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Royal Malaysian Navy To Have Newer Ships, Fewer Types

15-to-5 fleet transformation program turning challenges to opportunities

Courtesy of Surface SITREP, published by the Surface Navy Association (www.navysna.org).

The Royal Malaysian Navy is taking a proactive approach to the increasing demands of the fleet, the cost of maintaining aging assets, and the need to recapitalize with new platforms.

According to First Admiral Abu Bakar bin Ajis, Deputy Western Fleet Commander of the RMN, “We are a small navy, but we are facing a huge challenge protecting Malaysia and our neighbors from the maritime threats. We are responsible for a vast maritime area – bigger than our land continental area – and a very long coastline. Furthermore, 95 percent of our industry and trade involve maritime activities, such as offshore oil and gas and fisheries. There are conflicting sovereignty claims in our region and a number of non-traditional and asymmetric threats.”

“We will phase out the ageing fleet in stages and will be replaced by new classes of ships that [are] more reliable and cost effective to be maintained” said Bakar.

The RMN is “stretched thin,” and the resources to support the navy have not kept pace with the growing missions, Bakar said, although the stakeholder expectations have remained the same.

Royal Malaysian Navy exercise

The Lekiu-class guided-missile frigate KD Jebat fires at a target during a gun exercise with KD Kedah and the U.S. Navy littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) as part of Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Malaysia 2015. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Joe Bishop

“We have to do all of this with aging assets,” he said. “Most of our assets are ageing with degraded capabilities. Because of that, we are experiencing a corresponding and significant increase in operational costs and maintenance.”

“The result has been a focus on obsolescence management, and modernizing in small increments to keep assets operating, but at the end of the day, the fiscal challenges will still be there,” he said. “We cannot continue to conduct business as usual. That’s why we commenced the 15-to-5 fleet transformation program to turn these challenges to opportunities.”

The five new classes in the modernized RMN fleet will include 12 littoral combat ships (LCS); 18 littoral mission ships (LMS); 18 patrol vessels (PV); four submarines; and three multi-role support ships (MRSS).

The logistics issues are compounded because the RMN is dealing with 15 classes of ships, built by 13 shipbuilders from seven countries. As operational costs increase every year, Bakar said the biggest challenge of all is the reduced fighting capability.

“We will phase out the ageing fleet in stages and will be replaced by new classes of ships that [are] more reliable and cost effective to be maintained” said Bakar.

Lekiu and Jebat

The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73) underway with the Royal Malaysian Navy frigates RMN Jebat (FF 29) and RMN Lekiu (FF 30) during a transit of the Andaman Sea in 2012. Lekiu and Jabat are being modernized to hold the line until a new generation of RMN surface combatants are commissioned. U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Jennifer A. Villalovos

The five new classes in the modernized RMN fleet will include 12 littoral combat ships (LCS); 18 littoral mission ships (LMS); 18 patrol vessels (PV); four submarines; and three multi-role support ships (MRSS). The first batch of LCS (six ships) is already in construction in Boustead Naval Shipyard (BNS) at Lumut, while the first batch of Kedah-class PVs, based on the German MEKO 100 design, is already in service. The LMS will be smaller and less capable that the LCS, but will have a modular multi-mission concept suitable for many RMN requirements. The contract for the LMS had already being established and the first batch of four ships is currently being built in collaboration between BNS and China Shipbuilding and Offshore Corporation (CSOC) at the Wuchang Shipyard in China. The MRSS will serve as the main platform to transport troops and equipment, support humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) operations, and be able to operate with the ASEAN Military Ready Group (AMRG).

The RMN has contracted for six Littoral Combat Ships (LCS), based on the French Gowind OPV design. The first LCS was launched Aug. 24, 2017. “She will be the primary combatant for the Royal Malaysian Navy, come year 2020,” said Capt. Franklin Joseph, the RMNs director of engineering services. “Our plan is to eventually own and operate 12 vessels in total. So we’re getting six now, and six sometime in the future.”

“The approach to current and modern and future warfare scenarios has changed dramatically, and we have to adapt with those changes. We strongly believe that with the five new classes of ship, we can meet all of our operational and training requirements and regional commitments.”

First Admiral Shamsuddin Hj Ludin, assistant chief of staff for plans and development, said the RMN’s current leadership has put a lot of thought into the 15-to-5 transformation program.

“Our Chief of Navy, Admiral Tan Sri Ahmad Kamarulzaman Hj Ahmad Badaruddin, has been very creative, and taken the initiative to highlight to the government the challenges faced by RMN in maintaining the existing fleet. He subsequently obtained the approval and endorsement of the ‘out of the box’ approach suggested by RMN.  We are facing various challenges in managing our existing fleet in recent years, and at the same time we also understand the fiscal challenges faced by the government at the moment. Taking all this into consideration, we had concluded that business as usual is no longer viable and we must find an innovative approach in transforming the fleet with the limited resources that we have, and at the same time reduce the operational overhead we currently face.”

Kedah-class patrol vessel

The Royal Malaysian Navy patrol vessel (PV) KD Terengganu and a U.S. Navy MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopter from USS Pinckney (DDG 91), conduct a coordinated air and sea search for a missing Malaysian Airlines jet in the Gulf of Thailand. The RMN plans to operate a total of 18 PVs. U.S. Navy photo by Operations Specialist 1st Class Claudia Franco

Shamsuddin said that a key part of the transformation program is to enhance the domestic defense industry to become self-reliant and capable of building modern and reliable warships. This will indirectly enable RMN to develop its capability to become a credible and balanced force, with the efficiencies of fleet commonality.

The enhancement of local shipbuilding industry will have a socio-economic impact to the nation, Bakar said. “We’re hoping this transformation program will provide jobs and develop a skilled, trained workforce for Malaysia.”

However, Shamsuddin warns that the program cannot be driven by the suppliers or contractors. “We are supposed to be telling them how they are supposed to help us.”

Shamsuddin said the RMN does not require a full-fledged frigate to meet operational commitments. “The approach to current and modern and future warfare scenarios has changed dramatically, and we have to adapt with those changes. We strongly believe that with the five new classes of ship, we can meet all of our operational and training requirements and regional commitments. Besides that, we will be also having the capabilities to coordinate and collaborate effectively with our partner navies in the region – such as Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, and Singapore – to deal with common issues, such as piracy, smuggling, and other operations. As for the smaller scale littoral operations, we feel that the LMS is an ideal platform to fulfill the requirement.”

Kedah-class PV

Sailors from the Royal Malaysian Navy corvette KD Kelantan (175) approach the Military Sealift Command fleet replenishment oiler USNS Rappahannock (T-AO-204) to conduct a simulated boarding inspection during the annual Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training (SEACAT) exercise. U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Kenny Zilka

RMN has also formulated plans to sustain the existing fleet of ships in ensuring the smooth conduct of current operations until all ships have been replaced. The two British-built frigates, KD Lekiu and KD Jebat, are being given a mid-life refit. Lekiu is operational and Jebat is undergoing a refit on essential areas. The two frigates are part of the 15 current classes, and not the five future classes. But they will play an important role until the new classes come on line.

Terma SCANTER 6000 radars have been installed on the two Lekiu-class frigates for navigation and helicopter control. The radar will also provide a data feed to the BAE Systems Nautis combat system and will be integrated with the Northrop Grumman Sperry Marine Vision Master automatic radar plotting aid (ARPA) display system. The RMN also selected the SCANTER 6000 for its two new Multi-Purpose Common Support Ships (MPCSS).

As opposed to a single contractor managing the work, the RMN has contracts with nine different vendors for the frigate refits. “The Royal Malaysian Navy has taken on the responsibility of being the system integrator,” Joseph said.

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Capt. Edward H. Lundquist, U.S. Navy (Ret.) is a senior-level communications professional with more than...


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