ESSCOM Needs More Assets

SHAH ALAM: ESSCOM needs more assets. The RMN needs three more sea bases to secure the ESSCOM area-of-operations. The service currently operates three sea bases as “garrisons at sea” to extend its”operational reach”.

The sea bases served to cut response time to any incidents or intruders and also serve as a logistic hub for short-legged units such as interceptor boats, helicopters and UAVs. And another three will greatly enhanced its operational reach and response time.

Captain Shaiful Nizam Abdul Manan, the service’s Operations Director, Operations and Exercise Division, says they actually need at least six sea bases to cover the AOR which covers an area of 53,420km with a long and rugged coastline of 1,773km. He was speaking at the Maritime Warfare Asia conference held in Kuala Lumpur, early last month.

Sea base Tun Sharifah Rodziah. Joint Force picture
Sea base Tun Sharifah Rodziah. Joint Force picture

The three sea-bases currently operational are the former mobile offshore production unit  – commissioned as Pengkalan Laut Tun Sharifah Rodziah and two modified cargo vessels – Tun Azizan and Bunga Mas Lima.

RMN auxiliary ship KD Tun Azizan. Joint Force picture
RMN auxiliary ship KA Tun Azizan. Joint Force picture

Shaiful Nizam says six sea bases was the minimum for the tasking currently required for ESSCOM and for that reason it was asking for three more ships to supplement Tun Azizan and Bunga Mas Lima.

Why six was the minimum? As RMN had identified six locations where the main entry and exit points of the threats faced by ESSCOM.

The latest picture of Bunga Mas Lima from its own Twitter account.
The latest picture of Bunga Mas Lima from its own Twitter account.

His words were prescient as last weekend kidnapping of a German yachting couple of the waters of eastern Sabah, proved beyond doubt the enviable task facing ESSCOM.

ESSCOM was formed to prevent the repeat of the 2013 Tanduo incident (which resulted in 10 servicemen killed in action with 62 intruders killed) and not against the kidnapping for ransom threat.

As for the RMN’s preference for ships as sea bases (apart from its parochial interest of course) is elementary. Unlike the static sea base, ship-based sea bases could sailed into areas where they are needed even into neighbouring countries, once the tri-lateral agreement among Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines for “hot pursuit” is finalised.

The latest variant of the Scaneagle, Scaneagle 2. The earlier variant is deployed at ESSCOM.
The latest variant of the Scaneagle, Scaneagle 2. The earlier variant is deployed at ESSCOM.

A static sea base like Tun Rodziah is not flexible as it could not easily moved or towed away to other locations if needed. Sharul Nizam also pointed that the static platform was also proving to be a logistic challenge as it needed to be re-supplied continuously.

Schiebel Campcopter S-100 VUAV of the MI/BSPP. The system is also deployed to ESSCOM.
Schiebel Campcopter S-100 VUAV of the MI/BSPP. The system is also deployed to ESSCOM.

Shaiful Nizam says the main threat in ESSCOM came from “non-traditional threats” operating in the area, from hit-and-run robbers and pirates to kidnap for ransom gangs which became further problematic as they were influenced by Daesh/IS movement.

A close up view of the PASKAL P38 which was procured from a shipbuilder from Oman and used for ESSCOM operations. Joint Force Command picture.
A close up view of the PASKAL P38 which was procured from a shipbuilder from Oman and used by the sea bases for interception operations. Joint Force Command picture.

The kidnap for ransom activities are supported, according Shaiful Nizam by militant groups like the Abu Sayyaf Group, Bangsa Moro Islamic Freedom Fighters and the Raja Solaiman Movement. Ransom money are used to pay for arms and ammunition which will further their cause.

KD Seri Perlis, one of the oldest vessels in RMN today is one of the two patrol craft deployed to the Sandakan naval base. Seri Perlis and its sister ship, Seri Johor, regularly patrol the ESSCOM are of operations. Photo by CEphoto, Uwe Aranas
KD Seri Perlis, one of the oldest vessels in RMN today is one of the two patrol craft deployed to the Sandakan naval base. Seri Perlis and its sister ship, Seri Johor, regularly patrol the ESSCOM are of operations. Photo by CEphoto, Uwe Aranas

Although Shaiful Nizam stated that ESSCOM was facing a “non-traditional threat” these kind of criminal enterprise have been on going for centuries through-out the region though now-days it is limited to several localities only.

Analysis

Despite the obvious need for more assets it is unlikely that funding for ESSCOM – especially for maritime interdiction – will be increased any time soon due to current budgetary crunch.

Even the sea bases and other equipment were paid by Petronas although the operational expenditure comes from the government. The Army is getting more assets in the area though it is again mostly for land defences.

MD 530G light attack scout helicopter to be based in ESSCOM.
MD 530G light attack scout helicopter to be based in ESSCOM.

Tun Azizan is a former cargo ship transfered from MISC to the RMN in 2015. Bunga Mas Lima, also formerly owned by MISC, was tasked with escorting Malaysian merchant vessels in the Gulf of Aden under Ops Fajar. She undertook the task alternately with her sister ship, Bunga Mas Enam.

A file picture of Bunga Mas Lima when she was tasked with the anti-piracy operations of the Gulf of Aden.
A file picture of Bunga Mas Lima when she was tasked with the anti-piracy operations of the Gulf of Aden.

Tun Azizan was commissioned as an auxiliary ship in July, last year while Bunga Mas Lima gained the same status in early January, 2016. It must be noted that RMN refer to the two ships as auxiliary ships or KA even though the ships were commissioned into the naval reserve.

Tun Rodziah, the sea base was declared operational in May. It is not known why Bunga Mas Lima sister ship, Bunga Mas Enam, has yet to be transferred to the navy for ESSCOM operations.

PASKAL P38 interceptor and RHIB near Tun Sharifah Rodziah sea base. Pix taken on 12/10/2015 by Joint Force Command.
PASKAL P38 interceptor and RHIB near Tun Sharifah Rodziah sea base. Pix taken on 12/10/2015 by Joint Force Command.

I have no idea why Bunga Mas Lima has not been renamed thought it must be noted her presence at ESSCOM seemed to escape the officialdom as the latest statements on the sea bases stated that they were two – Tun Azizan and Tun Rodziah – only. The ship has an official Twitter account – @bungamas05 in case you think its not already based in Sabah.

LCS naming survey.
LCS naming survey.

BTW, RMN is running a survey to find the name for the LCS (graphic above). Go here if you want to enter the survey. The survey is open to Malaysians only.

* An earlier version of this posting stated that KA Tun Azizan was formerly Bunga Mas Enam. It is not. Bunga Mas Enam remained in the service of MISC. Her present location is unknown.

— Malaysian Defence

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