The HTMS Krabi is launched in 2011. Thailand may build a second boat of the class and is exploring exports. (BAE Systems)
KUALA LUMPUR — Thailand may build a second offshore patrol vessel under a license granted by BAE Systems and is also starting to think about exporting the ship to other navies in the region, according to a senior executive at the British-based defense contractor.
Discussions are underway for construction of a second warship after a technology transfer deal between BAE and the state-owned shipyard Bangkok Dock resulted in the first of class, HTMS Krabi, being commissioned into the Royal Thai Navy in August 2013, said Alistair Castle, BAE’s Southeast Asia regional vice president.
“We are actively discussing a second of class as the customer wants to capitalize on the knowledge and skills already gained by Bangkok Dock,” said Castle during an interview at the Defence Services Asia show here this week.
The executive declined to discuss timescales but said that with the Thai Navy going through a modernization, the company was “trying to be responsive to their needs and requirements while ensuring the shipbuilding knowledge is not lost, that’s the key.”
The ship, a derivative of the smaller Royal Navy River-class vessel, is 90 meters long, armed with a 76mm Oto Melara gun and has a helicopter flight deck able to operate a machine the size of the AgustaWestland A139 Lynx.
Castle said sovereignty questions, sensitivity around the economic exclusion zone and other issues were driving growing opportunities in the region for selling and supporting naval platforms and systems.
The possible exporting of Thai-built OPVs would be subject to separate negotiation but the prospect had already sparked discussion. One possibility would be the re-export of the design to other nations in the region, he said.
“Something like that would play to efforts by the ASEAN nations towards greater collaboration,” Castle said.
Aside from license-build of further OPVs, Castle said he sees modernization and support of BAE-built warships, guns and other systems as a potentially big opportunity.
Two Lekiu-class light frigates commissioned in the mid-1990s for the Royal Malaysian Navy could soon need upgrades and the executive sees opportunities for insertion of missile, radar and other technologies being developed for the Royal Navy’s Type 26 frigate program.
Much of that technology is being incorporated in a Type 23 frigate upgrade program for the Royal Navy in advance of the Type 26 program getting underway.
Weighing in at around 6,000 tons, the Type 26 is probably too big and too sophisticated for all but a handful of nations but the systems being developed for the warship, such as the MBDA Sea Ceptor air defense missile and BAE’s Artisan radar, are more likely to find an export customer.
New Zealand became the first overseas customer for Sea Ceptor with an order that will see the missile installed as part of a frigate upgrade program.
Castle said he expects progress on the Malaysian upgrades either as one program or through a series of improvements during the next five-year defense plan, starting in 2016.
Other BAE executives at the show said a new OPV program for Malaysia was also likely on the horizon, although timelines were uncertain at this stage.
By a somewhat circuitous route, BAE has also found itself the supplier of warships to the Indonesian Navy and is starting discussions with Jakarta over how they could provide support.
It’s a long and tangled story but BAE’s Scottish shipyards built three corvettes for Brunei at the start of the decade. Brunei claimed the vessels didn’t meet the required specifications and refused to accept handover. The dispute eventually went to arbitration which found in favor of BAE.
Now the unused vessels have been sold to Indonesia by the German shipyard Lurssen acting on behalf of Brunei and delivery is expected this year.
BAE remains the design authority and is talking to potential local partners and others to try and secure the support and any eventual upgrade work.
Castle said that with the Bofor’s arm of BAE having a large installed base of naval guns in Indonesia, a strong dialogue was underway locally about building a maintenance repair and supply business in-country.
“The key to these initiatives in Indonesia is finding a partner and building a long-term sustainable business locally,” said the BAE executive. ■