Hardly a week prior to this posting, there was a medical evacuation flight for two civilian patients made by the Royal Malaysian Air Force from Tawau to Kota Kinabalu. Fuel cost for the flight alone, made using one of the RMAF’s workhorses, the Sikorsky S-61A4 “Nuri” helicopter, would have cost around RM6,500. That is for just that one flight, let alone keeping all our aircraft airborne-ready to protect our airspace from intruders.
You may call me bias, as I was once part of the Air Force, but the organization is extremely proud of its capabilities. And recently, the decision by the Air Force to allow alternative media practitioners a “no-holds barred” open day session at the RMAF Base Kuantan proved successful in answering many of the peculiar questions about the nation’s defence spending. I was honoured not only to have been invited along by the Minister of Defence, but also for being able to help clarify certain things based on my experience to other bloggers.
For the first time (probably) in the history of the Armed Forces, the Air Force allowed civilians a peep into its daily life, and were allowed to question anything from operational capabilities right to the case of the missing F-5E engine. And it was a good thing that the Minister and the Air Force were very open in answering each question.
The bloggers were first taken to the Air Movement building where they were given a briefing of the activities ahead while having breakfast. They were then taken to a static display of aircraft operated at the RMAF Base Kuantan. They were shown the types of air interdiction missiles as well as air-to-ground munitions used by those aircraft. Next, a section of the RMAF Commandos, the PASKAU, jumped off from 10,000 feet in a HALO (High Altitude Low Opening) formation to land in the center of the airfield where they employed a laser-targetting device to guide laser-guided munitions from the BAe Hawk 206 aircraft towards a target. Having achieved their objective, two S-61A4 Nuri helicopters flew in tactical formation at tree-top level to extract the commandos via the SPIE-Rig (Special Purpose Insertion/Extraction) method.
Next, the bloggers were divided into two groups. I was in Group ‘A’ together with the Minister, Deputy Chief of Air Force, and blogger Big Dog where we were taken to the No.17 Squadron, home of the Smokey Bandits (Mig-29N). There, we witnessed scrambling of Alert 5 aircraft that were sent to intercept two inbound bogeys (unknown aircraft) entering Malaysian airspace. The term Alert 5, for the uninitiated, means from the point the scramble siren is sounded until the aircraft is airborne, takes five minutes. There are, of course, different levels of interceptor aircraft readiness.
Next we were brought to the No. 320 Sector Operations Squadron Center. This center is one of the centers that have the whole view of what is happening in and around our airspace. It is a superior version of what I used to see almost two decades ago and I must say I am proud of how the Air Force has spent its money. It is both my hope and that of the Air Force’s that the Government would allocate funds for Airborne Early Warning and Command (AWACS) aircraft to further enhance this capability. On the question of frequent intrusions to the south of the Peninsula, it is obvious that the RMAF is very well aware of what is going on there, and suffice to say, having seen the capabilities of our radar defence system, that it is not true at all what some Members of Parliament, in particular from the Opposition, have been saying.
With the addition of the Air Combat Maneuvering Instrumentation system our pilots have tripled their kill ratio compared to what it was back in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Back then, our Air Force was already a force to be reckoned with. Now, as in the words of a squadmate of mine who is associated with the ACMI system:
“You can run, but you cannot hide!”
The visit at the RMAF Base Kuantan ended with a visit to the training facilities developed locally by or in co-operation with local defence players. These facilities have produced world-class skilled officers, men and women in order to protect us better. Lunch was served at the Air Movement building where the Minister answered several questions pertaining to the Air Force, including debunking of claims that very senior officers of the Air Force are involved in the case of the missing F-5E engine. It is clear now that the Opposition does not want the case to be tried by the Courts Martial because they have a lot to hide, and are trying to divert attention by framing others.
The Minister also asked for both mainstream and alternative media practitioners to be fair to the Armed Forces, and not politicize defence spending. This is in light of the Opposition ridiculing the Armed Forces, especially in the Scorpene submarines case, that has somewhat affected the morale of the men and women of our Armed Forces. When their claims of the Scorpenes not being able to dive was debunked live during LIMA 2011, they went to town with the costs of procurements and expenses.
I am sure they will never question the RM6,500 fuel cost for the S-61A4 Nuri medical evacuation flight last week had it been one of their family members being flown for medical treatment. Therefore, stop politicizing our national defence.