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Littoral Mission Ship (LMS)

Malaysia's navy aims to replace all 50 vessels in its aging fleet as the country cut its total defense budget by 12.7 percent to 15.1 billion ($3.41 billion) in 2017. That will be led by the procurement of four Littoral Mission Ships (LMS) built in collaboration with China. The RMN would increase the combat capability of its combatant ships to 10 from four previously. The navy hopes this will enable them to obtain a total of 18 LMS.

The Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) expects to buy 18 Littoral Mission Ships (LMS) in its effort to strengthen the country’s maritime security, Laksamana Datuk Seri Ahmad Kamarulzaman Ahmad Badaruddin said 26 April 2016. He added that the LMS would replace the older patrol ships. “It is cheaper to buy new ships than to maintain the old ones that are already 30 to 40 years old. Although the LMS is smaller, it is capable of doing a lot of missions.... The LMS will not only carry out surveillance work, but also provide humanitarian aid and disaster relief”.

China Shipbuilding & Offshore International Co (CSOC) displayed a model of the LMS for the first time at the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace (LIMA) exhibition in Malaysia that runs from 21 to 25 March 2017. They are rather smaller than the 3,100 ton French L’Adroit / Gowind OPV, under consideration under the Second Generation Patrol Vessel (SGPV).

Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, who was also present, said the details on price of the vessels have not yet been finalised. “What the Navy has done is transferred allocation from the SLEP (Ship Life Extension Programme) which has not resulted in cost benefit to the Navy, and that saving has been used to buy new ships built by the Chinese. So, it’s in the form of creative solution and they will get more value from that allocation...”

China and Malaysia agreed to jointly develop and build a littoral mission vessel for the latter's naval forces, signifying deeper defense cooperation between the two Asian nations. The deal, witnessed by Premier Li Keqiang and his Malaysian counterpart, Najib Razak, was signed on 02 November 2016 in Beijing. The naval deal was just one of 28 agreements signed by the two countries, covering areas like infrastructure and finance.

According to Najib, the first two of the Littoral Mission Ships Malaysia purchases from China would be built in China, with two then built integrated and tested at the Boustead Naval Shipyard (BNS) in Malaysia. Further Malaysian-built ships would be subject to government financing. Tthe vessels are to be built within 24 months. "This deal will enhance the Malaysian shipbuilding and defense industry," he said in a written article. The purchase of patrol boats would benefit Malaysia since China offered a price lower than that of an American navy vessel, and it would further strengthen ties with China.

The ships are considered fast patrol vessels primarily used for coastal security, which can be equipped with a helicopter flight deck and missiles. The LMS will have an overall length of 68.8 m and displace about 680 tonnes at full load. The vessel will have a top speed of 22 kt, and a standard range of about 2,000 n miles at 15 kt. The LMS can be armed with either a 20 mm or 30 mm naval gun in a remote-controlled weapon station (RWCS) turret as a primary weapon. The LCS have the capability to be fully operational for offshore and deep sea patrol for a period of 21 days without having to resupply.

Vice-Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin said the agreement would be conducive to the peace and stability of the South China Sea. "Both China and Malaysia are countries surrounding the South China Sea, and the strengthening of their naval cooperation will enhance mutual trust," he told reporters. It would mark Malaysia's first significant defense deal with China.

Jia Duqiang, associate researcher at the Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Malaysian purchases of LMVs from China will send a clear signal across the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. "After all, arms trade is always a sensitive issue, and it requires a strong, mutual political trust to execute," he said.

Military relations between Beijing and Kuala Lumpur had grown recently, with the first joint military exercises held last year in the Strait of Malacca. Another major bilateral deal was that China would provide loans to Malaysia for construction of the planned East Coast Rail Line. Malaysia's transport minister said the loan amount is 55 billion yuan ($8.1 billion), the biggest single deal Malaysia is to sign with China. Chinese companies also are investing more in Malaysia, said Jia. Telecommunication giant Huawei recently established a new research center in Malaysia.

On 20 March 2017 Boustead Naval Shipyard Sdn Bhd was awarded a MYR 1.17 billion contract from Malaysia's Ministry of Defence for the supply of four Littoral Mission Ships. The contract, a collaboration between the governments of Malaysia and China, was awarded to the company under direct negotiation, for collaboration with a partner shipyard in China. It was to be implemented over four years effective from the date of signing of the letter of acceptance by the company. The company informed the Littoral Mission Ships would be designed by the partner shipyard and the first two vessels be built and delivered in China in 2019 and 2020. The remaining two would be delivered in Malaysia in 2021.

Construction of a littoral mission ship (LMS), the first of its kind that China will build for Malaysia, began at the Shuangliu base of Wuchang Shipbuilding Industry Group Co., Ltd. (“Wuchang Shipbuilding”) under China Shipbuilding Industry Co. (CSIC) in Wuhan, capital of central China’s Hubei Province, on 31 July 2018. He Jiwu, vice president of CSIC, said at the launching ceremony for construction that the Littoral Mission Ship Project is the first cooperation between China and Malaysia in the field of large military equipment and is a landmark project of great significance.

Contract of the Malaysian Littoral Mission Ship Project was signed on April 21, 2017. It is an important milestone for Chinese military trade enterprises to export large military equipment to Malaysia for the first time. According to the project contract, China Shipbuilding & Offshore International Co., Ltd. (CSOC) will design and build four littoral mission ships for the Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) to perform various tasks such as patrol, anti-terrorism, search and rescue, and fishery protection missions.

Adm. Ahmad Badaruddin Kamarulzaman, the Royal Malaysian Navy chief, told reporters in April 2017 that the Muslim-majority nation would eventually have a total of 18 LMS in its fleet. Malaysia was in need of versatile and faster combat boats such as the LMS, as the country and its neighbors grappled with piracy and a flow of foreign militants across the Sulu Sea to the southern Philippines.

This type of littoral mission ship was designed by the 701 Research Institute of CSIC. Wuchang Shipbuilding will be responsible for the construction of the first and second ships; and the third and fourth ships will be jointly built by Wuchang Shipbuilding and Malaysia’s local shipbuilding company Boustead Naval Shipyard Sdn Bhd (BNSSB). Also, the RMN Chief Admiral Ahmad Kamarulzaman Badaruddin said that Malaysia is very appreciative of the strong strength of CSIC in the field of naval equipment and believes that the Littoral Mission Ship Project will be a complete success.

Jane's reporte in March 2019 that the contract to build Littoral Mission Ships (LMS) for the Malaysian Navy was revised. The Malaysian shipbuilder Boustead Naval Shipyard will no longer build two of the vessels within the country. However, all four vessels that were ordered under the contract will be built in China. The contract price dropped to around 1 billion ringgit (U.S. $256 million) after Malaysia agreed that all four ships would be built and delivered in China. The initial plan stipulated that the last two units would be built in Malaysia by the state-affiliated Boustead Naval Shipyard, but the deal was updated in March 2019.

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