2016 has seen the Royal Malaysian Air Force lose two of its valuable assets – a CN235 transport aircraft, and a MB-339CM lead-in fighter trainer. To top that, there is still no announcement of a stop-gap measure to replace the MiG-29N.
The shortfall is very noticeable especially among observers whom have noted that in regional exercises, the RMAF would normally commit four fighters per squadron while a neighbour could easily muster ten.
The Royal Malaysian Navy has recently embarked on its Littoral Combat Ship program. This has been a long-awaited program given that China has forward bases in the Spratlys after reclaiming some 1,170 hectares. Commercial aircraft have been landing at the airstrips built there, we know what those airstrips are able to handle.
The Falklands War of 1982 and the Force ‘Z’ disaster closer to home on 10th December 1941 are poignant reminders that air superiority and the element of surprise are critical in modern air and naval warfare. Without the MiG-29s or their replacements force projection is somewhat limited. Maritime Patrol Aircraft play an important role in locating enemy surface assets, while airborne tankers will allow air assets to have longer loiter and patrol capabilities. As written in a previous article an Airborne Early Warning system would also help the RMAF to “see beyond” what it currently could. The RMAF has been in want of AEW assets since the 1980s, a dream yet to be fulfilled.
Also important would be a mobile radar in the Peninsular with at least three in Sabah and Sarawak would enhance our air defence capabilities. Passive radar system would also enhance aircraft identification process.
Importantly everything should be at a minimum operational and combat readiness level of seventy percent. And this number should include the spares we need to run these systems.
The RMAF has very good and skilled human assets but without the tools needed to make the organisation combat-effective. Again, it is hoped that the government can pay serious attention to the needs of the Armed Forces – the RMAF in particular. A stop-gap measure with over 70 percent operational and combat readiness is what the government needs to assist the RMAF with.
Only then the RMAF would truly be “Sentiasa Di Angkasaraya.”
Happy 58th Anniversary, RMAF. We hope your dreams will soon come true.
However this morning (18th December 2015) a group of about 16 people calling themselves the Sarawak Association for People’s Aspiration or SAPA, headed by Lina Soo as its President, held a protest rally in front of the Chinese Consulate in Kuching, Sarawak.
The protest which began at about 9am kicked off by the submission of a protest note at 9.28am to the personal assistant for Mr Liu Quan by SAPA, followed by shouts in Hokkien saying “Get out and don’t return” by the SAPA members.
Although small, this protest is significant as it displays a growing awareness amongst Malaysians on the blatant incursions by the Chinese navy as well coast guard.
China has been aggressive in creating ad hoc ADIZ (Air Defence Identification Zone) around its man-made islands, warning off other military aircraft and vessels that got too near. Four days ago the BBC filed a story on how one of its journalist flying in a Cessna 206 was asked to leave the area to avoid miscalculations.
Things are not going to get better as China continues to claim the South China Sea as its territorial waters whereas two thirds of South Korea’s energy supplies, nearly 60 per cent of Japan’s and Taiwan’s energy supplies, and 80 per cent of China’s crude oil imports come through the South China Sea. Even Indonesia, a non-claimant, has begun to reinforce its military presence in the Natuna islands to face the Chinese.
It will be a matter of time, sooner rather than later, that we will see aggressive flying by PLAAF aircraft that will be stationed at China’s South China Sea airstrips when intercepting other military aircraft. The South China Sea is a potential flashpoint Malaysian cannot ignore nor take lightly.
A flight of B-52 bombers from the USAF flew around Second Thomas Shoal and Mischief Reef in the Spratlys and were quickly challenged by Chinese Air Traffic Controller during the weekend of the 8th and 9th November 2015.
US PACAF released the transcript of the exchange between the bombers and the Chinese ATC and was reproduced by Alert 5 and are as follows:
Chinese ATC: “You have violated my reef. Change your course to avoid misjudgement.”
Chinese ATC: “You have violated the security of my reef. Change course to avoid misjudgment.”
Reply from the B-52: “I’m a United States military aircraft conducting lawful activities in international waters, and exercising these rights as guaranteed by international law. In exercising these rights as guaranteed by international law, I am operating with due regard to the right and duties of all states.”
China has been making de facto claims on the Spratlys by doing reclamation works on reefs that include the construction of airfields and enforcing its “Nine-Dash Line” policy all the way into Malaysian Exclusive Economic Zone. Being the sole regional Big Brother China has been flexing its muscle against its smaller neighbours economically and militarily. China’s runway at Fiery Cross reef has a runway that could land a H-6G bomber that could operate 5,700 kilometres from a home base, not to mention Shenyang J-11 fighters that could operate within a radius of 1,400 kilometres. Malaysia is now within a 45-minute strike distance.
As if that is not enough, the threat if asymmetric warfare from Sulu in the southern Philippines is also a clear and present danger. On the 15th November 2015, the Abu Sayyaf was reported to have met with elements from the IS to conduct terrorist attacks in Malaysia. The Abu Sayyaf is also notorious fir the kidnappings of westerners and Malaysians alike.
With the above in mind, the Royal Malaysian Air Force conducted and concluded Exercise Paradise 2/15 from the 9th until the 20th November 2015. With the objective to test its combat readiness and capabilities in the Second Air Region, the RMAF deployed assets such as the F/A-18D Hornet, Su-30MKM Flanker, BAe Hawk, 108/208, C-130H-30 transport aircraft, KC-130 tankers, CN-235 transport aircraft, helos such as the Sikorsky S61A4 Nuri and the Eurocopter EC725 and also involved the RMAF Special Forces regiment. The Malaysian Army’s 10th Brigade (Para) provided a team of air despatchers.
Up until the 18th November 2015, a total of 198 air sorties had been flown. During the Field Training Exercise (FTX) RMAF assets successfully conducted Air to Ground firing exercises as well as Air Drop operations and insertion of special forces elements to support ground operations.
During the War Exercise (WAREX), the assets were then combined for Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR), High-Value Air Asset Protection (HVAAP), Combined Air Operations (COMAO), Mixed Fighter Force Operation (MFFO) and Large Force Employment (LFE).
According to Exercise Chairman, Major General Dato’ Mohd Shabre bin Haji Hussein RMAF, the exercise achieved more than 90 percent of its objectives in accordance with the Scenarios of Exercise (SOE) and was a success.
The media was also invited to witness the exercise in a bid by the Ministry of Defence as well as the RMAF in educating the media, and in turn the public, on the capabilities of the RMAF and the importance of public support towards the Malaysian Armed Forces in general.
Members of media had the privilege to take part in a Aircraft Force Down exercise involving fighter and transport assets.
In an observation by this writer, the Ministry of Defence has to seriously look at beefing up the assets of both the Royal Malaysian Air Force as well as the Royal Malaysian Navy. The Chinese government gets away with murder in the South China Sea simply because Malaysia lacks effective deterrence. The RMAF for example should be equipped with AWACS aircraft as well as the still-elusive MRCA.
This writer opines that in line with the principles of force projection, MRCAs should also be based in Labuan in sufficient numbers to deter the advance of PLAAF and PLAN assets, while the Hawks concentrate especially in providing air support for the ESSZONE by having forward operating bases in Tawau and Lahad Datu or Sandakan. Without strong deterrence, Malaysia will never be able to have diplomatic bargainjng power against any larger forces in the region.
“We need to look at what we see as the threats. What you see is the story unfolding in Syria and Iraq and which fighter is not there at the moment? You’ve got the Super Hornets, you’ve got the Typhoons and yet it is still unfolding before our very eyes. And secondly, the threat from IS is different from our traditional terrorist threats that we have faced in the past, don’t compare with the threats that we’re facing from IS.”
Those were the words uttered by the Malaysian Defence Minister on the eve of the recent Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace exhibition that concluded on the 21st March 2015. He added:
“You will see the gatling gun that we have fitted on our A109s and maybe the threat that we face just requires a gatling gun.”
Many defence practitioners, analysts, journalists and bloggers such as I, felt as if the military had been let down when we heard those very words uttered on board the Royal Malaysian Navy’s frigate, KD Jebat. Malaysia has been seeking for the replacement of the MiG-29N fleet for the longest time, and now it has been stalled again. Furthermore, the fight against the IS is first and foremost a counter-insurgency warfare that falls within the purview of the Home Ministry, with the Defence Ministry in a supporting role.
It would be good to note, too, that missing from the airshow for the first time at LIMA ’15 are the Smokey Bandits, the RMAF’s aerobatics team that consists of the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29Ns. It was looked forward to, and missed by many.
In March of 2013, the PLA-N sent its largest and most modern amphibious assault ship, a destroyer and two guided-missile frigate to James Shoal (Beting Serupai), 80km off the coast of Bintulu in Malaysia’s state of Sarawak, to conduct an oath taking ceremony there. The PLAN sailors and marines pledged to “defend the South China Sea, maintain national sovereignty and strive towards the dream of a strong China.” Just 80km off Malaysia’s coast, this flotilla went unchallenged by the Royal Malaysian Navy or by the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency vessels.
While the Minister focuses on the IS threat, which really should be looked at by the Home Ministry and not Defence as it involves counter-insurgency warfare, both the Royal Malaysian Navy and the Royal Malaysian Air Force are in dire need of more capable assets. Without the MiG-29Ns and the F-5E Tiger IIs, the RMAF is down to just 18 Sukhoi Su-30MKM Flankers and 8 F/A-18 Hornets, supported by 14 BAe Hawk 208 and 6 BAe Hawk Mk 108. Of course, that is if the serviceability rate is at 100 percent.
The Royal Malaysian Navy’s combat power is represented by 2 Scorpene submarines, 2 Frigates (with 6 to be constructed), 6 corvettes, 6 offshore patrol vessels, and 8 missile boats. Although the Royal Malaysian Navy could give any enemy a bloody nose if required, without air superiority achieved, there will be a repeat of what happened to Force Z in 1941. The RMN is also somewhat impaired given that its OPVs are fitted-but-not-with strike-capable weapons such as anti-air and surface-to-surface missiles.
Underscoring its intention to subjugate the other claimants especially Malaysia, the Chinese Coast Guard was found in the vicinity of the Luconia Shoals, 150km off Miri, early this month. With a large to cover, both the Royal Malaysian Air Force as well as the Royal Malaysian Navy are very much lacking in assets.
In his speech during the recent Air Force Day celebration, General Dato’ Sri Roslan bin Saad RMAF underlined three approaches to ensure that the RMAF stays on top of the game:
The amalgamation of assets and organisation: this approach gives focus to the readiness of aircraft and radar systems. Through the Chief of Air Force’s Directive Number 19, several action plans have been formulated to ensure that the serviceability rate for aircraft and radar systems remain high.
Enhancement of Human Resource: this is done by raising, training and sustaining the RMAF’s manpower by increasing its specialisation and competency levels.
Optimisation of Available Resources and Finance: this is by formulating a strategy to ensure that resources and finances are being managed properly and are well managed.
In my opinion, the amalgamation of assets should also include the reactivation of the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29N Fulcrum as well as the Northrop F-5E Tiger II fleets. With limited funds available for the addition of more interceptors as well as MRCAs, perhaps the RMAF should get the MiG-29Ns back online in a reduced number. The final number of MiG-29Ns maintained by the RMAF was ten. Perhaps eight is a credible size to maintain. We know that engine hours is no longer the issue with the MiG-29Ns. If budget constraint is a concern, no upgrades are needed for now. They can still perform their MRCA role with what is readily-available, and perform as Smokey Bandits when needed. It would be worthwhile to note that the Indian Air Force has upgraded its much-older MiG-29Bs to the MiG-29UPG, at par with Russia’s MiG-29SMTs but sporting western avionics. I am more than sure that Malaysia’s Aerospace Technology Systems Corporation Sdn Bhd (ATSC) could propose an upgrade to the MiG-29Ns. These upgrades would be cheaper than a total fleet purchase which negotiations will take years to conclude.
The Republic of Korea Air Force (RoKAF) maintains more than 400 F-5E Tigers in its inventory while the Republic of China Air Force (RoCAF) maintains more than 200. These old analog interceptors are based near where the threats are. The most interesting point about the F-5Es are that they run on analog systems and require less time from cold start to interception. Malaysia had about 16 F-5Es and 2 RF-5E Tigereye that could do Alert 2 standby for first interception while the Alerts 5 and 7s could come and back them up later. Two squadrons could still be maintained perhaps in Kuching with an FOB set-up in Miri and Labuan for F-5E detachments.
The two suggestions above is for the RMAF to consider while it waits for budget and arrival of the new MRCA.
It is of no secret that while Dassault Aviation has been promoting its Rafale MRCA heavily in Malaysia especially, the fighter jocks of the RMAF prefer the F-18Ds that they have; and if any addition is to be made to its MRCA fleet, it should be the F-18Ds. End-users’ opinions and evaluation must be seriously considered.
The other threat that faces Malaysia is the potential insurgency in Sabah’s ESSZONE. While “helicopters with Gatling guns” may be considered an answer, a helicopter is slow to get away from a fire-fight. Time and time again we have seen how rebels in the southern Philippines who are also responsible for the kidnappings as well as skirmishes in Sabah brought down military helicopters.
The real answer is in a platform that can deliver enough payload at high speed and conduct effective strafing of known enemy positions. The RMAF should consider reactivating the Light Attack Squadron (LAS) that was used in counter-insurgency warfare in the 1980s and early 1990s. The Pilatus PC-7 Mk II, while acting as the aircraft for the LIFT program (Lead-In Fighter Training), can also be used as both counter-insurgency warfare aircraft as well as in support of the roles taken up by the Hawks 108 and 208 as well as the Aermacchi MB-339CM. Economy-of-effort has always been part of the Principles of War and still holds true today. Having the experience in the LAS I believe will make them better pilots for the F/A as well as MRCA roles as they progress later.
The RMAF also lacks the 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. On top of this, Maritime Patrol Aircraft with anti-ship and anti-submarine capability should be made available for the RMAF. This is to complement the RMN in 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.
The government should also allow the RMN to look into procuring available assets from the USN that are capable to deter PLAN assets from entering sovereign waters unchallenged. Apart from capital assets. the RMN should look into converting some of its smaller assets such as the CB-90s and RHIBs into Unmanned Surface Vessels (USV) with 30mm stabilised weapons and targeting system complemented by a STRIKE-MR fire-and-forget missiles that could be operated remotely to conduct swarm attack on larger enemy units. Using the USV swarm tactic, the RMN should look at the tactics used by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) to sink larger Sri Lankan naval units. Using the CB-90s as well as the RHIBs for swarm warfare at shoals and atolls controlled by Malaysia in the South China seas fits with the concept of “working with what we have and not what we feel we should have.” Swarm forces can neutralise or deter larger forces from advancing further, while the USV concept does not need the unnecessary loss of lives to achieve its objective.
I urge the government to reconsider the budget put forth by both the RMAF and the RMN. Budget constraint should not be a reason the military is not allowed to enhance their current capabilities. The warfare doctrine based on the principles of selection and the maintenance of aim must be respected if the Malaysian military, in particular the RMAF and RMN, is to achieve its objectives which mainly is to act as deterrence from potential belligerent forces. If the RMAF and RMN are not allowed to be strong, Malaysia will always be bullied at the South China Sea diplomatically.
On Sunday, 23rd Monday, 24th March 2014, the Malaysian Prime Minister announced that based on the findings of the UK-based Aircraft Accidents Investigations Board it was concluded that the flight of the MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean.
This was met by heavy criticism in particular by families and relatives of the passengers who are in Beijing. This is understandable. As humans, we always cling on whatever glimmer of hope there is that our loved ones will somehow appear unscathed. I went through this when my brother passed away three months ago. I kept thinking that this was all a bad dream and that I would wake up to my brother’s jokes, laughter and hugs again. However, such hope should be balanced with situational logic – the acceptance of reality and that should help overcome the pathological grief a person would have. The sooner one accepts reality, the sooner the trauma will heal.
This pathological grief will get prolonged not only if one refuses to accept reality, but also by irresponsible acts to promote hope. Hope is the act of prolonging the arrival of the inevitable. I will here chide the opposition parliamentarians who call upon the government to provide physical proof that the MH370 had indeed crashed. May I just forcefully drag everyone to the reality that the aircraft cannot fly for 19 days; based on the Doppler effect triangulation the last possible location of the aircraft points to the extremely unforgiving southern Indian Ocean. If anyone, just any one person could survive the extremities of the whole situation, then let us just call that a bonus from God. While hope is good to a certain extent, my only hope is for the black boxes to be located before the batteries run out.
The search for debris is not going to be an easy task even on a normal day. Australia’s Prime Minister has described it as “looking for a needle in a haystack, but having to find the haystack first.” I would take that a step farther by saying it is like looking for hundreds of pieces of one single needle in a haystack that has yet to be found. How is that as a perspective? Now add nine-metre waves with lots and lots of whitecaps into the equation.
I take offence at a statement by representatives of the families in Beijing, as well as members of the foreign media, AND the Quislings amongst us here in Malaysia that we (Malaysia and its military) have murdered the passengers and crew, and that we have either been hiding or not been forthcoming with information or both. Malaysia has been providing all information pertaining to this incident on a daily basis, and even to the extent of sharing sensitive military data that has jeopardised its defence just so to render search and rescue efforts more effective. With the information made available to me as well as by Andak Jauhar’s analysis of the MH370 incident I shall draw a timeline so readers would understand why was the SAR conducted in the South China Sea, when exactly was SAR expanded to the west of Peninsular Malaysia, and how fast did information flow in. All times quoted in this timeline is Malaysian time (UTC +8):
08 March 2014
0041 – MH370 took off from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport with 227 passengers and 12 crew members bound for Beijing with an endurance of approximately eight hours.
0107 – the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) made its last transmission on the aircraft’s performance. All systems were running as per normal. Next transmission was due at 0137 hours.
0119 – a person believed to be the co-pilot acknowledged the handing over of the MH370 from Malaysia’s Flight Information Region (FIR) to Vietnam’s FIR. His last words were, “Alright, goodnight.”
0121 – the secondary radar at Subang’s Air Traffic Control centre lost contact with the MH370 over waypoint IGARI at 06.5515N 103.3443E, after a deliberate act of turning off the transponder as well as other communications equipment. The aircraft was then at 35,000 feet above sea level. However, the aircraft continues to be tracked by the Royal Malaysian Air Force’s (RMAF) primary radar and had its flight path towards waypoint VAMPI monitored and recorded by RMAF’s Air Defence Centres.
0215 – RMAF’s primary radar consistently monitored the path of the MH370 from waypoints VAMPI, GIVAL before finally losing track of it after waypoint IGREX while flying at 29,500 feet above sea level.
As a Contracting State to the ICAO Convention of 1944, Malaysia assumed the role of the Rescue Coordination Centre under Annex 12 of the Convention for the MH370 Search and Rescue efforts because the MH370 had yet to enter Vietnamese FIR control (its radar had not detected the MH370 yet when she changed her flight path). Based on sightings of debris, the Search and Rescue efforts concentrated at its last known position near waypoint IGARI.
0630 – MH370 was to have arrived in Beijing.
0811 – the last handshake between the MH370’s navigation system and an INMARSAT satellite was made.
1017 – Rear Admiral Ngo Van Phat of the Vietnamese Navy announced that the MH370 may have crashed about 153 nautical miles (300km) from Tho Chu island, near Ca Mau. This statement was carried by Tuoi Tre News and was subsequently picked up and released by Reuters at 1302 hours, sending SAR assets into the area.
1730 – based on the flight path monitored by the RMAF, the SAR effort was also expanded into the Strait of Malacca.
09 March 2014
– search around Tho Chu island failed to yield anything.
– the SAR efforts were expanded into the Andaman Sea. The RMAF’s sensitive radar data recordings have been shared with the SAR authorities.
10 March 2014
1343 – Vietnamese news agency Tuoi Tre reported that a passing aircraft from Singapore spotted an orange object possibly a liferaft or a lifejacket 177km northwest of Tho Chu island. SAR assets deployed later identified this object as a cable wrap.
11 March 2014
The Malaysian Chief of Air Force issued a press statement refuting a report by the Malaysian daily Berita Harian that quoted him as supposedly saying the aircraft had flown towards Pulau Perak.
12 March 2014
The official website of the State Administration of Science, Technology, and Industry for National Defence of China (SASTIND) showed pictures of three objects spotted in the South China Sea believed to be related to the MH370. These photos were then shown to the public by the China Central Television (CCTV), Xinhua News Agency, CNN, BBC and also by other foreign news agencies. According to SASTIND, these images were taken at latitude 6.7N 105.65E at 11.00am on 9th March 2014.
Hence, SAR assets were again sent to verify the findings which we now know were false sightings, but not before more time and concentration of vital resources have been wasted.
14 March 2014
– search was expanded into the Indian Ocean.
15 March 2014
The Malaysian Prime Minister announced that the object tracked by the RMAF’s primary radar was indeed the MH370. This conclusion was made based on processed data acquired from INMARSAT and concurred by the FAA, NSTB, AAIB and the Malaysian authorities.
20 March 2014
The Australian Prime Minister announced satellite images showing large debris in the southern Indian Ocean. The image was taken four days earlier.
22 March 2014
The Chinese government announced that its satellite had found debris in the southern Indian Ocean. That image too was taken four days prior to the announcement.
24 March 2014
The Prime Minister of Malaysia announced that based on triangulation of handshakes between the MH370 and satellites, the flight ended in the southern Indian Ocean.
The rest is academic.
The timeline displayed above shows how Malaysia has, from Day One, been moving as fast as it could to get to the correct pointers only to be side-tracked by false and unverified sightings. Malaysia has also been sharing everything, and literally everything including data of its sensitive military capabilities, as well as air bases so the search and rescue effort would benefit the best out of the information made available to them by the Malaysian authorities.
The timeline above also displays the average time of four days needed for satellite images to be processed before they can be safely suggested to the search and rescue teams.
What the timeline above suggests is that while the authorities are working hard to find the missing aircraft, the families as well as the public in general ought to exercise patience and restraint in their quest to know what happened. The media should be more responsible in reporting the incident as well as the search and rescue efforts as not only will the effects be adversely negative, but irresponsible reporting provides false hopes to the family that are put on an emotional roller-coaster ride on a daily basis.
And to those who call themselves Malaysians but continue in bashing whatever effort the government offers in bringing this episode to a closure, I doubt you qualify even a place as a zoological display for despicable animals.
Mention the name Beting Serupai you might get frowned upon by many. Mention the name James Shoal, and it may raise a few eyebrows. To most Malaysian, they would not be able to pinpoint where James Shoal is, save for some avid fishing enthusiasts, but this 22-meter deep shoal 80 kilometres off Bintulu, Sarawak, has been “visited” by elements of the People’s Liberation Army – Navy (PLA-N) or simply referred to as the Chinese Navy, yesterday.
In its report on the 26th March 2013, the Associated Press wrote:
The official People’s Daily online said Wednesday that one destroyer, two frigates and an amphibious landing ship took part in the drills around Chinese-controlled outcroppings. They involved hovercraft, ship-born helicopters, amphibious tanks, and land-based fighters and bombers, and were followed by a ceremonial visit Tuesday to James Shoal farther south.
The Beting Serupai has always been part of China’s claim, lumped together in the Spratlys, as its southernmost territory. Prior to this “visit” the PLA-N visited the shoal in 1993 and 1994. In April of 2010, its vessel, the Marine Surveillance Ship-83 placed a sovereignty stele into the water area of the shoal.
When Malaysia enhanced its relationship with China in May 2011, it was looked at as a step further towards harnessing a greater economic relationship. The Malaysian Opposition was quick to excoriate the act as political pandering. But in retrospect, it was strategically a good move as it relives the act by the Sultanate of Melaka with the Chinese. China is not a country one could just ignore. As in the 15th century, an alliance with China not only provides economic benefits, but also from a military standpoint.
It is no secret that after China’s warnings to Japan, South Korea and Taiwan in 2012, the United States was actively looking for bases in this region. Among the countries where bases are sought include the Philippines and Vietnam. However, no other modern naval base offers the best proximity than Malaysia’s own Teluk Sepanggar just north of Kota Kinabalu. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the carrier battle group of the USS John C Stennis decided to make a port call there in early October 2012. Before that, in the month of April 2012, the RMN base was visited by the US Navy Secretary, who brought with him the submarine-tender, the USS Emory S Land, and the Los Angeles-class nuclear attack submarine, the USS Louisville.
The only factor that is stopping the US Navy from getting naval base facilities in Sabah is probably not having a Malaysian government that would kowtow to them. Therefore, the outcome of the next general elections would be important to them. Little wonder that Sabah has been the aim of a certain party. However, this writer hopes that this dangerous effort would not come to fruition.
That the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines has asked Filipinos to stop referring to Sabah as Sabah, Malaysia three days ago, citing Memorandum Circular No. 162 issued by Malacanang back in 2008. The DFA has also begun referring to Filipinos fleeing Sabah as “displaced persons” instead of “evacuees” or “returnees.” This is the Philippines government doing a 180 on its previous position re the Sabah claim. The fact that the US Navy and Marines have begun deploying its assets in the Philippines comes as no surprise. On Tuesday the USN and US Marine Corps offloaded more than 270 tactical and amphibious assault vehicles in Subic Bay, Zambales.
American troops from the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, III Marine Expeditionary Force, offloaded a High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle from the container and roll-on, roll-off ship USNS 1st Lt. Jack Lummus on March 21. Some 8,000 troops from both the US and the Philippines will commence its Balikatan exercise on 5th April. And the US has yet to offer an explanation on why its minesweeper, the USS Guardian, could run aground on Tubbataha Reef in the Sulu Sea near Palawan, two weeks before the incursion by the Sulu militants. And suddenly, Jamalul Kiram III who hardly has enough money to cover the bills for his twice-weekly kidney dialysis, could find the financial resources to send hundreds of armed militants across the Sulu Sea to Lahad Datu.
Perhaps, the Chinese naval exercise in the South China Sea and its “visit” to the southernmost part it claims comes as a warning to any party that plans to upset the military balance in the region. China, I would expect, would want to protect its interests; and the 180 by the Philippines in the Sabah issue could be seen as an attempt to de-stabilise the region. Having Sabah not only allows a nation to dip its fingers into Sabah’s oilfields but also increases its EEZ reach into the Spratlys.
Whatever the intentions may be by all the related parties, the Malaysian government should seriously look into increasing its naval and aerial assets. A country that is weak militarily will only see its soil trampled by foreign forces. The government should also make sure Sabah is not lost to another nation, and act against the Quislings who have caused the emergency in Lahad Datu.
On Friday, 26th October, 2012, Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun warned Japan over its action at the Diaoyu (called Senkaku by the Japanese) islands.
“We are watching very closely what action Japan might take regarding the Diaoyu islands and their adjacent waters,” Zhang Zhijun said, as reported by Reuters, at an unusual late night news briefing. “The action that Japan might take will shape China’s countermeasures.”
“If Japan continues down its current wrong path and takes more erroneous actions and creates incidents regarding the Diaoyu Islands and challenges China, China will definitely take strong measures to respond to that,” Zhang said.
China’s stance vis-à-vis the East and South China Seas have alarmed regional defence watchers. The Philippines, fresh from a very heavily one-sided standoff with the Chinese navy, mulled the purchase of two Maestrale-class frigates from Italy “as is” in order to boost up its antiquated navy.
Phillipines Defense Undersecretary for Munitions, Installations and Material Fernando Manalo described the frigates as “more lethal” than the Navy’s BRP Gregorio del Pilar, a re-commissioned but stripped down US Hamilton-class Coast Guard cutter.
He stressed that the frigates would not be stripped down like the Hamilton-class cutters.
“We demanded that we will not accept what is less than what has been installed in the vessel. Nothing will be removed,” Manalo said.
Chinese naval officers of late have been quoting Alfred Thayer Mahan extensively. In expanding her fleet, the Chinese have consistently argued that China now depends on oceanic trade for vital raw materials and for energy. Mahan always saw oceanic trade as the key argument for seapower. And while Mahan’s doctrine is greatly appreciated by the Chinese, the Americans will continue to see a reduction in their naval assets, putting pressure on America’s allies to arm themselves.
The Chinese recently had its first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, entered service in September this year in the midst of the Senkaku/Diaoyu fiasco. The former Soviet Varyag will be joined by two other aircraft carriers now being built in China.
The Chinese have also acquired the licence to build Tu-22M3 very potent anti-carrier bombers that gained notoriety during the Cold War in which the US Navy concluded that it was not nearly enough to shoot down anti-ship missiles launched by Backfires simply because the bombers could launch missiles from beyond the horizon, return to base to re-arm, and return for another attack, until the US fleet’s defences were exhausted. It is a popular belief that the Chinese navy would want to acquire the AS-4 anti-ship missiles once carried by Soviet Backfires, now being produced again by the Russians. This missile would give the Chinese a true beyond-the-horizon capability. Otherwise, they can employ their AS-17 rocket-ramjet anti-ship missiles.
Whether or not the East China Sea is the real focus of China remains to be seen. But the acquisition of aircraft carriers and Backfire bombers certainly reinforce China’s adoption of Mahanian ideas – keep the US fleet beyond the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, while their real focus is the South China Sea where the stakes may be quite high (oil and fishery, the valuable latter is already proven to be there).
Chinese hegemony in the South China Sea, strengthen by its now blue-water navy and good deterrence provided by the Backfire bombers, would almost certainly force ASEAN member countries to one day accept a considerable degree of Chinese “sovereignty” over the South China Sea.
And Malaysia’s already precarious position as a maritime nation is not helped by myopic politicians who keep questioning defence purchases just for the sake of winning public opinion.