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Long Range Patrol Aircraft Acquisition Project of the Philippine Air Force

The Philippine Air Force has embarked on the acquisition of Maritime Patrol Aircraft under the Long Range Patrol Aircraft (LRPA) Acquisition Project, which is a Horizon 1 phase priority project under the Revised Armed Forces of the Philippines Modernization Program (RAFPMP).

An initial requirement for 2 aircraft were planned to be acquired under this project, with an Approved Budget of Contract (ABC) worth Php5,976,000,000.00.


The two leading contenders for the LRPA Project: the Leonardo ATR-72MP / P-72A, and the Airbus P-295MPA / ASW. Photo credits to original sources.

Overview:

History:

Being a maritime country, the Philippines is surrounded by vast bodies of waters that serves as its natural border with other countries. This natural environment is a strong reason for the Armed Forces of the Philippines to have a capable maritime surveillance, strike, and defensive capabilities.

For the Philippine Air Force, this means enabling to support maritime defense from the air.

But the PAF has not been operating an actual Maritime Patrol Aircraft since the early 1990s, when it retired the remaining Fokker F27-200MPA Enforcer aircraft, its first full-pledge maritime patrol aircraft with surveillance electronic systems, after the service was unable to repair those surveillance systems, and just converted the maritime patrol aircraft into standard troop carrier and transport aircraft.

One of the PAF's Fokker F27-200MPA Enforcer maritime patrol aircraft, this example operated until the late 1980s when it was written-off in an accident. Photo from Carlos Morillo Doria c/o Airliners.net.


In 2013, the PAF decided that acquiring new Maritime Patrol Aircraft would be among their top priority, and has included it in the Horizon 1 phase of the newly approved Revised AFP Modernization Program. As early as late 2013, the pre-procurement process of the Long Range Patrol Aircraft (LRPA) Acquisition Project  has been underway, and was decided to be a 2-stage bidding as guided by the Revised Government Procurement Act RA9184, that would start by June 2014.

The aircraft are to be completely delivered within 3 years after receiving the Notice to Proceed (NTP) from the DND.

Basic Requirements:

As a maritime patrol aircraft, among the basic requirements for the project are the following:

1. 2 brand new aircraft platforms, with at least 2 engines;
2. Minimum payload at maximum fuel total of at least 11,000 lbs.
3. Endruace of at least 7 hours with a minimum payload of 11,000 lbs.
4. Cruising speed of at least 200 knots at minimum payload of 11,000 lbs.
5. Range of at least 1,400 nautical miles with minimum payload of 11,000 lbs.
6. Service ceiling of at least 25,000 feet at minimum payload of 11,000 lbs.
7. Have 4 operator multi-function consoles 
8. A crew rest area for 3 personnel
9. Have 2 units standard High Frequency (HF) radio, two Very High Frequency (VHF) radio for AM/FM communication for communication with ground and naval units and other military aircraft.
10. Have 2 units Marine Band Radio to communicate with commercial vessels
11. Have 1 Satellite Communications (SATCOM) for voice, data, and fax data communications.
12. Mission system including:
 - Search Radar, 
 - Aerial Surveillance Electro-Optical/Infra Red (EO/IR) Camera, 
 - Electronic Support Measure (ESM),
 - Electronic Intelligence (ELINT), 
 - Communications Intelligence (COMINT), 
 - Magnetic Anomaly Detector (MAD), 
 - Sonobuoy Processor and Receiver, 
 - Downlink System
 - Tactical Data Link (dependent on AFP's selected common TDL)

Other requirements include

1. Mission Support Facility
2. Downlink System
3. Sonobuoys
4. Bathythermal Buoys
5. Integrated Logistics Support
6. Pilot, Maintenance Crew, and Mission System Operators training,

A typical layout of the PTDI CN-235-220MPA, which was said to be non-compliant to the original specs, but may be reconsidered if the PAF decides to make changes to accommodate other factors including price. Photo credits to original source.

Procurement Attempts:

In its first attempt, none of the proponents passed the 1st stage bidding process, and the 1st bidding attempt was considered a failure.

A second attempt was made in 2016, with several proponents submitting their bids for the 1st stage bidding process. Only Airbus Military & Space was able to pass the 1st stage, and became eligible to participate in the 2nd stage which will be conducted later on. 

But by early 2017, the 2nd stage bidding was declared a failure after Airbus Military & Space failed to submit a compliant bid for the project. According to MaxDefense Philippines, Airbus was unable to submit a compliant bid due to the project ABC's US dollar and Euro value shrank, and is now too low to allow Airbus to provide the requirements. It was confirmed later by MaxDefense sources that Airbus only offered 1 completed ASW-capable maritime patrol aircraft based on the C-295ASW Persuader, and 1 partially-completed MPA without ASW capability. This was not accepted by the PAF and DND Bids and Awards Committee, which declared the bidding a failure.

The Airbus C-295ASW Persuader of the Chilean Navy, which has an anti-submarine capability including the presence of magnetic anomaly detector (MAD) and munitions firing capability for anti-submarine torpedoes or anti-ship missiles. The PAF's original LRPA requirement also calls for these capabilities. Photo taken from Airliners.net.

A third attempt was made in mid 2017, this time with a more comprehensive technical requirements, and only conducting a single stage bidding process. Budget remained the same, as well as on the delivery timeframe. 

Changes on specs include the following:

1. Addition of 2 Ultra High Frequency (UHF) radios per aircraft
2. Addition of Color Weather Radar per aircraft
3. Defined specs for Aerial Surveillance EO/IR camera, Search Radar, ESM, ELINT, COMINT, MAD, Sonobuoy Processor and Receiver and other subsystems

This was probably due to experience in Airbus' 2nd stage bidding submission in the 2nd bid attempt.

But this bid attempt also failed, after which the Philippine Air Force decided to put the project at the backburner.

Offers:

Several proponents made offers for the project, including complete manufacturers and system integrators. 

Manufacturers include Airbus Military with thei P-295MPA and P-295ASW Persuader, which is based on the C-295 medium tactical transport aircraft, Leonardo with the ATR-72MP / P-72A based on the ATR-72 commercial turboprop aircraft, and PT Dirgantara Indonesia with their CN-295M-220MPA based on the CN-235 medium tactical aircraft.

System integrators include Sweden's Saab with their Swordfish MPA using the Bombardier Q400 Dash-8 turboprop aircraft, Canada's PAL Aerospace with a MPA solution using also the Q400 Dash-8 aircraft, Israel's IAI Elta and Elbit Systems, both of which is open to use either the C-295 or ATR-72 aircraft, and Thales Group which is also open to use the C-295 aircraft.

The Saab Swordfish MPA using the Bombardier Q400 Dash-8 platform. Photo taken from Saab.

According to MaxDefense's sources, solutions using the C-295 and ATR-72 aircraft appear to be in the lead, due to the C-295's commonality with the PAF's current fleet of medium tactical transport aircraft, and the ATR-72's practicality and use of the same engines as the C-295.

The ATR-72 was also found to be favorable due to it not using modular systems, which despite its advantages, was found to be a disadvantage for the PAF due to fears that the aircraft itself would be used for transport rather than maritime patrol.

The ATR-72MP, this example with the Italian Air Force. Photo taken from Leonardo's website.

Nonetheless, the PAF needs a new Maritime Patrol Aircraft, as the PAF relies heavily on transport aircraft from the 220th Airlift Wing, which does not have any surveillance sensors except for a single C-130T Hercules that was installed with the SABIR surveillance system, although has been busy with transport duties and maintenance in the past 2 years to the point that it appears to have not been used for maritime patrols.

Looking Forward:

A new MPA could also avoid something like this from being conducted:

A typical maritime patrol mission of the PAF using  what appears to be a Fokker F27 Friendship transport aircraft and DSLR cameras. Note the potential risk in this. Photo taken from PAF's 220th Airlift Wing.

Current transport aircraft do not even have bubble windows that could allow lookouts or camera shots to be taken properly from the cabin.

Should the project push through next year, the PAF could receive its first MPA by 2023, and the second unit by 2024.

Project Summary:

Long Range Patrol Aircraft (LRPA) Acquisition Project:

Note: Edited as of 04 November 2020.

* End User: Philippine Air Force (300th Air Intelligence and Security Wing)

* Quantity: 2 nos. maritime patrol aircraft

* Modernization Phase: Horizon 1 Priority Projects of RAFPMP

* Project ABC: Php5,976,000,000.00

* Acquisition Mode: To be confirmed, awaiting ADM from DND.

* Source of Funding: AFP Modernization Trust Fund, to be paid via Multi-Year Contractual Allocation (MYCA) through General Appropriations Act (GAA) starting FY2021.

* SARO Release: TBC

* Winning Proponent: TBC

* Product for Delivery: TBC

 
* Contract Price:
 TBC

* Residual Price: TBC

* First post by MaxDefense: 29 May 2015

* MaxDefense Searching Hashtag:
 #PAFLRPAAcquisition, PAFMPAAcquisition

* Status: Project restarted, initial funding to be released by 2021. Negotiations ongoing with different proponents.

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U P D A T E S:
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04 November 2020:

We posted a new video on our Philippine Defense Resource TV @ Youtube regarding the planned restart of the LRPA Project.


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08 November 2020:

MaxDefense Philippine reported in its blog entry last 04 November 2020 that the Philippine Air Force plans to restart the Long Range Patrol Aircraft Acquisition Project, and has requested for the use of part of the Php5 billion unappropriated funds as part the GAA for AFP Modernization Program under Fiscal Year 2021.

The budget requested under a possible Multi-Year Contractual Allocation (MYCA) is worth 15% of the project's ABC, at Php896,400,000.00.


The PAF's LRPA Project was proposed to be funded starting FY2021. Photo taken from DND's presentation to the Senate last October 2020.

It now remains to be seen if the project will push through as planned, although it is expected to be conducted through Government-to-Government (G2G) procurement, which means the governments of those offering their products should help them win the project.


If that will be the case, Saab could be at a disadvantage due to the lack of defense agreements which are mechanisms for G2G deals. Another problem would be for the PAL Aerospace, whose Canadian government already experienced issues when the Trudeau administration questioned the Duterte administration's human rights issues, which led to Pres. Duterte ordering the cancellation of a deal between the DND and the state-owned Canadian Commercial Corporation which represents on behalf of Bell Helicopters.

While the Indonesian government has already reached a defense agreement that allows for G2G deals, the issue with PT Dirgantara Indonesia's CN-235-220MPA remains its size and performance issues not meeting what the PAF is looking for. But they have made a very generous offer to compensate for the CN-235-220MPA's shortcomings by offering a light lift aircraft, most likely a NC-212i Aviocar, as part of the deal.

Due to its bad experience in dealing with the DND, Thales Group may also pass on this project.

Leonardo's bad reputation in terms of providing aftersales support to the Philippine Air Force and Philippine Navy has become a major negative concern, although there are signs that they remain a force to reckon with due to Leonardo also being considered for other potential PAF projects involving helicopters.

Airbus remains a favorite despite concerns from the LRPA TWG of their hesitation to use a platform that can be converted to a transport aircraft even if there are many advantages in terms of commonality in logistics and training with the existing C-295M fleet of the PAF. Price is also another concern as the prices of aircraft are expected to be higher than in 2017, which means Airbus may not be able to offer a complete ASW-capable MPA, unless if the PAF allows the ASW capability to become "Fitted for but not with" again.

It remains to be seen which will the PAF select for their LRPA project, which we expect to happen next year.

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First edit and release: 08 November 2020
Copyright Philippine Defense Resource / MaxDefense Philippines





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