Wednesday, May 25, 2011
While browsing through a local defence forum, I came across an article pasted by a member of the community. The article which was originally written for Asia Sentinel, is concerned with the purchase of submarines by SEA navies. In short:
1. There cost-benefit value of SSK (diesel-powered attack submarines) is questionable. Also many subs were lost in peacetime accidents and that only two ships (Argentine cruiser General Belgrano and Indian frigate Kukhri) were ever sunk by submarines post-WW2.
2. SEA countries are on SSK-shopping spree whilst other navies are reducing them, citing Germany and Denmark.
3. SSKs have the advantage of stealth, flexibility and deterrence. An SSK with torpedoes, missiles and mines and air-independant propulsion system is a formidable weapon system which most navies have to respect.
4. Their weakness is high acquisition and running costs. They also demand high technical skills to operate (implying that SEA manpower is not smart enough) and especially vulnerable in shallow waters (like those surrounding SEA)
5. Modern ASW weapons force subs to deeper waters and reducing their effectiveness in conventional ops.
6. These subs would then be used in a more unconventional missions such as intelligence-gathering and specops - missions that could lead to increased tension between neighbours. Plus the local manpower is not smart enough to conduct such missions (again)
7. Reasons for SEA countries to acquire SSKs:
- Part of their 'Total Defence' concept
- Helping the local defence industry to build newer design SSKs for RSN use or for export
- show of strength to PRC and to tighten bonds with Russia
- internal politics - to placate the military and the nationalists
- none given by the writer
- matching the RSN
- purchase is questionable because of the shallow waters around the Spratlys and the Sulu Sea
- purchased in order to facilitate the payment of huge bribes to the close associate of the current PM (then the Defence Minister)
Now while I agree that operating subs in shallow waters presents its unique challenges, most of the articles sounds bull to me. Twice in the article, impliedly or otherwise the writer implies that we are too dumb to operate submarines.
And then his reasoning for the purchases - Singapore needs SSKs to fulfil its defence and industrial needs; Vietnam in order to face the might of the PLAN plus the political dimension. Us? We bought them in order to bribe a guy....My friend Mumuchi points out that the RMN wanted SSKs in the inventory since the 1980s, when even the Defence Minister was a different person! Bloody ridiculous! Furthermore the writer expressed his puzzlement on why RMN wish to operate subs in 'the shallow waters of the Spratlys' whilst neglecting to mention that the Vietnamese's potential flashpoint with the PLAN (or for that matter, anybody else who makes the claim upon The Spratlys) would be around the shallow waters there!
Also while he is bemused by the fact that the SEA countries are operating SSKs 'in shallow waters', the US Navy's latest submarines, the Virginia-class is designed to operate in littoral waters and so is the UK's Astute-class. Plus from what I read in the past, be it the US Naval Instiute's Proceedings or Tom Clancy's Red Storm Rising, the US Navy views the SSKs as serious threats - mainly because SSKs on batteries could be quieter than even the SSNs!