Naval Group announced the upcoming opening of an office in Manila in the Philippines. The opening which is set for early 2021 will help the French shipbuilder be closer to its potential customer, the Philippine Navy, as the country is looking to acquire not just submarines, but a true submarine force.
As Naval News reported last month, quoting Naval Group’s CEO, the company is involved in “intense discussions” with the Philippines regarding the sale of submarines. It appears that the topic is progressing well, with the French Shipbuilder set to open a local office in Manila in a couple of months.
Philippine’s submarine ambitions
There have been rumors of a Philippine interest for the French Scorpène submarine for about a year, following the visit of the Philippine Secretary of National Defense Delfin F. Lorenzana to Paris during which the Philippines and France signed a Letter of Intent on maritime cooperation.
It is true that the submarine game in East Asia is heating up, with multiple new submarines being constructed. Japan recently launched the first of the new Taigei-class. South Korea launched the second KSS-III class boat, there is evidence that China is building new nuclear submarines. This week, Taiwan officially started construction on its own IDS submarine. While Singapore, Indonesia and more recently Malaysia have been deploying submarines for years, Thailand is about to join them, leaving the Philippines as one of the few nations in the region lacking a submarine force.
The creation of the submarine force is part of the Armed Forces of the Philippine modernization program aiming to protect the nation maritime sovereignty and interests. Talking to Naval News, a source familiar with the matter explained that the political will to acquire such a capability is there, and budget would not be a major issue. The Philippines is one of the emerging markets and the 3rd highest in Southeast Asia by GDP nominal after Thailand and Indonesia.
Delivering a “Submarine Force”
And this is exactly what Naval Group is proposing: Not just the procurement of submarines but the set up from scratch of a true submarine force. As demonstrated with the successful Malaysian Scorpene program, the French Shipbuilder is able to:
- deliver submarines;
- design the infrastructures (naval base and/or maintenance facility);
- train the submarine force personnel from scratch (crews and maintenance personnel);
- set up a submarine force HQ, train the newly created submarine command on how to use a submarine force (via French Navy know how) and make the most of it.
According to our sources, while South Korea’s DSME is also eyeing a submarine deal with the Philippines, only Naval Group has the capability to deliver this comprehensive “submarine force” offer.
The Indo-Pacific region: a priority for France
Naval Group is backed by French authorities in this potential market. The move is actually in line with France’ strategy in the Indo-Pacific region, as outlined last year in an official French MoD document, France’s strategic priorities in the Indo-Pacific are :
- Defend and ensure the integrity of its sovereignty, the protection of its nationals, territories and EEZ.
- Contribute to the security of regional environments through military and security cooperation.
- Maintain a free and open access to the commons, in cooperation with France’s partners, in a context of global strategic competition and challenging military environments.
- Assist in maintaining strategic stability and balances through a comprehensive and multilateral action.
France is present in the region via its overseas territories (Mayotte and La Réunion islands, Scattered Islands and French Southern and Antarctic Territories, New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna, French Polynesia and Clipperton) and 93% of its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) is located in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The region is home to 1.5 million French people, as well as 8,000 armed forces personnel stationed in the region. In addition to the French Navy vessels based in the region, assets from mainland France do deploy to the region, including submarines.
The Philippines’ maritime environment ranges from challenging littoral confines, to the great depths of the Western Pacific. Between the islands the water is often quite shallow. At the same time the Philippine Trench, which reaches depths of over 10,000 meters, is right on their doorstep. The South China Sea and Celebes Sea are also quite deep in places. Therefore the Philippines needs a versatile submarine which is suited to both scenarios.
Naval Group believes its sea-proven Scorpene-class diesel-electric submarine (SSK) is the perfect match. Today 14 Scorpène submarines are in operational service or being built, for the Chilean Navy (2 units), the Malaysian Navy (2 units), the Indian Navy (6 units) and the Brazilian Navy (4 units).
The Scorpène design is adapted to fit each navy’s specific requirements. The Brazilian Scorpène for example is slightly longer to carry a larger crew, almost double the patrol range, and be able to cover greater distances.
Scorpène is ideally suited for action and operational effectiveness. Robust and enduring, it’s an ocean-going submarine also designed for shallow waters operations. Multipurpose, it fulfils the entire scope of missions such as anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare, special operations, offensive minelaying and intelligence gathering. Integrating improvements from the French Barracuda-Class fast-attack submarine, Scorpène has cutting-edge capabilities, according to Naval Group.
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