I was in Langkawi for LIMA 2011 this week. I was given the trust by the Minister of Defense and Chief of Navy, to be given the honour of the first new media practitioner and blogger to go inside the Perdana Class submarine, KD Tun Razak.
I boarded the 1,800 tonnes Perdana class submarine at Awana Porto Malai jetty on the morning of Wednesday, 9 December and was escorted on board by the executive officer of the vessel. I was taken around the ship end-to-end and was shown the workings on how the two Pielstick diesel engines were used to charge the 180 batteries, front and back, which in turn power the electric motors on the back to propel the submarine. I also had the preview of the Blackshark torpedo they carry on board and the brief of the working of the combat system.
It was state of the art conventional submarine and it is fully automated. I must say it is very impressive.
KD Tun Razak’s hull was laid in DCNS yard in Cherbourg, Northern France but was finished at Navantia yard in Cartagena, Spain. The complement of the boat is 32, where there are 12 officers and the rest are enlisted men. These are creme’-de-la-creme’ of Royal Malaysian Navy’s best, where 169 were selected and initially trained in French Navy’s NAVCO, Brest since late 2004.
KD Tun Razak is the sister ship to KD Tunku Abdul Rahman. She arrived on our shores in July 2010, with her first maiden docking in Malaysian waters carried HRH Sultan of Selangor Tuanku Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah Ibni Almarhum Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah (who is also the Captain-in-Chief for the RMN), Deputy Defense Minister Dato’ Dr Abdul Latif Ahmad and Chief of Naval Forces Admiral Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Hj Jaafar. Awaiting at TLDM Lumut jetty is HRH Sultan of Perak Tuanku Sultan Azlan Shah.
KD Tun Razak calls TLDM Kota Kinabalu at Sepanggar Bay, Sabah as her home and that is also where the Submarine Forces Command is at. The current Panglima Markas Angkatan Kapal Selam was the project team leader when the submarines were constructed in Cherbourg.
Amongst other things that I witnessed in the boat is how the officers and men live and do their daily work and live their lives, as submariners. Spaces are very scarce and confined with great constraint. The officers and enlisted are separated in two different cabins. However, they share bunks because space is so limited and they don’t even have the luxury to be issued a bunk each, even though the bunk space is no larger that the size of a coffin and its stacked up to four levels.
They have a very small space to eat and dine and where they do recreation. The mess table is the size of typical senior manager’s desk where up to 18 men eat at any meal time. As the space is limited, they have to serve every meals in two separate batches, to accommodate everyone for a chow. The full galley to prepare the meals and wash up then onwards for up to 45 persons, is only the size of the forward galley in a typical B737-400.
These brave men have only the space of two shoe boxes to store personal belongings. Hence, they don’t have much luxury to bring a lot of personal items on board, which include clothes. None of them have the luxury to do any washing of clothes on board. There are two small latrines, which dedicated as ‘big’ and ‘small’ respectively for its usage. There are also two shower cabinets. Fresh water is desalinated from sea water. However, out of practice (especially to conserve energy even in peace time), the submariners don’t take showers during their rides at sea. The only individuals who have that luxury are the persons who are serving food; the cook and stewards.
All foods are stored in the freezer, below the galley. This enable the submarine to operate up to 7 weeks, before they need to stock up for fresh supplies.
This is sacrifice the submariners made, who volunteered for this job. They do this job with pride and dedication, and they sacrifice their lives and comfort for the nation. Imagine part of their training is to be in France for a good five and a half years, away from family and friends.
Life is the submarine isn’t really easy. They work all time. At any one moment, at least eight men would be on watch. All systems must be in full working order and their sensitivity and awareness of their surroundings is a critical factor whenever they are at sea. It is much more complex than flying. Whenever they are on the surface, they have to abide international maritime laws. The fact that these submarines are able to dive to depths below 1,000 feet and even brought His Majesty Seri Paduka Baginda Yang DiPertuan Agong Tuanku Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin Ibni Almarhum Sultan Mahmood for such feat (on 10 March 2011), means that the crew must be very focused in their job to maintain safety and operationalbility.
It took eight days for the officers and men of KD Tun Razak to sail from their home at Sepanggar Bay to Langkawi of a distance of almost 1,300 nautical miles, where they did diving drills in some parts of the journey. Imagine, both ports are within Malaysia. That would be just part of the navy’s theatre of operation.
As a maritime nation, the vastness of body of water around and between Semenanjung and Sabah and Sarawak warrants for the nation to have a formidable navy. The responsibility to protecting our sovereign right in the waters and one of the most busiest commercial waterways in the world, is multiplied. That is on top of the exclusive economic zone where 20% of the economy is dependent on it.
It is very expensive for the Government to maintain a large navy, for the workload requirement to protect all these areas. The decision to acquire the two submarines in June 2002 was strategic in nature, even though it was said to be costing RM 3.4 billion at that time. Any invading naval force would do their evaluation on the strength and capability of their enemy before they launch the strike and engage their adversaries in the sea. The two submarines provide our navy with a ‘multiplier factor’ equivalent of 10 surface ships, for any adversaries considering into direct sea battle engagement.
Each of the submarines could be armed either 18 Italian-French made Whitehead Allenia Blackshark torpedoes or 18 MBDA SM 39 Exocet missiles or any 18 combination of both. On 26 July 2010, KD Tunku Abdul Rahman did a successful live firing of the Exocet missile from the depth of 180 feet.
The acquisition and operation of the two submarines placed the RMN at another level, as compared to other navies around the region.
It is unfair for Opposition MPs such as Nurul Izzah Anwar to demean the submarine force and lied about its inability to operate. Moreover, to foreign press when she is abroad. Her intention is very clear; she wanted to politicize the acquisition of the submarines as wasteful spending by the Federal Government.
To prove the Opposition leaders and pro-Opposition skeptics wrong, Defense Minister Dato’ Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamid this afternoon would fly in Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, Deputy Chief Ministers Prof Ramasamy and the Dato’ Mansor Othman along with Fleet Operations Commander Vice Adm. Dato’ Jamil Osman on board KD Lekiu and transfer them to KD Tun Razak, for one and half hour dive around the waters 60 nautical miles west off Langkawi. This is for the benefit these Opposition MPs/ADUNs to see for themselves and dispel the lies about “The submarines are not able to dive”.
The steadfastness and sacrifice of the submarine force and Royal Malaysian Navy should not be questioned.