The Gregorio del Pilar-class multi-role frigates have been in service with the Philippine Navy since 2011. They are intended to improve the maritime security of the Philippines in the Spratly and Scarborough Shoal islands in the South China Sea.
The vessels were formerly operated by the US Coast Guard (USCG) under the Hamilton-class all-weather, high-endurance cutter class. Built by Avondale Shipyard, these vessels are now part of Ingalls Shipbuilding. A total of three cutters have been acquired by the Philippines from the US under the Excess Defense Articles programme.
The frigates have been modernised to perform a number of missions in Philippine waters, such as naval warfare, sovereignty patrols, maritime security, law enforcement, humanitarian assistance, search-and-rescue, counterterrorism, and relief.
Background of Gregorio del Pilar-class vessels
The 12 Hamilton-class high-endurance cutters were inducted into the USCG between 1967 and 1972. The US performed upgrades on the Hamilton-class under the Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization (FRAM) programme in 1992.
Seven of the 12 Hamilton-class cutters were decommissioned from US service after 2011. Three of them underwent dry-dock overhauling and retrofitting to meet the Philippine Navy’s operational requirements.
In addition to the Philippines, the US transferred two Hamilton-class cutters each to the Bangladeshi and Nigerian Navies.
Gregorio del Pilar-class commissioning details
The former USCG Hamilton cutter, which was transferred to the Philippine Navy in May 2011, became the lead vessel of the Gregorio del Pilar-class. Designated BRP Gregorio del Pilar (FF-15), the frigate performed its maiden voyage in July 2011 and was commissioned by the Philippine Navy in December 2011.
BRP Ramon Alcaraz (FF-16), the second frigate in the class, was the former USCG Dallas cutter. It was acquired by the Philippines in May 2012 and renovated at a cost of $15.15m. The frigate completed its maiden voyage in June 2013 and was commissioned in November 2013.
Another Hamilton-class cutter, USCG Boutwell, was acquired by the Philippine Navy as the third frigate in the Gregorio del Pilar-class. It was re-christened BRP Andres Bonifacio (FF-17) and entered service in Alameda, California, US, in July 2016. It is expected to reach the Philippines by November 2016.
Gregorio del Pilar-class features
The modernised Gregorio del Pilar-class vessels incorporate new navigational and electronics systems, armament, and anti-submarine warfare capabilities.
The overall length and beam of the vessel are 115.2m and 13.1m, respectively, and the hull draught is 6.1m. With a displacement of 3,390t, the class can accommodate 162 personnel, including 19 officers.
The flight deck at the stern of the frigate is intended to support take-off and landing manoeuvres of one type AW-159 Wildcat helicopter. The vessel also features a retractable hangar.
The frigate is commanded from an enclosed bridge located amidships. A number of antennae and radars mounted atop the bridge ensure safe operation at sea.
Weapons on board the Gregorio del Pilar-class frigates
The Philippines’ modern Gregorio del Pilar-class frigates are armed with two Mk 38 Mod 2 autocannon systems, which are the improved versions of Mk38 M242 Bushmaster guns, for protection against surface threats in both day and night conditions.
An Mk75 76mm Oto Melara gun mounted in the bow is intended to offer protection against surface and air targets.
The warships are also armed with two 20mm Oerlikon guns to combat close-range air threats and four M2HB 0.50 calibre machine guns to engage light targets.
Propulsion and performance
The Gregorio del Pilar-class is powered by a combined diesel or gas (CODOG) propulsion system. The warships have a maximum speed of 29k and can stay afloat for 30 days without refuelling. They are capable of travelling up to a range of 9,600nmi at 15k and can operate under difficult weather and rough sea conditions.