In August 2018, the Philippines’ Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana revealed that a deal with Austal Cape Class is being finalized to build six (6) Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPV) in Cebu for the Philippine Navy (PN).
A couple of days later, Austal revealed more details about the pending deal saying that they had submitted a proposal to the PN for a bigger and more capable variant of the Cape class vessels of Australia’s maritime forces, so let’s take a closer look at that ship.
’The Cape class’
The Cape Class Patrol Boat (also known by its acronym, CCPB) is a series of large Patrol Boats built by Austal for the Australian Border Force (ABF) and the Royal Australian Navy (RAN).
The first boat entered service in 2013, and the ABF eventually received a total of eight (8) ships while the RAN received another two (2) vessels. Additionally, the country of Trinidad and Tobago announced recently its intention to purchase two (2) CCPBs for its Coast Guard fleet.
Each ship has a length of 58 meters, width of 10.8 meters, draft of 3.1 meters and an Aluminum hull. Its maximum speed is 26 knots, with an endurance of 28 days (or almost a month) and a range of 7,408 km at 12 knots.
The version of the CCPB now in service with the ABF and RAN is called the Patrol (Border Protection) model by Austal and are only lightly armed with a remote controlled Water Cannon at the bow and two (2) Heavy Machine Guns (HMG) at the flanks in front of the Bridge.
However, Austal is also offering a more heavily armed version called the Naval (Maritime Security) ship that is armed with a 30 mm Stabilized Gun at the bow and two (2) 12.7 mm HMG on a Remote Weapons Station (RWS) at the flanks behind the Bridge.
It also has provisions for a “short range anti surface missile system”, similar to the Spike ER missiles we now have on our Multi Purpose Attack Craft (MPAC) Mk 3 boats.
The CCPB carries not just one (1) but two (2) Rigid Inflatable Boats (RIB) which are described in its brochure as “Gemini 7.3” boats. This is likely the Waverider 7307 made by the RIB manufacturer Gemini Marine. Each boat is 7.3 m long and can carry a maximum of 12 people.
Both RIBs can be launched at the same time, and are used for various purposes, like as Chase boats since they can reach faster speeds of up to 44 knots, or for Visit, Board, Search and Seizure (VBSS) missions. They can also be used for transporting personnel to the shore and as Force Multipliers when going against multiple vessels.
’The Armidale Saga’
The CCPB is actually derived from the problematic Armidale Class Patrol Boat (ACPB) that entered service with the RAN earlier in 2005. Austal delivered a total of 14 ACPBs to the RAN. Externally the ACPB looks similar to the CCPB, but is around one (1) meter shorter at 57 m long.
The ACPB though has been dogged by quite a number of problems during its service with the RAN, with one of the most serious being cracks found on the hull near the Engine Room. Apparently the ship’s aluminum hull design was not strong enough to withstand constant exposure to rough seas during poor weather, eventually resulting in the cracks.
However, the ships were supposedly designed only for operations near the coasts, but the influx of asylum seekers from other countries starting in 2008 travelling by boat that needed to be intercepted forced the ACPBs to venture out much further and spend a lot more time in the open ocean where the sea conditions were rougher.
The saga of the ACPB caused Austal to make design changes and improvements in the CCPB, and so far it has not had the same cracking problems found on the ACPB even though it uses the same aluminum material for its hull.
Despite this, Austal doesn’t seem to be taking chances this time around as it announced that the CCPB variant it has submitted as a proposal to the PN will have a steel instead of an aluminum hull.
The tradeoff though is that steel is 2.5 times heavier than aluminum, so this means that weight that could’ve been allocated for the extra payload will instead end up being lost to the total weight of the ship.
The ACPB, for example, is estimated to be able to carry 20% less Fuel had it used a steel hull instead of an aluminum hull, resulting in less range and endurance for the ship.
Other details revealed by Austal about the Philippine variant of the CCPB is that it will be 38% or 22 m longer at 80 m long, and will have a Helicopter deck instead of just an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) deck found on the proposed Naval version of the current CCPB ships. The variant will also incorporate Austal’s MarineLink Ship Control System and a Ride Control System.
MarineLink is an Integrated Monitoring, Alarm and Control (IMACS) that monitors the condition of all of the major systems of the ship like the Engines, Gearboxes, Electrical Systems, Navigational Systems, etc. The system also provides an alarm as needed and the ability to remotely control the systems from centralized terminals located within the ship.
The Ride Control System on the other hand is a series of Flaps and Fins controlled by computers to smoothen out the ride of the ship. A similar system is installed on the CCPB.
Secretary Lorenzana mentioned in an interview that financing of the ships could involve a loan, with two (2) of the ships to be paid by the government while the remaining four (4) will be thru a loan, which I assume will be from Australia.
The CCPB turned out to have its own share of problems too while in service with Australia’s maritime forces. The first problem reported in 2016 involved the accelerated wear found on the Stern Tube Bearings of some of the ships which resulted in mechanical failures.
The Stern Tube is a hollow tube under and towards the rear of the vessel that contains the shaft connecting the propeller to the engine and the shaft’s bearings. It was later found out that the bearing failures were due to corrosion in the Stern Tube.
The corrosion in turn was due to the hull being made out of aluminum, which is more susceptible to corrosion than steel. However, since the hull of the Philippine variant of the CCPB will be made of steel rather than aluminum, then this will be likely be much less of an issue (if at all).
’RIB Launch Issue’
The second problem reported in 2017 claimed that the CCPBs were having difficulties launching their RIBs into the water due to a design fault.
No specific details though were revealed about what those design faults are though that caused the problem, but the ABF did acknowledge the issue and said that these will be fixed as the vessels go thru their routine maintenance schedules.
No follow up news about this have occurred since then as I found only a single article tackling the issue.
The last issue was revealed by Australia’s National Trade Union, the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) wherein high Lead content and Legionella contamination were found on the water supply of the CCPB.
But these did not result in any health problems for the crews, and after the solutions were applied the issues have not reoccurred, none have been reported in the news anymore so these could have been just an isolated incident.
If the deal pushes thru, the vessels will be built at Austal’s shipyard in Balamban, Cebu which Austal bought from the company FBMA Marine in 2011 for USD 7 million. Since then Austal has invested an additional USD 8 million to improve the shipyard’s facilities, and its employee base has grown from only 30 in 2012 when it started operations to around 300 as of now.
As per their website, Austal Philippines has built ten (10) types of vessels so far, all for the Commercial industry. Of these, three (3) are at least 70 m in length with the largest being the 102 m long Condor Liberation, a ship with a Trimaran hull delivered to the company Condor Ferries in the United Kingdom (UK) in 2014.
In spite of their Philippine shipyard’s lack of experience in building naval ships, Austal did say that they are capable of building large and sophisticated naval vessels there such as their Independence class Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) design if needed.
Despite having some problems, the CCPB has not had the same level of issues as its predecessor the ACPB had in service with Australia’s forces, and Austal seems intent on improving the design of the ship by going thru with steel hull for the Philippine variant.
No contract with Austal has been signed yet, but to summarize what know about the local variant as of now is that it will:
– Be around 80 m in length
– Have a Steel Hull
– Have a Flight Deck large enough to accommodate a Helicopter
– Use the MarineLink System
– Use a Ride Control System
– Or may be financed thru a loan for most of the ships
Additional features could be (based on what we know now about the CCPB and existing variants):
– Have at least two (2) RIBs
– At least be armed like the Naval version of the CCPB with a 30 mm gun, two (2) 12.7 HMG on RWS mounts and provisions for a small missile system.
If the deal does push thru, it will be a big boost to the local shipbuilding industry so I wish Austal luck, I hope that the deal with our government will indeed materialize.