By Martin Sadongdong
BRP Conrado Yap, a Philippine Navy (PN) corvette, detected a United States submarine that was submerged in the waters of Palawan in November 2019, in what was regarded as the first-ever submarine detection in the 121-year history of the country’s naval warfare service.
This was bared by no less than Navy Flag Officer in Command (FOIC), Vice Admiral Robert Empedrad during an interview with the media at the Naval Bonifacio Station in Taguig City on Wednesday night.
“The BRP Conrado Yap was able to detect a submarine while it was travelling in Palawan. That was the first time that it happened to our navy,” Empedrad said.
The Navy Chief said the crew manning the BRP Conrado Yap was on its way to Zamboanga for a “show the flag” mission, a naval event where a ship displays the flag of its country as an expression of patriotic pride, when it detected the American submarine.
Acquired from the Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN) on August 5, 2019, the BRP Conrado Yap is the first modern corvette or small warship of the Philippine Navy. It is also regarded as the Navy’s most heavily-armed unit at present.
It is equipped with a variety of sonars and radars making it capable of anti-submarine warfare.
Aside from that, it is also armed with a guided missile fire control system and a variety of armaments, enabling it to take down submarines if ever it detects one.
Although Empedrad described the detection as “exciting,” he admitted that it is a big challenge for them.
“We don’t know what to do with it, it’s only a detection. What will happen in the near future? What are the doctrines involved here? Can you immediately fire a torpedo to destroy submarines? We have a lot of new capabilities that we didn’t have in our fleet before. Modernizing our navy is very challenging indeed,” The Navy Chief said.
“Sabi ko nga, kung tanggalin mo ‘yung dagat sa Pilipinas baka makakita ka ng 50 submarines sa paligid natin (If you remove all the water in the Philippines, you might see around 50 submarines around us),” he added.
Empedrad said they are continuously monitoring the submarine.
Two Del Pilar-class frigates will be delivered in April or May of this year which will also be equipped with a sonar capability to improve the detection of submarines.
“In the future, we will be able to have so many ships that will hunt down submarines and it would be nice because we will be aware of our surroundings,” Empedrad said.
The Navy chief also expressed optimism that the Philippines will soon acquire its very first submarine.
“We need submarines if we want to get the respect of other countries,” he emphasized.
Part of the “Horizon” modernization program of the Armed Forces of the Philippines is the acquisition of two submarines, preferably a Scorpene class, Empedrad said.
He noted that it would cost at least P70 billion and President Duterte has already approved it in principle.
“Our only concern is where we will get the budget. But I think when Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana went to France, he was able to talk to his counterpart and I think they are willing to provide us with a loan package for a submarine program,” he revealed.
If the plan pushes through, the first-ever pair of submarines of the Philippine Navy might arrive in 2027.