By Ahmad Farhan Adam
AFTER several years of languishing in construction purgatory, the Maharaja Lela-class frigates or Littoral combat ships (LCS) finally received the greenlight for their continuation by the Malaysian Cabinet in April 2022. In the subsequent month, Minister of Defence Dato’ Seri Hishammuddin Hussein announced that MINDEF had signed a fifth supplementary contract with Boustead Naval Shipyard (BNS) to allow the resumption of the project.
An endorsement from the Cabinet as well as supplementary funds from MINDEF should mean smooth sailing for the LCS project from now on, right?
Alas, nearly two months have passed since then without any meaningful news from the government on the status of the LCS. What progress has been made on project? When will the first of the ships FINALLY be commissioned? How much more will it cost the government to build all six planned ships?
What is going on? These are pertinent questions that need to be addressed to dispel any lingering concerns about the LCS project and its legitimacy. Considering that the project has been fraught with transparency and corruption legacies, it is even more imperative that the government disclose the rationale behind the Cabinet’s decision to renew the LCS. Furthermore, we deserve an explanation as to why Boustead Naval Shipyard (BNS) was chosen to continue with the contract when they have not delivered a single vessel. Is the government taking any risk mitigation matters to ensure that the ships will be delivered?
There must be a formal announcement and explanation given regarding the LCS decision. It is great that MACC has made progress in their investigations and getting to the root cause of the rot. However, in this climate of low public confidence in the government, some clarity on these areas is most needed to assure us, the people, that the government is doing the right thing.
This is not to say that I disagree with it being continued. Indeed, one would strongly argue that the importance of the LCS project cannot be overstated.
Malaysia has several coasts. Indeed, virtually all our territory can be accessed by oceans—we are truly a maritime nation. But from this perspective as well, Malaysia is in an extremely precarious position.
With China’s increasing aggressiveness in the South China Sea, it is more crucial than ever that we close the capability gap. At the same time, the challenges posed by non-conventional threats such as smugglers, pirates and criminals operating on or through the high seas has not abated.
In the face of this, but through no fault of their own, the Royal Malaysian Navy’s current fleet is ageing and in desperate need of an upgrade. How is our Navy supposed to compete let alone defend our sovereignty against a global superpower and other threats with old ships?
The answer is that they can’t.
Furthermore, delaying the construction of the LCS ships will only lead to more expenses for the government. Most of RMN’s ships are close to reaching the thirty-year mark and the cost of operating and maintaining these are becoming increasingly more expensive due the diminishing returns. It is in the government’s interest to modernise the navy’s fleet because in the long-term, it will lead to cost savings for Malaysia.
The invasion of Ukraine ought to be a telling lesson for Malaysia. It is that no country—even in a relatively peaceful region like ours and despite our non-aligned status— ought to ever take its security and territorial integrity for granted.
Dragging our feet on necessary reforms like modernising our military forces will one day come back and haunt us. We must not jeopardise our country, or the safety of our children and grandchildren, due to laxity or timidity or whatever reason it is taking so long for the job to get done in relation to the LCS and other defence projects.
Since the announcements in April and May, the government has largely kept mum regarding the LCS project. One must acknowledge that there may be valid reasons for this, including national security.
However, indefinitely withholding even general information will only lead to more innuendos, accusations of corruption and lack of transparency. Ironically, it will also mean that any good work or progress that has been done on the project, which the public might not be aware of, will be negated.
The government needs to clear the air surrounding the LCS project and its continuation once and for all. At the very least, the rakyat deserve an update and better still, a definitive date on when they can expect the LCS’ they have paid and are paying for.
There is no time to lose. To deprive the Navy of an upgraded fleet is to completely disregard the safety and security of all Malaysians.
Kampung Melayu Subang
(This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of BebasNews)