Author Topic: Brown-Eagle Underwater: The Philippine’s Quest for Submarines  (Read 2053 times)


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Brown-Eagle Underwater: The Philippine’s Quest for Submarines
By CDR Mark R Condeno


22 September 1914 in the cold choppy waters of the North Sea, a few miles from the coast of the Netherlands in less than 90 minutes, HMS Aboukir, HMS Cressy and HMS Hogue was sunk by SMS U-9 under the command of Captain-Lieutenant (Lieutenant Senior Grade) Otto Widdegen…the three ships were sailing line abreast on the turbulent seas when the German’s torpedo struck. A total of 1,136 lives were lost. The sudden attack struck a chord on both the British and German Navies, as it dawned the effect of Submarine Warfare.

30 July 1945, Philippine Sea fourteen minutes after midnight, six Japanese type 95 torpedo’s hit and sunk the Heavy Cruiser USS Indianapolis (CA-35) with 300 out of its 1, 196 officers and crew went down with the ship.

13 July-01 August 1950, China coast, La perousse Strait and Formosan waters, the early days of the Korean War, the USS Catfish (SS-339) and USS Pickerel (SS-524) make way towards a reconnaissance of the China coast to monitor the movement of the Communist Naval Forces who might open a second front on Taiwan.

20 December 2020- Off the Coast of Hainan, a platoon of Philippine Combined Reconnaissance Teams (CRT’s) jumped off from a C130 on the warm Chinese waters, a derring do attitude even for the elite soldiers with nothing but the blackness of the water below welcoming them until the massive black silhouette of BRP Vicente Catalan (U-198) emerged from the depths to quietly recover them from their descent and nimbly embraced them from the prying eyes of the enemy.

Three real world actions and one fictional scenario in four different timeframes with a solitary foci- the Submarine. The first, during the Great War, a time were in the undersea weapon was still in its infancy with early false starts, crude tactics and strategy and were most of the major naval powers had yet decided the role of the submarine in its fleet and conflict. The second, a tragic event in the closing days of World War Two which focuses on tactics, maneuvers and intelligence. Third, a typical characteristic to serve as the eyes and ears of the fleet but also have the chance to dealt a first blow to the enemy and lastly, in utilizing the craft’s stealth in inserting troops into hostile enemy territory.

More than a thousand articles and essays have already been written on the essence of the submarines and this article would be no different but would rather seek to explore the characteristics of a submarine that makes it a compelling weapons platform and discusses how they contribute to sea denial and maritime power projection for the world’s second largest archipelago.

Historical Precedents:

It has been 82 years since it was envisioned to be a part of the country’s future naval force the Offshore Patrol (OSP). During the 1934 Philippine Constitutional Convention, Delegate and Colonel Blas Villamor of the Province of Apayao proposed that apart from Rapid Cruisers, a squadron of Torpedo Boats and Submarines be procured to conduct the exterior offensive. On 09 February 1939, the OSP was activated but it was only the former that was procured and became part of the fleet.

The exploits of the OSP during the Pacific war is well recorded in our Naval and Maritime history and the story of the courage of its officers and men serves for us to emulate them, but what might have been if the OSP had submarines during the early days, would the Japanese landing in Lingayen be different?
It was in the late 50’s and early 60’s, that the Philippine Navy begun its quest for Submarines, specifically for 3 diesel boats coincided with the entreaty for PBY Catalina flying boats of the Philippine Air Force which was used heavily by Sulu-Air Task Group (SATAG) during the tumultuous days in Mindanao, nothing however on the submarines requested followed.

Another major item of interest during the 5 year AFP Modernization Plan from 1977-1981 was the acquisition of Submarines specifically conventional powered attack submarines in the class of the German Type 206 and 2 Training Submarines of the SST type.

The SST types were to be inducted in 1977 with 1 unit and another in 1979, while the Type 206s were from 1978 to 1981, for one Submarine each year.

Almost Two decades later, the request or proposed acquisition was again brought up during the 50s with the United States for 3 Diesel Submarines, 1 Destroyer and Consolidated PBY Catalina's, as in my previous post only the Catalina's were delivered.

Had these materialize the Philippine ASW Triad could have started its foundations.

Fortunately, the PAF PBY Catalina's worked well with the PNs 4 Harbour Defence Motor Launches (HDML) -all Ex Royal Navy but came from the Royal Australian Navy as they were Australian built. The HDMLs has Radars and forms part of our Anti-Submarine Force along with our 16 Submarine Chasers.

The Training Submarine in question might have been the US SST Type 1 or the Ex USS Mackerel which was decommissioned in 1973 as no other SST types were in operational service at that time.

Several years later, in 1998, the concept paper for a Submarine capability was endorsed by the then Flag Officer in Command (FOIC, PN) VADM Eduardo Ma R Santos AFP to the Department of National Defense which was received positively. A core group was established as early as 1999 during the incumbency of then FOIC PN VADM Luisito Fernandez AFP.

It was also in this period that selected Filipino Naval Officers were sent for schooling overseas namely in the United Kingdom and visits to Pakistan, who at that time operates the French made Agosta Class Submarines.

By the advent of President Benigno S Aquino III administration and coinciding with the debacle with China on the South China Sea, along with the desired force mix program that the establishment of a Submarine arm again surfaced with the projected acquisition of 3 vessels. Related to this matter was the establishment of a Submarine Group for the Philippine Navy in 2013.

Though several changes on the Desired Force Mix program has occurred, specifically on the requirements for undersea warfare under the Maritime Force projection package in which we envisaged to acquire two diesel electric submarines by 2018 on the 2nd horizon and four units on the 3rd horizon. In the subsurface domain, the Philippines continued participation on allied naval exercises that is geared for submarine related operations; seminars and shipriders similar to the program with the USS Cheyenne would not only benefit us but develop interoperability with our allies.

Operational Features:

Stealth, Freedom of Movement, Flexibility and Lethality are the primary characteristics of the craft and used collectively is a potent weapon on its environment.

Covertness is the essence of the submarine, paired with the geographical features of the country which it could use to its advantage through mastery of terrain, coves, bays and shallow waters. Stealth is synonymous with the crafts freedom to sail from one point to another regardless of poor sea and weather conditions. Flexibility on the other hand is still identical with the first two as it could readily assume a different role as noted on the third scenario above. Penultimately, the array of weapons, sensors and special operators it could carry makes the lethal punch to the enemy.

Sea Denial and Force Projection:

Several historical examples of Sea Denial can be cited foremost on the Falklands War of 1982 and the 1971 India-Pakistan War, the mere presence of HMS Conqueror and PNS Hangor had effects on both the Argentinean and Indian fleets.
Scenario 3 and 4 above is a classic case of force projection that would be vital for the country and the navy in dealing with Internal and external security operations such as infiltration into hostile shores and convoy escort duties.


As vindicated above, though considered an offensive weapon- the introduction of a submarine flotilla in the Philippine Fleet would be a vital factor that should have been pursued early on…Historical background or familiarity with the boats exploits specifically during World War Two.

The confrontational strategic environment of the South China Sea, piracy, maritime terrorism among others makes it imperative for the Philippines to acquire Submarines while primary imperious is the country’s strategic location in the Southeast Asian region are further validations for a Filipino Submarine Arm.


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« Last Edit: July 27, 2019, 10:42:33 AM by adroth »