The $556 million deal with the South Korean shipbuilder was signed five years after Hyundai won a contract to build two frigates for the Philippine Navy.

The Philippine navy has weakened in recent decades, even retaining American warships from World War II, until the administration of President Benigno Aquino began a modernization program in 2010. The Philippines has ordered two new warships from South Korea’s Hyundai Heavy Industries, to modernize its navy in the face of threats in the South China Sea, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on December 28.

The $556 million deal with the South Korean shipbuilder was signed five years after Hyundai won a contract to build two frigates for the Philippine Navy. Two new corvettes are expected to be delivered in 2026. “This project will give the Philippine Navy two modern corvettes that are capable of anti-ship, anti-submarine and anti-air warfare missions,” Lorenzana said in a speech at the signing ceremony in Manila.

For Southeast Asian countries, small-sized corvettes and frigates are quite suitable. It is cheaper to operate than destroyers, flexible, mainly used to protect other ships when attacked. The South Korean shipbuilder’s corvettes designed specifically for the Southeast Asian nation are set to be multi-purpose surface combatant with a displacement of about 3,200 tons, a length of 116 meters and a beam of 14.8 meters.

With a maximum speed of 25 knots and cruising speed of 15 knots, the corvettes will have a 16-cell vertical launching system, eight anti-ship missile launchers, a 35mm close-in weapon system (CIWS), a 76mm main gun, two three-tube torpedo launchers and Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana added, the deal “will ensure commonality and interoperability with our existing assets,” as well as “ease of maintenance and repairs.” Manila has acquired two former U.S. Coast Guard cutters and three landing craft from Australia, as well as coast guard patrol vessels from Japan, in an effort to bolster its presence in the South China Sea, where it faces a dispute with Beijing.

China claims almost all of the waterway, through which trillions of dollars in trade passes annually, with competing claims from Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. The addition of two new warships will give the Philippine Navy more power to deal with potential threats.

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