Naval News has provided computer generated images of new cutters being built in Japan for the Philippines. The first is expected to be delivered in 2022. These will be the largest ships in the Philippine Coast Guard.
Naval News earlier reported there are to be two of the new class
The deal signed on February 7, 2020, is part of the second phase of the joint Japanese-Philippine Maritime Safety Capability Improvement Project (MSCIP). The contract value is 14.55 billion Japanese yen (132.57 million dollars) with financing via the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
The Philippine Coast Guard:
The Philippine EEZ is slightly less than 20% the size of that of the US. ThePhilippine Coast Guard (PCG) is a bit unusual. In terms of personnel, if we exclude the Philippine Marine Corp, the Philippine Coast Guard, with 17,000 members, is actually larger than the Philippine Navy (25,000 including 9,500 Marines). The PCG seems to have a large number of small craft, but relatively few aircraft (reportedly two fixed wing and three rotary wing ) and until recently, no large patrol ships.
Currently, all their aircraft are based in Manila. Inclusion of a hangar and flight deck on these new ships suggest they will get more helicopters.
Until the French built 84 meter (275.5′) Gabriela Silang was commissioned in April 2020, the Philippine Coast Guard had no Offshore Patrol Vessels of more than 1000 tons. Their largest ships were buoy tenders. Their largest OPVs were four 56 meter 540 ton full load San Juan class SAR vessels. These two ships will triple the Philippine CG large OPV fleet.
Interestingly the Philippine Navy also has a current requirement for Offshore Patrol Vessels, that look a lot like coast guard vessels. These vessels, unlike the PCG cutters, will be armed with medium caliber guns.
The Philippine Coast Guard was moved out of the Department of National Defense to the Department of Transportation in 1998. It has prospered as a civilian agency, though one with military ranks and provision for wartime operation with the Philippine Navy. Its civilian nature has allowed the PCG to continue to receive aid from US, France, and particularly Japan, while aid to the Philippine military has been limited due to international reservations about the Philippines human rights record under President Duterte. The Philippine Coast Guard has been enjoying rapid growth. My 16th edition of Combat Fleets of the World, published in 2013, indicated only 3,500 members. If the reported figure of 17,000 is correct, that is a nearly 400% increase in size in seven years.
Japan Coast Guard:
The Japanese EEZ is about 39.5% that of the US EEZ. The Japan Coast Guard has about 14,000 members, about 34% of that of the USCG. Unlike the USCG their responsibilities also include Hydrographic and oceanographic surveying.
The Japan CG (JCG) is a civilian agency, perhaps even more so than the PCG. Their cooperation with the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force (the Japanese Navy) appears limited.
Their air wing is a little more than 1/3 the size of that of the USCG and actually includes more different aircraft types than are used by the USCG.
The JCG actually has more large patrol cutters than the USCG.
The Parent Design:
The Parent design for the new Philippine cutters is the Kunigami class patrol vessel. This class is sometimes referred to as the Kunisaki class, since the first of class was renamed Kunisaki. This class is among the most numerous large coast guard cutters in the world. The first two were commissioned in April 2012 and while there are already 19 in commission, at least two more are planned. While they have a number of larger cutters, the Japan Coast Guard considers these large patrol cutters (PL).
These might be considered examples of Cutter X, relatively simple but sea worthy ships of a type I proposed for those missions that don’t require a 4,500 ton National Security Cutter or Offshore Patrol Cutter, but that would benefit from better endurance and seakeeping than available from the Webber class WPCs.
The notable differences between the Japanese vessels and the new Philippine vessels are that the Philippine cutters have the funnel spit into two separate uptakes to allow for the addition of a helicopter hangar on the centerline, and there is no weapon other than water cannon apparent on the Philippine ship. I have not seen any indication that any Philippine Coast Guard cutters are armed with anything larger than the ubiquitous .50 cal. M2. The Philippine Coast Guard may want to reconsider this, in view of their continuing insurgency, and the rapid growth and militarization of coast guards in neighboring states, particularly China.
Choice of weapons:
The Japan Coast Guard has been armed since its inception, initially with manual 3″/50s (that used to arm most USCG WMECs) and 40mm guns, but as these became obsolete, they were generally replaced by the 20mm JM-61 Gatling Gun.
The Battle of Amami Oshima in December 2001 suggested that the 20mm was not adequate for stopping even the small vessel encountered in this incident. Still the JCG was not particularly aggressive in moving to a more powerful weapon. Early versions of the Kunigami class were armed with the 20mm M-61 while those ordered in FY2013 and later were armed with 30mm guns. The guns are compared below:
- The 20mm JM-61 Gatling Gun fires only one type of projectile, a 0.22 lbs. (0.10 kg) Armor Piercing Discarding Sabot rounds at 3,650 fps (1,113 mps) at a rate of 450 rounds/minute out to an effective range of 1,625 yards (1,490 m)
- The 30mm Bushmaster II fires three types of service projectiles and two types of training rounds, including a 0.94 lbs. (0.425 kg) Armor Piercing Discarding Sabot at 3,225 fps (983 mps) and a 0.79 lbs. (0.362 kg) high explosive incendiary round at 3,543 fps (1,080 mps). Maximum rate of fire is 200 rounds/minute. Effective range about 2,200 yards.
For comparison our 25mm Mk38s can fire a 0.225 lbs. (0.102 kg) Armor Piercing Discarding Sabot that is only slightly larger than the Japanese 20mm round found inadequate at the Battle of Amami Oshima, although it does have a higher muzzle velocity, 4,410 fps (1,345 mps).
While there is no reason the PCG could not use an even larger weapon while retaining its essentially civilian character, after all lots of Coast guards use weapons of up to 76mm; they could certainly follow the example Japanese Coast Guard.
Will the Philippine design become a new Japanese standard?
The design used for the Philippine Coast Guard appears to offer more flexibility than the parent Japanese design. While their larger cutters already have hangars, I have to wonder if follow-on Japanese cutters of this size will also add a hangar?