THE country’s second modern warship, the BRP Ramon Alcaraz, will become the Philippine Navy’s primary workhorse in securing the country’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone that includes parts of the disputed Spratlys in the West Philippine Sea.
Navy spokesman Lt. Comdr. Gregorio Geral Fabic on Sunday said that the Alcaraz, a weather high endurance cutter, would be better equipped and more capable than the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, a ship of similar class.
The Alcaraz and the del Pilar, Fabic said, are both armed with Oto Melara 76mm naval artillery but pointed out that the former “have additional guns” not found on the latter.
“I cannot disclose it for operational security but it’s more upgraded than Gregorio del Pilar,” Fabic said.
According to Fabic, the Alcaraz is scheduled to leave Charlestone, South Carolina this week with scheduled stopovers in San Diego, California and Hawaii in Guam and is expected to arrive in Manila in the first week of August.
Fabic said the arrival of Alcaraz would have a big impact on the Navy’s capability in safeguarding the country’s territorial waters.
“It is a capability upgrade of the Navy because it is a weather high endurance cutter and it can last for 45 to 60 days without going back to shore,” he said.
“It’s big because the usual small ships that we used can only last for one week to 10 days.”
He added that, both the Alcaraz and the del Pilar would be used to patrol the high seas within our 200-mile exclusive economic zone.
The Alcaraz was originally scheduled to arrive from the US in December last year or early January. The arrival, however, was postponed to August because of the extensive training that its crew underwent.
The crew took several more months to master the ship’s state-of-the-art equipment.
“This is because the ship, its more of technical. It is unlike in the training in the Army wherein you just teach them how to fire. The ship has sophisticated equipment, navigation, fire control, among others, that is why the people sent there have to undergo extensive training,” Fabic said.
Early this year, President (Benigno) Aquino (3rd) ordered top defense officials in a meeting in Malacañang to conduct “due diligence” on the proposed capability upgrading on the del Pilar and Alcaraz to make them capable and strong enough in securing the country’s interest in the West Philippine Sea.
Defense Undersecretary Fernando Manalo had disclosed that their talks centered on the current firepower of the Navy cutters and additions to further increase the duo’s capabilities in relation to the security of the Malampaya Gas Project and other service contracts of the Department of Energy (DOE) off the coast of Palawan in the West Philippine Sea.
“What was discussed was the security of Malampaya. Those ships will also be used in securing Malampaya and other service contracts of the DOE. So we updated [the
President] on the status of PF 15, the Gregorio del Pilar, and the status of PF 16 [Ramon Alcaraz], when it [Alcaraz] will arrive, its capability and what still can be done to increase its capability,” Manalo disclosed.
According to Manalo, the President was amenable to the proposal but instructed them to first conduct “due diligence” in exploring the best available option.
He added that the President also gave them “additional instructions” but did not elaborate.
Among those they planned to install, Manalo further said, were surface- to- surface missiles and surface-to-air missiles, but that would all depend on the result of their ongoing study.