By A. Hashim
I have been following the debate of reviving the stalled Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) project with great interest.
In May 2021, the then Defence Minister, Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob was reported as saying that the Government had given the greenlight for Boustead Group to continue the project subject to meeting certain conditions.
The LCS programme which was initiated in 2011 was intended to equip the Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) with a class of six frigates by 2023.
Having been indirectly involved at the beginning of the project, the LCS project had cutting edge design and specifications that would meet the challenges of modern warfare and defence of Malaysia’s long coastlines.
Unfortunately, multiple design revisions due to demands from various parties had led to delays and ballooning costs which resulted in the eventual halting of the project in 2019 by the then Pakatan Harapan Government.
Now that Ismail Sabri is the Prime Minister, it is likely that this project will be revived and prioritized. The current Defence Minister, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein who himself was instrumental in pushing for the 15 to 5 transformation of RMN’s ageing fleet has also given his assurance that the RMN will receive the first LCS by 2025.
This is indeed a step in the right direction. Not only will the revival of this project save 8,000 jobs including those hired by the over 400 vendors in the supply chain, but the strategic importance of this project far outweighs the economic benefits it brings.
Malaysia can ill-afford delays in completing these ships as it is fundamental to boosting our defence capabilities, especially in defending Malaysia’s long coastlines and porous borders.
For this project to succeed, all the key stakeholders – from project owners to end users and the host of contractors and vendors – must work together and be on the same page.
As of October 2021 the project is only 57 percent complete when the first ship was scheduled to be delivered in 2019. Of course, delays in projects of such a mammoth scale is common, but should have been avoided.
Moving forward, it is important for the Government to make sure that all the deadlines are met transparently, and costs are kept under control. Better project management with direct and transparent reporting to the Government must be institutionalised.
The previous alleged leakages must also be addressed separately but swiftly.
The longer it takes for our defence frontliners to get this asset, the more risks we have to face in the rapidly changing threats to our national security.
Malaysia must have these ships ready as soon as possible to confront the dangers and threats lurking in our waters. But this must be done without compromising on the build quality. The last thing we want is a rushed job of building inferior ships which may be a burden to our defence capabilities later on.
I am confident that the top Malaysian engineering talents who are on this project will make Malaysia proud. These engineers and contractors have a shot at delivering an important asset to uphold the sovereignty of our beloved nation.
The defence industry has great potential to be nurtured into an important growth contributor for the country. We have many plans to boost our defence industry but there must be consistency in executing these plans to realise the vision of creating a competitive defence industry.
I sincerely hope all the stakeholders must focus their effort to enhance our local defence industry. The LCS project is one place to start. We must not abandon the project and point fingers. Get to the bottom of the issues and move forward for the best interest of the nation. Further delays can be costly to our national defence.
Retired Shipping Engineer