Sunday, January 22, 2012

So It's 6 Littoral Combat Ships, Or Not?

The Ministry of Defence has been touting its latest acquisition of 6 second generation patrol vessels (SGPVs) as the purchase of the latest and most advanced "littoral combat ships" (LCS). It is also the justification for the ships to cost a total of RM6 billion, which was subsequently adjusted upwards to RM9 billion.

However after our clarification meeting between Pakatan Rakyat Members of Parliament - Saifuddin Nasution, Dzulkefli Ahmad and myself with the Minister of Defence, Dato' Seri Zahid Hamidi and his officials, we have confirmed that we are not acquiring Littoral Combat Ships.

The Government has been justifying the cost of acquisition of the 6 ships by comparing against the United States LCS programme which cost between RM1.5 billion to RM2.5 billion per ship to claim that we are buying on the cheap at only RM1.5 billion per ship.

The LCS is a specific ship built by the United States (US) Navy and no other countries. The US current has only 2 LCS in service with orders for additional ships still under construction.

According to Naval-Technology.com, the LCS is "a fast, highly manoeuverable, networked surface combat ship, which is a specialised variant of the family of US future surface combat ships... Both [ships] achieve sprint speeds of over 40knots and long-range transit distances of over 3,500 miles."

The Wikipedia entry notes that the LCS are able to "add the capabilities of a small assault transport with a flight deck and hangar large enough to base two SH-60 Seahawk helicopters, the capability to recover and launch small boats from a stern ramp, and enough cargo volume and payload to deliver a small assault force with armoured fighting vehicles to a roll-on/roll-off port facility."

The reputable Defense Industry Daily also confirmed the LCS are "115 – 127 meters in length and 2,800 – 3,100 tons of displacement" and are differentiated from typical frigates by "their shallow water design and employment."

However, the Ministry of Defence has confirmed during our dialogue that the top speed for our SGPVs is only 28 knots and not 40-45 knots of the standard LCS. In addition, our ships will be shorter at 105 meters and does not have the long-range transit reach of 3,500 miles. Earlier announcements by Mindef have also confirmed that the ships will have a 2,500 tons of displacement, carry only an Eurocopter 725 each and does not have the capability to launch and recover small boats.

In fact the announcement by Mindef contractor Boustead Naval Shipyards on Bursa Malaysia last month and our meeting confirmed that we will be acquiring "Gowind Class Corvettes" from scandal-tainted French shipbuilder DCNS. It will certainly be a stretch of any military experts' imagination to equate our purchase of these SPGV Corvettes to the state of the art LCS.

We would like to once again thank Mindef for holding the dialogue with us 2 days ago for this information could not have been confirmed otherwise.

We would now like to call upon Mindef to "call a spade a spade" and stop the attempt to disguise our acquisition with fancy names to justify their substantial cost. The Gowind-class corvettes are not ships to be belittled and are powerful in their own ways which may serve the needs oe Malaysian Navy, but they are not by means the equivalent of LCS as trumpeted by the Minister and Government.
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