The Philippines has ordered two new warships from South Korea's Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI), Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Tuesday, modernizing Manila's navy as it faces a dispute with Beijing in the South China Sea.
The world’s largest shipbuilder also published a press release regarding the deal on Tuesday.
The Philippine Navy had become run down in recent decades – even featuring U.S. craft from World War II – until President Rodrigo Duterte's predecessor, Benigno Aquino, began a modest modernization program in 2010.
Tuesday's 28 billion pesos ($556 million) deal with the South Korean shipbuilding giant sees the delivery of the corvettes by 2026.
This is not the first time the HHI signed a contract with the Philippines as it comes five years after the firm also won a contract to build two new frigates for the Philippine Navy.
Corvettes and frigates are small, fast warships mainly used to protect other vessels from attack.
The South Korean shipbuilder’s corvettes tailored for the Southeast Asian country are set to be a multi-purpose surface combatant with 3,200-ton displacement, 116-meter length and 14.8-meter breadth (127-yard length and 16.2-yard breadth).
With a maximum speed of 25 knots and cruising speed of 15 knots, the corvettes will have a 16-cell vertical launching system (VLS), 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.
"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.
The deal "will ensure commonality and interoperability with our existing assets," he added, as well as "ease of maintenance and repairs."
Nam Sang-hoon, chief operating officer (COO) of the of Naval and Special Ship business unit of HHI said in the company statement that he “feels proud of the Republic of the Philippines and the Republic of Korea Defense industry cooperation getting stronger day by day, and HHI will continue to cooperate as a reliable partner in the Armed Forces of the Philippine Modernization program.”
Manila has since 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.
Beijing has ignored a 2016 ruling by The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration that its historical claim is without basis.