For the Philippine Navy, controlling the vast waters in the South China Sea is a challenge, especially in the context of competition with China’s powerful navy.

The Philippine Navy has invested heavily in surface combatants over the years, and now the country has finally committed to buying its first submarine. The French submarine Scorpene emerged as a leading contender. The South East Asian country also has an offer from South Korean DSME, Russia, and Turkey to build submarines for its navy.

The Scorpène-class submarines are a class of diesel-electric attack submarines jointly developed by the French Company Naval Group  and the Spanish company Navantia. The Scorpène submarine is capable of carrying out all types of missions, such as anti-surface vessel warfare, anti-submarine warfare, long-range strikes, special operations, or intelligence gathering. It is extremely stealthy and fast, and is equipped with a comprehensive range of weapons such as torpedoes, missiles, and mines.

The Scorpène submarine can carry 18 torpedoes and missiles or 30 mines. It is equipped with six bow-located 21in torpedo tubes providing salvo launch capability. It can launch anti-ship and anti-submarine torpedoes, as well as anti-surface missiles. The handling and loading of weapons are automated.

Scorpène has a surface displacement of 1,500 tons and when submerged about 2,000 tons, the length is from 61 m – 75 m depending on the version. Scorpene is equipped with an air-independent propulsion system called MESMA that allows the vessel to remain submerged for 21 days. Average operating time at sea is up to 50 days.

But the Philippines’ ambitions don’t stop at buying a submarine. The country is also looking to develop its own manufacturing capabilities in the defense industry sector. In addition, Manila also seeks to strengthen its training capacity, ensuring the building of a strong and autonomous armed force. With the above request, Naval Group proved to have an advantage over the contractor from Russia, which is under heavy sanctions.

Reports inform that the Philippine Navy has already sent personnel to France for training before procuring the submarines. This suggests that the Naval group might be in the pole position with its Scorpène-class diesel-electric submarines (SSK) on offer. Brazil, Chile, India, and Malaysia have also chosen the submarines.

Despite the intent to procure, the submarine plan had been in limbo due to the small defense budget of the country. The estimated budget for procuring two submarines has been pegged at 70-100 billion Philippine Pesos (1.25-1.80 billion USD). The procurement is part of the Philippines Navy’s Horizon 3 modernization plan (from 2023-2028). Once the deal is finalized, it will take at least five years for the first of the submarines to enter the fleet. While the Naval Group is not offering to build the submarines in the island country, it is offering to train its personnel for four years.

The new submarines are expected to significantly enhance the Southeast Asian nation’s defense capabilities. Presently most of its neighboring countries – Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaysia are operating submarines.

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