12 Desember 2009

Modernization of The Malaysian Armed Forces (2)

12 Desember 2009

KD Tunku Abdul Rahman submarine (photo : Daylife)

Navy Treads Water

Malaysia’s area of strategic interest ranges from the Andaman Islands to the South China Sea, embracing the Straits of Malacca and Singapore. Securing sea and air lanes between Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia is of utmost importance, and the Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN), or Tentera Laut Diraja Malaysia (TLDM), has an enormous EEZ to administer.

Certainly, the RMN’s biggest news as it fulfils its vision of the RMN Future Fleet was the September 2009 delivery of the first Scorpene CM-2000 submarine, KD Tunku Abdul Rahman. Meanwhile, a second submarine awaits delivery from France. The submarines, based at Sepanggar Bay in Sabah, will give the RMN a new offensive capability and make Malaysia the third ASEAN country to have an underwater combat capability. The most advanced vessels in the RMN, these Scorpene submarines will shift the naval balance in Southeast Asia, though in a time of budgetary constraints, the RMN now finds itself having to fund a new Submarine Command. The 1,450-tonne SSKs are equipped with Black Shark torpedoes and up to 16 MBDA SM39 Exocet antiship missiles. The TLDM aspires to enlarge its submarine fleet in the future, but submarines cannot serve in isolation as they need force protection from ship-borne Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) helicopters. Hence, the acquisition of six Super Lynx 300 ASW helicopters is planned.

Lekiu class frigates (photo : Jane's)

As for the surface fleet, the RMN has four Italian-manufactured Laksamanaclass corvettes, and two 2,300-ton Lekiuclass frigates based on the F2000 design armed with Exocet MM40 Block 2 missiles. There are two German-built Kasturi-class frigates delivered in the early 1980s. These are to undergo a Service Life Extension Programme (SLEP) and will receive updated radar and fire control systems to enable ten more years of service.

A Letter of Intent (LOI) was delivered to BAE Systems for two 2,400-ton F2000 Batch II Jebat-class frigates. The 112m-long vessels will be fitted with Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles (ESSM), eight Exocet MM40 Block 3 missiles, Thales SMART-S Mk2 radar, and Saab Ceros 200 fire control system. In line with plans to build them in East Malaysia, BAE Systems added a risk clause that escalated the price of each frigate to more than $875 million. Because of the hefty price tag, this frigate project was one of the first items cut in the recession. Procurement will not take place until 10MP assuming the government eventually gives a green light.

Kedah class next generation patrol vessel (photo : TLDM)

Another major programme illustrating the problems many Asian countries face is the Kedah-class Next-Generation Patrol Vessel (NGPV), the programme kicking off in 1996 with an ambitious plan for 27 vessels based on the Meko A-100 design. A contract for the first six NGPVs was signed in 2003, with the third NGPV onwards to be constructed locally. Unfortunately, mismanagementby Malaysia’s main contractor produced delays and a full-blown crisis. The government subsequently appointed Boustead Naval Shipyard as the new contractor to get the project back on track. Although the third and fourth NGPVs were delivered in 2009, they failed to meet operational-readiness requirements. They are not fully armed nor are embarked helicopters available. The final two NGPVs should be delivered in 2010. “The continuation of the second batch of NGPVs will depend very much on the performance of the ongoing first-batch project,” revealed General Ariffin. A second batch of six could be ordered in 10MP and these will be better armed with ASW and anti-ship weapon systems. Contenders include the BrahMos, Kongsberg NSM and Chinese C-802.

In the interim, the TLDM is investigating the possibility of acquiring Brunei’s three unwanted Nakhoda Ragam-class corvettes (the same family as Malaysia’s Lekiu class) docked in the United Kingdom. “The offer is probably one of the best options to be considered in efforts to mitigate a lack of platforms and serious capability gap issues in the RMN,” said General Ariffin.

Laksamana class corvettes (photo : Jane's)

Malaysia also requires three 12,000-15,000-ton Multipurpose Support Ships (MPSS) for peacekeeping and humanitarian-assistance scenarios, with potential contractors including Chinese, Dutch, French, Italian, South Korean and Spanish shipbuilders. However, as part of the government’s 20% cut in the MAF’s 2010 budget, this $1 billion plan is deferred indefinitely. The Navy is lobbying hard to have the MPSS reinstated in 10MP, so just one vessel may be procured. This kind of ship could be used for anti-piracy missions in the Gulf of Aden, where three ships are currently deployed.

The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) was established in 2005 with the transfer of RMN assets like Kerisclass patrol boats. The MMEA has now taken up most of the RMN’s coastal-patrol functions within the EEZ, thus allowing the RMN to focus on blue-water activities with its ship and submarine platforms. Since the MMEA would be absorbed by the RMN during wartime, equipment standardization is necessary between these two-tiered maritime forces. The MMEA needs twelve medium-lift helicopters, and has recently taken delivery of two Bombardier CL-415 amphibious aircraft.

Maritime surveillance is essential for Malaysia, so the TLDM wants organic Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA). Up to four are required, with the CASA C-295, Saab 2000 MPA and ATR-72-600 the main challengers. At the same time, the RMAF is competing for the same role of maritime patrol and has its own list of MPA candidates. Additionally, a new surveillance/warning system network of nine radar stations is incrementally being established on the Sabah coast. Able to track boats up to 70km offshore, the radar is believed to be of American origin.

(Asian Military Review)

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