Home / Articles / Maritime Balance in the South China Sea: Submarines in Southeast Asia
In recent years, Southeast Asian countries have pursued the acquisition of submarines with increasing vigor. Currently, four countries in the region operate them: Indonesia (with two Type 209 submarines), Malaysia (with two Scorpène-class submarines), Singapore (with two Archer-class and four Challenger-class submarines),1 and Vietnam (with six Kilo-class submarines, including those still being built). In 2010, Indonesia laid out a requirement for as many as a dozen new submarines in its Strategic Defense Plan. In July 2014, Thailand established a submarine squadron in preparation for the future acquisition of two submarines, likely of German design. Then, in December, the Philippines announced it would seek to procure three submarines of its own.2
Submarines have always been prized for their stealth and surprise. Today that is even truer. The accuracy and lethality of modern cruise (and possibly ballistic, in the case of China) missiles have put any surface combatant without anti-ship missile defenses in real danger. A single missile hit can render even large warships, like destroyers, combat ineffective; and two could sink them, as was demonstrated during the Falklands War. At the same time, modern submarines are relatively expensive. They generally cost more to build than surface ships. They also need crews with longer and more technical training, and they require special shipyard facilities to conduct repairs and maintenance.
Of the countries in Southeast Asia, only Indonesia…