In assessing the region’s capabilities in the Corvette/Offshore Patrol Vessel (C/OPV) market the most important question is what is the difference between these two platforms, and what makes these two diverse vessel types exceptional?
by Ted Hooten
The question can best be understood by looking at Malaysia. To meet its New Generation Patrol vessel (NGPV) requirement the Royal Malaysian Navy selected the Blohm & Voss MEKO 100 design as the ‘Kedah’ class. They seem to be OPVs at first sight for their armament consists of a 76mm (three-inch) gun and a 30mm (one inch) gun but they feature a sophisticated combat management system, an electro-optical director, a chaff launcher and are equipped to operate surface-to-surface missiles, surface-to-air missiles and an electronic warfare suite. These are not installed but it was recently revealed that Kuala Lumpur now intends adding anti-ship missile systems to them. They are rated in the naval bible, Jane’s Fighting Ships as corvettes and will be joined by DCNS ‘Gowind’ class ships ordered last year from France’s DCNS with the first example to be delivered in 2017. The French Navy operates one as an OPV but the design can be used as a corvette and Malaysia intends operating them in this role.
OPV-type platforms can be used as corvettes for both are generally around the 1,000-2,000 tonne mark but the OPV is more a law-enforcement platform. It is designed to protect a nation’s resources within the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) extending some 200 nautical miles (370 kilometres) from shore and also to assert national sovereignty and law while providing a search and rescue as well as an environmental protection capability with some having a hydrographic survey capability. Compared with a corvette it tends to be slower but with higher endurance often operating a helicopter while some have sophisticated command and communications systems to interact with foreign agencies, but they are generally armed with nothing larger than a 76mm gun. The corvette is a surface combatant usually optimised for Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW) and featuring surface-to-surface missiles and consequently it has more sophisticated sensors than the OPV with higher speeds for rapid transit or manoeuvres.
The largest OPV operators in Asia are China, India and Japan, which have to secure green or blue water interests, while a number of countries such as Indonesia rely on their surface combatants in the offshore role. This can sometimes ratchet up tension in times of crisis, such as the recent confrontation off Borneo between Malaysia and Indonesia, while the OPV acts as a less threatening platform.
Most of China’s OPVs are operated by
China Maritime Surveillance (CMS) which continues to be expanded and is scheduled to receive another 36 hulls of various sizes. Both the Indian Navy and Coast Guard operate OPVs, the former operating a fleet of six vessels and the latter having about a score of hulls from 1,200 to 2,200 tons and due to receive half-a-dozen Advanced Offshore Patrol Vessels with a displacement of 2,230 tons. There has been a considerable degree of cross-pollination between the services in OPV design and the navy’s latest requirement for Naval Offshore Patrol Vessels (NOPV), the 2,215-ton ‘Saryu’ class, whose first-of-class was commissioned in December 2012, is based on the Coast Guard’s ‘Sankalp’ class.
Japan’s Coast Guard has some 50 OPVs, including the biggest in Asia in the two 5,204-ton ‘Mizuho’ class. Following clashes with the CMS off the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands last year Tokyo is expanding its Coast Guard and will purchase four 1,000-ton OPVs by the end of 2014. Neighbouring South Korea has a Coast Guard which operates four OPVs of some 1,200-tons and is receiving a small expansion of some five vessels from the Hyundai yard including a 3,000-tonne OPV.
South East Asia
Within South East Asia Brunei has three 80-metre (24-feet) ‘Darussalam’ class OPVs, the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) has two ‘Langkawi’ class OPVs, the Philippines Navy operates three ‘Jacinto’ class ‘corvettes’, which are actually OPVs, and has acquired two former US Coast Guard ‘Hamilton’ class High Endurance Cutters, and may acquire a third to meet a long-standing requirement for three OPVs. It is now considering installing anti-ship missiles in these vessels to make them full corvettes. Thailand has requirements for five OPVs of which four would be sophisticated craft, reportedly having the same design as OPVs built for Trinidad and Tobago but sold the Brazil, while one will be a more basic vessel. It operates two ‘Pattani’ class ‘corvettes’ which are also actually OPVs.
Around the Indian Ocean Burma operates three ‘sheep in wolves’ clothing, ‘Anawrahta’ class ‘corvettes’ which are actually OPVs, while Bangladesh acquired two former Royal Navy ‘Castle’ class OPVs and the ‘Hamilton’ class cutter USCG Dallas but there is a requirement for three more OPVs. The cutter will be upgraded to a corvette with a combat system, anti-submarine torpedoes and anti-ship missiles. Sri Lanka operates a number of former Indian and US Coast Guard OPVs but might well expand the force. In the Pacific, New Zealand acquired two ‘Protector’ class OPVs which are unusual because they have ice-strengthened bows to operate in Antarctica. Australia has a plan, Project Sea 1180 for a 2,000-tonne Offshore Combat Vessel (OCV) which would meet a variety of roles including acting as an OPV. This $3.1 billion programme is unlikely to be implemented until the first half of the next decade.
The demand for true corvettes has grown steadily in the past couple of decades replacing requirements for Fast Attack Craft (FAC). FACs are small platforms especially vulnerable to air attack because their surveillance radar antenna is relatively low reducing the search area and counter-measures reaction times, they cannot mount a significant air defence system which makes them vulnerable even to helicopter stand-off attack and their lack of compartments means a bomb or missile strike can inflict catastrophic damage. The corvette overcomes most of these problems making them a useful surface combatant with superior radar search area, more compartments and the introduction of damage control while bringing the prospect of better air defence protection. It is also a more versatile platform for it can be used for Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) through the installation of sonars and lightweight torpedo launchers.
It should be noted that not all corvettes have surface-to-surface missiles, and Indonesia’s former East German ‘Parchim Is’, or ‘Kapitan Pattimura’ class, are unusual in being dedicated ASW platforms with hull-mounted sonar, augmented in some ships by variable depth sensors, armed with both anti-submarine torpedoes and mortars. Indonesia augments these 16 ships with seven Dutch-built vessels; three 30-year-old ‘Fatahillahs’, which also feature a strong ASW suite, and the most modern Damen Schelde Naval Shipbuilding (DSNS) ‘Diponegoro’ class which are one of Damen’s Sigma family (Sigma 9113), with their shaped hulls to reduce the radar cross section.
The Sigmas form the keel of a new family of corvettes (also designated ‘light frigates’) to meet the Guided Missile Escort (Perusak Kawal Rudal) 105 requirement which are being designed by DSNS and the domestic yard PT PAL under an August 2010 agreement. Based upon the Sigma 10514, these 2,400-tonne vessels will be optimised for ASW with the first of two scheduled to be laid down this year and to enter service in 2016 but it is unclear how many are required. Priority may have been given to a requirement for three submarines with work starting next year.
Neighbouring Malaysia’s requirements have been mentioned earlier and it should be noted that the Royal Malaysian Navy also operates six corvettes; four former Iraqi ‘Assads’ (as the ‘Laksamana’ class) and two German-built ‘Kasturis’, while Singapore has six ‘Victory’ class ships based upon the Lürssen MGB 62 design but with an exceptionally high mast for its search radar. Nearby Thailand operates seven corvettes of which the five ‘Khamronsin’ and ‘Tapi’ class are ASW vessels. There is no requirement for new vessels with Bangkok more interested in acquiring frigates and upgrading its vessels.
By contrast Vietnam is expanding its corvette fleet steadily from the original four ‘Tarantul’ (‘Project 1241E’) class, with an ASW capability, and two domestically-built ‘Improved Pauks’ (‘Project 12418’) and is acquiring up to ten ‘Improved Tarantuls’ (‘Project 1241.8’) all of which are pure ASuW vessels. In 2011 DSNS revealed they were discussing the sale of four ‘Sigma 10514s’ to Vietnam, of which two would be built domestically Vietnam is also acquiring Russian-built frigates, two of which have been delivered, reflecting the preference of some Asian navies for larger, multi-role platforms capable of projecting power in ‘blue water’ environments. South Korea, for example, which operates 23 ‘Po Hang’ class ASuW/ASW corvettes will replace them with the ‘FF-X’ frigates and the ‘Gumdoksuri’ class fast attack craft for coastal operations in offshore islands, with the first FF-X ship having been delivered in 2012. By contrast Japan has never been interested in corvettes.
However, both China and Taiwan want large surface combatants and corvettes. Last year China’s first two ‘Jiangdao’ (‘Type 056’) class corvettes were launched and will join the fleet this year. They were revealed to be modern vessels similar to the ‘Diponegoro’ class with shaped hulls, but at 1,440-tonnes (compared with 1,692 tonnes) they are slightly smaller. They are reportedly to replace the 40-year-old ‘Jianghu I/I’ (‘Type 053H/H1’) class frigates and the ‘Houxin/Houjian’ (‘Type 037 1G/2’) fast attack craft/patrol craft. These ships are being built by the Hudong-Zhonghua and Huangpu yards, who also built the ‘Jianghus’ and it is reported that ten are at various stages of construction with at least two more on order.
Taiwan, which has previously relied upon a combination of major surface combatants and fast attack craft, has its own corvette programme as ‘Hsun Hai’ (‘Swift Sea’). Revealed in April 2012 the programme envisages ‘stealthy’ corvettes of 900-1,000 tonnes with supersonic surface-to-surface missiles which are reportedly to be introduced to combat the China’s new aircraft carrier, the Liaoning. It will be a domestically-designed and produced vessel with some ASW capability, possibly incorporating weapon and sensor systems from the Taiwanese Navy’s decommissioned ‘Gearing’ class destroyers, its current ‘Knox’ class frigates and ‘Jin Chiang’ class fast attack craft. The requirement is for a dozen vessels with deliveries beginning next year. It is expected that they will be constructed by Lung The Shipbuilding.
There is interest in corvettes around the Indian Ocean. The Indian Navy itself has operated corvettes since the 1960s and originally relied upon Russian designs currently using four ‘Abhay’ (‘Modified Pauk II’) ASW ships, which may be re-engined, and twelve ‘Tarantul I’ or ‘Veer’ class ASuW ships. The first indigenous ships were the ‘Khukris’ (‘Project 25’) which were planned as ASW vessels but were built as ASuW platforms, their only ASW capability being in the helicopter for which there is a deck, and the same applies to the improved versions of the ‘Kora’ (‘Project 25A’) class, the most significant difference being the replacement of first generation SS-N-2 ‘Styx’ surface-to-surface missiles with SS-N-25 ‘Switchblade’.
The latest Indian corvettes are the ‘Project 28’ ships of the ‘Kamorta’ class. Like all Indian corvettes they are intended for deployment in offshore waters but these are multi-role vessels which incorporate ‘stealth’ technology. They also possess a considerable ASW capability with hull-mounted and towed array sonars, helicopter torpedo-launchers and mortars as well as a useful Anti-Air Warfare (AAW) capability through their local-area defence Barak 8 surface-to-air missiles. However, construction of these ships has been unusually protracted with the first-of-class laid down in 2006 but not scheduled for commissioning until the third quarter of 2013. Four ships are currently on order, with the last to be delivered in 2016, and the difficulties and delays encountered in producing this class must put at risk New Delhi’s plans for twelve ships but these may be overtaken by plans for ‘Project 28A’ class ships which might involve a trimaran hull.
Neighbouring Pakistan prefers its surface fleet to consist of a mixture of frigates and fast attack craft while Sri Lanka focuses upon OPVs. However, Bangladesh has incorporated requirements for corvettes in the ambitious defence procurement plan it published in February 2009. Two small, 600 tonne, corvettes or patrol craft are in the plan but China’s separate tender for two corvettes has been accepted and Dhaka is considering a long term plan to order four more corvettes from Turkey.
The choice of corvettes and/or OPVs by Asian navies will clearly be shaped by a raft of factors including cost, theatre of operations and the need to have dedicated craft for the small surface combatant role. It is clear, however, that these vessels will continue to be found in Asian naval inventories well into the decade.
Spoiler for 1:
Spoiler for kcr:
Spoiler for sigma:
TNI AL masih kurang dalam AAW.
adakah saran buat TNI AL kita ini??