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Operation Pinoy Pride

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Operation 'Pinoy Pride' - Pan Pan, Panic Panic

--- Quote ---Pan Pan, Pan Pan, Pan Pan
All stations, all stations, all stations
This is BRP Apolinario Mabini, BRP Apolinario Mabini, BRP Apolinario Mabini
Call sign: Delta Uniform Papa Zulu
MMSI number: 8 1 1 9 3 0 2
Position: 1 5 degrees 2 6 minutes North, 1 1 8 degrees 3 3 minutes East
We are listing in heavy seas and shipping water. We may require tug assistance
--- End quote ---

To the Austal Subic Bay radio centre monitoring for BRP Apolinario Mabini's uncoded transmissions, the message was chillingly clear. The captain of the BRP Apolinario Mabini had not issued a full Mayday 'distress alert' call, but obviously the 'semi-stealth' ship was in serious trouble. There had been surprisingly little radio traffic - coded or otherwise - between the 63-metre experimental vessel and the Philippine Navy's NAVFORNOL (Naval Forces Northern Luzon). Now this! And the captain's 'urgency alert' call made apparent that the reclad patrol vessel was taking on water.

Personnel from the BRP Apolinario Mabini's initial sea trials were called back to the yard. First to arrive was Bruce Thwaites, Austal's Structural Lead Coordinator for the 'semi-stealth' project. Yet again, Thwaites was puzzled. No immediate assistance was requested which suggested that the ship had full power and, presumably, the bilge pumps were functioning. But the 'urgency alert' call gave the ship's location as 1526'N 11833'E in the West Philippine Sea. What on earth was the Apolinario Mabini doing some 50 km due east of Scarborough Shoal? That was awfully close to the track of Tropical Storm Josie - she may no longer have typhoon status but Josie still packed a hell of a punch. The captain of the BRP Apolinario Mabini could easily have steered northward and continued his tests. With winds still gusting up to 100 km/h, there would have been little chance of running out of rough sea conditions!

Would the 'semi-stealth' BRP Apolinario Mabini be lost on its first open water sea trials? And in the current sea state, who might be available to respond to the captain's 'urgency alert' call? The first response came from another Philippine Navy ship - DUPF - out of Dagupan in the Lingayen Gulf. The BRP Datu Marikudo was over 75 km ENE away from BRP Apolinario Mabini's reported position. According to the radio centre's battered reference guide, this Malvar class corvette was capable of 16 knots (30 km/h). At full speed, it would take DUPF at least two and half hours to reach the listing BRP Apolinario Mabini.

"These ghost ships aren't home to phantom sailors."

Oddly, an online check suggested that the BRP Datu Marikudo had been decommissioned at the end of 2010.  [1] But there was no time to ponder all the oddities of this situation - no time to 'vet' offers of  assistance. Earlier, an outbound Philippine Navy Beechcraft TC-90 patrol aircraft had reported "no joy" in its initial search for the stricken 'semi-stealth' ship. Now, that same PN surveillance aircraft had broken radio silence again, in its ongoing attempt to establish the current position of the BRP Apolinario Mabini. [2]

--- Quote ---Pan Pan
Delta Uniform Papa Zulu
This is Philippine Navy Tango Charlie 9 0
Say again your position
Standing by
--- End quote ---

But the BRP Apolinario Mabini made no response. Moments later, the Beechcraft followed up with another call:

--- Quote ---Pan Pan
Delta Uniform Papa Zulu
This is Philippine Navy Tango Charlie 9 0
How do you read?
--- End quote ---

A chill went through the personnel listening in the Subic Bay radio centre. The BRP Apolinario Mabini had made no calls on Channel 16 since the captain issued his 'urgency alert'. Now there was no response to two 'urgency alert' replies from a patrol aircraft overhead. Had the vessel's list worsened and the BRP Apolinario Mabini foundered? If so, that must have occurred so quickly that there was no time to broadcast a 'distress alert' from the stricken ship. In the radio centre, all thoughts turned to worst case scenarios with growing concern over the fate of the crew.

--- Quote ---Pan Pan
All stations, all stations, all stations
This is Philippine Navy Tango Charlie 9 0
Delta Uniform Papa Zulu has been positioned at
95 kilometres due east of Panatag Shoal
Tango Charlie 9 0
'Seelonce Feenee' [3]
--- End quote ---

A cheer went up at Subic Bay and Bruce Thwaites could finally draw a cautious breath. The BRP Apolinario Mabini had been located - the PN aircraft had given the Filipino name for Scarborough Schoal - and the ship was apparently out of danger. As project lead, Thwaites desperately wanted details. What had been the problem? How had the ship been righted and the ingress of seawater staunched? So many questions. But questions could wait. The crew was out of danger and the ship steaming back towards port at a decent clip. That in itself was a tremendous relief.

"She's Cactus" ... One Question Off the List

--- Quote ---MRSC Manila, MRSC Manila
This is Philippine Navy Tango Charlie 9 0
Be advised
Delta Uniform Papa Zulu urgency alert feenee
Vessel underway 95 Kilo Mike east of Panatag Shoal
Ship's radio is Uniform Sierra, swells are lower
Tango Charlie 9 0

--- End quote ---

Well, that call to the District 1 Maritime Rescue Sub-Centre answered one of Bruce Thwaites' questions -  the Apolinario Mabini's nearly-new transmitter had carked it. In all likelihood, the PN crew had been trying to communicate their situation but that bloody radio was on the blink. So, the Austal crowd at the Subic Bay radio centre would have another few nervous hours waiting for the BRP Apolinario Mabini to reach port. But, at least those lower swell heights suggested that Tropical Storm 'Josie' had done her worst. The sea state was returning to normal - winds dropping (with gusts less than 70 km/h) and more moderate swells. Conditions were looking good for the BRP Apolinario Mabini's return trip.

Grey on Grey Trending Towards Black ...

Image Unmarked Beechcraft TC-90 King Air of the Philippine Navy. Although unidentified, this intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft was operated alongside the standard PN TC-90s of Naval Aviation Squadron MF-30 (out of Danilo Atienza Air Base at Sangley Point). [4]

The grey aircraft's ungainly ISR kit consists of a belly-mounted 'Airborne Technologies Self-Contained Aerial Reconnaissance' pod. This carbon-fibre SCAR Pod houses its own Airborne LINX mission system as well as a large L3 Wescam MX-15HD electro-optical payload. This EO turret is identical to that fitted to the Philippine Air Force's C-130T Hercules. But that larger ISR aircraft employs two semi-retractable Airdyne SABIR pylons to carry its sensor payloads. [5] By contrast, the smaller recce TC-90 had its sensor pod rigidly attached to a jury-rigged fretwork of steel-tubing bolted to its fuselage. [6]

Modificiation work was performed by Hawker Pacific Asia Pte Ltd (Philippine Branch) in Manila. PN TC-90s were familiar sights at the HPAPL Hangar but this recce aircraft was a one-off. This aircraft was intended to act as a systems trainer prior to the delivery of the PN's new Viking Guardian 400 search-and-rescue aircraft. [7] As such, its cabin interior had been largely gutted to make space for a sensor-operator's work console (to starboard) and a rearward-facing observer's seat (to port). To save weight, a crew of only three was carried - the observer doubling as co-pilot on take-off and landing. [8]

Even without its out-sized belly pod, the unmarked Beechcraft could be readily distinguished from its TC-90 hangar mates. One recognition feature was the distinct propeller set-up. While the TC-90s delivered from Japan had standard 3-bladed props, the grey recce aircraft featured swept-back Raisbeck/Hartzell
4-bladed propellers. [9]

(To be Continued ...)


[1] The BRP Datu Marikudo (PS-23) was the former USS Amherst, a patrol craft commissioned as PCE(R)-853 late in WW2. The Philippine Navy had inherited the ship from the Republic of Vietnam Navy back in 1975. And this 'ancient mariner' had indeed been decommissioned by the PN in early December 2010.

[2] Once an 'urgency alert' has been issued, SOP is for all stations within hearing to continue listening on the frequency used but to cease transmissions which might interfer with distress traffic.

[3] By tradition, the French silence fini is pronounced phonetically to terminate an 'urgency alert'.

[4] There was speculation that the 'anonymous' Beechcraft actually belonged to NATS-50 - the Naval Air School Centre which was also based at Sangley Point. Most likely, the aircraft was one of the second tranche of ex-JMSDF TC-90s delivered to the PN. Perhaps the airframe had been repainted but markings had yet to be applied. Alternatively, the SCAR Pod modifications were always intended to be temporary. The addition of markings may have been postponed until after the pod had been removed.

[5] The PAF's C-130T ISR conversion carries the MX-15 to starboard and a search radar antenna on the port side. The SABIR arms are mounted into the C-130's rear doorways (with bulged observation windows above).

[6] The SCAR Pod was designed to be hung from standard NATO weapon pylons which are not available on the PN's TC-90s. The SCAR Pod itself was bought as a lead up to the Multi-Purpose Amphibian Aircraft (MPAA) acquisition project (see below).

[7] The first plan was to mount the SCAR Pod on a pylon beneath the port wing of one of the Philippine Navy's GAF N22SL Nomad transports. However, the aging Nomads were being held in reserve as backups for the Britten-Norman BN-2A-21 Islander. The latter were performing essential supply drops to the PN Marines aboard the BRP Sierra Madre grounded to assert Philippines sovereignty on Second Thomas Shoal/Ayungin Shoal in the Spratly Islands.

The SCAR Pods were destined for the new Guardian 400 floatplanes selected under the PN's Multi-Purpose Amphibian Aircraft acquisition project. The Navy's MPAA project was itself a replacement program for the Philippine Air Force's failed SAR Seaplane requirement of 2014.

[8] Both take-offs and landings required a flat attitude if the SCAR Pod payload was to avoid the tarmac. Landing approach speeds were kept close to 90 knots (165 km/h) - well above stalling speed - and neither propeller reverse thrust nor excess braking was employed (to avoid over-compressing undercarriage oleo struts).

[9] More ambitious initial plans had included a switch to more fuel-efficient PT6A-135A engines as well as the installation of Raisbeck 'Dual Aft-Body Strakes'. Both of these suggested modifications were ultimately eliminated from the project on cost grounds.

This story has been left hanging for too long and some housekeeping is required ...

My story had began with a relatively minor player - Austal Philippines - and its part in converting an aged patrol vessel into a one-off 'semi-stealth' ship. Involving Austal was obvious a judgement error on my part. The Australian firm became a distraction from the actual story and, ultimately, took the steam out of it for me.

I had intended to resume this 'Operation Pinoy Pride' story ... having already written a great deal more and prepared illustrations of key equipment. However, as a near-future AltHist, there was always a risk of being overtaken by RW events.

Part of my scenario involved a political shake-up in the 2022 Philippines federal elections. Current President, 'DiGong' Duterte, failed in his bid to change the Philippine constitution and, therefore, cannot run for President a third time. However, all signs now suggest that 'DiGong' will go for VP as running mate to his daughter Sara's as-yet-unannounced Presidential candidacy.

In my scenario, that whif 2022 shake-up was backlash for an economic downturn largely attributed to RW 'DiGong' Duterte's muddled responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. Duterte's pandering to Beijing despite PRC actions in the South China Sea were also highly unpopular. And yet, current polling now gives daughter Sara Duterte overwhelming popularity amongst Filipinos - ranked at 26% support (her closest rivals are tied at only 14% support). That says Duterte's RW successor will very likely be another Duterte.

That probable electoral outcome makes my original storyline non-viable. No bold actions in the 'West Philippines Sea' are plausible with 'DiGong' still in play. So, I will belatedly pull the plug on 'Operation Pinoy Pride'.

If there is any interest in the technology involved in the culmination of this story, I will mount the concepts behind it in the Ideas & Inspiration[/i] Scenarios section.


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