The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) will soon put BRP Gabriela Silang (OPV-8301) into operation, This is the latest and most modern patrol boat bought from France to patrol in the West Philippine Sea, the name it gives to the waters claimed in the South China Sea.
Facing unpredictable developments in the South China Sea, regional countries have recently continuously improved the capacity of law enforcement forces. On July 17, 2019, the first offshore patrol vessel BRP Gabriela Silang with hull number 8301 ordered by the Philippine Coast Guard, was launched at the OCEA shipyard in France. It is expected that in the first week of December BRP Gabriela Silang will be moved to Manila.
The Philippine Coast Guard has confirmed that it will dispatch this new patrol ship to operate in the South China Sea and Benham Rise. Besides patrol duty, the ship is also used for anti-piracy and terrorist operations in the southern region of the country. The ship is named after Gabriela Silang, a revolutionary leader during the Philippine struggle for independence from Spain, its design is based on the OPV-270 offshore patrol vessel, which was first unveiled in Euronaval 2014. It is the first offshore patrol vessel and the largest and most modern vessel of the Philippine Coast Guard.
According to reports, the ship is worth 5.6 billion Philippine pesos, when completed she has a length of 84m and has a displacement of approximately 2000 tons. This product boasts its aluminum hull and an environment-friendly engine, according to some sources the engine is the MTU 16V4000M73. The power plant composition of the vessel isn’t purely a diesel-type one but rather, it runs in diesel-electric hybrid propulsion which is more fuel-efficient than usual diesel-operating ones. This helps the ship can move with maximum speed of 20 knots, it can carry 64 men and a helicopter. It also has two onboard 9-meter Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats with speed of 40 knots.
Both the aluminum hull and the hybrid engine provides the ship an extended patrol range of 8,000 nautical miles which is twice as the ones specified for the Jose Rizal-class frigates that obtain only 4,500 nautical miles. The range, along with the ship’s Endurance of 5 weeks means that it can help enhance its patrols in a way that the ship’s performance provides that additional capabilities that the Philippine Coast Guard badly needs in patrolling the country’s archipelagic setup which renders to be one of the longest coastlines obtained on the planet.
The fact that the ship is constructed of aluminum material has both advantages and disadvantages. Aluminum material makes the ship lightweight, helping her operational effectiveness as well as better patrol range. However, the aluminum structure also became a concern from extreme ramming of ships which is usual among Coast Guard Vessels in East Asia. This may be costly to repair which in itself may go as a heavy burden for the end-user like the Philippine Coast Guard, unless if the ship keeps its distance from the danger given that this vessel is primarily for Command and Control Operations as what its users are intending for this vessel.
Thus, after being considered for a long time to be the most poor and backward force in Southeast Asia, the Navy and the Philippine Coast Guard are receiving very strong investment from the government. Together with the Korean-built 3000-ton HDF-3000 frigates, the BRP Gabriela Silang serve as a significant gain for the Philippine Coast Guard’s desire to Modernize its assets wherein the current tools utilized in asserting rights especially in the highly-contested West Philippine Sea.
Most recently, in October 2019, BRP Gabriela Silang began the process of sea trials. In speed tests, the ship can reach speeds of 23.5 knots, 1.5 knots higher than contracted. Other tests will continue to be performed. It is expected that BRP Gabriela Silang will be delivered to the Philippines soon in December 2019.