So what is the 'Prince of Asturias' anyway?
The 'Prince of Asturias' is actually the Spanish aircraft carrier SPS Principe de Asturias (R11), the former flagship of the Spanish Armada, which was recently decommissioned due to defense budget cuts in the Spanish Navy. It is powered by two gas turbine engines in COGAG configuration, manned by 600 men plus allocations for 230 men for its aviation assets, and can carry around 29 fixed and rotary air assets for a variety of missions including power projection. The latest operating cost reported for her and her air group was around €100 million, or around Php 5.5 billion.
|The SPS Principe de Asturias (R11)|
Photo taken from Wikimedia.
It sounds like good news, but actually there's none.
The article from lavozdigital.es does not even explain how the Spanish see the Philippines as interested on the ship since it the most of the article itself points to the Indonesians, which was said to have visited the Spanish Navy base at Ferrol and took interest on the ship but eventually rejecting the idea of purchasing it. The entire article itself only used the word "Philippines" once, plus the title.
So how did it involved the Philippines?
MaxDefense sources confirmed that a Philippine contingent from the Department of National Defense (DND) and the Philippine Navy (PN) visited Spain a few months ago to meet representatives from Navantia shipbuilding company and the Spanish Navy in relation to the ongoing PN modernization program. The contingent was given an opportunity to tour the carrier while it was moored at Ferrol, and an offer was made for the Philippines to consider purchasing it. As the Philippine contingent did not give a definite answer of acceptance or rejection, the Spanish media immediately assumed that the Philippine government is indeed interested in it, and that Indonesia's rejection to their offer means that the Philippines is left as possible buyer.
|The Principe de Asturias docked in Ferrol after decommissioning, where the Philippine contingent visited her.|
Photo taken from RevistaNaval.com
The Principe de Asturias was a source of pride for the Spain as a whole, and giving it up earlier than planned was painful for them to accept. Transferring it for use by another navy is much acceptable for them than scrapping it. Aside from pride, it would be financially better for the Spanish government. Scrapping it requires capital outlay, while the scrap material does not worth much, while selling the ship and including a refurbishing and service support package contract (as indicated in the article) means returns for the government and Spanish companies as well as jobs for its people. Giving the public hope that the Philippines may possibly take the ship is better news than emphasizing the rejection by the Indonesians.
A better news was made by interpreting the information on the positive face, arriving on a news that was not supported by facts and was not even explained properly in the article content, and making a title that gets the public's attention are forms of news sensationalizing. Who in Spain would have thought that their poor former colony is moneyed enough to buy their navy's pride?
Was it successful? Yes it was, and a proof of that is by making its way halfway around the world and becoming a buzz in the Philippine and regional defense media and social network, and with MaxDefense dedicating an entire blog answering it.
Let us assume that the news was correct for the sake of discussion.
Although it seems something to be joyful about, we have to ask ourselves again: Can the PN buy the "Principe"? Does the PN really have the capability to operate the "Principe"? Is the "Principe" what the PN really need?
Several posters in Philippine defense forums and sites welcomed the news with delight and excitement, and sharing the news to the public without really thinking again if this is indeed possible, logical, or even true. Technically, yes it is possible, the first question's answer is definitely yes. If the PN really wants it, they will allocate money for it. Then what? Before we finalize our answer on that, let us answer the next questions MaxDefense posted above.
Does the Philippine Navy really have the capability to operate the Principe de Asturias, or any other carrier or ship of that magnitude? The answer is 'NO'. Here's why:
|The Principe de Asturias with its air group composed of helicopters and VTOL fighters.|
Having the carrier means that the PN needs to train 600 men and women to operate such complex ship, very much more complicated than the latest and most modern ship it has (Gregorio del Pilar-class frigates). The PN already had difficulty programming to train 300 men to operate two Maestrale-class frigates, what more for a 600-men aircraft carrier?
The PN also needs to allocate a budget of more or less Php 5 billion to keep her operational and in high readiness status. That amount is big enough to drain the operational budget of the entire PN for more than a year! Yes, Php 5 billion cost may include the carrier's air group, but we ask again, does the PN have the air group to place in the carrier? You can even place the entire combat aircraft fleet of the PAF and it may still have space for more. Having its own air group of just helicopters require the PN to spend billions of pesos again. The gas turbines powering the vessel, which is identical to that of the US Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates, was considered "gas-guzzling" by the PN high command during previous Congressional Hearings. It has no diesel engines that the PN prefer in its ships.
|A Spanish Navy AV-8B Harrier fighter aircraft landing on the Principe de Asturias. Does the PN have the budget and skill to have such aircraft?|
Photo taken from Wikimedia.
An aircraft carrier, being a primary naval asset and the pride of the fleet, needs escorts to guard it and auxiliary ships to support it. Currently there are no capable warships in the PN fleet to effectively defend the carrier from air, surface and sub-surface threats. The PN, although embarking on a frigate program, the numbers are not enough. The Spanish Navy alone allocates around 6 Santa Maria-class (Spanish-made Oliver Hazard Perry-class) frigates for her battle group alone. The PN don't even have one.
|The Principe de Asturias (R11) and her replacement the Juan Carlos I (L61) with escorting Santa Maria-class frigates and Harrier fighter cover from her air group. Does the PN have these supporting assets to defend the carrier?|
As for the third question, is the 'Principe' what the PN really needs. We look again at what the PN has in its fleet.
Currently the PN has for a long time chronically lacks the necessary ships to effectively perform its mandate. It has no missile equipped ships, has very few large ships, mostly ageing assets, poor basing facilities, not up-to-date technology, and personnel untrained for modern warship operations.
|The PN can't even properly man this ship, nor buy it.|
In its current disposition, the PN needs to prioritize training its personnel to operate modern warships and understand aspects of modern naval warfare, upgrade and refurbish its still serviceable naval and air assets, purchase more fighting, amphibious, patrol, auxiliary, and support ships and crafts as well as aircraft, improve its technology base and induct missile technology in its arsenal, improve its war fighting doctrines, improve and expand its naval bases and air strips, and retire its already overworking ships.
|The PN can't even replace this ageing asset. Why not prioritize in replacing all World War 2-era assets first?|
The PN is also in a situation that it cannot even properly fund its incoming or ongoing projects like the Frigate project, MRV project, ASW helicopter project, and all others in line. If the PN and DND has the budget to buy the carrier, why not just allocate the money to fund these in-line projects? With the money, it can improve the type of frigates to be bought or even increase the numbers above the current program for 2 units.
So the answer to the third question is definitely 'NO'.
|Can the PN allocate all its assets including the BRP Gregorio del Pilar just to escort and defend the carrier?|
Photo taken from Gregorio del Pilar PF-15 Facebook page.
To give a perspective, MaxDefense will use the larger, better equipped and better funded Royal Thai Navy (RTN) as an example for comparison Why them? Because they currently operate the Principe de Asturias' sistership, the HTMS Chakri Naruebet (CVV-911), currently their flagship and largest warship.
|The Principe de Asturias (R11) together with her sistership, the HTMS Charki Naruebet (CVV-911) of the Royal Thai Navy, during the latter's sea trials in the mid-90s.|
|HTMS Charki Naruebet initially have ex-Spanish AV-8A Matador Harrier in its air group. The entire Matador fleet has been stored due to lack of funding and parts, with the Sikorsky S-70 Seahawks soldiering on.|
Then came the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis.
It battered the Thai economy really bad and defense cuts plus decline of the Thai Baht started to hurt the RTN. The ship stayed on port most of the time instead of operating at sea, its Matador Harrier air group was left without parts and funding support, and stored indefinitely (until now), the planned escort ships did not materialize, and the ship was considered a waste by their politicians and media. Even with Thai economy's recovery, the ship was not able to really do its intended missions regularly due to lack of sufficient funding. Instead it became a helicopter carrier, a helicopter platform having common support role with the RTN's sole LPD the HTMS Angthong, a support ship for evacuation and relief operations during disaster and emergencies, and becomes the largest royal yacht in the world when necessary.
|If the DND / PN does have the budget to buy the carrier, would it not be better to spend it first to purchase well-equipped full-size frigates, like the Italian Carlo Bergamini (FREMM) class?|
Photo taken from Wikimedia.
MaxDefense opinion on this issue is for people to read information well, understand it, and think twice or even thrice to see if it is indeed worth believing or spreading to the public. Spreading misinformation to the unknowing public will not help in the Armed Forces of the Philippines' drive for support for its modernization program. Instead, the public will demand more from the government based on wrong information.