The Philippine Navy commissioned three newly built Mark III multi-purpose attack craft (MPAC) in a formal ceremony at Naval Base Heracleo Alano in Cavite City on Monday, May 22.
This batch of three 17-metre fast attack boats, whose total acquisition cost is estimated at 270 million pesos (US$5.43 million), was built entirely at the Subic shipyard of Propmech Corporation, a shipbuilder headquartered in Manila.
This brings to nine the total number of MPACs currently in active service with the country’s armed forces.
These three vessels are the latest contributions of the Philippine shipbuilding industry to the navy’s ongoing modernisation program aimed at making the service better equipped in dealing with terrorism, piracy, and other “low intensity” internal and external threats.
As with the earlier marks of the class, each of the MPAC Mark IIIs has a five-person crew, an aluminium hull, light machine gun armament, and waterjet propulsion that enable it to reach speeds of up to 40 knots.
However, unlike their Mark I and Mark II sisters, the Mark III craft will also have provisions for the Israeli-made Rafael Spike-ER light anti-ship missile which can strike targets up to eight kilometres away.
The original accommodations for up to 16 fully armed troops that were available on the Mark I and Mark II boats have also been slightly reduced in the Mark III to allow the installation of a Rafael Mini Typhoon Remote Weapon Station mounting both a Spike-ER missile launcher and an optional 7.62-millimetre or 12.7-millimetre machine gun. The Mini Typhoon missile/gun combination was tested by the US Navy with satisfactory results in 2012.
The eventual inclusion of missile armament on the MPAC Mark IIIs will make them the first missile-equipped warships to see service with the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
The MPAC’s overall design is similar to that of the CB90-class fast assault craft manufactured by Sweden’s Dockstavarvet and which are optimised for rapid amphibious insertion and extraction of infantry units of up to “half platoon” size (18 troops).
The first six MPACs delivered to the Philippine Navy have also been used satisfactorily in coastal patrol, search and rescue, and anti-smuggling operations ever since the acquisition of the initial batch of three Mark I ships in 2009, thus proving the versatility afforded by these vessels’ basic design.
Nelson Dela Cruz is Baird Maritime's Philippines correspondent and a former local facilitator of Interferry's FerrySafe project in Manila and Cebu.