Malaysia mulls naval upgrades amid IS threat, South China Sea standoff


Reuters

By Joseph SipalanKUALA LUMPUR, March 21 (Reuters) - Malaysia is gunning for a
revamp of its aging 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.
    Defence spending in the Asia Pacific region is expected to
hit $250 billion from 2016-20, IHS Janes 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's navy aims to replace all 50 vessels in its aging
fleet as the country cut its total defence budget by 12.7
percent to 15.1 billion ($3.41 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 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,"
Kamarulzaman said, referring to the Arabic acronym for the IS.
    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
construct more of the ships at home. The navy hopes this will
enable them to eventually obtain a total of 18 LMS.
    Plans to acquire four LMS from China were first announced in
November. [nL4N1D24DW]
    Over 500 exhibitors from 36 countries will parade their
wares at this year's LIMA, which is held every two years on the
northern duty-free island of Langkawi.
    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.

    COMPETING NEEDS
    The naval build-up in the region comes as tensions rise in
the South China Sea, where Beijing's creation of artificial
islands has alarmed some Asian countries and stoked friction
between China's navy and the U.S. air force.
    China claims most of the South China Sea, through which $5
trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. The Philippines,
Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also have overlapping
claims.
    Under President Joko Widodo, Indonesia's total defence
spending jumped around 26 percent, and last month Thailand's
military government approved a 13.5 billion baht ($389.05
million) submarine deal with China after putting the purchase on
hold last year. [nL8N1D51KF]
    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 Shahriman Lockman, a
senior analyst with the Kuala Lumpur-based Institute of
Strategic and International Studies.
    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," Shahriman said.
    "Equipment that contributes to maritime domain awareness
ought to be the priority for all. You can't fight what you can't
see."

($1 = 4.4250 ringgit)
($1 = 34.7000 baht)

 (Editing by Ed Osmond)
 ((Joseph.Sipalan@thomsonreuters.com; +60323338019; Reuters
Messaging: joseph.sipalan.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))

Keywords: MALAYSIA DEFENCE/ (REPEAT)



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