Submarines: Scorpene Goes Long


December 20, 2014: In October 2014 a Malaysian Scorpene submarine fired a torpedo for the first time and it was a success. Malaysia had ordered 30 Black Shark torpedoes in 2003 and finally had a chance to use one. Black Shark entered service in 2004 and has a number of navies using it.

Malaysia found it was a lot easier buying torpedoes than it was obtaining submarines to use them. Getting their two Scorpenes built, delivered and in service has encountered a seemingly endless list of unforeseen technical difficulties. Finally, in 2014, both of the Malaysian Scorpenes were delivered and in service. Malaysia declared their Scorpenes in service in 2012 but the two subs were not completely “in service.” Now that one of them has actually fired a torpedo it can be said that the Malaysian subs are in service, for the most part.

In late 2009 Malaysia received the first (the "Tunku Abdul Rahman") of two Scorpene class subs it purchased from France. This was followed by some more testing. The "tropical water trials" were to have been completed by January 2010 but shortly after the first Scorpene boat arrived, several defective components were discovered (in air conditioning and diving equipment). It took over three months to get that fixed, and during that time, the plumbing problems prevented the boat from submerging. The tropical water trials began in February. At that point the sub was to enter active service in May. That did not happen and there were several more delays because of technical issues.

Despite that, by the time it arrived in Malaysia in 2009 the Tunku Abdul Rahman already has plenty of experience with long voyages, just by getting to Malaysia under its own power. The voyage from France was 54 days long, with several stops along the way. Not all 54 days were at sea, but 42 (32 submerged, ten on the surface) were, and that's an extraordinary long voyage (over 10,000 kilometers) for a sub of this size (under 2,000 tons). The stress of this trip apparently led to some of the problems discovered after the boat arrived in Malaysia.

Scorpenes are basically coastal subs, built to defend local waters. In peacetime, these boats rarely stay at sea for more than a week at a time. These boats have only one toilet, and limited fresh water supplies. Thus the sailors got about one shower a week while travelling from France. There is also no proper kitchen, and the crew subsisted on prepared meals, that were boiled before eating (sort of super MREs). Thus, after passing through the Suez Canal, the "Tunku Abdul Rahman" stopped at Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, and then Djibouti for “morale” visits. The longest stretch at sea was from there to Cochin (Kochi) in southern India, where there was a three day layover. From there, the boat made the final leg of its voyage straight to Malaysia.

The Scorpene is a modern French-Spanish diesel-electric submarine (a variant uses air-independent propulsion) that displaces 1,700 tons, has a top speed of 37 kilometers per hour, and is armed with six 21-inch torpedo tubes with eighteen torpedoes or SM.39 Exocet anti-ship missiles. Each sub has a crew of 31. The boat is 66 meters (205 feet) long and 6.2 meters (19 feet wide). There are two decks, with the bottom one used for fuel, batteries and stores. Scorpenes are built to handle a 50 day cruise, but that's the max, and it takes a lot out of the crew, and the boat. Brazil and Chile also use Scorpene and India is building six of these subs. The long voyage of the Malaysian Scorpenes showed that these boats, despite their size, can handle weeks at sea. This made it easier to sell more Scorpenes.







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