KUALA LUMPUR: The country's sole submarine, KD Tunku Abdul Rahman, suffered a technical defect that prevented it from diving for three months. The problem was fixed last week.
The defect forced the RM1 billion plus French-built Scorpene submarine to delay tropical water trials that were scheduled to be completed by the end of January.
As a result, builder DCNS SA extended the warranty for the submarine, which was supposed to expire on Jan 25, until May so the KD Tunku Abdul Rahman could complete its trials — the first step to obtaining its Initial Operational Capability (IOC).
RMN chief Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Jaafar told The Malay Mail on Monday that the trials started this week, after DCNS completed the repairs.
"We did not allow the submarine to dive due to safety reasons. Now the problem has been fixed, the trials can be conducted," he added when met at the Defence Ministry.
The submarine was commissioned early last year after undergoing two years of trials in France.
In an email to The Paper That Cares recently, Abdul Aziz said: "KD TAR had not obtained its IOC yet as she is experiencing a defect under warranty that would not permit her to dive.
"The contractual completion for all tropical trials was before Jan 25 but submarine builder, DCNS had agreed to extend it to May 2010 as they had to rectify all warranty defects."
A defence industry source said problems with new ships or submarines were common and described the problem with the new submarine as "teething, although serious as submarines need to be able to go underwater".
The source likened the problem to that suffered by the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) with its Swedish-built Collins class submarines, which were put into service in the late 90s.
It was reported on Jan 21 that the RAN submarines' Swedish-supplied Hedemora diesel engines may have to be replaced — a major design and engineering job that could cost hundreds of millions of Australian dollars and take years to complete.
The Malay Mail learnt that the KD Tunku Abdul Rahman problem was discovered when the submarine was to start its tropical water trials in October, after its homecoming ceremony on Sept 3 last year.
The submarine is expected to complete all trials by May and be cleared for operations in the same month. It is also expected to conduct the live firing of its SM39 Exocet anti-ship missile in May.
The second RMN submarine, KD Tun Abdul Razak, is scheduled to conduct its first live torpedo firing late this year.
It is believed that the problems with KD Tunku Abdul Rahman is the reason for the arrival of the KD Tun Abdul Razak, scheduled for January, to be delayed until June or July. It is reportedly undergoing a second phase of trials by Navantia, a Spanish shipbuilder and partner of DCNS.
The Malay Mail learnt that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak discussed the technical problems of KD Tunku Abdul Rahman with French Defence Minister Herve Morin during Lima 2009 in Langkawi last December and Morin promised the matter would be solved "as soon as possible".
Following the meeting, two naval officers from France came to Malaysia to help RMN solve the problems. Defence Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi leads a task force to ensure that the submarine's technical issues were resolved.
The two submarines were ordered in 2002 at a cost of RM3.4 billion.
SUBMARINES BUILT BY FRENCH AND SPANISH FIRMS
BOTH the KD Tunku Abdul Rahman and KD Tun Abdul Razak are to be based at the Royal Malaysian Navy base in Telok Sepanggar, Sabah, which was built specifically for submarines. The base also houses maintenance, training and personnel facilities for the vessels.
The two Scorpene submarines were built in separate modules at the Navantia shipyard in Cartagena, Spain, and the DCNS yard in Cherboug, France, before the hulls were joined and launched. The KD Tunku Abdul Rahman was fitted out at the Cherboug shipyard while KD Tun Abdul Razak was completed at the Navantia shipyard.
Apart from the two submarines, the deal also included the purchase and refurbishment of an Agosta class submarine, which is used to train RMN personnel. Some 150 RMN personnel were sent to Brest, France, for training as part of the procurement programme.
The Scorpenes are classified as Perdana Menteri Class submarines with the RMN. Both submarines are armed with Blackshark wire-guided torpedoes and Exocet SM39 antiship missiles.
They can carry out anti-submarine or anti-surface ship warfare, as well as special forces deployment in coastal waters.
Both vessels are equipped with necessary emergency systems to ensure the survival of its 32-man crew for seven days. The submarines are reportedly able to spend an average of 240 days at sea a year.