Defence: RMAF’s Walks Slowly But With Big Strides

RMAF Airbus A400M (M54-04) on finals at the Labuan airbase during exercise PARADISE 2017

The A400M: How Has It Fared?

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!

The cockpit of the RMAF A400M (M54-04) is large and is very comfortable

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.

RMAF A400M (M54-04) is being loaded with HADR cargo bound for Marawi

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

The Beechcraft Super King Air 200T MPA has been in service with RMAF for 23 years

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.

The Leonardo ATR-72MP, seen here at LIMA 17, also comes with an electronic surveillance and C4I platform. The airframe is that of the ATR-72-600 (photo courtesy of Janes Defence)

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.

The Airbus C-295 of the Força Aérea Brasiliera arrived at the Subang airbase on Friday 7 July 2017

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.

RoKAF Black Eagle’s KAI T-50B zooms above Langkawi during LIMA 17

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.

The Chief of RMAF (second from left) speaking to reporters during Exercise PARADISE 4/2017 at the Kota Belud Air Range

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.

Epilogue

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.

Defence: The Brave Die But Once

It is a sad day for the nation. We lost two Ops Daulat heroes, Major Mohd Hasri Zahari RMAF, and Major Yazmi Mohamed Yusof RMAF.  The nation mourns for them.  What happened to them 21 minutes into their flight, 60 kilometers North Northeast from the Kuantan Air Base will not be known until the Board that has been set up to investigate this incident comes out with its final report.

Details are sketchy.  The pair took off at 11.09am and communications was lost at 11.30am.  They were said to be performing a Functional Check Flight, which requires a rather complex form of flight manouvers depending on the function that needs to be tested.  For example, an aircraft that has recently had an engine change will need a specific profile for that Functional Check Flight.

If it was a Functional Check Flight, the crew would have had a checklist that they needed to follow.  They would record their findings according to each of the item, in sequential order, given in the checklist for them to perform before signing off upon completion of the Functional Check Flight.

Something must have happened in the midst of the flight that only the Board would be able to deduce after gathering all the facts.

Officers and men (and women) of the Royal Malaysian Air Force, like in the other services, are paid to die if necessary.  When they step into the aircraft, no matter how well they are maintained, there is that nagging little part in their mind that knows that there is a chance that they might not come back alive.  Just as we drive to work every day.  When we leave home, how sure are we that we will get to see our family again?  But the pilots knew what was expected of them when they applied to join His Majesty’s Armed Forces.  We, as Malaysians, know that these two would die for anything as long as others may live. My only grouse is, every time something like this happens, instant “experts” flood the Internet with baseless accusations and theories.

THEORY NO.1 – LIKE MH370 THE RMAF RADAR PEOPLE ARE SLEEPING AGAIN, THAT IS WHY THE AIRCRAFT IS STILL MISSING

For those who still think that radar covers everything that is above the surface of the Earth, please have someone swing a baseball bat at your head – repeatedly.  Radar only covers some 15 percent of the surface of the Earth.  The Air Defence people did not sleep that night when the MH370 went missing.  They saw where it went until the aircraft went out of radar coverage.  You can read more about it here. The details of the flight may have changed a bit as we have learnt much more about what happened at night, but the RMAF was spot on with its procedures.

In the case of the missing BAe Hawk 108 aircraft, you must first know how radar works.  The radar transmits a radio beam which bounces off a flying object, and the beam that is bounced back is received by the radar’s receiver.  This is then translated as an image on the radar screen for the operator to see.

I explained a bit more early this month on how the RMAF Air Defence radar works.  Please read about it here.

The Hawk went down.  Which means it no longer reflected any beam for the radar receiver to receive.  How can there be any image showing on the screen?  So based on the last seen position, a search-and-rescue team was dispatched by helicopter to the last known location of the missing Hawk.  They found the bodies of the pilot but not the aircraft.  This I shall answer in…

THEORY NO.2 – THE HAWK IS MISSING BECAUSE THE RMAF DOES NOT KNOW WHERE IT IS

This is the obvious, actually.  If the RMAF know where the aircraft is, this theory of your would be academic.  But no.  If you expect to find a wreckage that is almost intact, think again.

In 1996, ValuJet Flight 592 fell out of the sky after taking off from Miami and disappeared in the Everglades.  The DC-9 aircraft with 110 on board was shredded into pieces by the impact.  It took months before they could retrieve as many pieces of the wreckage that could be found.

In 1993, an RMAF PC-7 crashed into a paddy field in Perlis.  The PC-7 is a much slower aircraft compared to the Hawk.  When I arrived at the scene, it too was shredded into pieces.  Nothing that resembled an aircraft could be seen.  We found the engine a couple of days later buried 12 meters deep in the soft paddy field.

The ground where the Hawk is said to have gone missing is a secondary jungle that is swampy in nature.  The wreckage could be in there somewhere. All we need to find is the impact point.  This may also be related to Theory No.4.  But that is for later.

THEORY NO.3 – THE HAWK IS AN OLD JUNK

How old is old for an aircraft?

I shall not compare military aircraft to civilian airliners.  I shall not even compare the Hawk to the C-130H that we have been operating since 1976.  They conduct different missions and face different kind of airframe stresses.  However, be mindful that the Royal New Zealand Air Force operates C-130s that are more than 50 years old.  Older than I am, in fact.

I will then compare the Hawk to another aircraft that probably faces even greater airframe stresses – the F-16A.  The United States Air Force retired its F-16s that entered service in 1979 only five years ago.  Therefore they were in service for 33 years!  The Hawk has been in service in the RMAF for 22 years now.  The USAF has over 5,000 aircraft and the average age of 25 years!  The Republic of Singapore Air Force only retired its A-4SU after 31 years in service.  In fact, our F-5Es entered service in 1975 and was only retired in 2015 the same year the RSAF retired its F-5Ss after 36 years!  Was it old?  Ask a Tiger-driver how superb the F-5 was as it was retired.  Only the avionics could be considered old.

THEORY NO.4 – WHY DIDN’T THEIR CHUTES OPEN? DON’T THEY HAVE EJECTION SEATS?

The bodies were found 20 meters from each other.  An eyewitness said that she saw both men with their chute deployed.  I don’t know how credible this eyewitness is.  I hope that she is not as credible as the makcik who said she saw the MH370 somewhere in the North Andaman Sea from 40,000 feet.

Truth be told, I am sure that the top brass are as equally perplexed as I am.  That is why they have convened a Board to investigate this.

Could they have ejected?  Perhaps.  I can only think of them being too low and were in a full dive when they did so.  Back i the 1980s, an Aermacchi MB-339A that was performing aerobatics went into a dive.  The air crew ejected but they were too low and the orientation of the aircraft was not one in which they could have ejected safely.  At least one of the air crew wen through the wall of a house.

Being in full dive would also explain the missing aircraft as it could be in shreds with a large portion of it down in the swampy ground.  I can only speculate here and I hate to speculate.

So, let us just let the RMAF conduct their investigation and we get on with our daily lives, can we?  And in the meantime, let us offer our heroes some prayers, and pray that the family they have left behind be given the strength to face the dark days ahead until light comes shining back into their life.

And stop hiding behind user names and keyboards while hitting out at the RMAF over this incident.  Cowards will die many times while the brave die but once.

Defence: RMAF – Zooming At 59

General Dato’ Sri Haji Affendi bin Buang RMAF, Chief of Air Force speaking to reporters at the ‘Media with RMAF Day’ recently. To his right is Lieutenant-General Dato’ Sri Haji Abdul Mutalib bin Dato’ Haji Ab Wahab RMAF, Commander of RMAF Operations Command
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 ElectraHMS ExpressHMS 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.

The MiG-29Ns will come back online to ensure that the sovereignty is not compromised
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.”

The Japanese Maritime Self Defence Forces has offered Malaysia its decommissioned P-3C Orion MPAs (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)
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 says its current strength of four A400M is sufficient to carry out foreseen missions
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.

An F/A-18D Hornet makes an aggressive turn

An Eurocopter EC-725 Caracal positions itself to extract the PASKAU GFAC team

Three Hawk 208s orbit the airfield prior to landing

A PASKAU GFAC team is extracted using the SPIE-Rig method

Defence:Excellence Despite Impediments

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Despite the reduction in the defence budget the Royal Malaysian Air Force shall continue to deliver all operational and mission requirements in 2017.  The Chief of the Royal Malaysian Air Force, General Tan Sri Dato’ Sri Roslan bin Saad TUDM reassured to reporters at a press conference after the 2016 RMAF Excellence Awards Ceremony at the Subang Airbase this morning.

“The Commanders and I have sat down and planned to ensure that the RMAF will meet the requirements as well as find ways to continue developing its human capital as well as maximising assets interoperability in line with its One Service, One Vision, One Mission concept,” he added. “It is true that we are concerned about the reduction in budget allocation but that should not stop us from delivering what is required of us. Training of skills that could be developed through the use of technologies such as simulators will be implemented according to the requirements.

It is learnt that the RMAF had succeeded in increasing its interoperability by successfully operating western-developed munitions using its Sukhoi Su-30MKM Flankers as firing platforms during the recently-concluded Exercise Paradise 3/2016.  Details of the types of munitions used has not been made public thus far.

Defence analysts also observed that the RMAF’s BAe Hawk 108/208 aircraft based in Labuan have made successful interceptions of foreign military aircraft in support of the operations by its mainstay fighter assets.

Earlier General Tan Sri Roslan presented the ‘Best Airman of the Year’ awards to three non-commissioned officers and a warrant officer for displaying excellence in performing their daily tasks, maintenance of high standard of discipline, adherence to orders and leadership qualities observed.

Two flying squadrons also received the ‘Squadron of the Year’ award for the efficient management of their respective squadrons as well as able to provide quality service in the aspect of flight operations, while two aircraft fleets – the BAe Hawk 108/208 and the Lockheed C-130H received the ‘Special Achievement Award’ based on the shared values of the squadrons operating these aircraft that have produced an effetive outcome in terms of operational readiness.

General Tan Sri Roslan, who will be retiring at the end of the year, also said that the RMAF under the leadership of his successor shall continue to strive for excellence as it has done in similarly difficult times in the past.

Also present were the Deputy Chief of the RMAF Lt General Dato’ Sri Hj Affendi bin Buang TUDM, Air Operations Commander Lt Gen Dato’ Sri Ackbal bin Hj Abdul Samad TUDM, Air Support Commander Lt Gen Dato’ Sri Hj Abdul Mutalib bin Datuk Hj Ab Wahab TUDM as well as other senior officers and the rank and file of the RMAF.