When the Defence Minister revealed to the world that we only had four Sukhoi Su-30MKMs that could fly out of the 18 that we have, I kept quiet because no one was interested in listening. This problem of the Sukhois had already been anticipated by both the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) and by defence observers such as myself.
The RMAF was never told by Russia that once the fighters reach their 10th year, a major maintenance was required before they reach another milestone.
This problem had been anticipated from a couple of years back, even as early as under the leadership of the previous Chief of RMAF. The RMAF had since then made sure that all the other assets could make up for the Sukhois being offline for some time.
Today, news portal Free Malaysia Today reported an anonymous RMAF source saying that the problem of the Sukhois is not the weakness of the organisation’s maintenance regime, but more because of the way the Russians do business.
The deal with Russia for the Sukhois were made in 2003 during the final year of the administration of the 4th Prime Minister, and were delivered to the RMAF in 2007 and 2009. Receiving good support initially, Russian bureaucratic ways soon set in and made things difficult.
Although Western countries have offered Malaysia their fighters, buying from them always come with strings attached. When we purchased our earlier Boeing F/A-18 Hornets, the US did not allow them to come with the advanced weapons. We only received those after the Russians sold us their version of those weapons.
Coupled with slashed budgets, the RMAF had found it difficult to ensure that the Su-30MKMs undergo their 10th year undisclosed maintenance.
Russia needs to learn to rid itself of the bureaucracy that riddles its defence industry if it wants to continue having developing nations’ trust. Else there is no choice but for their air forces, including ours, to seek fighters elsewhere.
The Royal Malaysian Air Force turns 60 today. Despite turning a year older, the RMAF still maintains the theme of last year’s celebration which is “Air Power Pillar of National Sovereignty” (Kuasa Udara Tonggak Kedaulatan Negara). Yet, despite being a critical element in force projection and taking the fight away from the nation’s territory, the RMAF suffers from lack of attention. The Army has had new equipment added into their inventory including MD530G armed scout helicopters while the Navy has begun embarking on its 15-to-5 fleet modernisation, the Air Force has not seen any major purchases other than the inclusion of the Airbus A400M three years ago.
The responsibility of defending Malaysia’s airspace falls on the shoulders of the Boeing F/A-18D Hornets and the Sukhoi Su-30MKM Flankers. The latter are now undergoing its 10-year service programme which affects the number of aircraft available. The revival of the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29N Fulcrums came to a halt when the previous government decided not to fund their refurbishment. And whether there will be any funding for the Multirole Combat Aircraft (MRCA) programme remains to be seen. As it is right now, I doubt that the MRCA is at the top of the RMAF’s priority list. There are other pressing issues.
MRCA versus LCA/LIFT
Like it or not, MRCAs are very expensive to operate. And the RMAF suffers from having too many types of aircraft in its inventory, creating a logistical nightmare. Many of the interceptions over the South China Sea are done by the BAe System Hawk 208 light multirole fighters. The Hawks are more than 20 years old now and are affected by wear and tear. Subsonic with a thrust to weight ratio of 0.65, the Hawks are not the ideal aircraft for such jobs. Wear and tear due to age is also causing the RMAF to not be able to provide real flying hours for its younger pilots. Although its simulators can now provide high-fidelity training, there is nothing like getting a bird in the air in a real environment.
Once all the Sukhoi Su-30MKM Flankers have undergone the 10th year servicing, the RMAF would have an adequate number of multirole fighters. Therefore, rather than getting MRCAs at this juncture, the RMAF should concentrate on getting light combat aircraft cum lead-in fighter trainer (LIFT) aircraft that could minimise the time needed to fully develop its fighter pilots. During World War 2, the Imperial Japanese Navy could not train its combat pilots sufficiently causing it to lose air superiority. Although its aircraft industry could churn out more aircraft, replacement pilots could not be trained fast enough. This is a situation the RMAF needs to avoid. It has to have a sufficient number of very capable and modern LIFT aircraft and a combat version to operate from. More modern contenders such as the Yakovlev Yak-130 and its Italian version the Alenia Aermacchi M-346, as well as the Korea Aerospace Industries KAI T-50 and its light combat aircraft version the FA-50.
A consideration that needs to be taken by the RMAF is the thrust-to-weight ratio of the contenders. The Yak-130/M-346 offer a ratio of 0.70 versus the T-50’s 0.96. The rate of climb for the Yak-130/M-346 is at 10,000 feet per minute while the T-50/FA-50 is at 39,000 feet per minute. The T-50/FA-50 has a digital fly-by-wire (FBW) system as do the Yak-130/M-346, but taking into consideration the commonality of logistics and spares, the T-50/FA-50 uses the same powerplant as the RMAF Boeing F/A-18D Hornets. Furthermore, the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia are already using the T-50.
The RMAF should consider having about 36 of the FA-50 variant and 12 T-50 LIFT variant. This would not only prepare enough fighter pilots who would easily migrate to the new MRCAs, but would also complement the current number of MRCAs plus do a better job intercepting bogeys than the Hawks would. Once these are in place, the RMAF can do away with its Hawks and Aermacchi MC339CM.
There used to be a time when the RMAF slogan “Sentiasa Di Angkasaraya” (Always In The Air) was true. Seeing fighters flying overhead often drove many to join the RMAF. We had so many birds flying in a day that even the Air Traffic and Air Defence Controllers had good training. So, getting the number of airframes in the air is what matters.
In the end, when the RMAF does get its MRCAs, it should limit itself to just one type. The economies of scale of purchasing many of one type far outweighs the buying of several of several types. And that is not rocket science.
Enhancing Its Transport/Helicopter Capabilities
Other than having MRCAs and LIFT/LCA, the RMAF also operates various types of transport and helicopter capabilities. Fixed-wing transport aircraft (other than for VIP transport role) include the Airbus A400M, Lockheed C-130H and the IPTN CN-235. The Sikorsky S-61A4 Nuri and the Eurocopter EC725 Caracal make up the helicopter inventory.
The C-130H and Nuri helicopters are definitely more than 20 years old. The C-130H is definitely in need of an Aircraft Upgrade Program (AUP) to address fatigue and cracks. Contrary to popular belief, the A400M was not acquired to replace the C-130H. The A400M is to take a strategic role while the C-130H maintains its tactical role. Both types are needed in the RMAF inventory as they complement each other. What the RMAF needs to do is to offload its Nuri helicopters to the Army (which is already operating several hand-me-down Nuris) and acquire more EC725s. The former is far better for transporting infantrymen and howitzers into the battlefield while the latter is more suitable for Search-and-Rescue operations as well as the insertion and extraction of special forces elements.
Another role that the RMAF should consider offloading is the maritime patrol role. This role only complements the Royal Malaysian Navy’s operations, and should therefore be handed over to the RMN. It makes no sense in having the Air Force pay for the cost of Navy operations.
Sufficient number of training hours flown by the transport pilots are also crucial. One incident has caused an uproar among observers, when the new Minister of Defence flew to a berbuka puasa event with RMAF personnel at the Butterworth Air Base in a RMAF Airbus A400M aircraft. The public must be aware that whether or not the Minister was on board, the A400M would still have flown – if not on that day, then on another, empty or otherwise – just so the pilots could clock at least minimum flying hours for the month.
As the Minister was invited by the RMAF to attend the event, it was arranged for the Minister as well as RMAF top brass and other personnel from Kuala Lumpur (there were 59 passengers on board in total that day) to be flown on the A400M so that the air crew could get their required hours.
Enhancing Radar/Early Warning Capabilities
In the old days, watchtowers were built as high as they could in order to provide the defenders with a form of early warning. We now have air defence radars scattered all over the country. These radars are in constant need of upgrading works to keep them updated. Funds must be made readily available for these radar to be able to operate continuously around the clock.
The RMAF lacks an eye-in-the-sky. From the days when I joined the RMAF in the 1980s, the AWACS have always been sought after but never procured. An AWACS provides the RMAF as well as the RMN a good detail of what is happening both in the sky and at sea. Four AWACS with good loiter endurance based in Kuching working round-the-clock should suffice. Kuching is at the nearest point between Borneo and the Peninsular, and covers the South China Sea easily. This is where, Maritime Patrol Aircraft with anti-ship and anti-submarine capability should be made available for the RMN to complement the its role especially in the South China Sea.
I am not sure but I believe we cannot see much of what is beyond the Crocker range in Sarawak. Mobile radar systems could be stitched along the range to provide better coverage of what goes beyond the range. The data can be fed via satellite or HF system. The RMAF’s HF system is more than capable of providing accurate radar picture of the area.
The Malaysian Army’s “top secret” Vera-E passive radar system should also make its data available and fed into the RMAF’s current air defence radar system to enhance the capability of the the latter. There is nothing so secret about the Vera-E. Several keys tapped on Google and one would be able to find out about the Malaysian procurement of the system. I am flabbergasted that the Malaysian Army has yet to share the Vera-E data with the RMAF. And I first wrote about this back in June 2015!
A Total Change In The Procurement System Is Needed
The RMAF used to operate the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29N Fulcrums. Received in 1995, the two squadrons of MiG-29Ns no longer exist. In contrast, the Bangladesh Air Force (BAF) has a squadron of MiG-29B acquired in 1999. All its MiG-29Bs will be upgraded to the MiG-29SMT. Why can the BAF maintain its fleet of MiG-29s when we can’t?
The answer is probably in the procurement system.
There are just too many layers of companies to go through when we acquired the MiG-29Ns. Spare parts get too expensive to buy when there are too many layers of companies to go through. There were talks of producing parts for the MiG-29N locally somewhere in Gambang, Pahang, but I guess that never materialised for some reason. In the end, the MiG-29N became too expensive to maintain and operate, and I suspect the same applies to many equipment of the Malaysian Armed Forces.
There were times in the past when the end user got what they did not want. It is imperative that the end user gets to dictate the equipment that they want, while the civilian administrators and the politicians seek the funds needed for those procurements, and not interfere in the process.
It is encouraging to hear that the new Minister of Defence will be looking at reforming some aspects of the Ministry of Defence. I really hope that the procurement system will be reformed as well to do away with these layers of companies marking up prices before the end users get their equipment.
Until the reform in the procurement process happens, neither the RMAF, nor the RMN, nor the Army, will ever get what they really want. Such wastage should be nipped and no longer be allowed.
Addressing the budget constraint faced by the government, the RMAF Chief General Tan Sri Dato Sri Haji Affendi bin Buang RMAF said that no matter the situation, the RMAF will always ensure that the sovereignty of the nation is never compromised.
“We shall prioritise our needs and ensure that the sovereignty of this beloved nation is NOT compromised in any way despite the budget constraints.”
General Affendi added that the RMAF has planned for the next 35 years to increase its level of preparedness and combat capabilities.
I certainly hope to see the RMAF have a better future, and hopefully, with a fresh new Minister leading, the required reforms could be made so that the RMAF will truly be what it used to be.
Happy 60th Anniversary, RMAF. May the next 60 years be better than the previous ones.
Satu Majlis Penganugerahan pangkat Leftenan Kolonel Hakiki secara Posthumous (pasca kematian) telah diadakan di Markas Tentera Udara, Kementerian Pertahanan. Anugerah kenaikan pangkat itu telah disempurnakan oleh YBhg Panglima Tentera Udara, Jeneral Tan Sri Dato’ Sri Hj Affendi bin Buang TUDM.
Antara penerima pangkat ini adalah Mendiang Lt Kol Kayamboo a/l Chellam yang terkorban ketika sedang beroperasi menerbangkan pesawat angkut Beechcraft King Air 200T di Pangkalan Udara Butterworth pada 21 Disember 2016, Allahyarham Lt Kol Yazmi bin Dato’ Mohamed Yusof TUDM dan Allahyarham Lt Kol Hasri bin Zahari TUDM yang terkorban bersama semasa menerbangkan pesawat Hawk 108 di Chukai, Terengganu pada 15 Jun 2017. Ketiga-tiga mangsa juruterbang ini menerima satu kenaikan pangkat asal mereka.
Penganugerahan pangkat tersebut telah disampaikan kepada Puan Usha a/p Suppiah (Isteri Mendiang Lt Kol Kayamboo TUDM), Puan Shofara Izwa binti Hilmi (Isteri Allahyarham Lt Kol Yazmi TUDM) dan Puan Asysyuhadak binti Ahmad (Isteri Allahyarham Lt Kol Hasri TUDM).
Majlis pagi tadi telah berlangsung secara bersederhana. Seluruh jemputan di majlis tersebut kelihatan sugul kerana masih lagi bersedih dengan pemergian juruterbang-juruterbang terlibat. Namun kelihatan bersemangat semula apabila mendengar obituari mangsa juruterbang tersebut yang nyata cemerlang di dalam pencapaian kerjaya, keberanian dan pengorbanan yang telah dilakukan sepanjang perkhidmatannya di dalam TUDM.
Selain merupakan satu tanda penghargaan kepada mereka di atas jasa dan bakti mereka terhadap perkhidmatan TUDM khasnya dan Negara amnya, penganugerahan ini juga membolehkan para balu wira-wira tersebut menerima pencen yang lebih tinggi dari pangkat asal terakhir. Inilah di antara cara TUDM dapat membantu keluarga mereka yang telah banyak berjasa.
Turut hadir di majlis ini adalah Timbalan Panglima Tentera Udara, YBhg Lt Jen Dato’ Sri Ackbal bin Hj Abdul Samad TUDM; Panglima Pendidikan dan Latihan Udara, YBhg Lt Jen Dato’ Kamarulzaman bin Mohd Othman TUDM; Asisten Ketua Staf Tadbir, YBhg Brig Jen Ahmad bin Abd Rahman TUDM, serta ahli keluarga Mendiang dan Allahyarham.
When the Royal Malaysian Air Force purchased the Airbus Defence and Space A400M Atlas, many thought it was to replace the Lockheed C-130H-30 that had entered service in 1976. 15 C-130Hs were delivered to the RMAF with 14 still flying.
However, the RMAF announced further upgrades to its C-130H fleet to keep them operational. The A400M’s role, although similar to that of the C-130H, enhances the RMAF’s airlift capability. Not only can the A400M carry 17 tonnes more payload compared to the C-130H, it can fly 200 knots faster and land on rough or soft landing strips like the C-130H.
Its glass cockpit/side-stick coupled with three-axis fly-by-wire (FBW) with flight envelope protection configuration makes the A400M user-friendly and is based on the A380 but modified to suit military operations requirements. The flight envelope protection allows the A400M to perform bank angles up to 120 degrees!
Not only could the A400M support the Malaysian Armed Forces’s tactical and strategic capabilities, it could also be utilised for Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) operations in the region. To date, the RMAF’s A400Ms have performed two HADR roles: delivering 17 tonnes of aid to embattled Marawi in July 2017 and 12 tonnes of aid to the Rohingya refugees in south Bangladesh in September 2017.
The remarkable thing especially about the Marawi mission was the A400M’s ability to fly to Cagayan del Oro and back without refuelling (an approximately 5,400 kilometers return trip); this, together with its speed cuts down total turnaround time.
The A400M is equipped with the defensive aid sub-system and an in-flight refueling capability. The inflight-refueling package allows the A400M to refuel helicopters at 105 knots indicated airspeed (KIAS) and fighters at up to 300 knots, hence safer for the refuelling of both helicopters and fighters. Flight tests have also revealed that at Alpha Max (with the Alpha Floor protection disabled, the A400M reached 98 KIAS before the FBW low-speed protection function eased the nose down. There was no wing roll-off or loss of control. Recovery was almost immediate when the nose was lowered and thrust added, underscoring the fact that the A400M is indeed a very safe and capable aircraft.
Maritime Patrol Aircraft – Budgeted For
For almost two decades the role of maritime patrol was assigned to several C-130Hs that were converted to C-130MPs. Four Beechcraft Super King Air B200T aircraft were inducted into the RMAF maritime patrol fleet to complement the C-130MPs. However, the high operational costs versus mission requirements of the C-130MPs saw the latter taking over the role completely.
Even before the loss of an airframe, there were already talks of replacing the B200Ts. Leonardo brought its ATR-72MP aircraft to LIMA ’17. Apart from the hardpoints and MPA modules on board, the ATR-72MP is just a normal commercially-available aircraft, powerplants and all. Leonardo’s concept is to provide a platform using what is available in large numbers in the market to keep the costs down.
Airbus Defence and Space flew a CN295 almost around the world to promote it as a multirole platform. The CN295, albeit a SAR version that was on its way to its new home in Brazil, made a stop in Malaysia and was presented to operators such as the RMAF, the MMEA, as well as the Royal Malaysian Police Air Wing.
Stretched three metres longer than the CN235 that the RMAF is currently operating, everything about the CN295 is very similar to the CN235, which makes crew conversion fairly easy to make. It comes with a more powerful plant that features better efficiency, longer loiter capability at station and comes with six external hardpoints for ASW weapons.
When the announcement of the budget for the procurement of four MPAs in 2018 was made, the immediate follow-through was that four of the RMAF’s remaining seven CN235s will be fitted with the MP systems from the B200Ts, a sure sign that either additional CN235s will be acquired for the MPA role, or the CN295s would be acquired instead.
The commonality between the C295 and the CN235 also potentially leads to even lower operating costs, given the versatile cabin configuration that allows fast switching of mission types, high manouvrability, better low-level flying capabilities given the high-wing configuration and a wide rear ramp, the C295 makes the best option for maritime patrol and surveillance as well as anti-submarine warfare missions in Malaysia.
The C295 is powered by twin PW127G turboprop engines driving Hamilton Sundstrand Type 568F-5 six bladed propellers which provide outstanding hot and high performance, low fuel consumption, and an endurance exceeding 11 hours. Flying at a maximum speed of 480 km/h which is slower than the B200T’s 540 km/h, but has a range of 5,600 kilometers compared to the B200T’s 3,100 kilometer range.
The RMAF’s need for a reliable platform that would be able to perform largely anti-shipping missions and has a reasonable but economical loiter endurance with some strike capability if required makes the CN295 a better choice of MPA. It also makes strategic and economical sense for Malaysia as it allows operators to narrow down its aircraft types and suppliers, making logistical and technical support easier.
UAV, MRCA and LIFT
Although the procurement of the badly needed MRCA to replace the MiG-29Ns have not been announced, the RMAF is making up for the void by ensuring high serviceability rate of its frontliners. Observers would note that the serviceability percentage has increased tremendously despite the cut in the defence budget.
Perhaps the RMAF should think of an interim fighter or Lead-In Fighter Trainer (LIFT) that gives the bang for bucks. The Korea Aerospace Industries’s TA-50 LIFT comes into mind. Each unit of the more advanced FA-50 costs half or three times less than a top-of-the-line fighter would but it carries enough sting to hurt the enemy.
Losing only but not much in terms of range to the BAe Systems Mk 108/208 that the RMAF currently deploys in Labuan to cover both the eastern South China and Sulu seas, the TA-50’s ability to reach supersonic speeds (Mach 1.5 compared to the Hawk’s Mach 0.84) and excellent thrust-to-weight ratio (0.96 to the Hawk’s 0.65) means that the TA-50 would make a better aircraft placed on Alert 5 to intercept straying foreign aircraft. Its superb ability to deliver air-to-ground as well as anti-shipping ordnances makes it a suitable platform to support anti-incursion/counter-insurgency operations in the ESSCOM area.
The RMAF is also interested to develop its Unmanned Aerial Vehicle capability in both tactical and strategic aspects. RMAF Chief General Tan Sri Dato Seri Affandi bin Buang TUDM said that the RMAF is conducting a detailed study to identify the UAV capable of meeting the current needs of the country apart from being equipped with technologies which could be shared with various parties in the country.
“Besides security surveillance, UAV can also be used for other purposes such as weather information and others,” he said. “If the RMAF is able to acquire sophisticated UAVs we would be able to enhance our operations in the Peninsular, Sabah, Sarawak and also in support of the MPAs patrolling the South China Sea as well as the Sulu Sea.”
Hopefully the RMAF would acquire UAVs with extended on-station endurance with some hardpoints for strike capability.
Although the RMAF is still in want of frontline airframes, it is seen to improve its serviceability percentage, a task that seemed daunting in times of global econmic uncertainty, but certainly achievable. The plan to purchase capable Maritime Patrol Aircraft as per the 2018 Budget, and planned addition of sophisticated UAVs, will certainly enhance its control over the airspace.
It is hoped that the government could look into equipping the RMAF with interim strike capability, especially in the South China and Sulu seas, by adding a squadron or two of the KAI TA-50, if not a squadron each of the TA-50 and its frontline version, the FA-50, hopefully by 2020, before preparing its budget for the procurement of actual frontline MRCAs that are badly needed, not only as replacements of the recently-retired MiG-29N, but also as a contingency to replace the F/A-18D which is already in its 20th year of service with the RMAF.
The RMAF may seem to walk slowly, but it is definitely walking with big strides.
Even before the incident involving the crash of a Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) Beechcraft Super King Air B200T Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) talks were rife in the industry about the limited capabilities the T200 could offer as an effective MPA and possible replacements.
The four, four-man crew aircraft in the RMAF’s inventory complementing the C-130MP in performing the MPA role but subsequently replaced the latter due to operational costs versus mission requirements.
The B200T, however, has a limited endurance of four hours, maximum cruise speed of approximately 300 knots (540 km/h) which makes its on-station loiter time somewhat limited unless the aircraft is deployed on a detachment which means logistics support have to be deployed as well. In the long run it would be uneconomical for the RMAF to run such missions.
Malaysian has recently expressed interest in second-hand Lockheed/Kawasaki P-3C Orion of the Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force (JMSDF) which are being replaced by the Kawasaki P-1 MPA. Although the RMAF is understandably weary of “hand-me-down” aircraft, the ready-to-fly P-3Cs offer an attractive opportunity to close the maritime patrol gap with hardly much that is needed to be done. The P-3Cs have internal bays for torpedoes and depth-charges plus ten hardpoints on the wings for anti-ship missiles, torpedoes and mines.
The downside is that the last P-3C Orion to be delivered to the JMSDF by Kawasaki was on 1 February 2000, making the aircraft offered to the RMAF 17 years old or more! The last aircraft delivered by Lockheed was in December 1994. The four Allison T-56-A-14 turboprop engines, although giving more speed, could only give a maximum range of 3,835 kilometers, which is only 700 kilometers more than the B200T, making the P-3Cs true gas-guzzlers. In December 2008, the US Navy had to ground 39 P-3Cs or 1/4 of its fleet due to age-related wing cracks. The average age of the Orions then were 28 years old. 17-year old P-3Cs have less than 15 years to offer to the RMAF unless an expensive service-life extension program is initiated for the fleet.
If acquired, the P-3Cs would be flying mainly RMAF’s anti-shipping missions. These missions would require the aircraft to fly near wave-cap levels where the engines not only burn more fuel, but also be demanding on both the crew and the aging airframe.
The RMAF’s need for a reliable platform that would be able to perform largely anti-shipping missions and has a reasonable but economical loiter endurance with some strike capability if required drove Airbus Defence and Space to fly the Asian route while delivering an Airbus C-295 Maritime Surveillance Aircraft to Brazil.
The aircraft, which is in a Search-and-Rescue configuration, made its stop in Malaysia late on Friday evening after Thailand and Vietnam.
Airbus Defence and Space’s marketing director Fernando Ciara explained that Airbus had decided to fly the Asian route through Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, South Korea, North America, Mexico before delivering the aircraft to the Força Aérea Brasileira to showcase a platform that not only would be suitable for the SAR/MPA/ASW roles but would be friendlier for aircrews to transition to given that most of the countries mentioned, especially to Mexico, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines are already operating either the C-295 or CN-235 aircraft, while Canada has been authorised to purchase the C-295.
The commonality between the C-295 and the CN-235 also potentially leads to even lower operating costs. Ciara added that given the versatile cabin configuration that allows fast switching of mission types, high manouvrability, better low-level flying capabilities given the high-wing configuration and a wide rear ramp, the C-295 makes the best option for maritime patrol and surveillance as well as anti-submarine warfare missions in Malaysia.
The C-295 is powered by twin PW127G turboprop engines driving Hamilton Sundstrand Type 568F-5 six bladed propellers which provide outstanding hot and high performance, low fuel consumption, and an endurance exceeding 11 hours. Flying at a maximum speed of 480 km/h which is slower than the P-3C’s speed of 760 km/h and the B200T’s 540 km/h, but has a range of 5,600 kilometers compared to the P-3C’s 3,800 kilometer range and the B200T’s 3,100 kilometer range.
The anti-submarine warfare version, which is already in service with one operator, is equipped with underwing stations to carry weapons and other stores.
The C-295 makes strategic and economical sense for Malaysia as it allows operators to narrow down its aircraft types and suppliers, making logistical and technical support easier.
Malaysia is Airbus’ third largest market in Asia, after China and India. Today there are 125 Airbus commercial aircraft flying with Malaysia’s airlines, with another 470 on order for future delivery.
200 Airbus helicopters are also being operated in Malaysia including the H225M and AS555SN flown by the Malaysian Armed Forces, and the AS365 in service with the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency.
In addition to the CN235s, the RMAF is Airbus’s first export customer for the new generation A400M airlifter and has four aircraft in service.
Many are awed by the performances put by the Royal Malaysian Air Force’s stars at the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace 2017 exhibition – the Sukhoi Su-30MKM Flanker and the Boeing F/A-18D Hornet.
Many can imagine the manoeuvres these mighty aircrafts could do in combat, but not many know who or what makes them tick.
They are the Air Defence Controllers, the guardians of Malaysian airspace.
Majority of Malaysians are not aware of their existence until the MH370 disappeared. Suddenly, this silent service came under an intense spotlight, especially when shone by those who do not have an iota of idea of how airspace and air defence in Malaysia work.
When Malaya gained independence in 1957, the airspace of the nation was only monitored by two long-range radars located at Western Hill in Pulau Pinang and Bukit Gombak in Singapore through the Anglo-Malayan Defence Arrangement which ended in the late 1960s.
The Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) set up three air defence centres (ADCs) namely the No.1 ADC at the Butterworth airbase, No.2 ADC at Bukit Jugra, and No.3 ADC at the Kuantan airbase. These three ADCs shouldered the responsibility of monitoring our airspace.
The RMAF has since expanded its air defence by creating five squadrons to also cover Sabah and Sarawak, and one Ground-Based Air Defence Squadron.
So how is it that it is the Air Defence Controllers who make the fighters tick?
There are two types of radar in use by the RMAF, Primary and Secondary. While the radar rotates 360-degrees, radio waves are transmitted and will bounce off targets as an echo and is received by the radar system’s receiver unit.
The Primary radar is the one that transmits the energy waves that bounces off targets while the Secondary radar interrogates the signal from the target’s transponder. This is then processed and the data is fed into the Command and Control system which is displayed on a screen and the target is then tracked by a Surveillance Officer who tracks and labels the target.
An Identification Officer then conducts identification procedures by correlating both radar and track data with information received from other agencies such as the Department of Civil Aviation. If the target does not correspond with a non-hostile or non-civilian target, then the unidentified target will be reported to the Officer-in-Charge.
The Officer-in-Charge then conducts a threat assessment and evaluation of the unidentified target. Simultaeneously, the recognised air situation data is also displayed in the National Air Defence Centre to enable the Higher Authority to monitor the situation and assist effective decision making.
A visual identification of the unidentified target may be needed, or if the target poses a threat, the Officer-in-Charge then scrambles fighters to intercept the target. If threat exists, the RMAF’s surface-to-air defence systems would be put on the highest alert to anticipate a hostile act by the said target.
The pilot intercepting the target will then make a visual identification of the target and report back to the Fighter Controller. Instructions and orders from the Higher Authority are also relayed back to the intercepting pilot who will then execute either a Force Down procedure or chase the target out of our airspace while comunicating with the target either through the radio or signals.
Only if the instructions are not obeyed will the pilot escalate the rules of engagement. If the instructions are obeyed and a force down is required, the intercepting pilot will escort the target to the nearest airfield or airport where the target will be investigated.
The elaborate and complex systems that the RMAF Air Defence Centres employ are among the best, and therefore need the continuous support and understanding of not only the higher management of the RMAF, but also of the Government to ensure that hardware, software and its operators remain dynamic, well-maintained and trained.
And although they are mostly trained locally by the RMAF, some do get their training elsewhere in the world. For example the RMAF has had officers do their Basic Air Defence Operator Course in Australia. Some get trained as Air Weapons Controller in the United States of America. Some attend their Master Controller Course in England, Advanced Defence Weapons Controller in Bangladesh to name a few.
And when you spend your time with your family, friends, or sleep at night, and while the interceptor pilots are on standby inside their crew room, remember this – you only get to go about living a happy life and going about with your personal business because of these glamourless silent sentinels who watch our airspace round the clock.
“We shall prioritise our needs and ensure that the sovereignty of this beloved nation is NOT compromised in any way despite the budget constraints.”
The above was said by the Chief of the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF), General Dato’ Sri Haji Affendi bin Buang RMAF when asked to comment about the effects of the budget constraints on RMAF operations.
“True to this year’s 59th anniversary theme which is ‘Kuasa Udara Tonggak Kedaulatan Negara’ (Air Power Pillar of National Sovereignty) the RMAF’s assets will always be ready in any situation and time to deal with any eventuality.”
The absence of any stop-gap measure since the RMAF took the MiG-29Ns offline, coupled with the lack of funds for the acquisition of new MRCAs have been worrying. Although the Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) has gotten its boost in assets with the purchase of six Littoral Mission Ships, the lessons of Force Z that ended some 47 nautical miles northeast of Tioman island must never be forgotten.
Force Z comprised of the brand-new battleship HMS Prince of Wales, the battlecruiser HMS Repulse, and destroyers HMS Electra, HMS Express, HMS Tenedos and HMAS Vampire. On 10 December 1941, Force Z was decimated by Japanese aircraft from Saigon with only the destroyers making it back to Singapore.
Lack of air cover and underestimation of the Japanese force were key reasons to its decimation.
The RMAF has been wanting for a new MRCA and the two strongest contenders are the Dassault Rafale and the Saab Gripen. There is a need to maintain the number of airframes to meet the doctrine. However, it does not seem as if the RMAF would be getting any in the near future.
This has prompted the RMAF leadership under General Affendi to bring the MiG-29N back online. “We will make sure that we have sufficient airframes to conduct the priority missions and not compromise our sovereignty,” added General Affendi.
A senior RMAF MiG-29N jock confided that it is very necessary to have the MiG-29N back online no matter the short-term cost of operating them.
“We’ll see probably six to ten of them flying missions soon,” he said.
“Maybe you’ll see the return of the Smokey Bandits at the next LIMA!” quipped another, referring to the RMAF’s MiG-29N aerobatic team that used to wow the crowd at previous Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace exhibitions.
Most of the fighter squadrons are based in the Peninsular with only the No.6 Squadron based in Labuan operating the Hawks 208s. The Hawks have been succesful in intercepting foreign military aircraft in the eastern South China Sea.
“There has not been that many incursions by the Chinese. It’s the countries that are observing the Chinese that have made the most incursions,” confided another senior officer. “The Hawks are doing a good job at intercepting and directing them out of our airspace.”
Even so, the Hawks are limited in terms of endurance, firepower and range to perform such task. The squadron not only has to cover the development in the Spratlys but also the east of Sabah.
“You mean for ESSCOM?” I asked another senior officer.
“Not just there. To watch over the Ambalat area too,” he replied. “We could do with at least two G550 AEW equivalent to cover our waters and borders.”
Therefore, it makes real sense to have the MiG-29Ns back online, perhaps based in Labuan, while some Hawk 208s could go on rotational deployment at Sandakan for interdiction missions.
“The RMAF is also seeking to develop its capabilities especially in maritime patrol and the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles,” General Affendi explained. “We need to look for other longer-endurance aircraft and systems that is better than the Beechcraft that we have.”
The RMAF fleet of the Beechcraft 200T MPA have been reduced to just three aircraft after a crash on the 21 December 2016 killed the aircraft commander while two other aircrew survived with injuries. The Beechcrafts have been in service for almost two decades.
Asked if the recent offer by the Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Forces (JMSDF) of its almost three-decades old P-3C Orions, General Affendi said that a team will be sent to evaluate the aircraft offered.
“It is not just about operating the aircraft but also the cost of upgrading if needed and maintenance as they are not new aircraft,” he replied. “We do need better MPA capabilities which is why we will scrutinise the JMSDF MPAs and compare them to purchasing and operating newer systems.”
General Affendi thanked the government for its support and understands the constraints faced by the government as a result of a sluggish global economy. Nevertheless, he said that the RMAF would work within its means to ensure that all systems needed to monitor and intercept incursions as well as to carry out other missions such as Humanitarian And Disaster Relief (HADR) required from time to time.
“The Airbus A400M is a good buy. We can carry more load than the C-130Hs ever could and go places the (Boeing) C-17 (Globemaster III) cannot,” said General Affendi of the RMAF’s latest acquisitions. “Imagine how many stops the C-130H needed before getting to the Middle East. The A400M can fly straight to Dubai from here.”
The RMAF had brought 80 media practitioners from all over the country to witness the capabilities of the force. Performing Close Air Support displays were F/A-18D Hornets and Hawk 208s while a EC-725 Caracal helo inserted a PASKAU GFAC team to perform GLTD mission for the above aircraft before being extracted via SPIE-Rig method.
No matter the situation, the RMAF will fulfill its motto “Sentiasa Di Angkasaraya” and with a good leadership under the Chief, General Dato Sri Haji Affendi bin Buang RMAF, the RMAF will continue to be rejuvenated at 59.
Selamat menyambut Hari Ulangtahun Tentera Udara DiRaja Malaysia ke-59.