Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Starting Philippine Military Shipbuilding from Scratch

There are always hopes that local shipbuilding that will produce locally-made warships wherein everybody will be proud of. However, doing so will mean starting from the very start where it involves research and experience.


OVERVIEW
Keppel Shipyard in the Philippines.
Locally-made ships are ideal for self-reliance. In fact, it is detrimental to have an independence for a maritime nation will have its own indigenous fleet where the navy benefits, the local workers do benefit as well. In this sense, as per saying, will produce more jobs as well as more ships where it helps improving the economy. However, it is not always the case wherein the mere fact that military shipbuilding, unlike civilian ones, are different in nature considering the upkeep and the sense of integrity in the case of full-blown conflict.

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS

The Philippines is known to be the fourth largest shipbuilding country in the world. But sad to say ladies and gentlemen, that is in term of backlog of orders in those shipbuilding industries. Not to mention that such industries we are referring are private-owned industries where they are more on profit-building and not on some other things like building warships whatsoever. These industries focus more on civilian ships which is ranging from bulk carriers to offshore oil rigs like those shown in the photo depicting Keppel Shipyard which is situated in Subic.

Moreover, this comes into consideration that an ideal thing is to built a government-owned shipyard, but we are still far from reaching that goal. In fact, the point of giving the following message is for the people who insisted that having it locally-built without any other consideration is for them to realize that:

There's nothing wrong with believing that it can be done.

But believe with your eyes open.  You have to realize to get to that step, we are essentially starting at zero.  The large shipyards are foreign owned entities, with little to no interest in warship construction.  And they demonstrated their lack of interest by not participating in either the SSV project or the Frigate Acquisition Project (not only did the big foreign owned shipyards not submit a bid, they didn't even bother to purchase bidding documents when the bidding was opened up).

And so we're looking at either an existing shipyard or a completely new shipyard.  And none of the existing domestically owned shipyards have adequate size, capital equipment, and technical capability to construct a military spec ship on the order of an OPV or larger.

And so we are looking at least a decade of development, and hundreds of millions of dollars in investment costs.  There has to be significant involvement of government, the private sector, and research entities.  Significant upgrades would be needed in terms of expansion of slipways to accommodate construction of ships in the 120 meter range (the new frigates are supposed to be 115 meters long), construction cranes, machine shops, and so on.  Associated industries would need to be developed in the areas of steel manufacturing and the production of propulsion systems.  Steel manufacturing has its own complications, since one of the keys to that business is ensuring a steady and dependable power supply (steel manufacturing is very electricity dependent).  The production of ship's propulsion systems does not even currently exist in the country.  And of course the necessary transport infrastructure would have to be put into place in order to transport those materials to the shipyards.

Not to mention having the know how to design military spec vessels, which are far more structurally complex than the bulk cargo carriers and tankers that are being produced in Philippine shipyards.  Also having the highly skilled manpower needed to design and construct the ships.  And the other stuff you would have to consider such as the stricter quality controls, shipyard security, etc.


Make no mistake, as a maritime nation, the local construction of warships can and should be a goal of the nation.  But make no mistake also that the development of warship building capabilities is going to a very long term project that will require a huge investment of capital and resources to make it happen.  And it will be a very gradual process, with the initial "baby steps" will be small, modest undertakings, like the ones we've already seen with the construction of MPACs and the BRP Tagbanua.  However, the construction of large combatants like corvettes and frigates is a long way away, as our local shipbuilding industry would need to gain more experience with increasingly more complex projects.


Speaking of this, let us give you some glimpse of hope as far as SRDP is concerned. First, Propmech and their Taiwanese partners built MPACs which it can be considered as proudly made locally. That is a good start. That further enhanced upon the fact that BRP Tagbanua, an amphibious support ship was also locally built. Add to that the ToTs for the Frigate Acquisition Project, the BFAR's acquisition of 40m vessels which it will be built in this country, and so on. But with these, as what the message implicates, the whole nation in terms of shipbuilding is still far away from getting into reality. For these to materialize, one require funding, bureaucracy, location, and series of sub-projects that will be made so that local, military-based shipbuilding, under the program of Self-Reliance Defense Posture, will finally gone on its fruition to benefit the Philippine Navy.

THE FINAL POINT

Local shipbuilding is an ideal thing where it gives jobs, improves the economy, and make the morale boost by saying a nation is having a fully-capable ship in which it is proudly made by fellow citizens who aspires to have a nation fully protecting its interest for the sake of growth and benefit for its citizens. However, the realizations unto this matter is that an archipelago like the Philippines, in which its shipyards are primarily owned by foreigners, is far from having its own credible shipbuilding industry that will cater the government and is controlled by government. We can learn from our neighbors how it is done. It is a good things but it is a long, long way to go. Hope that the government have its foresight, this will help improve the nation in general.

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