With a coastline of 4,675 km, an exclusive economic zone covering an area of 5,98,540 square km, and geographically straddling some of the most important sea lines of communication in the world, Malaysia is without doubt a maritime nation with an important role to play
Malaysia is a maritime nation with a coastline of 4,675 km, out of which 2,068 km is in Peninsular Malaysia and 2,607 km in East Malaysia. Malaysia is surrounded by Strait of Malacca and the South China Sea (SCS) which are internationally important water bodies and also connected to other strategic maritime areas like the Indian Ocean, Andaman Sea, Sulu Sea and Sulawesi Sea. The Strait of Malacca, lying between Sumatra and Peninsular Malaysia, is one of the most important thoroughfares in global maritime trade, carrying 40 per cent of the world’s trade. Malaysia’s economic wealth is also derived from the sea in terms of oil and fisheries. Thus with a long coastline of 4,675 km, an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) covering an area of 5,98,540 square km, and geographically straddling some of the most important sea lines of communication in the world, Malaysia is a maritime nation whose strategical and geopolitical interests lie in its maritime domain. The prime agency designated with the responsibility to safeguard its maritime interests is the Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN).
The Royal Malaysian Navy
The Malaysian armed forces (Angkatan Tentera Malaysia) have the Malaysian Army (Tentera Darat Malaysia), Royal Malaysian Navy (Tentera Laut Diraja Malaysia) and the Royal Malaysian Air Force (Tentera Udara Diraja Malaysia). The origin of the RMN can be traced to the formation of the Straits Settlement Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (SSRNVR) in April 1934 to augment the British naval forces during World War II. This force was demobilised after the war but was established again in 1948 as an indigenous force but still under the British. After Malaysia achieved independence in 1957, the force was transferred to the local government but the naval force continued to be based at Woodlands, Singapore. This small band of sailors proved their mettle during the ‘Konfrantasi’ with Indonesia in the 1960s. The Indonesian-Malaysian confrontation was a violent conflict from 1963-66 due to Indonesia’s opposition to the creation of Malaysia. RMN began building a naval base at Lumut in 1970 which was to be completed in 1984. The base is located on the coast of Perak facing the Strait of Malacca and was to be used as the Fleet Operations Command Centre and the main fleet base. Other bases came up at Kuantan on the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia and at Labuan Island, Sabah.
Maritime Security Environment. The RMN underwent expansion during the early 1980s to meet new responsibilities due to the increase in the area of responsibility and changing of the maritime security environment of the region. RMN was developing a force which could perform the role of blue water navy as well carry out patrolling on the inshore and coastal areas with operational focus mainly on Strait of Malacca and the South China Sea. The Strait of Malacca runs between Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, and has long been a major gateway for trade to and from Asia. Piracy in the Strait of Malacca has for long been a threat to merchant navy but as per the International Maritime Bureau, it is under check due to the coordinated patrols by Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore along with merchant ships having increased security onboard. The South China Sea is part of the Pacific Ocean and extends from the Karimata and Malacca Strait to the Strait of Taiwan with an area of about 35,00,000 square km. About 30 per cent of the world’s shipping passes through SCS and it also holds oil and gas reserves. RMN operations in SCS are focused around protecting sea bed resources believed to lying in Malaysia’s EEZ.
In the early 1980s the RMN was the smallest of the three services which had two frigates, eight missile fast-attack craft, few armed fast-attack craft, large patrol vessels, minesweepers, landing vessels, and other support craft. On order were two missile frigates and four minehunters. In addition, the RMN had a reserve force called the Royal Malaysian Naval Volunteer Reserve. Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines have been successful in establishing tri-national agreements among each other to enhance security cooperation in the Celebes Sea but these agreements lack cohesiveness to tackle the terrorist and piracy threats in the area. It has been reported in the 2009 that a few encounters had taken place in 2009 in the disputed Ambalat waters off the eastern Borneo. Malaysia officially considers the disputed waters as part of its territory. In 2002 the International Court of Justice’s decision gave Malaysia sovereignty over Sipadan and Ligitan which was earlier disputed.
At the time of its birth in 1948, the role of the navy was to patrol the coastal waters of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore and assist in countering communist insurgency along the river. Post-independence, the RMN has inherited the responsibility of about 4,000 nautical miles of coast which includes more than 1,000 Islands. During the 1980s, the RMN’s task increased due the declaration of the EEZ on April 25, 1980, based on the, ‘New map Boundary Waters and continental shelf 1979.’
Modernisation and Force Level
New-Generation Patrol Vessel (NGPV). In the mid-1990s Malaysia planned an ambitious joint venture (JV) with Australia to build 39 offshore patrol vessels with a view to lay the base for an export-oriented shipbuilding industry. However, this JV did not fructify as Malaysia pulled out of it. This was followed by a plan to build 27 KD Kedah MEKO 100 new-generation patrol vessel in 1996 but the programme was delayed for about three years due to various reasons but finally fructified with six ships of MEKO A100 Kedah class commissioned between February 2006 and December 2010. The first two ships were built in Germany for shipment to Malaysia and assembly, and fitting was carried out at Lumut. The displacement is 1,650 tonnes at full load, speed is 22 kt and a range is 6,050 nautical miles at 12 kt. The government has gone ahead with the construction of the second batch of the NGPV tender for which was issued in July 2014 and closed on August 25, 2014. It is reported that the NGPV will have a length of 43-45 metres, displacement of not more than 250 tonnes and with embarkation for 30 crew and 10 extra personnel when required, an endurance of 7 days at 12 knots and a maximum speed of more than 25 knots. It is also specified that it should have enough deck space to launch and recover a catapult launch UAV. The anti-submarine warfare (ASW) configured NGPV is expected to be able to coordinate operations with the Scorpene submarines and armed with missiles. They are also to be built at a local shipyard.
Piracy in the Strait of Malacca has for long been a threat to merchant navy but as per the International Maritime Bureau, it is under check due to the coordinated patrols by Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore
Second Generation Patrol Vessel (SGPV). A tender for 24 corvettes was floated in 2011 to carry out the role of area surveillance missions, anti-piracy and terrorism operations as well as the preservation of the environment among others. The French shipbuilder DCNS appeared to be the favourite who had proposed a corvette of the Gowind class which also allows deploying a helicopter or a drone. The process for the acquisition of six littoral combat ships (LCS), also called the SGPV, has been finally initiated and accordingly the RMN displayed for the first time their official version of its future SGPV during August 2014. It is based on DCNS’ Gowind corvette design. DCNS is the warship design authority while local shipyard Boustead Naval Shipyard will be in charge of building the vessels locally. It is likely that MBDA will provide anti-ship and surface-to-air missiles. The first ship is set to be floated during December 2018. It appears that the corvette programme has finally been converted to six LCS which will have length of 111 metres and a displacement of 3,100 tonnes. The ships will have state-of-the-art sensors, propulsion, management systems and weapons.
Frigates. Malaysia has also announced that it plans to buy at least two frigates with an option for two more from BAE Systems under Frigate Batch 2 Programme but the deal has made no headway yet.
Kasturi Class Frigates. Two Kasturi class frigates have undergone a service life extension programme (SLEP) to enable 15 more years of service and both have been reported to join the fleet after undergoing SLEP.
Scorpene Submarines. The RMN realised the need for a submarine force as early as 1980s thus they started training their officers and sailors abroad in the field of submarine operations, maintenance and management. There had been several initiatives to acquire submarines, particularly in the 1990s; unfortunately they did not fructify mainly due to financial constraints. The RMN got its break in the new millennium when the government signed a contract to acquire two Scorpene class submarines on June 5, 2002, to be built jointly by the French shipbuilder DCNS and its Spanish partner, Navantia. The submarines are armed with Blackshark wire-guided torpedoes and Exocet SM-39 sub-launched anti-ship missiles. The first vessel, KD Tunku Abdul Rahman, was launched at DCNS Cherbourg in October 2007 and commissioned in January 2009. The second, Tun Razak, was the commissioned in November 2009.
Patrol Boats. RMN plans to acquire more modern maritime patrol and reconnaissance capability for more effective patrolling against piracy and smuggling in the Malacca Strait. This is currently being provided by four Beechcraft Super King Air B200Ts which was acquired in 1994 and are examining offers received from some of the companies like Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Embraer and Airbus D&S. Malaysia has identified a requirement for three to four platforms.
Naval Helicopters. They have acquired 6 Super Lynx 300 for anti-submarine warfare from UK and 6 Fenec AS-555 for surveillance from France.
Future plans for the RMN include extending the life of its four Laksamana class corvettes, upgrading the ships’ weapons systems and sensors, and implementing a refit programme for the frigates KD Lekiu and KD Jebat. RMN is developing into a balanced maritime force which is capable of performing its role effectively.
Photo Credit: Wikipedia