ADECS 2018: Malaysia realigns naval assets to improve security in the east
Dzirhan Mahadzir / Kuala Lumpur
The Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) will permanently station four of its six Kedah-class Next Generation Patrol Vessels (NGPV) and four yet-to-be-constructed Littoral Mission Ships (LMS) in East Malaysia as part of efforts to strengthen maritime security.
Speaking at a press conference on 16 January, the RMN’s Eastern Fleet Commander, VADM Syed Zahiruddin Putra, said that, subsequent to the establishment of his command last April, the MoD and RMN had made this decision about the four NGPVs.
Previously, the RMN only had several fast attack craft and patrol boats permanently stationed in East Malaysia, while its NGPVs, corvettes and frigates conducted rotational deployments from their stations in Peninsular Malaysia.
However, Syed Zahiruddin stated that budgetary issues had resulted in the plan being modified to having two NGPVs conduct the change of station in 2018 and another two in 2019.
He revealed that KD Selangor would arrive on 20 January while Kelantan was scheduled to take up station in March. KD Terengganu and Pahang will arrive in early 2019. All four NGPVs are likely to be homeported at Kota Kinabalu, the headquarters of the Eastern Fleet Command, given the extensive logistic and support facilities.
Syed Zahiruddin also disclosed that RMN plans call for not only the four contracted LMSs to be stationed in East Malaysia as part of the same command, but subsequent LMSs too.
Under the RMN’s 15-to-5 naval transformation plan, 18 LMSs are planned, though only four have been contracted so far. The commander stated that all the LMSs will be distributed between bases at RMN Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan (Headquarters Region 2 Command), Tawau and possibly the planned RMN Bintulu, which will serve as headquarters of the future Region 4 Command.
The permanent stationing of NGPVs in East Malaysia is part of RMN efforts to tighten maritime security in East Malaysia following the 2013 Lahad Datu incursion. That episode resulted in the formation of the Eastern Fleet Command to oversee operations in East Malaysia, along with direct responsibility of waters off its western coast and Malaysian claims in the Spratly Islands.
In recent years, East Malaysia has become an operational hotspot for the RMN, aside from the continuing threat from armed groups in the Philippines. Chinese activities at Luconia Breakers and James Shoal are a concern, along with increasing illegal fishing carried out in Malaysia’s EEZ by various countries.
At the same time, the RMN has to maintain security and a presence for Malaysian claims in the Spratly Islands, where the RMN has five outposts. Another threat concerns potential terrorist attacks on offshore oil platforms in East Malaysia.
With Malaysia committing to coordinated naval patrols in the Sulu and Celebes Seas with Indonesia and the Philippines under the Trilateral Maritime Patrol initiative, the previous method of rotational deployments would incur more costs than the permanent stationing of vessels such as NGPVs there.