The customers like them faster, smaller, and with long-range firepower.
These are the criteria for the latest ships being acquired by Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Singapore.
Aside from the People’s Republic of China, whose PLAN will possess completely new warships from 2020 and beyond, no Southeast Asian country maintains a large enough naval and amphibious fleet to attack their neighbors. The current trend of buying new littoral vessels is an investment in modern equipment, not an investment for a coming war.
Although there are a variety of naval assets found in Southeast Asia, most are suited for patrolling. The miniscule offshore boats of Brunei and Cambodia’s navies illustrate this preference.
A perfect example of the same mindset, albeit on a larger scale, is the Tentara Nasional Indonesia or the Indonesian Navy. The archipelagic giant with a thriving economy has made it plain that it wants Southeast Asia’s strongest military. After acquiring four Sigma-class corvettes from 2005-2009, Indonesia set its sights on high tech warships, submarines, and locally built vessels when it can afford them. This includes two Sigma-class frigates, three South Korean designed submarines, and an estimated two dozen missile patrol boats.
The impressive Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) isn’t lagging behind. Well-funded and equipped, the next largest investment for the RSN are eight Littoral Mission Vessels to complement its Formidable-class frigates.
The Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) is receiving new warships too. It signed a $2.8 billion contract for six Gowind-class frigates to be built in a local shipyard by French defense contractor DCNS.
Having been neglected for decades, the Philippine Navy (PN) is also seeking new frigates and is busy finding a manufacturer for at least two hulls.
Meanwhile, the Vietnamese Navy is refurbishing its obsolescent fleet with six Kilo-class submarines and modern surface combatants from the Netherlands and Russia. Like Indonesia, Vietnam’s planners have placed orders for a pair of Sigma-class frigates alongside two additional Russian Gepards.
As for the region’s largest navy, an honor reserved for Thailand, the Royal Thai Navy (RTN) in its present state is boosting its fleet with an upcoming South Korean KDX-class destroyer. Myanmar is aiming high as well and is literally building its own fleet from scratch while it can still acquire dual-use technology from abroad.
A critical aspect of Southeast Asia’s naval spree is the countries involved are choosing to build what they buy rather than wait for decommissioned vessels from Europe or the US. Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia have embraced this approach, while Singapore has long proven its own shipbuilding facilities are adequate for its needs. A coming generation of indigenous warships is not unlikely.