Friday, 22 April 2016

Go Win Something, Anything : Malaysia's Second Generation Patrol Vessels

Second Time Lucky?

In the 1990s, Malaysia perceived the need to replace its ageing Vosper 103ft Type patrol crafts ( PC ), tiny boats with a length of 31m displacing just 96 tons that had been in service since the 1960s. Known as the New Generation Patrol Vessel ( NGPV ) Project, the initial specifications called for a Offshore Patrol Vessel ( OPV ) design which displaced 1300 tons with a length of 80m. However, the winning bid, based on the Blohm + Voss MEKO 100 design, ended up displacing 1850 tons with a length of 91m, a size resembling a corvette rather than an OPV. The NGPV project was plagued by delays caused by quality control issues and cost overruns, and when it was finally concluded in 2010, yielded only six ships of the guns only KD Kedah-class out of the originally intended twenty seven. Given that situation, one may logically presume that the Royal Malaysian Navy ( RMN ) would be fairly desperate in need for new surface combatants to boost the strength of its Fleet.

Indeed in early 2011, Malaysia initiated the Second Generation Patrol Vessel ( SGPV ) Project which aims to provide the RMN with six stealth frigates by the end of the decade, a timely procurement, since by then, not counting the NGPVs, even the newest Lekiu-class frigate would have been in service for more than twenty years. Further more, with the increasingly belligerent stance of China in the South China Sea, many of the surrounding littoral states are locked in an urgent arms race to boost their naval capabilities. Malaysia cannot really afford another fiasco like the NGPV project, or can they?

The SGPV is based on the Gowind 2500 stealth ship. Image : DCNS

CGI : Gowind 2500 with hangar and helicopter in view. Image : DCNS

Second Generation Patrol Vessel - Littoral Combat Ship

Malaysia's next generation frigate programme is known as the Second Generation Patrol Vessel - Littoral Combat Ship ( SGPV-LCS ) Project. The name is somewhat misleading as the ships involved are essentially multi-mission frigates, major ocean-going surface combatants, rather than patrol vessels which generally implies a much smaller and lightly armed warship for close shore duties. The inclusion of the words Littoral Combat Ship may also cause unnecessary confusion with the US Navy's pre-existing Freedom-class and Independence-class Littoral Combat Ships.

The project was announced in early 2011 and originally involved six frigate type warships with stealth features displacing about 2700 tons. The budget for this project was MYR6billion, then worth about US$1.9billion. There were several contenders, including Germany's ThyssenKrupp Marine System with their subsidiary Blohm+Voss' MEKO 200 design, Dutch Damen Schelde Naval Shipbuilding with its Sigma-class 10514 and the French DCNS with the Gowind-class. TKMS being the parent company of Blohm+Voss was of course no stranger to Malaysia as it was closely involved with the NGPV project and was also the supplier of the older Kasturi-class light frigates while Damen had recently been successful in selling Indonesia its scalable Sigma 9113 corvettes and Sigma 10514 frigates. DCNS on the other hand supplied Singapore with its La Fayette-class derived Formidable-class stealth frigates and sold Malaysia their Scorpenes and Agosta-B submarines.

By end 2011, it emerged that the French Gowind based design had been chosen and a contract worth MYR9billion ( then USD2.8billion ) had been awarded to Boustead Naval Shipyard Sdn Bhd which will team up with DCNS to build the vessels locally at their Lumut yard. Boustead Naval Shipyard is one of many companies under the umbrella of Boustead Heavy Industries Corporation Berhad which is itself part of a bigger, publicly listed, government linked industrial conglomerate known as Boustead Holdings Berhad. So just what is a Gowind-class vessel?

DCNS's Gowind Family

The Gowind is DCNS's solution to littoral warfare. It is not a single vessel but a collection of warships types that spans several classes from entry level OPV types to higher end corvettes and light frigates. Just like the MEKOs and Sigmas, the Gowind's modular design makes it highly scalable. The vessels are all shaped to have a reduced radar cross-section signature and have additional stealth features as an integral part of their design, such as a single integrated mast where all the sensors are mounted. That replaced several sensor masts in older designs which tends to contribute to unnecessary clutter and increased reflection of radar waves. The main guns can be encased in stealth cupolas. The propulsion system is that of combined diesel and diesel ( CODAD ) configuration with no funnel stack to emit infra-red radiation. Instead the engine exhaust is dissipated as waterjets which also served to enhance the maneuverability of the ships especially in shallow waters.

Smoke and fumes from a VL Mica launch obscures the 16 cell vertical launch system
 behind the main gun while chaff has been dispensed aft of the Gowind 2500.
Image : DCNS 

The Gowind 1000 launches an anti-ship missile.
Note the array of 8 vertical launch cells on a raised portion behind the main gun.
Image : DCNS

The Gowind OPV now known as the OPV90 by Kership
serving in the French Navy as the L'Adroit. Image : Kership

The FS L'Adroit of the Marine Nationale at the Singapore Navy Open House in 2013.
Photo via Wikicommons.

Although DCNS's website list only two Gowind variants, the Gowind 1000, a 1500 ton lightly armed version for less demanding missions and the much bigger Gowind 2500, a 2500 ton multi-mission corvette type with significant anti-submarine capabilities, there are more variants including an OPV type now renamed the OPV90 that had been reassigned to Kership, a DCNS subsidiary. In fact DCNS even built one, the OPV L'Adroit, and loaned it to the French Navy for evaluations for a period of three years, seemingly free of charge. You can watch DCNS' video on the L'Adroit here.

All Gowind variants come complete with a helideck for helicopter and UAV operations while the larger vessels also feature a helicopter hangar. In DCNS's original configuration, the Gowind corvettes are armed with a 76mm main gun, two 20mm cannons, vertical launched MICA surface to air missiles and MM-40 Block 3 Exocet anti-ship missiles. In addition, the Gowind 2500 has two triple torpedo launchers as part of its ASW arsenal, though they are listed as only an option in the Gowind 1000.

The Gowind vessels are capable of operating unmanned systems, including unmanned aerial vehicles ( UAV ), unmanned underwater vehicles ( UUV ) and unmanned surface vehicles ( USV ).

Gowind 2500 Specifications and Characteristics. Source : DCNS

As of today, DCNS had already secured orders for 10 Gowind ships. Malaysia's 6 vessel contract was the first commercial success ( paid order ) for the type while the Egyptian Navy became the second customer with 4 vessels on order. All were presumably variants based on the design of the larger and more capable Gowind 2500 ( Malaysia ) or the Gowind 2500 base model itself ( Egypt ).

Malaysia's Gowind SGPV-LCS

Malaysia's finalized SGPV design is a frigate sized derivative of the Gowind 2500 corvette displacing 3100 tons, an increase from the initial proposed displacement of 2700 tons. With that there has also been a 50% increase in the acquisition cost from MYR6billion to MYR9billion. The price includes intellectual property rights and technology transfer, which could mean Malaysia owns the rights to the modified Gowind design and might be able to export it to interested third parties in the future. That is of course provided Boustead Naval Shipyard is able to build them according to specifications in the first place.

Malaysia's Gowind-class Second Generation Patrol Vessel- Littoral Combat Ship. Source : Boustead Naval Shipyard

These are some of the known specifications including sensors and armaments for the Gowind SGPV :

Length                     : 111 meters

Breath                      : 16 meters

Draught                   : 3.85 meters

Displacement          : 3100 tons

Propulsion               : Combined Diesel and Diesel ( CODAD )

Engine                     : 4 x MTU Diesel

Maximum Speed     : 28 knots

Range                      : 5000 nautical miles at 15 knots

Endurance               : 21 days

Complement           :  Up to 138

Combat System      : DCNS SETIS

Search Radar          : Thales Nederland SMART-S Mk 2 3D Multi-beam Radar

Fire Control Radar : Rheinmetall TMX/EO Mk II Fire Control Radar
                                 Rheinmetall TMEO Mk II Electro-Optical Tracking System

ESM                       : Thales VIGILE 100 Electronic Support Measures System
Sonar                      : Thales CAPTAS-2 Variable Depth Sonar
                                  Hull Mounted Sonar ? Thales Bluewatcher

Communications    : Thales TUUM-6 underwater communications equipment
                                  Thales TSB 3520 ATC / IFF Combined Interrogator Transponder

Decoy                     : Wallop/Esterline Super Barricade Decoy System

Main Gun               : 1 x BAE Systems 57mm Mk3 Naval Gun in Stealth Cupola

Cannons                 : 2 x MSI Seahawk 30mm cannons

SAM                      : MBDA VL Mica in 16 Sylver ?A35 launchers

SSM                       : 2 x 4 Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile

Torpedo                 : 2 x J+S ( Now SEA ) 324mm Triple Torpedo Launcher

Helicopter              : EC725 Caracal / AugustaWestland Super Lynx 300 / Eurocopter AS350 Fennac


Constructing the SGPV

Unlike Egypt's 4 corvette deal with DCNS where the first-in-class would be constructed in France and the remaining three in Alexandria, Egypt, the Malaysians elected to have the entire batch of six frigates constructed locally at their Boustead Naval Shipbuilding ( BNS ) shipyard at Lumut, Perak. This was a bold decision, given that at that point of time the Lumut facilities were not quite built for the task of constructing the stealth frigates. A major upgrade had to be carried out with the help of DCNS before construction of the vessels could begin.

It was subsequently revealed that although the USD2.8billion contract was awarded to BNS / DCNS in 2011, it only went into effect on 14th July 2014, after the completion of  a massive infrastructure upgrade at the Lumut shipyard - ship lifts, block assembly halls, panel assembly halls and keel laying lines. The Malaysians even planned to have three ships in parallel construction at the yard. The Gowind contracts with Malaysia and Egypt was only confirmed by DCNS later that year.

Aerial view of the Boustead Naval Shipbuilding Lumut Shipyard at the mouth of
Sungai Manjung. Source : Boustead

BNS Lumut yard now seems to have upgraded shiplifts. Source : Boustead Naval Shipbuilding

Another view of BNS Lumut. Source : Boustead Naval Shipbuilding

Not only will the ships be constructed in Malaysia, even the combat system will be assembled and tested at the not too distant Cyberjaya town, part of the ex-ex-Prime Minister Mahathir's grandiose Multimedia Corridor and Malaysia's Silicon Valley wannabe. Potential systems suppliers and integrators are in a way forced to perform as much work on the ships as possible locally in Malaysia. In fact any foreign company who wish to participant in the SGPV project will probably have to agree to set up some joint venture with well connected locals or local companies, a regional headquarters here, a training facility there, some maintenance and servicing company to cater for subsequent repairs and upgrades, and so on and so forth. You get the idea.

To cite specific examples, J+S Ltd, a British company selected to supply the torpedo launch system for the SGPV, had opened an office in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur to serve the ASEAN region. They also announced that they would be sourcing some products and services locally. Thales, the supplier of the Smart-Ass Mk2 naval surveillance radars will be building the first two systems in the Netherlands but the remaining four would be assembled and tested in Malaysia by a local company Contraves Advanced Devices Sdn Bhd which itself is jointly owned by who else but Boustead Heavy Industries Corporation and Rheinmetall Defence.

All these came as no surprise since Malaysia is a nation obsessed with offsets, technology transfers and industrial joint ventures, even to the extend of dabbling with bartering every once in a blue moon. For example, the €1.035billion scorpene submarine deal with DCN in 2002 obligated France to in return buy €230million worth of Malaysian palm oil, €92million of other commodities and invest  €138million for training and technology transfers to local Malaysian firms. There was allegedly also a spin off deal to increase the landing rights for Malaysia Airlines at the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. Then there was the Sukhoi Su-30MKM deal that came with the condition that Russia help train and send a Malaysian astronaut to the International Space Station, which they eventually did as promised, and that happened in 2007. Even earlier, Yeltsin was partially paid in Malaysian palm oil for the MiG-29 deal ....

Construction of the yet to be named lead vessel started in Jun 2015 and would be completed in early 2019. The subsequent five ships would be completed at ten months interval thereafter, which means the last ship would be completed sometime in 2023. The image from Boustead Naval Yard seem to suggest the lead ship will be having the pennant number F177, continuing serially after the six Kedah-class NGPV which have pennant numbers from F171 to F176.

Keel laying signals the official start of the ship construction.
This is probably hull number 2. Image via RMN Tweet.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Malaysia's Gowind-class frigates are great warships with many advanced features and capabilities. Being brand new they also include the latest design trends and incorporate the latest technology in maritime security and naval warfare. At 3100 tons fully loaded, these are fairly large in size and that translates to better sea keeping, higher endurance and a higher level of comfort for the serving ship crew. As a class they should be able to execute their mission of protecting Malaysia's vast maritime interests well and form a credible deterrence against any potential aggression by regional countries. Unfortunately there are certain omissions that could have an adverse impact on the ship's combat capabilities. 

A main gun with a bigger caliber, like the 76mm ( 3 inch ) Oto Melara Super Rapid would be a better choice. Bigger guns have longer reach and make for better shore bombardment should that requirement ever arise, like when some rag tag militia force from some self proclaimed Philippine sultanate come occupying your outlaying islands. Even RMN's newest Kedah-class corvettes are armed with 76mm main guns. Stealth cupola or not 57mm just seem too small for a full fledged frigate. They are more suited for smaller surface combatants like corvettes and FAC.

The BAE Systems / Bofors 57mm Mk3 in stealth cupola on the Swedish Visby-class corvette. Photo : Wikipaedia

A pair of MSI Defence Systems Seahawk remotely controlled 30mm cannons on a gyro-stabilized, electrically operated mount with an electro-optical director is great for force protection against asymmetric threats like hordes of fast boats but it cannot double as a close-in weapon system ( CIWS ) for last line of defence against sea skimming anti-ship missiles and precision guided munitions ( PGM ). Without a dedicated gun-based CIWS, the SGPV in effect relies on the VL-MICA as a missile-based CIWS. No doubt the VL MICA does have anti-missile capabilities, but would you put all your eggs in one basket?

The choice of short ranged VL Mica for the frigates' air defence is also not ideal. Although the VL Mica is an extremely capable and proven design which combines compactness and light weight with a short reaction time, high rate of fire and multi-target capabilities ( including missiles and PGM ), its Achilles Heel is really its relatively short range of up to 20km. Its maneuverability rapidly falls from 50G at 7km to 30G at 12km as kinetic energy is bled off with increasing distance from the point of launch. It is good for point defence but would not be so suitable for area defence. So the VL Mica might be perfect for a smaller vessel like the NGPV but I would expect a frigate to be able to provide task force-wide area defence. Assuming that the Gowind frigate has the shortest Sylver A35 chosen, having a longer vertical launch system ( VLS ) like the A43 or A50 which can accommodate longer ranged surface-to-air missiles like the MBDA Aster 15 or Aster 30 respectively would have been a better choice.

Ditching the MM40 Block III Exocet in favour of the Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile ( NSM ) could prove to be a good move. Both have anti-ship, littoral and coastal attack capabilities, both have effective range in excess of 100 nautical miles but the NSM is a much more contemporary design whereas the Exocet could trace its lineage to the 1970s. It is true that compared to even the MM40 Block II, the Block III is like a radically new missile, but the RMN already has in its service the SM39 and the MM40 Block II. So it might not be a bad idea to diversify the SSM inventory with the NSM so as not to be to overly reliant on one supplier. The NSM would give the RMN's surface fleet enhanced land attack capabilities in addition to its anti-ship role.

A model of the Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile on display. Photo : Wikipaedia

The Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile successfully being test fired on the
USN Littoral Combat Ship LCS4 USS Coronado in July 2014. Photo : USN 

The selected surveillance radar, the Thales SMART-S Mk2, is a capable radar system that has already been installed on corvettes and frigates of many navies, including Germany's Brandenburg-class frigates and as a future upgrade for New Zealand's ANZAC-class frigate. The acronym stands for Signaal Multibeam Acquisition Radar for Tracking, S-Band. It is a medium to long range air and surface multibeam passive electronically scanned array ( PESA ) 3D radar designed by Thales Nederland ( formally Thomson-CSF Signaal ) and as the name implies, operates in the S-Band ( with frequencies between 2 - 4 GHz, also known as E/F-Band in NATO nomenclature ). Its maximum instrumented range is 250km against air targets and 80km against surface targets. It can automatically detect and track up to a total of 750 air and surface targets simultaneously. Easy to use with only two operational mode and minimal operation system settings, the SMART-S Mk2 also features high operational availability through the use of solid state technology and ease of maintenance with line-replaceable-units that are easy to exchange when defective.

The Thales CAPTAS-2 / UMS 4229 long range low frequency active and passive variable depth sonar ( VDS ) is a compact and versatile detection system for medium ASW platforms 1500 tons and above. CAPTAS is the acronym for Combined Active and Passive Towed Array Sonar and it comes in three versions for vessels of different sizes, CAPTAS-1, -2 and -4. A VDS essentially enables the ASW unit to transmit and receive at the right depth to maximise the detection of very quiet modern diesel-electric submarines such as the Russian Kilo-class or Chinese Type 39A Yuen-class SSK. The CAPTAS-2 is rugged, operational up to sea state 6, and has a maximum operational depth of 250m. The detection performance is listed by Thales as beyond the first oceanic convergence zone which means in excess of 20 to 30 nautical miles. It has embedded torpedo defence capability and multi-platform operation capability with two frigates in the same area. In times of emergency, such as torpedo avoidance, the towed array can withstand towing at 30 knots. Deployment and retrieving of the towed array can be completed in 20 minutes. The CAPTAS family of VDS has already ben installed or selected for more than 40 ships including the FREMM frigates of the French, Italian and Moroccan Navies. You can watch a video of the smaller CAPTAS-1 and BlueWatcher hull-mounted sonar in action here.

Hull-mounted sonar fails to detect enemy submarine hiding beneath
thermal layer but the variable depth sonar's dual-towed
receiver array and transmitting body are deployed at the optimal depth.
Source : Advanced Acoustic Concepts / DRS Thales

The Thales CAPTAS-2 towed body. Image : Thales

The CAPTAS-1 with its winch can be installed in a containerized system
below the helideck. Image : Thales

The transmitting Towed Body attached to the winch cable. Image : Thales

CAPTAS-1 VDS Single Tow : The Body ( seen transmitting ) tows the Receive Array. Image : Thales 

The electronic support measures ( ESM ) suite chosen was the Thales Vigile 100 system. The vigile family is Thales' 4th generation ESM system tailored for naval applications for both surface and sub-surface units. According to the manufacturer, it provides wide band ( C to J Bands ), high sensitivity receptions and pulse analysis with the ability to detect low probability of intercept (LPI) or invisible hostile radars using ultra sensitive search mode. It also supports electronic intelligence (ELINT), precise de-interleaving, and specific emitter identification/platform identification using ESM tasked mode measuring signals frequency, phase and amplitude.

Although the Gowind-class incorporates the latest technology and is purpose-designed to be able to operate unmanned systems, Malaysia seem to have decided not to equip its new frigates with any unmanned aerial vehicles as originally planned, like the VTOL Airbus Tanan. This is puzzling as UAVs can be valuable assets to augment existing capabilities and are a force multiplier for any platform, big or small. Then again, nothing that Malaysia does make much sense to us most of the time. This omission may cost the RMN in the future.

The Airbus Tanan VTOL UAS with Gowind 2500. Image : Thales

Airbus Tanan UAS and frigate with variable depth sonar. Image : Airbus

Trail Blazing with the Gowind Stealth Frigate

Malaysia's decision to go with the wind and select the Gowind 2500-class as a basis for its SGPV-LCS future frigate programme could be viewed as a bold trail blazing move. This is because they are the type's first real, paying customer, internationally or otherwise. Even the French Navy does not own any. The OPV FS L'Adroit is not counted as it is on loan to the navy for evaluation and perhaps publicity, and it was for free. So actually till today nobody has built a frigate sized Gowind before. New platforms usually have their fair share of teething problems and the SGPV will no doubt face similar issues. More so if it were to be constructed outside France. The decision to construct everything in Malaysia could represent a good opportunity for local companies to benefit from technology transfers and generate much needed jobs for Malaysian workers. If not implemented properly, it might just lead to the same delays and cost overruns that plague the previous NGPV project. However, with an experienced stealth ship builder like DCNS providing technical expertise and support, such problems might hopefully be minimized.

Questions remain as to why the cost of the six ships was allowed to balloon from the initial budgeted  MYR6billion to MYR9billion. It is puzzling especially considering that the ships' combat systems, though capable, are not all entirely top of the line and many of the systems initially desired by the RMN were eventually scaled down or opted out, like the UAV. Also, why has the tonnage to increase from the originally planned 2700 tons to the finalized 3100 tons? Either RMN doesn't know what it needs or its decision is too easily swayed by the vendor's marketing antics, or both. Could the mere increase in tonnage account for such a vast price rise or is Malaysia also paying so much more because it wanted to retain the intellectual property rights to the frigate's designs? If so is it a wise decision given the current poor economical and political situation in Malaysia? The final bill for the six ships will likely be much higher than MYR9billion due to currency exchange fluctuations in favour of the Euro / US Dollar as the Ringgit had weaken considerably in the past five years since the project had began and it is unlikely to strengthen in the near future. In this scandal prone country, could it be another bribery scam in the making, perhaps even with another murder or two thrown in as well?

Looking at the dilapidated state of the RMN today, with only six semi-equipped OPVs, two barely there post-SLEP corvettes and two ageing frigates forming the core of the surface combatants, the induction of these Gowind frigates into the Fleet will undoubtedly be keenly anticipated by the Malaysians. When that day arrives, the Malaysian Navy can at least claim parity with regional navies like the Indonesian Navy and the Singapore Navy and declare that they also own and operate stealth vessels, in the process Winning back some lost prestige.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Dude, Where's My Missile? Malaysia's New Generation Patrol Vessels

Corvettes Sans Missiles

Ever encountered modern day corvettes armed with guns only, no surface-to-air missiles, no anti-ship missiles? No, I am not talking about the Philippine Navy with its armada of end-of-life, end-of-type, hand-me-down vessels where you have Everything-Sans-Missiles. These poor Filipinos, poor in the literal sense, really have no financial means to equip their fleet any better and so have no choice but to make do with donated hardware most of the time. Rather, I am referring to Malaysia's Kedah-class corvettes built under the New Generation Patrol Vessel ( NGPV ) Project initiated in the nineties that had no missile systems installed, seemingly by choice! Strange, you might think, which modern war had been fought without the use of missiles? The world is increasingly gearing towards the use of precision guided munitions and stand-off munitions, half of which would be missiles of some sort, and someone decided to have a guns-only corvette? Incredible, but such strange things do happen in Malaysia. First, some background information.

Missiles? What missiles? Malaysian Kedah-class corvette FFL-175
KD Kelantan during Ex-SEACAT 2014. USN Photo

Where In The World Is Malaysia?

Malaysia is geographically located in South-East Asia with two land masses of roughly equal size, Peninsula Malaysia and East Malaysia, split apart by the South China Sea. It shares land and sea boarders with Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Brunei and the Philippines and is a claimant to some of the islands with disputed ownership in the South China Sea. Peninsula Malaysia is strategically located as it is bound in the west by the Straits of Malacca and faces the South China Sea to the east, both being part of an important international maritime trade route linking Asia Pacific to the Middle-East and Europe where an estimated 5.3 trillion dollars worth of goods are shipped annually and where almost a third of the world's sea-borne crude and half the global LNG would pass through.

It has a total land area of 330803km2 and a population of 30 million comprising of a majority bumiputera or indigenous people, largely made up of Malays, and a smaller number of minority ethnic Chinese and Indians. It is rich in natural resources, counting rubber, tin, timber, oil and gas, palm oil as its top exports. Nominal per capita GDP for 2015 is estimated to be about $12127, not among the highest but not exactly poor either. Its economy had been growing at an average rate of 6.5% annually since it gained independence from the British in 1957. Its unit of currency is called the Malaysian Ringgit ( MYR ) and it is currently trading at MYR 4.01 to the Dollar. The annual defence budget for 2016 is about MYR 17.3 billion.

Geophysical location of the Federation of Malaysia.

A Brief History of The Royal Malaysian Navy

The Royal Malaysian Navy ( RMN ) is also known as the Tentera Laut DiRaja Malaysia ( TLDM ) in the Malay language and could trace its origins as far back as the year 1934 to the formation of the Straits Settlement Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve ( SSRNVR ) by the British colonial government in Singapore. Its main objective then was to assist the Royal Navy in the defence of Singapore and Peninsula Malaya against Japanese aggression. During World War II, after the fall of Singapore and Malaya, some of its members continued to serve with the Allied Forces in the Indo-Pacific theatres. The SSRNVR was disbanded after the War ended but were to be reactivated in 1948 during the Malayan Emergency years when communist insurgents fought the colonial government. Then known as the Malayan Naval Force, they operated out of Woodlands Naval Base in Singapore from 1951 onwards. For their exemplary service against the commies, the " Royal Malayan Navy " title was bestowed to the MNF by Queen Elizabeth II not long after her accession in 1952. By 1957, just five years later, Malaya would gain independence from the British and the " Royal " title was still kept but it now referred to the Malayan King, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, instead of HRH QEII.

The post-independence Royal Malayan Navy initially operated assets inherited / transferred from the British, mostly coastal minesweepers and minelayers converted into patrol crafts with an occasional light frigate or two thrown in. In 1963, Malaya, Singapore, North Borneo ( Sabah ) and Sarawak merged to form the Federation of Malaysia. The need to govern large swathe of maritime territories post-merger and the ensuing conflict with Indonesia, known as the Confrontation, due to the latter's objection in creation of Malaysia, would soon force the navy to embark on an unprecedented rapid expansion of capabilities and manpower.

Now taking on the new name of the Royal Malaysian Navy ( RMN ) to reflect the name of the newly created Federation, it acquired new equipment, including a large series of 103ft patrol crafts ( PC ) built by Vosper. High speed torpedo boats and bigger fast attack crafts ( FAC ) like the Jerung-class soon followed, and going with the fad of the seventies came the missile gunboats ( FAC-M ) like the Exocet armed Handalan-class and the Perdana-class. The RMN's capabilities were further enhanced when they acquired the Kasturi-class corvettes in the eighties and started the construction of a new major naval base in Lumut.  The Laksamana-class corvettes and Lekiu-class frigates were then acquired in the nineties by which time the RMN became one of the better equipped naval force in the region. By 1997, the RMN also ceased all operations from Woodlands Naval Base which they had occupied for more than 45 years, renting it from the Singapore government since 1965 when Singapore was booted out of the Malaysia Federation and gained independence.

In more recent times, the RMN bought Scorpene-class submarines and continued their efforts of force modernization with the New Generation Patrol Vessel ( NGPV ) project and the Second Generation Patrol Vessel ( SGPV ) project. These new assets are urgently needed as tensions in and around the South China Sea had escalated tremendously in just the past few years as China reiterated its claim on almost the entire South China Sea and adopted highly aggressive and controversial practices including the building of artificial islands.

Replacing the Vosper Patrol Crafts 

Malaysia's NGPV project was initiated in the early nineties with the objective of replacing the RMN's 18 ageing Sabah-class and Kris-class patrol craft. As mentioned earlier, these Vosper built boats were acquired in the sixties under a very different threat environment and have largely out-lived their usefulness by the turn of the century. They were all tiny, displacing just 96 tons standard and 109 tons fully loaded, with a length of 31m or 103ft. Hence they were also known as the Vosper 103ft Type Patrol Crafts and were hugely popular among small navies during their heyday. Qatar had six while Panama operated two but Malaysia by far had the largest fleet with at least twenty four, all ordered in the early or mid sixties in as many as three tranches.

Not only were they small, these PCs were also lightly armed with just two Bofors 40mm guns and perhaps another couple of 12.7mm or 7.62mm machine guns. They were constructed from pre-fabricated welded steel and were powered by two diesel engines which gave a maximum speed of about 25knots. Apart from the engine room, the entire boat is air-conditioned and can accommodate 20 personnel. They have limited range and endurance, said to be 1500nm at 14knots, and were suitable for not much else other than coastal patrols. Normally not venturing beyond 18nm from the coast, these workhorses would eventually be adapted for off-shore work once the 200nm exclusive economic zone ( EEZ ) concept was implemented after the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea ( UNCLOS III ) agreement.

The first batch of six Vosper PCs were ordered by the Royal Malayan Navy in 1961. They were built at Vosper's Plymouth yard and all were delivered by 1963 when tensions with Indonesia flared up over the newly created Malaysian Federation. The six PCs were named KD Sri Kedah, KD Sri Selangor, KD Sri Perak, KD Sri Pahang, KD Sri Kelantan and KD Sri Terengganu, after six Malaysian states. The KD prefix adorning all RMN ships is the abbreviation for Kapal DiRaja and could be translated as Ship of His Majesty. So this first tranche could be called the Kedah-class. They saw extensive action during the Confrontation with Indonesia in their early days but have all been decommissioned or stricken by the mid-nineties. Unfortunately the six new corvettes built under the NGPV project inherited exactly these six names and could easily be confused with the old Kedah-class patrol crafts.

The Straits Times report on KD Sri Kedah and Sri Selangor's
commissioning, 19th Jun 1963.
Source : National Library Board / Singapore Press Holdings

The Straits Times 28th May 1963.
This was how the first two Vosper PCs were delivered - onboard a cargo ship.
Later boats were brought to Singapore by teams of RMN
officers and ratings flown to the UK.
Source : National Library Board / Singapore Press Holdings

The second batch of four Vosper PCs were ordered probably in 1963 with all deliveries completed by Nov 1964. They were the KD Sri Sabah, KD Sri Sarawak, KD Sri Negri Sembelan and KD Sri Melaka, also referred to as the Sabah-class. They were also named after four other Malaysian states.

The third tranche of fourteen Vosper PCs were ordered by RMN in 1965 and were all delivered and commissioned by 1968. They differ slightly from the earlier tranches by having more powerful engines and better radar and navigation equipment. These were the Kris-class ( or Keris-class ) PCs.

Kris-class patrol craft P47 KD Sri Perlis. Photo : Wikipaedia

Kris-class patrol craft P49 KD Sri Johor. Photo : Wikipaedia

The 4 Sabah-class and the 14 Kris-class PCs remained operational in the RMN for more than four decades until they were decommissioned in 2004 and would be eventually replaced by the new NGPV corvettes starting in 2006. Of the 18 boats, 15 were transferred to the coast guard, the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency ( MMEA ) and were re-named the Sipadan-class. They continue to patrol the waters off East Malaysia and are currently still listed has part of the MMEA's inventory on its website. The Vosper PC's days are already numbered and in 2014 five had been decommissioned by the MMEA and given to the Department of Marine Parks Malaysia to be sunk and used for creating artificial reefs at various locations all over Malaysia.

Re-incarnation as the Sipadan-class PC in Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency colours.
This is probably the ex-KD Sri Kedah which used to bear the pennant number P3138. Source : MMEA

Here's a summary of the RMN's Vosper PC fleet.

Patrol Craft  
Sri Kedah
? transferred to MMEA 
Sri Selangor
Sri Perak
Sunk in S. China Sea
Sri Pahang
Sri Kelantan
Donated to University
Sri Terengganu
Naval Musuem Ship
Sri Sabah
Sri Sarawak
Sri Negri Sembelan
Sri Melaka
Between 2005 and 2006
15 Kris- & Sabah-class
PCs transferred to
MMEA & Renamed
5 Sipadan-class PC
Decommissioned in 2014
and transferred to
Marine Parks Dept
Sunk as artificial reefs.
Sri Perlis
Sri Johor

Some other notable facts about the Vosper PC.

On 8th Jan 1984, fresh out of dock from regular maintenance and while in transit from Lumut Naval Base to Labuan Naval Base in Sabah on a training voyage with the frigate F76 KD Hang Tuah and P3143 KD Sri Terengganu, the KD Sri Perak got separated from the group and sprang a leak from the forward hatch during a severe tropical storm in the South China Sea. The flooding was so severe that the ship soon lost all power and therefore radio communications. KD Sri Perak rapidly sank with the lost of 3 crew members. The remaining 26 survivors drifted in a raft for 3 days before being spotted by an AP-3C maritime patrol aircraft and were subsequently rescued. It was the first time a RMN vessel was lost at sea. The ship's captain was subsequently charged for negligence and failure to take appropriate damage control measures. Yet there were allegations that the yard work on the KD Sri Perak was not performed properly and the ship had a defective pump motor and was actually found to be unfit for sea ... the captain merely a scapegoat whose only crime was not to stand firm against the sailing orders, against the authority of the CO of the Fleet Maintenance Unit.

After its decommissioning in 1994, the KD Sri Terengganu had been restored by the Naval Dockyard Sdn. Bhd. at a cost of MYR160,000. It has been sitting pretty in downtown Melaka as a permanent display at the Naval Museum since 1996. 

KD Sri Terengganu on display next to the Naval Museum in Melaka.

The New Generation Patrol Vessel Project

The New Generation Patrol Vessel Project was originally RMN's ambitious undertaking to replace eighteen patrol boats with twenty seven offshore patrol vessels. This requirement probably arose in the early nineties, when the Vosper PCs had already seen continuous service for 25 to 30 years and were nearing the end of their useful life. The initial plans called for a OPV design that is about 80m in length and displacing 1300 tons, a size that is more typically associated with a corvette rather than an OPV. The total cost for the twenty seven ships to be acquired over a fifteen year period was estimated to be MYR24billion or about USD10billion in pre-1997 exchange rates, an obscene amount of money. If implemented in its entirety, it would have been Malaysia's biggest single defence acquisition ever.

A competition was carried out in 1996 and with such volumes involved, it was not surprising that many ship builders were vying for the project. The Australians, Germans and the British were all involved with the proposals. By 1997, it emerged that the MEKO 100 design submitted by the German Naval Group ( GNG ) Consortium lead by Blohm + Voss had been selected. It was surprisingly much bigger than expected with a length of 91m and a displacement of 1850 tons!

A contract was awarded to GNG and the local ship builder Penang Shipbuilding and Construction-Naval Dockyard Sdn. Bhd. ( PSC-ND ) in 1998 for an initial batch of six ships. The deal would involve the usual technology transfer and technical assistance with the first two hulls being built in Germany and fitted out in Malaysia. The remaining four ships will be built locally with modular kits provided by GNG / Blohm + Voss. All these arrangements looked good on paper but could PSC-ND deliver? PSC Who?

Model of the Kedah-class NGPV displayed at LIMA 2009. Source : Wikipaedia

Penang Shipbuilding and Construction - Naval Dockyard Scandal

PSC-ND has its origins as the RMN's dockyard facilities adjacent to Lumut Naval Base. The naval dockyard has modern facilities to meet the entire maintenance and repair needs of the RMN fleet, anything from hull repairs to major overhauls and refurbishment of combat systems. Under the direction of the Malaysian Government, it was to be corporatised as Limbungan TLDM ( RMN Shipyard ) a wholly-owned government company. This paved the way for its eventual acquisition by public listed company Penang Shipbuilding Corporation ( PSC ) Berhad, and the new entity was called Penang Shipbuilding and Construction-Naval Dockyard ( PSC-ND ).

Being appointed the main contractor for the NGPV project should have been an important milestone for PSC-ND, but the project was to be plagued by financial troubles and quality control issues. The first two ships were laid down in Nov and Dec 2001 and were launched in Mar and Oct 2003 respectively. They were supposed to be fitted out in Malaysia and soon it would emerge that the delivery date line for the first two NGPVs could not be met. The first hull could not even pass pre-delivery sea trials due to technical problems. But somehow, penalties for delays and late delivery were waived by the Malaysian Government!!? Where is the incentive to deliver on time if you know the penalties could be avoided? PSC-ND clearly had good connections at high places.

Further investigations uncovered serious corporate governance issues, financial mismanagement and corruption within PSC-ND. The chairman and director of PSC-ND Amin Shah was found to have been absent from many meetings of the board of directors. Some 40 sub-contractors involved in the NGPV project have been owed a total of MYR180million. PSC-ND also failed to remit up to MYR4million on behalf of its employees to the Employee's Provident Fund, despite having deducted the amount from their salaries .... . The entire project stalled and the Public Accounts Committee believed that an additional MYR120million had to be injected by the government to salvage the first two hulls and MYR80million more to pay off local vendors, sub-contractors and service providers. It had also been alleged that PSC-ND sort a further advancement of MYR1.8billion from the Malaysian Government to complete the project. Somebody did the calculations wrongly? Someone did not pay attention in mathematics class in school? More likely just rampant corruption!

Faced with such incredible and unprecedented incompetency, the Malaysian Government bowed to public pressure and intervened, forcing a complete revamp of PSC-ND. Another government linked company, Boustead Holdings Berhad, took up a large stake of PSC Industries ( PSCI ) Berhad, the parent company of PSC. The troubled PSC-ND, being a division of PSC, was then absorbed into Boustead Holding's heavy industries arm and became Boustead Naval Shipyard Sdn. Bhd. With a complete change in the management, the NGPV project was revived and the first two OPV / corvettes were finally commissioned in 2006. Amin Shah, the millionaire entrepreneur linked to PSCI was eventually ousted as chairman and director of PSC-ND and made a bankrupt but never convicted of any wrong doings. Convicting him would probably implicate way tooooo many admirals and politicians as well, so its best to let sleeping dogs lie. He is said to have a vast business empire all over the world and had left the country after the scandal unfolded. Some Malaysian netizens even openly blame him for single-handedly causing the " downfall " of the RMN.

From Twenty Seven to Six!

The NGPV scandal not only delayed the completion of the first six ships, it also cost the RMN the subsequent twenty one ships and dashed its dream of becoming the naval power house of South East Asia as the Malaysian Government had been discouraged to make any further investments in the entire class of OPVs and cancelled the programme.

However, the real situation might not have been so bleak if we take into account the follow-on project known as the Second Generation Patrol Vessel ( SGPV ) Project which was initiated not long after the conclusion of the NGPV Project. Had it not been for the early termination of the NGPV project, the RMN might not have the resources, budget or justification to push for the SGPV project which is supposed to give the RMN six stealth frigates. So maybe not as drastic a reduction in numbers as twenty seven to six but rather twenty seven to six plus six.

But what is the MEKO 100 design and what is the NGPV? Is it a corvette or an offshore patrol vessel?

MEKO 100 

The name MEKO is a trade mark and comes from the German word Mehrzweck-Kombination which means multi-purpose combination. It refers to the German ship builder Blohm+Voss' family of vessels which are highly scalable due to their modular designs. Depending on the perceived threat environment, the customer can have a choice of vessel size ranging from a small OPV to large frigates or even small destroyers. The combat sub-systems can also be customized according to needs and budget.

Since the late seventies, the MEKO design has been equipping many navies around the world. Some of the notable ones include Australia and New Zealand's ANZAC-class frigate based on the MEKO 200 design, Germany's F123 Brandenburg-class and F124 Sachsen-class frigates and K130 Braunschweig-class corvettes and of course Malaysia's Kedah-class OPV based on the MEKO 100 design.

All the MEKO ships are characterized by reduced signatures, especially that of radar cross-section and infra-red but also acoustic and magnetic. The funnel or smoke stack is deleted and all engine exhaust is expelled horizontally on or below the waterline, selectable depending on the threat. The mono-hull design incorporates a forefoot skeg for yaw control and has active fin stabilisers allowing for high speeds, quietness and good sea keeping. Helicopter and ship operations can be carried out up to sea state 6. Some even have unique adaptations or solutions, like the all UAV hangars of the K130 corvettes that accommodate 2 drones.

German AAW frigate F220 FGS Hamburg is a destroyer sized F124 Sachsen-class ship
 based on the MEKO 200 design. USN photo

The Kedah-class NGPV

Malaysia's six NGPVs inherited the names of the first six Vosper PCs ordered in 1961 and long since retired or decommissioned. An oddity is that the " Sri " prefix that is only used in combination with the name of a Malaysian state has been omitted in the new series of ships. So instead of KD Sri Kedah, the lead ship is simply called KD Kedah, and the entire class is therefore also known as the Kedah-class.

Whether they are OPVs or corvettes probably depends on your point of view. ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems ( TKMS ), parent company of Blohm+Voss, listed Malaysia's NGPV as the Blohm+Voss MEKO 100PV ( 2003 ) under the corvette category on its website. Jane's IHS 360 referred to the NGPVs as corvettes in their routine news coverage on the Kedah-class. The US Navy's official photo gallery even labeled them as FFL or light frigate ( see topmost photo ), a designation seldom seen used on modern frigates nowadays as almost all are FFG or guided missile frigates. The RMN classifies them as OPV and perhaps rightly so if based on their lack of long range anti-air and anti-ship armaments but their pennant numbers tell a different story! The Kedah-class ships have pennant numbers F171 to F176 and based on the international pennant number system adopted by many NATO and Commonwealth countries including Malaysia, the F prefix indicates a frigate or corvette hull type! So there is ambiguity even within the RMN as to the real status of these vessels. Personally, I am more inclined to view them as corvettes based on their relatively large displacement of close to 2000 tons, corvettes without much teeth that is.

KD Pahang underway. Source : Wikipaedia

Kedah-class Characteristics and Specifications

Type                              : MEKO 100 PV

Displacement                : 1850 tons full load

Length                          : 91m

Beam                            : 12.85m

Draught                        : 3.4m

Propulsion                    : 2 x Caterpillar 3616 Diesel Engines rated at 5995KW each
                                       Twin shaft with controllable pitch propellers

Speed                           : 24 knots

Range                          : 6050 nm at 12 knots

Endurance                   : 21 days

Complement               : 78 with accommodation for 98

Combat System           : Atlas Elektronik COSYS-110 M1/ARGOS

Surveillance Radar     :  EADS TRS-3D/ 16ES 3D search radar ( PESA )

Fire Control Radar     :  Oerlikon Contraves TMX/EO X-band with electro-optic fire director

Thermal Imager         :  Rheinmetall TMEO

Sonar                          :  L-3 ELAC Nautik NDS-3060 obstacle avoidance sonar.

ESM                           :  Thales Sceptre-X ESM system

Decoy                         :  Sippican ALEX/SRBOC chaff / decoy launching system

Armament                  :  1 x 76mm Oto Melara ( bow )
                                      1 x 30mm Breda-Mauser ( aft )
                                      2 x 12.7mm Machine Guns

Aviation Facilities     :  Stern Hangar and Helicopter Landing Deck

NGPV F172 KD Pahang underway. Source : LIMA


Fitted For But Not With


To understand why the Kedah-class were commissioned without advanced weaponry, we must ask ourselves this question : how can a country like Malaysia with a GDP ranking of number 33 in the world afford to buy twenty seven corvettes just like that. Or to put it another way, how would a shipbuilder convince its prospective client that he can afford a sizable fleet? The answer lies with a concept known as " fitted for but not with ", a method of building ships with plug and play modularity where vessels are constructed ready to receive expensive combat subsystems in the future. So everything required for the future installation of whatever weapon, sensor or defensive system intended would have been thought of and catered for, like allocating of the physical space, the load factor, the power requirements and the electrical hard wirings, network integration into the existing command and control system / combat system etc.

Such practices are adopted to largely keep built costs down for new vessels as modern weapons subsystems can be extremely expensive to procure and maintain and can form a large portion of the total acquisition cost. They can also be seen as future-proofing a vessel type. Capabilities can then be added anytime when the budget allows or when the threat environment justifies. A good example would be the ten ANZAC-class frigates of the Australian and New Zealand Navies, incidentally based on the MEKO 200 design. They were fitted for but not with close-in weapon system ( CIWS ), Harpoon anti-ship missiles ( SSM ), a second set of Mk41 vertical launch system ( VLS ) and a towed array system for anti-submarine warfare. The first in class HMAS Anzac was commissioned in 1996. As the last ship of the class entered service in 2006, both the Royal Australian Navy and the Royal New Zealand Navy had embarked on upgrade programmes for their frigates.

By adopting this concept, Blohm+Voss omitted the MM40 Block II Exocet SSM and the RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile, kept projected costs down and clinched the deal to build the NGPVs. That was how the Kedah-class was constructed with guns only, no CIWS and no missiles. In addition, although equipped with a stern hanger and capable of embarking a medium helicopter like RMN's existing Super Lynx 300 ASW helicopter, no additional helicopter assets were bought with the arrival of the Kedah-class into the fleet.

But really, is this fitted for but not with idea for the NGPV a good move for the RMN? Would you rather have a large number of low capability assets or would you be better off with a much smaller number of highly capable ones? I would choose the latter option as one would never be certain about promised upgrades in the future. Mindsets could change and allocated budgets could disappear as economic and political situations evolve over time. So I say live within your means and settle for complete systems commensurate with existing requirements and let the future worry for itself.

Malaysia's Super Lynx 300 ASW helicopter seen landing on LCS-1 during Ex CARAT 2013. USN Photo

Dude, I'm Gonna Get Me Them Missiles, No?

Dude may sound too American. May be it should be " Bang, am I getting my missiles or not? ". Bang as in Abang, means brother in Malay. Even as we speak, the Kedah-class NGPV, as of everything else, continue to age. In the blink of an eye, the first and second of class KD Kedah and KD Pahang had already been commissioned for, gasp, ten years. Yet as a class they remained in their original fitted for but not with configuration, as other seemingly more urgent priorities set in, like the construction of the SGPVs and the upgrade of the Scorpene submarines. Will the Kedah-class be getting any upgrades at all given that the MYR9billion SGPV project alone would have taken a huge chunk of the annual defence budget for the foreseeable few years. What would be left for the Kedah-class? Also, since Malaysia's economy is closely linked to oil production, with oil prices at rock bottom currently, the future does not look bright for the NGPVs.

The longer it takes to implement any upgrades, the less meaningful and useful they become, the less value they add to the fleet. This is because all hulls have a useful life of about thirty years, more or less, depending on how they are used and cared for. With about a third of their service life gone, anyone can understand that whatever planned upgrades should have been carried out as soon as possible.

At the annual OPV and Corvettes Asia Pacific conference in Singapore in 2015, the RMN actually announced plans to carry out upgrades to two NGPVs for anti-surface warfare ( ASuW ) and the other four for anti-submarine warfare ( ASW ). The ASuW upgrade package would include surface-to-surface missiles, surface-to-air missiles and organic naval helicopter. The ASW package will have towed array and hull-mounted sonar, torpedo launchers and dedicated ASW helicopters. No further details were available on specific systems, or specific ships for specific roles, and all plans were pending approval and funding. So the upgrades are not yet a done deal.

Earlier that same year, the RMN also said that it had requested for funding for 36 programmes under the 11th Malaysia Plan covering the period 2016 - 2020. The Malaysia Plan is five year government funding allocation event. The request which would include plans to upgrade the Kedah-class OPV and the Laksamana-class corvettes would cost MYR10.1billion or USD2.8billion.

The KD Kelantan with Super Lynx 300 embarked,
in the Straits of Malacca 2011. USN Photo

KD Selangor at Sandakan, Sabah, 2012. Photo : Wikipaedia


Good For EEZ?

What is the Kedah-class good for? Good sized corvette type hull, open ocean capable, decent combat systems and electronic systems, decent guns but no CIWS, no SSM, no SAM, no torpedoes, no ASW sonar? That's essentially an over-sized gunboat!

It could be part of a surface action group but can never be able to operate independently especially in a high threat environment without some sort of air cover.

It could be a great training platform for seamen and midshipmen, but now many training vessels does a small navy require? Besides, the RMN is already building two Samudera-class training ships due to be completed this year after being long delayed by ..... another scandal! Sigh.

With its helideck and hangar and good range it might do well in search and rescue operations ( SAR ), and humanitarian and disaster relief operations ( HADR ). But how frequent does major disaster strike unless you are Malaysian Airlines or the Royal Malaysian Air Farce with Nuris ( Sikorsky S-61 aka SH-3 Sea King ) and CN-235 dropping out of the sky like flies??!

With the ability to launch boats and accommodate additional personnel which may include special forces and anti-terror specialists, it might also do very well in maritime security and anti-piracy operations where sometimes presence is all you need for deterrence, no need for SSMs, torpedoes or SAMs or any other high tech weaponry. Apart from Somalia, we know that the Straits of Malacca between Sumatra and the west coast of Peninsula Malaysia is the other hotbed for pirates.

SAR : The KD Terengganu during the search for Flight MH370 in 2014.
The Seahawk helicopter belongs to the USN. USN Photo

VBSS : A RHIB departs the KD Pahang
 in a maritime security exercise in Sep 2013. Photo : USN

The USS Carl Vinson, KD Lekir ( front ) and KD Kelantan ( Back )
PASSEX 26th Jan 2011 Straits of Malacca.  USN Photo

As above but with Ticonderoga-class Aegis cruiser CG-52 USS Bunker Hill trailing behind.
Note the relative sizes - corvette, frigate, cruiser and aircraft carrier. Photo : USN

RMN divers trying to salvage crashed Air Force CN-235 in Feb 2016
along the Kuala Selangor coastline. Fortunately, no lives were lost.
Photo via RMN Tweet.

But hang on a second, SAR, HADR, anti-piracy ops or just patrolling, aren't these primarily COAST GUARD duties??! Now of course these functions can be performed by any major surface combatant as well but certainly not as their core mission. So yes these sheep in wolf's clothing would do very well as coast guard cutters to patrol Malaysia's vast EEZ. At least now we can say they are not simply good for nothing.

Just last month on 24th Mar 2016, the MMEA reported that it detected and was monitoring one hundred Chinese fishing vessels escorted by two Chinese Coast Guard ships encroaching Malaysian waters around the South Luconia Shoals in the South China Sea near the town of Miri in Sarawak, East Malaysia. The RMN however, initially denied that the Chinese vessels were found in Malaysian waters, only to reverse their stance later. The confusion caused a delay in the Ministry of Foreign Affair's official respond to China, who of course denied that there was ever a problem. China claimed that it was the annual fishing season in the South China Sea and that  its fishermen were merely fishing in their " traditional fishing grounds " which their ancestors had fished since the days of yond. Faced with such absurd logic and unreasonable behavior from a major regional power and aspiring world power like China, Malaysia really needed bigger and better platforms for its coast guard, the MMEA.

Malaysia's EEZ in Peninsula and East Malaysia shown in red. Source :

Unless the Kedah-class gets upgraded and soon, they might end up with the same fate as their predecessors, the Vosper PCs, that of being transferred from the RMN to the MMEA for EEZ patrol duties.

The saddest thing about the NGPV project was the lost potential for this class as a whole. What if the RMN had stayed true with the original 80m, 1300 ton proposal. Would the funds then be available to equip them better. Would the construction process be technically less demanding therefore resulting in on time delivery? Could it have resulted in the eventual construction of all twenty seven of the planned vessels? Did the ship builders hoodwink the RMN to cut back on the equipping to buy vessels bigger than they originally intended and actually required?

At around USD300million apiece, these supersized gunboats are not exactly cheap. South African Navy's four Valour-class MEKO A200 type guided missile frigates each displacing 3700 tons and armed to the teeth were ordered around the same time as the NGPV, just a couple of years earlier in 1999. They cost "only" USD327million each, marginally more than RMN's super cutter. This leads us to another issue. What the heck did the Malaysians pay for that the South Africans didn't have to? Could the cost of technology transfer and local construction inflate the price of the vessels by such a degree? Noooooo ... I do not think so. As usual, in this scandal filled country, every single venture, big or small, government or private, is a golden opportunity for someone, usually of high social standing and with good connections, to generate a handsome profit for himself or his cronies. The NGPV project is probably no exception and was not spared from multiple levels of fleecing.

Only the Malaysian authorities have the great talent to convert a frigate to a cutter and still appear to look innocent in the eyes of its ordinary citizens, but of course we know better. At the end of the day, unless you happened to be a Malaysian taxpayer, Does It Really Matter?