By Priam F. Nepomuceno
MANILA, Oct. 13 – As the Philippine Navy is set to commission another frigate by January or February, next year, it is only fair to tell the Filipino people what kind of ship they will paying for its upkeep.
At present, the PN has a World War II-era frigate in service — the BRP Rajah Humabon (PF-11) — aside from the BRP Gregorio Del Pilar (PF-15), which is the former United States Coast Guard Cutter (USCGC) Hamilton, and the BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF-16), the former USCGC Dallas, which is now undergoing refitting at South Carolina.
PN flag-officer-in-charge Vice Admiral Alexander Pama has said that plans are now underway to make the country's existing frigates more capable of defending Philippine territorial waters.
Incidentally, the PN is looking at the possible acquisition of two Italian "Maestrale" class frigates by 2013, effectively giving the country its most capable man-of-war if plans do not miscarry.
With the addition of these ships to the fleet, the PN will be more than capable of protecting the country's territorial waters against any possible intruders.
The term frigate was introduced by the British Royal Navy in World War II to describe a new type of anti-submarine vessel that was larger than a corvette (oceangoing patrol craft) but smaller than a destroyer.
It was introduced to remedy some of the shortcomings inherent in the corvette design: limited armament, a hull form not suited to open-ocean work, a single shaft which limited speed and maneuverability, and a lack of range.
The frigate possessed less offensive firepower and speed than a destroyer, but such qualities were not required for anti-submarine warfare.
Submarines were slow while submerged, and sonar sets did not operate effectively at speeds of over 20 knots.
Rather, the frigate was an austere and weatherly vessel suitable for mass-construction and fitted with the latest innovations in anti-submarine warfare.
As the said ship is only intended for convoy protection duties, and not for deployment with the fleet, it had limited range and speed.
Generally, hundreds of these ships were constructed by the Allied Navies in their oceangoing war against Axis submarine fleets which was responsible for sinking around 4,000 merchant and naval craft during World War II.
It is fair to say that the frigates, together with vastly-improved anti-submarine aircraft, escort carriers, and improved weaponry and detection devices spelled the end of the threat of the Axis submarine fleets.
The introduction of the surface-to-air missile after World World II made relatively small ships effective for anti-aircraft warfare: the "guided missile frigate."
In the United States Navy, these vessels were called "ocean escorts" and designated "DE" or "DEG" until 1975 — a holdover from the World War II destroyer escort or "DE."
While the British Royal Navy maintained the use of the term "frigate," the French Navy likewise referred to missile-equipped ship, up to cruiser-sized ships, by the name of "frégate," while smaller units are named "aviso." The then Soviet Navy used the term "guard-ship."
Frigates have also been optimized for anti-submarine warfare, and most of them now have a landing deck and hangar aft to operate helicopters, eliminating the need for the ship to close with unknown sub-surface threats, and using fast helicopters to attack nuclear submarines which may be faster than surface warships.
For this task, the helicopter is equipped with sensors such as sonobuoy, wire-mounted dipping sonar and magnetic anomaly detectors to identify possible threats, and torpedoes or depth-charges to attack them. (PNA)