we cannot demand. We [can only] asked if it’s possible, we also understand that they also have their regulations to follow and thus we’ve to make do with what’s left and will optimize it. Anyway, the government gave us fund to buy the needed weapons. Kaya nga ang actual na ibinayad natin dito sa pangalawang Hamilton is a little bit more than what we paid for BRP Gregorio del Pilar,” Pama said.
Pama said included in the additional funding is money for weapons training of the ship’s personnel.
The military said it bought the first weaponless cutter (BRP Gregorio del Pilar) in 2011 for P450 million.
The second, that will be renamed BRP Ramon Alcaraz, is expected to arrive in the country on or before November for its scheduled commissioning the following month.
“We added communication equipment and some other equipment. We will see all these when the ship arrives,” Pama said.
The two high-endurance cutters were new additions in the inventory of the Navy’s mostly World War II vintage ships. But just recently, the Navy showcased some of the locally made fastcraft and medium-sized landing ships.
Pama added that there is no negotiation yet for a third cutter but this is part of the whole plan of getting at least three cutters with three helicopters.
“Our domain awareness needs naval equipment such as vessels and these vessels need helicopter on board. Kaya nga sa programa natin tatlong helicopter at tatlong Hamilton-class, one is to one,” Pama said.
The money that is being used to modernize the Navy is part of the almost P12 billion derived from the Malampaya gas project of the Department of Energy (DOE) and leftover of the Armed Forces modernization fund that was earlier approved for release by President Aquino to boost the naval and air capabilities of the Armed Forces for maritime security patrol and operations.
And just recently, Mr. Aquino has approved an initial P70 billion for the defense and military to work out for capability upgrade.
Gazmin said there are 138 modernization projects on board to be implemented over the next five years.
“Our department is now working speedily on the approval of the contracts for the 138 upgrade and modernization projects of our Armed Forces… The deadline that we have set for ourselves for the approval of all these contracts is on July 21, 2012,” he said.