With a coastline of 4,700 km, an Exclusive Economic Zone covering an area of 598,540 square km, and geographically straddling some of the most important sea lines of communication in the world, Malaysia is without doubt a maritime nation with an important role to play. The prime agency designated with the responsibility to safeguard those interests is the Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN), hence its core mission is to be prepared and able at all times to deploy naval forces to protect Malaysia’s maritime sovereignty and interests.
The RMN had long aimed to develop a flexible yet balanced force structure in order to accomplish its stated mission. The induction of two Scorpene-type submarines from a consortium comprising DCNS of France and Navantia of Spain in 2009, called the Perdana Menteri-class in Malaysia, and the subsequent creation of the Royal Malaysian Navy Submarine Force (RMN SF) complement this long-standing ambition. As it is, the RMN SF’s primary function is to provide credible conventional deterrence in support of the RMN and the Malaysian Armed Forces roles. Its tasks range from ensuring that the submarines are able to effectively accomplish all assigned missions as well as maximizing availability for operational tasking and training.
The Submarine Force Beginnings
The RMN had indeed recognized the need for a submarine force as part of its fleet since the early 1980s. Several officers had been sent abroad to gain basic knowledge about submarines. This program continued and increased in its intensity in the 1990s with approximately 43 officers and men sent to friendly countries to further enhance RMN understanding in the field of submarine operations, maintenance, and management. There had been several initiatives to acquire submarines, particularly in the 1990s; unfortunately they did not come to fruition primarily due to financial constraints faced by the Malaysian government. The RMN got its break in the new millennium when the government signed a contract to acquire its first two submarines.
A comprehensive submarine training contract was signed a year later and took effect in March 2003. Over 150 RMN Submariners were subsequently trained under this contract. Meanwhile, construction for a new naval base at Sepangar Bay to accommodate the submarines began in February 2007 and was completed in August 2009. The inception of the RMN SF was finally completed with the commissioning of the two Perdana Menteri-class submarines in January and November 2009.
KD Tunku Abdul Rahman and HMAS Dechaineux underway
during joint exercise.
Perdana Menteri-class Submarines
Malaysia’s Perdana Menteri-class submarines possess very good underwater maneuverability and stealth, with advanced design features incorporating a teardrop or “Albacore” hull form, sail-mounted hydroplanes, cross-configuration tail planes, and very low acoustic, electromagnetic, and infrared signatures.
Other than “tropicalization” of the boats, involving installation of additional systems to enhance the submarines’ ability to operate in the warmer and more saline waters of the southwestern Pacific, the Malaysian submarines include many of the same features of the earlier submarines of this type. They are fitted with SUBTICS integrated command combat system and UDS International-supplied weapons control and sonar systems.
Another feature that makes these submarines potent weapons platforms is their ability to launch SM 39 Exocet anti-ship missiles from the 533mm torpedo tubes while submerged. The RMN SF conducted a successful live firing of the SM 39 Exocet in 2010.
The RMN SF conducted its first ever live-fire test of its wire-guided torpedo using the Blackshark heavyweight torpedo, the submarines’ primary weapon, in 2014. The live firing marked an important milestone in RMN SF development as the two submarines were considered to have attained their full operational capability.
A submarine is only as good as its crew. The primary focus of the first five years during the establishment of the RMN SF was developing basic submarining skills, especially in submarine navigation and diving safety. The RMN SF realized that this was a crucial stage in the force’s development to inculcate a correct submarining culture, not only within the force but also within the navy. This phase was vital in order to ensure that the RMN SF would be able to further develop its competencies in a safe, efficient, and effective manner. These overarching goals and requirements became the guiding principles on which the whole training process was designed.
Royal Malaysian Submariners at the Submarine Training Centre
working with the SIMDIVE.
Today, the RMN Submarine Training Centre (STC) is a fully operational training centre capable of training and producing Submariners at all levels of competency to meet RMN SF requirements. The centre has expanded its curricula to include subjects related to submarine operations and warfare.
The STC is responsible for the training and qualifying of RMN Submariners at various levels of competency, ensuring that the training is conducted in line with RMN SF standards and requirements, verifying Submariners’ competency and currency, and managing and maintaining all training equipment, systems, and tools assigned to them. Apart from a steady growth in suitably qualified and experienced instructors, the STC facility has grown over the years as well. Currently it is equipped with several state-of-the-art simulators, namely:
- Diving Control and Platform Simulator (SIMDIVE)
- Submarine Navigation Safety, Combat System, Sensors and Periscope Simulator (SIMTAC)
- Submarine Escape Trainer (SET)
The training centre is complemented with fully equipped training laboratories including mechanical, electrical, electronic, hydraulic, and pneumatic facilities. These laboratories are equivalent to those available in any modern engineering training centre in the world. The STC also assists the squadron in training their crews on the simulators to keep them current or prepare them for specific missions while ashore. With the availability of these simulators, the STC has completed its training inventory, which is on par with some of the world’s most modern submarine-operating navies.
Currently the STC conducts over 20 different courses for RMN Submariners and Submariner candidates each year. As this is being written, the STC has trained approximately 200 officers and men in various specializations and levels of qualification ranging from the Basic Submarine Qualification Course (also known as Level 1 course) to the Submarine Commanding Officer Course (Level 5).
Submarine escape training exercise
The importance of submarine rescue cannot be over emphasized. The RMN signed an eight-year contract in 2012 with a domestic company, Target Resources Sendirian Berhad (TRSB), to provide Submarine Escape and Rescue – Intervention (SMER-I) capability. The induction of this capability not only provides the RMN with the ability to deal with distressed submarine incidents at sea, but also marks a significant contribution by the RMN SF to the international rescue community.
The RMN SF recognizes the need to collaborate with other submarine forces. To this end, the RMN SF established multiple bilateral and multilateral arrangements with submarine-operating nations including the United States. These arrangements are important as they provide an avenue for the RMN SF and its partners to engage and build mutual trust through various activities such as joint exercises.
The RMN SF’s hosting of the 14th Asia Pacific Submarine Conference (APSC) in 2014 is a sterling example of such collaboration. The APSC brings Submariners from every navy in the region together to share technologies, procedures, and lessons learned with the aim of advancing our collective capability in the critical mission of submarine escape and rescue.
The creation of the RMN SF is a significant milestone and a step closer toward having a balanced and credible force for the RMN and Malaysian Armed Forces. Within a relatively short time the RMN SF has been able to establish itself among the safer and more capable submarine forces in the Asia Pacific region.
As one of the youngest members of the “submarine club,” however, the RMN SF is not under any illusions as to what its capabilities and limitations are. Therefore, the RMN SF intends to continue to foster close ties with other more experienced submarine-operating nations. Despite the many challenges, the RMN SF aspires to meet the high standard set by the RMN while staying true to its motto: “Safety, Stealth, Success.”