Missiles or Guns?

RMN Super Lynx firing a Sea Skua missile. RMN

SHAH ALAM: Missiles or Guns? The conversation on the post KD Jebat Caught Fire – good or bad – has veered into the debate regarding the future of the Seawolf SAM missile on the Lekiu class, which had been written previously. The conversation however misses the elephant the room. Which is when will the RMN order a new batch of new surface-to-surface missiles?

And will it be the Exocet Block III for the Lekiu and Kasturi class even though the LCS will be armed with the NSM? We bought around 50 MM-40 Block 2 Exocets in 1993 (for the Lekius) and in 2003 for the Kasturi SLEP. As the youngest Exocets will be 10 years old by now, the time is probably right to order another batch of Exocets, with delivery taking place by 2020.

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

This is also the same for the Sea Skua missiles of the Super Lynx and the AS244 torpedoes that armed the frigates and the Super Lynx as well.
KD Kasturi launching the an Exocet missile during Eks Angsa 2014.

Unlike the Exocets, there have been no new orders for the Sea Skuas and AS244 since the original order (when we bought the Lekius, Laksamanas and the Super Lynx) in late 1990s.
RMN Super Lynx M501-03 taken in late 2013. Note the inert Sea Skua ASM and AS244 torpedo

In fact, even the submarine force ordnance of the SM-39 Exocet and Black Shark may well need to be re-stocked soon though any orders should come after 2020.
One of the two B515 triple torpedo launcher on KD Kasturi as seen in early 2014. These torpedo launchers were taken from the Laksamana class. Picture by Malaysian Defence.

Apart from the higher cost of missiles – the MM38 cost some RM300,000 per piece in the 1970s while the Block 2 cost RM3 million per piece – the under-capitalisation of the armed forces remained the biggest obstacle for new orders. This coupled with the Finance Ministry reluctance to pay for missiles – we are not going to war mentality – have made it harder for the services to buy them.
RMN corvette Laksamana Muhammad Amin comes alongside USS Fort McHenry (LSD 43) during CARAT in 2004. The Otomat missiles and its launchers are gone ,

This conundrum will be compounded within the next few years especially for the RMN as the service juggle its finances to pay for the six LCS and its missiles – NSM and VL MICA – and the yet to be named torpedoes while at the same time face the need to re-arm its legacy ships, submarines and helicopters with new missiles and torpedoes. All of this while buying new hulls!
The LCS major equipment detailed. RMN graphic

And if funding fall short yet again, there is the possibility that only the LCS and submarines will be combatants armed with missiles beyond 2020 even with the 15-to 5 plan

— Malaysian Defence

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About Marhalim Abas 2149 Articles
Shah Alam


  1. @ Marhalim,

    Missiles can be put through life extension programmes. The MM38 was put through one in the 90’s, so it is possible for the MM40 to be put through the same too.

    Or if we can do trade-ins similar to the otomat’s?

    And the other obvious elephant in the room… to buy or not to buy Chinese AShM (C705) or SAM’s (FL3000N)

  2. Easy, don’t buy the full complement. The Lekius like ships its class are supposed to carry 8 anti-ship missiles. Why not just put 4 MM40 block 3, 2 on each side?

    Also Sea Wolf can be replaced with VL Mica like the Indonesian ships that were ex-Brunei… but maybe 6 instead of 12.

  3. Marhalim,

    The Kasturis received the DRS-300 ESM and Exocet MM-40s around 1998/1999 [this was the period when they were seen with the MM-40 launchers]. I always assumed we made a small order for MM-40s around this period specifically for the Kasturis but I guess these were from a batch originally ordered for the Lekius several years before. I was unaware of another order we made in 2003. Interesting. From what I’ve been told, MBDA will continue to support the Seawolf for a few more years. As such, we still have at least 2-3 before we are forced to order MICA for the Lekius.

    The Blacksharks and SM-39s don’t have to be replaced when they time expire in a few years as the can by ”relifed” by the OEM. Interestingly, the first batch on MM-38s we bought in the 1970’s were operational only until a few years ago. They were ”relifed” by Aerospatiale, followed by the Naval Dockyard and finally in Pakistan, at a facility certified by MBDA.

    It will be interesting to see whether the Lekius and Kasturis will spend the last years of their service life armed with a SSM other than an Exocet but I guess the answer lies in how expensive or troublesome it will be to integrate and get certified a missile that has yet to be integrated and certified on NAUTIS and TACTICOS as well as the radar and fire directors on both ships.

  4. Based on the infographic on the 15-5 Armada Transformation Plan release by RMN, the Lekiu Class and Kasturi Class is not feature for future use of RMN. It’s better to invest the money for the procurement of MRSS and related to the program. Just my opinion.

  5. Those MM38 can be upgraded to MM40 block 2

    Those MM38s are mostly gate guards at Lumut base nowdays.

  6. I just dont have any words to describe government today…

    The attitude sudah kena baru action is still on their head instead of prevention better than cure.

    The wait & see attitude…

    When real situation happened, just show the enemy toy missile with “bang !” Word on display…

    Bcoz of the ramadhan month,i prohibited myself from throwing bad words.their attitude is very unacceptable.

  7. If money is an issue maybe we should admit maintaining 55 hulls is impossible. Y not just 40. Why not just 2 SSM instead of 8. Dont compete with the joneses when in fact we are poorer now than 10 years ago.

  8. Meh,

    Not only is there no urgency to retire the Lekius and Kasturis and both are indeed not part of the 15-5 plan but it will take a long time before the 15-5 plan can fully be realised. For all we know it might take more than a decade; by which time both the Lekius and Kasturis will be near their retirement date anyway. There is also no indication that the 5-15 plan will ever be realised : things can change depending on who’s heading the RMN and the mood of the government in the future. 2-3 years down the road they might decide that the 15-5 is not feasible or suitable based on politics and a threat environment that has changed compared to 2016 when the 15-5 plan was first announced.

    As it is we’ve had several plans before that were never fully implemented due to various factors. Until the RMN can say for certain – based on a firm commitment by the government – as to when funds can be provided to fully implement the 15-5 plan; the RMN has no choice but to ensure that whatever it has is still operational or is at least able to perform certain types of duties.

    Tom Tom,

    Of course Seawold can be replaced by MICA. Nobody said otherwise and there is already a plan to get MICA on the Lekius. The question is when funding will be made available and will it be made available before the Seawolf retire. That’s the gist of the discussion we’re having.

    BTW, unless the ship is sailing into a warzone or there’s a period of tensions; ships often don’t have their full load of missiles anyhow. The risk is that if those missiles have to be fired in anger; there might not be enough to get past the defences of a target.

  9. On ”relifing” the MM-40s it depends on whether they have been ”relifed” before [at least the older ones] and whether the OEM is keen on doing it. There have been instances where the OEM has discouraged the end user to do so on account of the age of the missile and because – after similar work has been performed in the past – it can’t guarantee how long more the missile can be operated without misfirings.

    Buying Chinese stuff is great but there is always the costs of integration and certification; even assuming the Western OEM of the CMS, radar and trackers agrees. As I’ve pointed out before we had firmer news on the LMS; integration costs might lead or force the RMN into buying mainly Chinese for the LMS – which appears will indeed be the case. If a Western CMS, radar and tracker are selected there is no avoiding the need for integration. Either that or the weapons are Chinese but are ”standalone” on account of having a Western CMS and radar [a big ”no”].

    It’s looking more and more likely that the RMN will go for a Chinese sensor/weapons fit to avoid the need for integration and certification and the huge costs and headaches involved. As it is, even integrating American stuff to French stuff can be a problem [as some countries have found out recently]; let alone Chinese stuff to Western stuff. Even the RMN in the past faced delays in getting certain Western stuff to work with other Western stuff as did the RMAF when contracting for MADGE and more recently when getting new SOCs fully integrated with the current set up. Granted, recent advances in software and other areas has made integration less troublesome compared to the past but it’s still a major issue and why there are companies who do nothing but integration work – military and non military.

  10. just because the ship could carry 8 missiles doesnt means they carry 8 missiles all the time. T

    those missiles are compartmentalized, meaning each missile is self contain. plenty of occasions where Lekiu and Jebat only carry 4 missiles (2 facing port and starboard) with remaining racks are empty

  11. Shahrudin – ”we should admit maintaining 55 hulls is impossible. Y not just 40.”

    If the RMN asks for 40 it might end up getting less than 20. The number of ships specified as needed by the RMN takes into account the size of our waters and the vast responsibilities the RMN has; plus other factors such as the number of ships that can be operational at any given time; with others being used for training, in dry dock, on exercise, etc.

    Shahrudin – ”Why not just 2 SSM instead of 8.”

    Then someone else can ask : ”why have any missiles in the first place; why not just guns??”

    The whole idea of having 4, 6, 8 or 16 missiles is because the ship might be involved in more than one engagement and also because a number of missiles might be shot down or misfire. There is a reason why navies have ‘x’ number of missiles per ship : not to ”compete with the joneses” …

    TypeH – ”I just dont have any words to describe government today‚Ķ”

    Unfortunately the opposition is equally bad or worse in fact. No opposition leader has made any meaning full statements with regards to defence or indicated how they would do things better if they manage to evict the current occupants of Putrajaya. They’ve talked about the economy, healthcare, fore relations, religion, etc but not about defence. This is because they are not only clueless but also because they realise that the average voter doesn’t really care or understand about defence. Until the average voters shows more defence awareness or realises the importance of adequate investments being made to the MAF; neither the government nor the opposition will make defence a priority. Our attitude towards defence is also driven by our strategic environment; the fact that a state of state conflict is unlikely with any of our neighbours.

    Sad to see what happened with the Rahmat. Never mind that she had issues that were never properly resolved but she still was a RMN ship and a ship that many people know of, even if the know little of the RMN.

  12. Azlan

    I should clarify. 40.ships may yield 10 ships at sea in theory. With longer endurance and mini UAV with ships being mobile a smaller navy is affordable.

    I argue on afforadability not wish list.

    MOD , MOF need to understand multiyear procurement. Dont buy 50 missiles at a go and have all time retired. Buy in batches in fox period. Hence.just 2 instead of 8 ssm.

    Type H. My view i cant judge the opposition because the politicians will be guided by the civil servants and career soldiers. They will be judged if and when they rule

  13. Prirorities should be 2 armed the kedah class instead of the lekius and kasturi imo.2 much integration cost 2 bear for a few old ship.let them just be an opv togeyher with the japanese ship and the samudera.we wouldnt want our new sgpv getting rammed by a chinese trawlers do we.6 sgpv and 6 ngpv plus a few lms armed with missile is good enough for detterence imo.

    Not much integration needed if they buy the Exocet Block 3 for the Lekiu and Kasturi class, if they go for NSM that will be another story of course. There will be no issues also for Sea Ceptor or VL MICA for the Lekius. However, integration work will be needed if they get the missiles for the Kedah class as they have not been integrated on them. Some work on the radar mast is also needed.

  14. Shahrudin – ”I should clarify. 40.ships may yield 10 ships at sea in theory. With longer endurance and mini UAV with ships being mobile a smaller navy is affordable.”

    Again, the number of ships the RMN needs is based on the number it needs to fulfill its obligations [based on the size of our national waters and EEZ] and the number it can have operational or at sea at any given time. Ideally as soon as a ship returns to base there is another ready to put to sea – hard to do if there is a shortage of hulls. The RMN simply cannot get smaller than it already is; what it has now barely meets the minimum needed and that assuming we’re not suddenly faced with a situation where the RMN has to maintain a higher tempo. Quantity has a certain quality of its own …..

    One can have large numbers of UAVs but ultimately one still needs adequate numbers of hulls – UAVs can complement but not replace hulls.

    Shahrudin – ”I argue on afforadability not wish list.”

    Granted but what looks great on paper doesn’t always look great in reality. Buying in small batches makes sense when funds are tight but there is no guarantee that the next batch will get funding. There are also advantages in buying what you need in a single order.

    Shahrudin – ”MOD , MOF need to understand multiyear procurement. Hence.just 2 instead of 8 ssm.”

    As explained in my previous post – there is a reason why most ships don’t have 2 SSMs ….. The MOD understands fully well how things work and how to try and get procurement to be first approved then funded; after all its been doing this for decades.

    Shahrudin – ” My view i cant judge the opposition because the politicians will be guided by the civil servants and career soldiers.

    All politicians – whether in office or not – tend to go with the feel of the moment. If the Malaysian voter suddenly showed a interest in defence or developed greater awareness; politicians would then place more priority in defence. Politicians speak more of education, development, etc because they know that this is what the average Malaysian voter is most concerned about.

    As it stands, the opposition hasn’t a clue on defence and statements made over the years; plus statements not made, clearly shows that defence is not a priority – period/full stop.

    Dundun – ”where Lekiu and Jebat only carry 4 missiles (2 facing port and starboard) with remaining racks are empty”

    Yes and the reason why ships are regularly seen without their full fit of SSMs is because sometimes the missile is undergoing routine maintenance. Of course ships can also be seen with launchers but the missile might not be in the launcher.

  15. @ azlan

    The missile and is canister (or launcher as you called it) is always considered as 1 unit. When the missile is launched, the canister is thrown away. They could never be a canister installed on a ship but without missiles in it. Most AShM (missile + canister as a unit) nowadays are mostly maintenance free and are handled similar to an artillery round. The only maintenance is when they are relifed. They are not always installed on ships to limit its exposure to the elements to preserve its life.

  16. Off topic. The recent news of the additional RM218 million allocation funds to TLDM, recycled news or something new which the navy should be happy about?

    So far apart from the infographic from RMN, nothing specific has been released yet.

  17. …….. – ”They could never be a canister installed on a ship but without missiles in it.”

    You absolutely sure about this? There are photos taken shortly after a live firing showing empty launchers and photos of missiles being taken off a launcher.

    ….. – ”The only maintenance is when they are relifed.”

    No ……. Regular checks include the circuitry and propellent; conducted on shore. On VLS cells the main check is the nitrogen level.

  18. ….. – ”The missile and is canister (or launcher as you called it) is always considered as 1 unit. When the missile is launched, the canister is thrown away. They could never be a canister installed on a ship but without missiles in it.”

    Not ”never” as it depends entirely on the type of missile and the vintage. I know for a fact that with Uran, Harpoon and Exocet [MM38 and 40] as well as older SSMs like Styx, Gabriel, etc, the launchers/canisters are not thrown away when the missile is launched.

  19. “I know for a fact that with Uran, Harpoon and Exocet [MM38 and 40] as well as older SSMs like Styx, Gabriel, etc, the launchers/canisters are not thrown away when the missile is launched.”

    That’s also the case with some ground mobile SAMs. The launch canister is returned to the factory. The question is how much is reused and how much has to be replaced.

    With SSM like the Termit and the much newer Bazalt, and the original ASROC, the missile is fixed to the ship and missiles are loaded by crane onto the rails in the launch tube. Note that these are both hot launch missiles.

    With cold launch missiles I don’t know but I assume it’s likely a lot is not taken off the ship.

  20. I’ve seen empty MM-38 launchers/canisters undergoing servicing at Naval Dockyard in the past and when MM-38s were sent abroad for relifing only the missile was sent; minus the canister/launcher. I also know of cases where launchers/canisters are seen on ships but are empty; not because they were fired earlier. This however is a rare occurrence as the norm now is for the missile and launcher/canister to be 1 unit; i.e. all servicing or checks on the missile are performed whilst its in the launcher/canister. Off topic but Russian AAMs are delivered to the customer in protective orange wrappings and the missiles remain stored that way. I heard this from a former East German pilot.

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