Air Power Is National Power – An Essay

This article was submitted to the RMAF PR Department after Defence writer, Danny Liew asked me if I was participating in the essay-writing contest (that I had no idea about). I quickly wrote one in office and mailed it within 2 hours of writing. I could not write much as we were limited to 2,000 words only (if I remember correctly).

It only won a consolation prize (not surprised though due to the lack of effort I made)

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AIR POWER IS NATIONAL POWER

Background
For most of its beginnings, the RMAF operated in support of the Malaysian Army’s and Royal Malaysian Navy’s operations, before finally gaining air defence capabilities in 1963 after receiving ten ex-RAAF CAC Sabre fighters. 56 years after its establishment and in spite of recent unfair criticisms for its mainly misguided and perceived roles, the RMAF is, still without doubt, a force to be reckoned with.

Operating uniquely a combination of modern European, American and Russian aircraft, the RMAF has a power projection that had gotten a regional neighbour publish a defence white paper to discuss what is believed to be “the first nation to have the capability to strike the mainland in sixty years.” Supported by very capable air defence coverage as well as skilled personnel, the RMAF continues to provide assurance that the sovereignty of the nation will be protected at all costs.

However, does the RMAF have enough appropriate assets to truly assert power projection?

Force Projection– Lessons from the Ambalat and Lahad Datu Incidents

“Force Projection” is a term used to describe a nation’s ability to project power and exert influence on its neighbours at the least, and viably regionally or globally.

During the Ambalat incidents from February through May 2005 saw the RMAF deploying some of its assets from the Peninsula to the East. Given the number of offensive air assets the RMAF possesses, had the conflict gone uncontrolled, it would have been a daunting task to defend both sides of the nation.

We again see a deployment of assets from the Peninsula during Ops Daulat to provide close air support for the ground combatants. The RMAF has been continuously been rotating aircraft on detachments from the Peninsula and this is far from being a feasible way of sustaining force projection.

Air Power

The British definition of air power today is:

The ability to project military force in air or space by or from a platform or missile operating above the surface of the earth. Air platforms are defined as any aircraft, helicopter or unmanned air vehicles.”

The above defines the characteristics of modern air power which provides for national deterrence against possible belligerents. The manner in which the RMAF operations are limited to does not allow for sustainable air power projection.

The factors that define effective implementation of air power include:

Airbases. There should be a network of permanent as well as alternative operating bases. Although much of the grass airstrips in Malaysia have been converted into dwelling as well as golf courses, we are still blessed with myriad small airstrips that can effectively operate smaller aircraft suitable for light-attack and helo operations. Civilian airports in Sabah and Sarawak in particular should provide the opportunity for the RMAF to form and house additional squadrons instead of detachments from the Peninsula to effectively oversee its responsibility to provide adequate air defence for those states. While air-to-air refuelling (AAR) can extend the reach of our fighters as well as their loiter time, planning factors such as distance, demand, duration as well as cost generated by the need for enhanced AAR capability need to be taken into account.

Versatility. Our air assets should also be versatile in its multi-role capabilities with quick turnarounds for other roles reconfiguration.

Air Presence. While “Sentiasa Di Angkasaraya (Always in the Air)” may be the motto of the RMAF, it is prohibitively expensive to continuously provide air presence. Already blessed with a relatively good air defence system, and in light of the MH370 incident, the RMAF may need to tweak its air intercept procedures, provided with better engine hours for its interceptors, and impose upon the Department of Civil Aviation for better airspace management control where the former has a better control of not just suspected hostiles, but also of stray friendlies.

Fragility. As air assets grow in terms of sophistication and performance characteristics, so does those of the anti-air defences. As such, suppression of air defences becomes an important and crucial role for air power. During WW2, DeHavilland produced an aircraft that embraced simplicity in battle-damage repair but effective in performance: the almost-all-wood Mosquito. While wood is more fragile than conventional aircraft material, the fragility of the Mosquito was ameliorated by its speed and superb performance. Likewise, the RMAF would need aircraft that has better speed, low radar signature and good self-protection measures to make up for the fragility due to the enemy’s enhanced air defence capabilities. This will ensure the ability of the RMAF to penetrate deep behind enemy air defence lines.

Good intelligence and Quick Response. Air Intelligence Officers must possess the correct knowledge, attitude and the ability to grasp situations in order to have an effective support for air combat operations. As intelligence is perishable, good intelligence is only good if it can be made to good use by the tacticians and strategists before its value becomes outdated. The Decision-Action cycle has to be in a tempo that supersede that of the enemy.

Stand-Off/Reach. The range of modern air-to-air, air-to-surface weapons, as well as the air platforms that carry them will demonstrate the RMAF’s commitment and resolve. This is an area where the RMAF, in moving forward, need to seek balance in when making future procurements of air assets and materiel.

Sustainability. The RMAF must ensure that its manpower, equipment and logistics are able to command its operational and objective requirements. Sustainability is the ability to maintain its aim as prescribed in the Principles of War.

Principles of War

The Principles of War were developed by Major General JFC “Boney” Fuller based on his experiences during the First World War. Applicable also to Air Power, failure to take into account these hard-won lessons can lead to mission failure. They are:

Selection and Maintenance of the Aim. It is imperative that the aim in which the RMAF plans to achieve its objectives must be carefully selected and defined with clarity. The objectives must be attainable and directed to achieving the intended strategic goals. The commanders at all levels must know how to interpret the aim and what is required of them and the resources made available to them to attain the aim. Therefore, the tasks, roles and missions selected for the air assets must be consistent and coherent with the strategic initiatives to achieve this aim.

Maintenance of Morale. Air and ground assets employed by an air force are useless without personnel that are motivated to achieving the aim. Continual training and maintenance of discipline are equally as important for the men and women of the RMAF as well as having commanders who they can look up to and trust in their leadership in times of war and peace.

Security. It is also imperative that physical protection of assets be of utmost importance against enemy interference. All personnel need to embrace the “need-to-know” and information denial culture. For the latter to occur, good and outstanding commanders who command the respect of his/her men and women play exceptional role in maintaining their morale and in making them understand the culture of information denial.

Surprise. Surprise is essential to achieve mission success and must be applied to at all levels of RMAF activities. Surprise can be achieved through secrecy, concealment, deception, originality, audacity and speed.

Offensive Action. The commander must always employ offensive action to influence the outcome of the campaign or operation. With selection and maintenance of the aim, determination must be set to maintain the initiative and deny the enemy from overcoming the goals. In peacetime, force projection via adequate appropriate assets as well as the availability of correct basing of assets provides psychological offensive action. Hence, the Government needs to see that resources are made available to the RMAF to achieve this aim.

Concentration of Force. It is essential to concentrate superior force against the enemy at the decisive time and place which calls for superior and adequate assets, as well as quick reaction to good intelligence to achieve success in war and peacetime.

Economy of Effort. Decisive strength must be achieved and maintained in order to have concentration of force. Therefore, Economy of Effort demands correct air power weapons and delivery systems to match the tasks.

Flexibility. Flexibility allows the commander to exercise judgment by modifying plans without changing the aim. It demands trust, discipline, good training and quick decision-making.

Cooperation. Better cooperation and coordination with other services can be achieved through joint exercises. This allows for concentration of force and economy of effort against the enemy.

Sustainability. As mentioned, sustainability is about maintaining the physical, spiritual and moral aspects, and the necessary fighting power of the RMAF. Without sustainability, the aim will be greatly jeopardised.

Conclusion

Air Power is important in maintaining the nation’s deterrence from belligerence. The RMAF needs the government’s support in acquiring adequate appropriate assets to maintain that deterrence as it projects the nation’s power.