By Jaime Laude - The Philippine Navy’s newly acquired cutter from the United States (US) Coast Guard is arriving in the country in three weeks’ time and after some refinements will be immediately deployed to secure the country’s territorial waters in the West Philippine Sea, Navy chief Vice Admiral Alexander Pama said yesterday.
Pama flew to California yesterday in time for tomorrow’s sendoff of BRP Gregorio del Pilar (PF-15) for a long voyage home, with stopovers in Hawaii and Guam for replenishment.
“The sendoff will signal the last activities for BRP Gregorio del Pilar in the US and to start its journey to the Philippines,” Pama said.
He said Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Cuisia Jr., US Coast Guard Pacific Area and Defense Force West commander Vice Admiral Manson Brown and Philippine defense and Armed Forces attaché to the US Navy Capt. Antonio Habulan Jr. will be around during the official sendoff ceremony.
Aside from the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, the government is also shopping for additional military assets in the US in line with the capability upgrade program of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), to be used for its territorial defense amid the increasing tension in the West Philippine Sea brought about overlapping claims over the Spratlys.
A former USCG cutter, the Hamilton Class vessel, which is also classified as Weather High Endurance Cutter (WHEC), will first undergo refinements in its weapon and electronic systems upon its arrival before its deployment for maritime security operations in Palawan.
To accommodate the newly acquired PF-15, Pama said the Navy is putting up a naval base in Hulugan Bay fronting the West Philippine Sea, which will serve at the vessel’s homeport.
The scheduled deployment of PF-15 in the West Philippine Sea is expected to further boost the Navy’s platform in the hotly contested region to include maritime security operations for the Malampaya project west of Palawan.
“The Philippine Navy intends to use this multi-mission vessel for operations such as maritime security patrols and search and rescue. But more importantly, it will be deployed to aid in the maritime security of the Malampaya project,” Pama said.
While PF-15 is classified as a WHEC in the US, the Philippine Navy has refitted and refurbished it as a surface combatant ship with a type code of “P” for patrol and is further classified as a frigate with a type code of “F,” hence the designation of “PF.”
The vessel is powered by combined diesel engines and gas turbines and is equipped with a helicopter flight deck, a retractable hangar, and facilities to support helicopter operations.
With a total length of 378 feet, 42 inches beam, the BRP Gregorio del Pilar will be the Navy’s flagship.