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Military hit for ‘change of tune’ on frigate row

Rep. Gary Alejano AP FILE PHOTO

Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano had called out the country’s military and defense officials for quickly changing their preference for the combat management system (CMS) to be installed in the two frigates that Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) was building for the Philippine Navy for P15.7 billion.

Alejano issued the statement on Wednesday night, hours after Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Rear Admiral Robert Empedrad, the Navy’s flag officer-in-command, defended the selection of Naval Shield Integrated CMS over the widely adopted Tacticos of the Dutch firm, Thales Group.

Naval Shield is supplied by Hanwha Systems and used only by the South Korean Navy.

The opposition lawmaker noted that Lorenzana and Empedrad told the Senate in a Feb. 19 hearing that Tacticos is the best CMS in the market. The CMS is the “brains” of a warship.

‘Inferior system’

 

But in Wednesday’s House national defense committee hearing, Empedrad said Naval Shield met the specifications set by the technical working group, and that it was “inaccurate to state that an inferior system will be placed in the frigate.”

Alejano said: “It seemed the winds have changed. Secretary Lorenzana and Rear Admiral Empedrad are now doing an apple-to-apple comparison of Thales’ Tacticos and Hanwha’s Naval Shield as if the two are of equal competence, when in fact [they are] not.”

He said Empedrad’s premise was “erroneous” because Naval Shield is currently incompatible with Tactical Data Link 16 (TDL), a military data exchange network.

Unlike Tacticos, Naval Shield’s compatibility with TDL 16 is still “under development” and, according to Hanwha, would be available only in 2019, he added.

“If indeed this is the case, why was there still a discussion during the Senate hearing on the possibility of Hanwha not being able to comply with the TDL 16 compatibility requirement? This contradicts their claim that Hanwha’s Naval Shield is, at present, incompatible with TDL 16,” Alejano said.

Inconsistent statements

 

The supposed inconsistency in the statements aired in the House and Senate hearings “only further casts doubts whether what is beneficial and best for the Philippine Navy is truly being pursued by the authorities involved,” he said.

Hyundai selected Naval Shield for the frigates after the contractor was given the “sole right” to select the vessels’ systems.

Military officials argued on Wednesday that the procurement law did not allow them to name specific brands, such as Tacticos, and that the government could not directly deal with the subcontractors of the warships’ systems.

The frigate acquisition project became controversial after Lorenzana sacked former Navy chief, Vice Admiral Ronald Joseph Mercado, after the latter questioned the process by which HHI, not the Navy, was given the right to choose the CMS.

In a Jan. 15 privilege speech, Alejano also assailed the grant to Hyundai of the “sole right” to select the CMS. “It would have been good if [the contract’s ‘sole right’ provision] was in the Navy’s favor. But no, it was the contractor,” he said back then.

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