Royal Cambodian Navy
The Royal Cambodian Navy is part of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces. The navy employs 2,800 people, including its marines. It is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of National Defense. Cambodia’s capabilities in the maritime environment are very limited, particularly in relation to the need to manage, and if necessary protect, its offshore interests. Depending upon available resources, the acquisition of several small patrol craft and maritime radar would greatly increase the nation’s coastal and maritime protection capabilities. The navy possessed fifteen patrol craft and a further two patrol craft of the "fast attack" variety. There are also about 170 motorized and manual canoes.
According to the 2000 Defense White Paper, protection of the coastal areas and adjacent waters would be enhanced in several steps. First, knowledge of activities along the coastline and the inshore islands will be improved by a greater military presence including manned observation posts. This would then be complemented by the changes in the Royal Cambodian Navy away from its riverine emphasis to inshore patrol operations. This would involve either refurbishment of existing patrol craft or the acquisition of several additional vessels for patrol and transport activities. Offshore patrols would be added after these initial steps have been taken and will be supported by the use of maritime surveillance radar, cooperative intelligence exchanges and operational coordination with Cambodia’s neighbors. Over time, an additional maritime patrol and response layer would be added. This would begin with inshore capabilities for protection of the sea approaches and islands and subsequently be extended to offshore patrols in support of Cambodia’s maritime interests.
According to the 2000 Defense White Paper, the transformation of the Navy would take place in several steps. The first would be a shift in priority from riverine operations to patrolling of the coastline and nearby islands. It would involve the establishment of observation posts at key strategic locations, followed by the possible acquisition of coastal surveillance radar and dedication of several craft to inshore patrolling. The latter may involve refurbishment of existing craft or, subject to resources, the lease or purchasing of several patrol boats of a relatively simple design that can be supported in-country. An improved repair and maintenance capability should follow, including in the longer term, the construction of a ship lift or dry dock facility.
Developing offshore patrol capabilities is more complex. It requires vessels with improved sea keeping and a wide range of sensors and weapon’s systems. It would also be most efficient when the systems are in place to coordinate closely with neighbors. The potential value of the offshore resources to the economy and the opportunities for regional cooperation suggest that these initiatives would be pursued as soon as funding permited.
In 2007, Cambodia reported that it was increasing the strength of its navy from 1,000 to 3,000 sailors, apart from creating a force of 2,000. The RCN has five naval squadrons, 10 naval infantry battalions and five other battalions or specialized units. These are organized as two major commands, maritime and riverine, with overall headquarters at Chruoy Changwar outside Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia. The maritime command is based at Ream (near Sihanouk Province) and the riverine command at Prek Ta Ten (near Phnom Penh).
The focus of the Royal Cambodian Navy (RCN) is on guarding against economic threats to the country. The RCN's immediate focus is on developing capacity, training personnel and serving paramilitary. The most current issues are downgrading capabilities and the replacement of warships with coast-guard vessels.
A basic capability required for the Navy to perform its duty is the ability to conduct regular patrols of territorial waters and islands. This basic capability requires the maintenance and repair to a number of patrol boats and resources that are necessary such as fuel to support operations. The Cambodian Navy needed technologies and skills for operations to counter transnational crime and infiltration of terrorists and these technologies and skills are being acquired gradually with support from international security partners. If possible, using aircraft to keep sea borders under surveillance is an effective approach. Aircraft fitted with surveillance equipment can operate over a vast maritime area in a short period of time and reach targets quickly.
Cambodia’s sea border is an area vulnerable to security threats, including terrorism and transnational crime. A number of incidents that might occur such as maritime border issues, infiltration of illegal fishing, loss of maritime resources, etc have been called into question for the maritime security of the Kingdom of Cambodia. This sea border is also a route for promoting trade with nations around the world. The coast and islands are growing tourist destinations and they are also points of interest for foreign investment. These maritime assets must be protected.
Nevertheless, responsibility should not rest solely with the Navy. Other relevant government agencies must also share responsibility for maritime security and protection. Therefore, it is necessary to create a coordinating mechanism to clearly define how this responsibility should be shared. The Navy is the Royal Government’s lead agency for offshore operations. The Navy has a mandate as the nation’s force with authority to control maritime areas. Therefore, it plays a role in helping other government agencies to achieve their missions there.
The Maritime Exclusive Economic Zone is an important national economic resource. Cambodia has the right and authority to control exploration, conduct business, and to conserve and manage organic and inorganic natural resources of the continental shelf, under the sea and on the sea surface, and other activities leading to exploration and business.
Cambodia and Thailand came to sign an agreement on a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) regarding the Area of their Overlapping Maritime claims to the Continental Shelf. Their intention was recorded to divide the overlapping area into two Areas and to attempt, through further negotiations, to define maritime border for the northern Area I, designated as “the Area to be Delimited, to agree upon a treaty for joint development of the hydrocarbon resources located within the southern Areas II, designated as “the Joint Development Area”. In 2007, Cambodia launched its priority policy to strengthen its naval force to protect its maritime interest. The MOU was annulled in end of 2009 by the Abhisit Administration when Thailand and Cambodia diplomatic relations did not go well.
Joint maritime patrols with neighboring countries are a good way to reduce border issues, various illegal activities, piracy, infiltration of terrorism, transnational crime, etc. According to an agreement signed with Vietnam, the Cambodian Navy will conduct joint patrols with the Vietnamese Navy. Such an activity might be conducted with Thailand in response to an invitation received from Thailand since 1999.
By 2000 the Navy’s patrol craft were in a poor state of repair. A priority under the Defense White Paper 2000 was to introduce 3-4 patrol craft for inshore maritime patrol and transport operations. These were to be of simple civilian design although it may be possible to refurbish a few of the existing patrol craft. Judgements must be made however, about the costs of doing so, the difficulty of supporting a mixed fleet, and the remaining operational life of the existing vessels.
China and Vietnam are the major players, with programs in excess of USD 3 million annually each, and are generally in competition with each other for influence. For the Royal Cambodian Navy, this meant that the Chinese agreement to provide a USD 60 million no interest loan to increase maritime capability over time resulted in Vietnam -- in very short order -- donating two ocean going patrol ships and providing operational funding for quarterly joint maritime patrols/training exercises.
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