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Royal Malaysian Navy

Malaysia's primary geopolitical and strategic interests lie at sea. Physically, Malaysia is surrounded by two globally significant water bodies - the Strait of Malacca and the South China Sea, which in turn borders other strategic seas such as the Indian Ocean, the Andaman Sea, the Sulu Sea and the Sulawesi Sea. Malaysia also derives part of its economic wealth from the sea from its exploitation of petroleum and fisheries resources. The significance of the sea to Malaysia is also manifested in the unresolved conflicts it has with its neighbors over maritime boundaries and marine resources.

The Royal Malaysian Navy has its genesis in the Straits States Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve established a mere one year after the formation of the Royal Malay Regiment in 1933. The Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) came into being as a volunteer force to augment British naval forces during World War II. Most of its personnel served aboard ships of the British Royal Navy in India, Ceylon, and East Africa. This volunteer force was demobilized after the war but was reactivated in 1948 as an indigenous force under British command and control. It served in the area as a colonial defense unit until independence in 1957, at which time it was transferred to the new government. The naval force continued to be based at Woodlands, Singapore, however. This small band of sailors proved their mettle during the 'Konfrantasi' with Indonesia in the 1960s.

In 1970 the government began building a base for its navy at Lumut, on the coast of Perak facing the Strait of Malacca; it was scheduled for completion in 1984, when it was to become the Fleet Operations Command Center and the main fleet base. As of early 1984, the RMN headquarters was located in Kuala Lumpur. The navy continued to use the base at Woodlands, to which Singapore had guaranteed it long-term access.

Other bases included a modern facility at Kuantan on the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia, which was completed in 1981, and a facility at Labuan Island, Sabah, that was undergoing improvement in the early 1980s. Operational command of naval forces was shared by naval commanders at Woodlands and Labuan Island, who had authority to operate ships out of Peninsular Malaysia and out of Sabah and Sarawak, respectively.

The navy was undergoing expansion in the early 1980s to meet new responsibilities associated with the increase of areas under its control and changes in the regional security setting. In light of this, it was seeking to acquire a force capable of performing both a blue-water role as well as inshore and coastal patrol tasks. Naval operations focused mainly on the Strait of Malacca and the South China Sea. The former is a heavily traveled international water-way, where for many centuries pirates have preyed on unarmed commercial vessels.

In addition to ensuring safe transit through the strait, the navy also devoted its resources to maintaining constant surveillance on Soviet warships using the channel, which averaged three per month in the 1981-82 period. United States naval vessels, which used the strait over twice as frequently during the same period, were not so closely watched. Operations in the South China Sea appeared to center on protecting seabed re- sources believed to underlie Malaysia's EEZ and, over the longer term, on providing defense against possible threats to national security from the Indochina region. During the late 1970s and early 1980s the navy also devoted some attention to patrolling the seas separating Sabah and the Philippines, where piracy and smuggling had long been problems.

The navy was the smallest of the three services in the early 1980s, having a personnel strength of approximately 8,700. The RMN was attempting to build a balanced fleet: its inventory included two frigates (one of which carried surface-to- air missiles) and eight missile fast attack craft, in addition to conventionally armed fast attack craft, large patrol vessels, mine-sweepers, landing vessels, and other support craft. On order were two missile frigates and four minehunters. The fleet had no submarines in early 1984, but Malaysia has expressed interest in seeking foreign assistance to provide submarine training for some of its personnel.

After undergoing basic training at Port Dickson, naval officer cadets entered a three-year course at the Singapore base. That program included a year of sea training. Personnel of other ranks attended special schools at various facilities. Most training of officer cadets and other ranks was scheduled to be moved to the Lumut base during the mid-1980s. The navy had a small volunteer reserve force, the Royal Malaysian Naval Volunteer Reserve.

Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines have been successful in establishing trinational agreements among each other to enhance security cooperation in the Celebes Sea, however these have lacked sufficient scope and depth to address the current terrorist and piracy threats in the Celebes Sea region. This lack of security cooperation is mainly due to these nations’ historical mistrust of each other’s national interests, domestic political challenges and limited force projection and interagency capabilities.

Several encounters between Malaysian and Indonesian naval vessels on May 25 and May 30, 2009, respectively, in the disputed Ambalat waters off of eastern Borneo triggered a heated public reaction from the Indonesian side, according to various Indonesian media and Indonesian government accounts. The Malaysian government and media did not independently confirm or provide details of the naval encounters.

Malaysia officially considers the disputed waters as part of its territory. Maps of the area from the Petronas national oil/gas company clearly mark the disputed territory as Malaysian, although there is no indication from the Malaysian side of any active oil and gas exploration or development in the area. A 2002 International Court of Justice decision gave Malaysia sovereignty over two disputed islands in the vicinity, namely Sipadan and Ligitan.

Malaysian observers attribute success in the anti-piracy efforts in the Straits solely to modest levels of joint cooperation among littoral states, particularly the cooperative patrols of Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore. This overlooks the effects of the 2004 tsunami and 2005 peace accord in Aceh that corresponded with dramatic decreases in piracy - the root causes of piracy are on land and not at sea. The focus on the primary responsibility of littoral states for anti-piracy and maritime security reflects Malaysia's long-standing policy in the Strait of Malacca and its wariness of involvement by outside powers.

By 2016 the Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) was restructuring its fleet to be divided into two; one for West Malaysia and another for East Malaysia operations. RMN chief Admiral Tan Sri Ahmad Kamarulzaman Ahmad Badaruddin said this would strengthen the maritime operations of the navy's Region 2 based in Kota Kinabalu naval base in Sepanggar. More ships are expected to come in as well as the formation of Region 4 at Bintulu in the pipeline, he told reporters after the decommissioning of the towing vessel KTD Kepah.

The Royal Malaysian Navy’s (RMN) Eastern Fleet will continue with its expansion plan albeit depending on the country’s financial situation. Its outgoing commander, Vice Admiral Datuk Syed Zahiruddin Putra Syed Osman said in June 2018 that the expansion plan includes the relocation of the Naval Region 2 from its current site in Sandakan to one in nearby Karamunting to cope with its size. He said that the project is currently awaiting approval from the local government.

The RMN is also planning to build a jetty at its Tawau Base, the KD Sri Tawau to facilitate docking of multiple vessels. The Eastern Fleet is also planning to build some 1,700 homes for its personnel in line with its fleet expansion programme at the Sepanggar Naval Base. In the long run, Syed Zahiruddin revealed that the Eastern Fleet whose jurisdiction includes Sabah, Sarawak and Labuan, will also be establishing the Naval Region 4 in Bintulu, Sarawak.

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Page last modified: 13-08-2019 17:38:38 ZULU