Sunday, 3 November 2013


 By M. Hanif Ismail 

For many local defence watchers, why Malaysia needs to have its own Marine Corps is because four of its neighbours have one: Thailand has its 36,000-strong Royal Thai Marine Corps, Indonesia has its 29,000-strong Korps Marinir, The Philippines have its Philippine Marine Corps and Vietnam has its People’s Army of Vietnam Navy Naval Infantry. Myanmar also has at least 2 naval infantry battalions, which were first raised in the 1960s and Cambodia has reportedly raised a 2,000-strong Marine infantry in 2007.

Singapore amphibious operations capability is maintained by a number of its Guards battalions (active and conscript). Brunei with its small armed forces does not have a specially designated Marine Corps, while Laos is a landlocked country with a small Navy intended more for border control work along the Mekong River.

Table 1: Regional Comparison

Troop Lift, Large
Marine infantry
Korps Marinir
29,000, 9 infantry battalions
5x LPD, KRI Dr. Soeharso—ex KRI Tanjung Dalpele, KRI Makassar, KRI Surabaya, KRI Banjarmasin and KRI Banda Aceh
KD Sri Indera Sakti, KD Mahawangsa
naval infantry
2-4 battalions
several battalions
4x Endurance-class, RSS Endurance (207), RSS Resolution (208), RSS Persistence (209) and RSS Endeavour (210)
Royal Thai Marine Corps
36,000, 9 battalions
1x Endurance-class LPD, HTMS Angthong, 2x Normed PS 700-class, HTMS Sichang and HTMS Surin
The Philippines
Philippine Marine Corps
12 battalions
2x Bacolod City-class, BRP Bacolod City and BRP Dagupan City, 3x LST-1/542-class, BRP Zamboanga del Sur, BRP Laguna and BRP Benguet
People’s Army of Vietnam Navy Naval Infantry
6-10 battalions
1x LST-542, HQ 501, 3x Polnochny-class, HQ 511, HQ 512 and HQ 513, and 2x HQ-521-class, HQ 521 and HQ 522

As can be seen from the Table 1 above, for many regional countries, there is a mismatch between the size of the Marine Corps / Naval Infantry versus the size of the troop lift capacity available. Without sufficient troop lift capacity, a Marine Corps would lack strategic mobility and realistically can only be deployed either domestically or at best, just across the border.

The situation basically underlines the fact that for many of these countries, the Marine Corps is not really meant to be used as power projection, but is mainly used to deal with domestic situations: against local communist insurgents, separatist movements, and the likes. Such is currently the case with Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines. 

That being said, Indonesia holds the distinction of being the only regional country which has deployed their Marine Corps in offensive roles against another sovereign country in the past (OP TRIKORA against the Dutch, OP DWIKORA against Malaysia and OP SEROJA against Timor Leste). South Vietnam took Southwest Cay, an islet in the northern edge of Spratly islands from Philippine troops in 1975, although the success of the “invasion” was more due to a successful deception operation than a decisive military action.

Malaysia does not officially have a designated Marine Corps, but usually deploy the 9 Royal Malay Regiment of the 10 Para Brigade in any amphibious exercises, such as the annual CARAT combined exercises with the US Marine Corps. 

Singapore has arguably the best amphibious warfare fleet in the region, capable of power projection (as proven by OP FLYING EAGLE to tsunami-hit Acheh in 2004), although it does not officially have a Marine Corps.

The Royal Thai Marine Corps is structured similarly to the US Marine Corps and regularly trains with its US counterparts through the annual CARAT and COBRA GOLD combined exercises. The Philippine Marine Corps is also structured similarly to the US Marine Corps and trains with them regularly through the annual CARAT and BALIKATAN combined exercises.   

Vietnam has moved to modernise its Navy in the recent decades, but is still relying on antiquated amphibious warfare ships for its Naval Infantry, which points out to the fact that using its Naval Infantry as power projection is quite low in priority for the powers that be. 

What would be the best model for Malaysia in setting up its own Marine Corps? That would depend very much on whether it is intended as power projection, as was the case with the establishment of the 10 Para Brigade, or only to be used in a domestic situation such as Lahad Datu.

Part III will look at lessons that can be learnt from one Marine Corps established over 300 years ago, the Korps Mariniers.

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