Navy Sailing on Outdated Technology, Limited Resources

sihanoukville – Last week’s visit by the French Navy vessel Le Marne and its joint offshore exercises with the Royal Cambodian Navy served to highlight the country’s outdated naval equipment and its continued lack of government funding.

The Cambodian navy is made up of 12 “Russian Stankar” ships, but among these vessels only four are considered to be operational and capable of patrolling the coastline, said co-Minister of Defense Prince Sisowath Sirirath.

“The boats are mainly vintage boats dating from the former Sovi­et Union,” he said. “They are not in a good state, and most of them are sitting at dock. The others can sail but cannot get too far from shore.”

In the government’s “package budget” of less than $65 million for the entire military, only a small amount goes to the navy, according to Prince Sirirath.

In addition, the government’s pol­­icy forbidding the purchase of any new military equipment leaves the navy with aging and obsolete as­sets, according to RCAF’s 2000 de­fense plan.

“It’s the trauma of 30 years of war,” Prince Sirirath said. “Cambo­dia no longer wants­ to invest in its mil­itary.”

According to the military’s 2002 Strategic Re­view, the “maritime area is vulnerable, and the Royal Cam­bo­dian Na­vy’s current re­sources and tech­nology cannot guarantee a com­plete effective response.

“For example, the complete lack of communication infrastructure on the border is a major ob­sta­cle for any operation against trans­national criminal activities,” it said.

On Oct 18, the 150-meter-long Le Marne docked here for its first vis­it to Cambodia. Arriving from Sat­tahip, Thailand, where it picked up a Cambodian navy officer for a few days of on-board training, the com­­mand and supply French ship stayed stationed in Sihanoukville un­til Thursday.

French naval officers and members of the Royal Cambodian Na­vy met last week to discuss further co­operation. The Le Marne also provided 30 tons of fuel.

RCAF has entered into cooperation agreements with France, Aus­tral­ia, India, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand to receive funding for training, maintenance or education programs. Among them, France is considered to be a main contributor.

“France does not give money directly to the RCAF but finances training and technical assistance, and advises the RCAF about its lo­gis­tics and organization,” said Franck Benoistel, assistant to the French Embassy’s military at­tache, Colonel Jacques Isnard.

Isnard—also chief of the cooperation program—was not available last week to provide further details.

Cambodia’s international military cooperation system is still small, compared to other countries. One of the reasons seems to be the current political state of the country, Prince Sirirath said.

“Big nations are willing to help in sectors such as health, but are pretty reluctant to invest in Cam­bo­dia’s military,” he said. “They would probably prefer the Cam­bo­dian army to be a unified and neutral entity.”


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