Malaysia plans naval upgrades amid IS threat, S China Sea tensions
KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia is gunning for a revamp of its ageing naval fleet, as countries in the region prepare to face threats from the influx of Islamic State (IS) militants fleeing Mosul, and from rising tensions in the South China Sea.
Malaysia’s navy aims to replace all 50 vessels in its ageing fleet as the country cut its total defence budget by 12.7 per cent to RM15.1 billion (S$4.76 billion) this year.
That will be led by the procurement of four littoral mission ships (LMS) built in collaboration with China.
“The LMS are designed for many aspects of maritime security such as dealing with cross-border crime, piracy, anti-terrorism, and search and rescue operations,” Malaysian navy chief Admiral Ahmad Kamarulzaman Ahmad Badaruddin told Reuters in an interview.
“These ships would be very capable of dealing with the threat posed by Daesh and other maritime security concerns,” he said, referring to the Arabic acronym for IS.
Defence spending in the Asia-Pacific region is expected to hit US$250 billion (S$349.2 billion) from 2016-20, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly said in December, and Malaysia intends to improve on its capabilities alongside other states in the hotly contested South China Sea even as its defence budget narrows.
Malaysia is expected to formalise the LMS deal with China at the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition (LIMA) this week to build four LMS and acquire the technology to build more of the ships at home.
The navy hopes this will enable it to eventually obtain a total of 18 LMS.
Plans to acquire four LMS from China were first announced in November.
Adm Kamarulzaman said they are also in the final stages of negotiations with French shipbuilder DCNS to launch a programme to build the larger littoral combat ships (LCS), which he said should be formally announced in August or September this year.
The navy is also looking to acquire three new multi-role support ships (MRSS) and two more submarines to round off the fleet.
The naval build-up in the region comes as tensions rise in the South China Sea, where China’s creation of artificial islands has alarmed some Asian countries and stoked friction between Beijing and Washington.
China claims most of the South China Sea, through which US$5 trillion in shipborne trade passes every year.
The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also have overlapping claims.
Members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), however, need to share intelligence if they want their big-ticket buys to be of any use, said Mr Shahriman Lockman, a senior analyst with the Kuala Lumpur-based Institute of Strategic and International Studies.
Mr Shahriman said asset upgrades like Malaysia’s LMS programme are important, but stressed that such high-value procurements would end up sailing blindly without strong intelligence sharing among the 10 Asean members, supported by a wide network of surveillance equipment.
“We’re talking military patrol aircraft, radars, drones ... and in bigger numbers. Quantity is a quality of its own. It doesn’t make sense to aspire to top-of-the-range equipment but in small numbers,” he said.
“Equipment that contributes to maritime domain awareness ought to be the priority for all.
“You can’t fight what you can’t see.” REUTERS