SEOUL -- The missile-armed frigate BRP Jose Rizal (FF-150), which is scheduled to be launched at the shipyard of Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) in South Korea's southeastern city of Ulsan on Thursday, is the first combat vessel to be designed and purposely acquired for the Philippine Navy (PN), whose fleet is mostly composed of second-hand ships acquired from allies.

"She (BRP Jose Rizal) is the first combat ship to be designed and acquired for the PN along with her sister-ship, the BRP Antonio Luna (FF-151) whose steel-cutting is also scheduled for this week," said Navy spokesperson Captain Jonathan Zata in an interview with the Philippine News Agency late Monday.

Launching is considered the four highlights of a vessel's life with the other three being keel-laying, commissioning, and decommissioning while steel-cutting is considered the formal start of a ship's construction.

The two ships will be armed with a variety of sensors and weapons capable of detecting and neutralizing surface, sub-surface and air threats.

Once the two ships are commissioned into PN service by 2020 and 2021, Zata said these will help secure the country's maritime chokepoints or primary sea routes used for trade, logistics, and naval operations from the above-mentioned threats.

The Philippines and HHI signed a PHP16 billion contract for two missile-armed frigates, with another PHP2 billion set aside for its weapon systems and munition.

Also, Zata said the two ships will become more capable once the two AgustaWestland AW-159 anti-submarine helicopters are integrated into operations.

This is because the AW-159s will extend the range of the ships in detecting and neutralizing surface and sub-surface threats, he added.

This is possible because of the helicopters heavy missile and torpedo weaponry and its various surveillance detections including sonar for submarine location and hunting.

The two AW-159s are expected to be commissioned into PN service by May 27, which coincides with the Navy's 121st anniversary.

These aircraft were acquired for PHP5.4 billion including its munition, mission essential equipment and integrated logistic support.

The AW-159 (previously called the Future Lynx and Lynx Wildcat) is an improved version of the Westland Super Lynx military helicopter.

The helicopter has been ordered for the Royal Navy and British Army.

It is capable of speeds of 291 km/h (181 mph), range of 777 km (483 miles), ferry range of 963 km (598 miles) and an endurance of one and a-half hours (fours hours and 30 minutes if fitted with auxiliary fuel).

The AW-159 can also be armed with rockets, machine guns, missiles, torpedoes and depth charges. (PNA)