RMN and Upgrades

SHAH ALAM: AS the RMN is set to celebrate its 81st anniversary on April 27, it appears that the service is in a full blown upgrade mode.

At a conference in Singapore earlier in the week, a staff officer gave the full details on the proposed SLEP of the Laksamana class – which envisioned replacing everything apart from the hulls and the associated machineries and upgrade path for the Kedah class – four to be fitted for ASW while two for surface warfare.

At the same time, the staff officer also revealed the service procurement plans, three MRSS, four light frigates, six ASW helicopters, a single hydro-graphic ship and six gun-armed FACs.

Interestingly for the briefing slide of the procurement plans, images of a Mistral class ship (a LHD), a Holland class OPV and an AW159 Wildcat were used.

KD Lekiu launching a Sea Wolf SAM in an exercise in 2014. TLDM picture.
KD Lekiu launching a Sea Wolf SAM in an exercise in 2014. TLDM picture.

Perhaps the images were used as reference only but one may infer RMN’s preference on the matter. I understand the choice of the images of the LHD (as the original MRSS concept call for it) and the Wildcat, but a completely new light frigate design?

Before we all go ga-ga, one must consider that the above are RMN’s plans only as the government has yet to finalise the funding.

Apart from Laksamana and Kedah classes, RMN is also proposing the Lekiu class SLEP and not to forget the refit of the two Perdana Menteri class submarines. Apart from these major programmes, other RMN ships will also have to undergo periodic refits during the next five years.

To me it is unlikely all of the above will be funded within RMK11. With the RMN set to spend around RM1 billion a year for the next eight years (at least) to fund the construction of the LCS, I doubt there will be extra funds to cover all of the planned upgrades.

Based on what had happened to the Army during the last few years with the production of the AV8, RMN will not have its cakes and able to eat it too.

Two Laksamanas undergoing refit in Lumut in 2010.
Two Laksamanas undergoing refit in Lumut in 2010.

To me, the refit of the submarines looked safe but the rest of the upgrades looked pretty shaky to say the least with the Laksamanas looking the most vulnerable.

If it was up to me, I will ditch the plans to upgrade the Lekiu and Laksamana classes. I will instead order six more LCS and 15 more 75 or 85 metre FACs or corvettes. I know it will be cheaper to upgrade the Lekiu and Laksamanas but to what end? At least the new built hulls could last up to 2050 while we need to start looking for replacements the two classes by 2025.

Anyhow if the funds are not available to upgrade the Lekiu and Laksamanas within the next five years, the government will have to fund their replacements starting from 2020.

The Kedah class are relatively new though. They will be able to continue with their duties even without the upgrades though their usefulness will diminish the longer the upgrades are delayed.

As for the procurement plans, I believed the ASW helicopters and hydrographic ship are a shoe-in for RMK11 while the light frigates looked unreachable unless they turned it into another order for the LCS.

What about the MRSS and FACs then? I believe it will be funded not due to RMN’s requirements but mainly for political reasons.

— Malaysian Defence

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