By Priam Nepomuceno and Ruth Abbey Gita-Carlos
MANILA – The Philippine Navy’s missile frigate BRP Antonio Luna (FF-151) on Friday demonstrated its capability to protect itself against hostile missile attack by firing its newly acquired “Bullfighter” chaff anti-missile decoys off the coast of San Antonio, Zambales.
Chaff works by distracting radar-guided missiles from their targets by spreading or dispensing a small cloud of aluminum, metalized glass fiber, or plastic, which appears as clusters of targets in radar screens.
“The ‘Bullfighter’ is a new generation of 130mm decoys for Super Rapid Bloom Offboard Chaff (SRBOC) and other 130mm launcher systems to protect naval vessels up to the size of frigates against anti-ship missiles,” PN spokesperson, Capt. Benjo Negranza, said in a statement.
This defensive weaponry was fitted aboard the BRP Jose Rizal (FF-150) and BRP Antonio Luna early this year and was first tested and fired last March.
The PN’s AgustaWestland (now Leonardo) AW-159 “Wildcat” anti-submarine warfare helicopter also launched a dummy Blue Shark torpedo simulating an attack against a hostile submarine.
The South Korean-made LIG Nex1 “Blue Shark” lightweight torpedoes served as the “Wildcat” helicopters’ anti-submarine weapon and are capable of shallow and deep-water operations and can run off to a speed of 45 knots.
These activities were witnessed by President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr., Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief Gen. Andres Centino, Philippine Navy (PN) chief Vice Adm. Toribio Adaci Jr., and a host of other ranking defense and military officials aboard the landing dock BRP Davao Del Sur (LD-602).
Initially, the PN was supposed to fire its Mistral 3 surface-to-air missile (SAM) and demonstrate to the Chief Executive its capability to destroy hostile aerial targets.
However, this did not materialize as the target drone contracted for the purpose failed to take off due to still unidentified reasons.
“We should have fired one, one missile, (at) one target. We really prepared for it because we have to test also our system and sayang naman yung napakamahal na buong system kung hindi natin ma-testing kung gumagana (it would be a waste of a very expensive system if we cannot test it to see if it is functioning),” Adaci told reporters shortly after the event.
The missile was supposed to be launched in the scenario where the BRP Antonio Luna detected an “unmanned aerial hostile” target.
Adaci said they would meet with the provider of the target drone to determine what went wrong.
The drone was working fine during the rehearsals, he said, adding that they were surprised upon learning that it cannot fly during the actual event.
The Mistral 3 SAM is the anti-air missile arming BRP Antonio Luna and its sister ship, the BRP Jose Rizal (FF-150).
It has 90mm explosive warheads with a range of more than 3 nautical miles and a speed of Mach 2.7.
The Mistral 3 SAMs were delivered to the PN in October 2021 and subsequently fitted to the surface-to-air launchers of the BRP Jose Rizal (FF-150) and the BRP Antonio Luna.
Then AFP spokesperson, Army Col. Ramon Zagala, said the Mistral 3 is the first ever SAM procured by the AFP that would bolster the military’s capability to defend the country’s territory.
“With Republic Act 10349 or the Revised AFP Modernization Program signed in 2012, the AFP was able to acquire new assets that are vital in the performance of our mandate as protector of the people and the state,” Zagala said.
The procurement of missile systems, he said, is cost-effective and a reliable addition to a layered defense system, capable of denying enemy intrusion and deterring future attacks by external threats.
The procurement and delivery of the Mistral 3 SAMs are part of the PN Frigate Acquisition Project Lot 2B, which was awarded to the MBDA Missile Systems based in France.
The Mistral 3 SAM contract is worth PHP670 million.
“Surface-to-air missiles are among the primary weapons of FF-150 and FF-151 that bolsters the PN’s anti-air warfare capability. The arrival of these missiles will greatly capacitate our JRC (Jose Rizal-Class) frigates in the conduct of their maritime operations,” Negranza said.
The BRP Jose Rizal and BRP Antonio Luna are modern warships capable of surface, sub-surface, air, and electronic warfare.
These ships are armed with a 76mm Super Rapid Oto Melara automatic cannon, an Aselsan 30mm secondary gun, and LIG Nex1 C-Star surface-to-surface missile, triple torpedo tubes for anti-submarine warfare, along with .50 caliber machine guns.
The BRP Jose Rizal was delivered to the Philippines in May 2020 and commissioned in July that year, while the BRP Antonio Luna was commissioned on March 19, 2021.
The contract for the two ships was placed at PHP16 billion with another PHP2 billion for weapon systems and munitions.
PBBM in attendance
The President was on board the viewing ship BRP Davao del Sur (LD-602) when the PN unlocked its anti-air warfare capabilities.
The live capability demonstration was among the PN’s major events, in line with the commemoration of its 125th founding anniversary on May 20.
Carrying an anniversary theme “Guardians of the Seas: Ensuring National Sovereignty, Security, and Stability,” the landmark activity represents the PN’s resolve to protect the country and ensure the security of the Filipino people.
In his speech, Marcos urged the PN to continue fulfilling its mandate of serving and protecting the country.
“I am very happy to be able to join the brave men and women of our Philippine Navy on this important day as we conduct our test fire, our country’s first surface-to-air missile system, the Mistral 3, and the other weapon systems that we have seen demonstrated here this morning,” Marcos said, noting that the latest acquisition of the surface-to-air missile system would further boost the PN’s warfare capabilities.
“I urge the entire rank of the Philippine Navy to keep up the good work continually guided by the national interest and the democratic ideals of the Republic of the Philippines,” he added.
Marcos assured that his administration is exhausting all efforts to strengthen the armed forces’ capabilities, adding that similar naval exercises would continue under his watch.
“With the fluid security situation in our region, it is imperative that the Armed Forces of the Philippines and of course the Navy is substantially equipped, trained, and always on alert to respond to any and all exigencies that may confront our nation,” he said.
Marcos said the government is completing and eventually commissioning the rest of the Navy’s projects in the pipeline.
“We are now working on Horizon 3 of the AFP modernization program. As we do so, let us likewise ensure parallel training and capacity building for our personnel, especially for those who would actually operate, and maneuver these major naval as sets and with the backing of their highly technical training,” he said. (PNA)