This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
The Philippines signed a deal valued at U.S. $554 million Tuesday to buy two small warships from a South Korean manufacturer, officials said, as Manila seeks to modernize its navy amid perceived security threats over South China Sea territorial disputes.
Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Ka Sam Hyun, a representative of shipbuilder Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI), put their signatures on the deal for Manila’s purchase of two corvettes which will have anti-ship and anti-submarine capabilities.
The deal adds to the Philippine Navy’s recent acquisition of two frigates, also built by HHI, as well as a refurbished Pohang class corvette from the South Korean Navy, as the fleet’s only ships with those capabilities, officials said.
“I share the jubilation of our valiant sailors and marines, the entire Armed Forces of the Philippines as well as the entire nation for this acquisition of two more capital assets for our Philippine Navy,” Lorenzana said a statement.
“This project will give the Philippine Navy two modern corvettes that are capable of anti-ship, anti-submarine and anti-air warfare missions.”
The upgrade comes in the face of increasing challenges for the Philippines in the South China Sea, particularly from China, which has been boosting its presence in territories claimed by its smaller Southeast Asian neighbors.
In 2021, the Philippines faced blowback from China as Manila repeatedly protested against the presence of hundreds of fishing boats believed to be manned by Chinese militias within Manila’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
In November, Chinese coast guard ships near Second Thomas Shoal fired water cannons at Philippine boats on a mission to resupply a naval detachment aboard a rusting WWII-era ship, the BRP Sierra Madre, which serves as the Philippines’ outpost on the shoal.
Manila lodged a diplomatic protest over the incident but Beijing brushed this off and followed with demands that the ship be removed.
Corvettes and frigates are smaller, highly maneuverable warships commonly deployed to protect bigger ships from enemy attacks.
The two corvettes, to be delivered by 2026 according to media reports, “will serve as a backstop” to the two frigates, the Philippine defense chief said.
Apart from the new warships, the Philippines is to acquire another decommissioned Pohang-class corvette from South Korea early next year.
These acquisitions will bolster the nation’s naval capability, the defense secretary said.
“We have already come a long way in our modernization, and with this additional acquisition, we are steps closer to a more capable fleet,” Lorenzana said.
Purchasing the corvettes from HHI, the same company that built the Philippine Navy frigates the BRP Jose Rizal and the BRP Antonio Luna, will make it easier to fix and maintain them, Lorenzana said.
Each of the corvettes will weigh 3,200 tons and measure 116 meters long. They will be able to reach a maximum speed of 25 knots and a cruising speed of 15 knots, with a range of 4,500 nautical miles.
Each will have eight anti-ship missile launchers, a 35-mm close-in weapon system, a 76-mm main gun, two three-tube torpedo launchers and an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, HHI said.