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Military 101: Did We End Up With Faulty White Elephant Submarines?

Navy Submarine U Boat Military

(The strategic role of a submarine to the nation’s maritime defence cannot be ignored but what makes it stink is the way these submarines were purchased and maintained. Image source: Flickr / US Navy)

I love submarines – seen Wolfgang Petersen’s excellent Das Boot several times (wished to be a U-Boat captain) and I even wrote a short novel on submarines for my NaNoWriMo project. It is great that we have not one but two of them – KD Tun Razak in our waters and we were indeed proud of it.

Malaysia possesses two Scorpène-class, also known as the Perdana Menteri-class, submarines. This class of boats emphasize underwater maneuverability and stealth, with design features including a teardrop or “Albacore” hull form (with fin-mounted hydroplanes and cross-configuration tailplane), and very low acoustic, magnetic, electromagnetic and infrared signatures.

These vessels are 66.45 meters long with a 6.1-meter-wide beam and can travel up to 20 knots when submerged. They can remain submerged for about 50 days without surfacing. Their weapons systems are capable of launching anti-ship SM 39 Exocet missiles with a range of 50 km from their 533 mm torpedo tubes.

The Malaysian Scorpène-class vessels have been modified to enhance their ability to operate in the warmer and more saline waters of Southeast Asia through a process called “tropicalisation.”

While these boats are similar to others of their class, they do not have the air-independent propulsion (AIP) systems found on more advanced models. They are each fitted with the SUBTICS integrated combat management system and a sonar suite.


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However, the news coming out from our naval base has not been good – from Malaysia Today (quoting the Malay Mail):-

KD Tunku Abdul Rahman remains at the Teluk Sepanggar naval base in Sabah as problems have again resulted in the submarine being docked.

The Malay Mail was informed by defence industry sources that the unspecified problems were detected after the submarine completed its tropical water trials last month. A routine maintenance check later revealed the problems.

Since then, the submarine has remained at the naval base unfixed.

At first, we became the laughing stock when the Malaysian submarine could not do its basic function – it could not dive and it was so for 3 months before that problem got fixed (permanently?).

Now there seem to be more problems and we are only talking about the first submarine. We have yet to know what problems that the second submarine will face when it goes for sea trials. Ya sure we have warranties for now but what happens in the future when the warranties expire and we need to fork more for repairs (more for the commission to the buggers who “facilitated” the repair contracts?)

Some say that the problems that we are facing with the submarine are due to the manner the submarine was purchased in the first place, namely the huge amount of commission (in the guise of support and coordination services) that was paid out from the taxpayer’s money – problems will start to crop up, the guy who took the money is nowhere to be seen and the navy & the nation end up the losing party.

The Government may insist that they have not paid any commission but then again look at what Perimekar is contracted to do – prepare accommodation, pay personal allowances, prepare personal insurance, pay for holiday flights for the team and prepare scheduled reports. And we were being made to pay through our noses for this?

The same question that Lim Kit Siang asked in his blog – why can’t the Ministry does the same things for almost “nil contract cost”? Why outsource to a 3rd party who makes RM530 million in the process?

Having a submarine is not a waste of taxpayers’ money but having a submarine that does not work certainly is. It is fast becoming a headache for the navy.

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