Spanish firm cites edge in submarine proposal to PH
CADIZ, Spain — China’s constant harassment of Filipino soldiers, coast guard personnel, and fishermen in their own waters has bolstered the argument that the Philippines should invest in the strengthening of its naval defense capabilities.
In that regard, Navantia, a state-owned Spanish company with a long history in military shipbuilding, has submitted to the Philippine Navy a $1.7-billion offer to develop a submarine force.
Guillermo Zamarripa, key account commercial manager for Asia of the Commercial and Business Development Division of Navantia, said in a press briefing here that the comprehensive offer covers the delivery to the Philippines of two of its latest S80 Isaac Peral class submarines, extensive training of the crew and staff of the Philippine Navy, and transfer of technology in submarine operation and maintenance to support the country’s ambition to produce its own defense requirements.
“Navantia is offering a complete solution for supporting the Philippines’ new submarine force, with a revolutionary submarine concept, ensuring real interoperability and taking care of the necessities for training and administrative duties,” Zamarripa said.
The S80s designed and built in Navantia’s shipyard in Cartagena, integrating components and technologies from specialized global companies, are part of the Spanish Navy’s fleet.
The Isaac Peral class are long-range conventional submarines enhanced with an air-independent propulsion system that allows them to stay underwater for as long as three weeks — far longer than other submarines that can stay under for just a few days before rising to recharge their batteries — thus enhancing their stealth capabilities.
The S80s are 81 meters long and are capable of engaging in sea-to-land attacks, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance activities, and antisurface and anti-submarine warfare.
However, as with other high-powered military assets, their primary purpose is deterrence.
The S80s also boast of the ability to fire American Tomahawk and Harpoon missiles used by the US Navy for sea-to-land attacks, showcasing the submarine’s interoperability with other defense systems.
They also come with an enhanced platform control system developed by Navantia Sistemas that allows them to be operated by a limited number of crew members of 32 with provisions for an extra eight personnel.
Zamarripa said that to host and maintain the fully loaded S80s, a submarine base complete with infrastructure and logistics support will be established in Ormoc, Leyte.
He explained that after evaluating various potential locations across the country, Ormoc was deemed the ideal site for the future submarine base due to such factors as geographic protection against extreme weather, low seismic risk, proximity to Daniel Z. Romualdez Airport in Tacloban City and logistical support due to existing harbor activity in the city.
Zamarripa added that locating the submarine base in Central Philippines, particularly in Leyte, is aligned with the government’s strategy of establishing naval assets in different sites for security and for quick deployment to conduct their missions.
Such a major move is likewise expected to spur rapid economic development in the city and the province with the creation of thousands of direct and indirect jobs required in the operation and maintenance of the Isaac Peral submarines.
Navantia’s offer also provides for the construction and development of a state-of-the-art training site where the prospective submarine crew will learn how to operate the new class of vessels named after the inventor of the modern submarine who was born in the port city of Cartagena.
On a historical note, the 19th-century engineer, who was briefly based in Manila, had a street named after him (Calle Isaac Peral) in Manila’s Ermita district until it was changed in 1962 to United Nations Avenue.
What is proposed to be set up in the Philippines is similar to the Navantia training site in this city, about a five-hour drive from Cartagena, where personnel who will supervise and operate the submarine force will be trained with the use of simulators plus onshore and at-sea training with the full support of the Spanish Navy.
The involvement of the Spanish Navy not just in operations and maintenance training but also in tactical training of Filipinos, with added mentoring in administrative tasks, was deemed a major competitive advantage for Navantia. It is also a prime benefit for the Philippines, as it can be assured that its people will be supported by the Spanish Navy, which uses the S80s.
Zamarripa said the training of the first crew would likely be conducted in Spain but succeeding training sessions will be held in the replica center that will come with the same facilities such as the simulators to prepare the crew and staff for a host of mission scenarios.
Another key feature of the Navantia offer is the Spanish government’s sovereign guarantee of the loan equivalent to 100 percent of the final value of the contract.
This should lead to a concessional or lower interest on the loan as the risk will be carried by Spain. Payment will begin only after the submarines are delivered, about seven to eight years after the proposed government-to-government contract is signed.
Navantia is one of three companies that have so far expressed interest in supplying submarines to the Philippines after President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. earlier expressed his intention to secure at least one to enhance the country’s defense and modernize the Armed Forces.
The Philippines, after all, is the only major country in Southeast Asia without a submarine fleet.
As of 2012, Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia were already operating submarines, with Vietnam following suit. Even Myanmar has its own submarines.
The Armed Forces chief of staff, Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr., also expressed a desire to have a submarine fleet to support the Philippine Navy, which is reviewing proposals and the timing and the budget to support the program.
Aside from Navantia, the Naval Group of France and some Korean companies have expressed an interest in supplying the Philippines with its submarines and also helping it build a submarine base.
‘We’re here to support’
But Zamarripa believes that Navantia has a superior offer on the table because of the company’s commitment to go beyond the mere supply of the submarines.
“We offer not just ships but the whole package,” he said. “We do not deliver and then say goodbye. We’re here to support.”
Navantia is also in talks for a P5.2-billion contract to supply the Philippine Navy with a close-in weapon system.
This system consists of two 35-millimeter Millennium Guns on a special base that can be easily mounted on existing Navy frigates such as the BRP Antonio Luna and BRP Jose Rizal with no need for major modifications. These can also be eventually serviced locally at the Freeport Area of Bataan.
Zamarripa said Navantia was committed to the relationship with the Philippine military, building on the longstanding alliance between the two countries with their strong economic and cultural ties and shared history.