Don’t Be Jumud, Jomo

I read with amusement a recent article posted on an Opposition-leaning news portal how Jomo Kwame Sundaram’s answer to address a ballooning debt is by cutting the Prime Minister’s Office’s spending, and also to reduce the number of mega-projects.

Jomo, who is Visiting Senior Fellow at Khazanah Research Institute, said that what Malaysia needs now is more appropriate development expenditure, not yet more operating expenditure, especially for the PMO, which has grown more than tenfold and has centralised power like never before.

According to the article, the PMO was allocated RM17.43 billion in Budget 2018, almost double the RM8.938 billion it received in 2008.

The Prime Minister’s Office or the Prime Minister’s Department?

The Visiting Fellow at Khazanah Research Institute apparently finds it difficult to distinguish between the Prime Minister’s Office and the Prime Minister’s Department.

According to Budget 2018, RM17.43 billion was allocated to the Prime Minister’s Department, and not the Prime Minister’s Office.

The Prime Minister’s Office is only one of 56 agencies under the Prime Minister’s Department.

I don’t know what was Jomo also trying to imply by saying that the PMO has more centralised power like never before.

Since the budget is for the PMD and not the PMO, the centralised power and authority to spend the budget comes under the Chief Secretary to the Government of Malaysia, who is appointed by the Yang DiPertuan Agong.

Major agencies under the Prime Minister’s Department include the 7,000-strong Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency, the 3,000-strong Civil Defence Force as well as the Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCOM).

All these agencies have been tasked to look after our security and well-being.

In 2008, there was no MMEA nor was there the ESSCOM.

The MMEA, for example, has since added more capable blue-water assets to replace its ageing heritage assets handed down from other agencies such as the Royal Customs Department, Royal Malaysian Police, Royal Malaysian Navy and the Fisheries Department.

The heritage assets’ average age was 30 years old and consisted mainly of coastal and brown-water assets.

ESSCOM has also added more assets such as surface-search radar, build installations for security units to operate from, to combat border incursions by illegal immigrants as well as by terrorist groups.

The Malaysian Civil Defence Force, or Angkatan Pertahanan Awam Malaysia (APM), has gone on a massive recruitment drive and assets procurement.

With a permanent force of only 3,000 there is not enough of them to go around in the case of an emergency or disaster.

It was reported that in Kuala Kangsar, there is only one permanent APM staff who is the ambulance driver when responding to an accident or other emergency medical cases, and is also the coxswain for the rescue boat when there are floods.

Surely the men and women of the agencies I mentioned above also deserve a raise when due.

Then there is of course, the Parliament.

The budget for Parliament also comes under the Prime Minister’s Department, in case Jomo is not aware of that.

Operating costs, staffing costs, allowances and pensions for current and former members of Parliament come from the Prime Minister’s Department.

So, when your MP walks out of a debate or does not attend bills voting sessions, don’t ask why is the government spending unnecessarily.

Ask why is the government paying for your lazy MP. Ask also why was your MP a one-term MP, and why is there so many one-term MPs especially from the Opposition.

And please also ask why is the government still spending on the secretariats of two former Prime Ministers – one who made so much noise when the government reduced the budget allocated for his staff, while he goes around running down the current government as well as the country.

Debts? Can’t We Pay?

Jomo, described as a prominent economist in the article, also mentioned about the fast-rising government debt which is now hitting almost RM700 billion (USD178 billion).

He said that the mega-projects that are now being constructed have added to the burden of debt that Malaysia has to shoulder.

While it is true that our debt is actually at RM687 billion, domestic debt is at RM492 billion (or 72 percent of total debt) while external debt is at RM195 billion (28 percent).

Our International reserves stand at RM417 billion.  I am looking at the latest report issued last week by the Bank Negara Malaysia.

But you do not just look at debt to know how we are performing economically.

Our debt to GDP ratio is at 53.2 percent, down from 54.5 percent the previous year, year-on-year.

So Jomo is off the target when he said the government is not addressing its debt issue.

Market consensus of our GDP expansion was at 5.4 percent.  Yet, it was at 6.2 percent year-on-year in September 2017, making our economy one of the most robust expanding economy.

Private consumption increased by 7.2 percent in the same reporting period where Malaysian spend mostly on food, communication, housing and facilities.

So how is that possible if the economy is not doing well?  Our exports grew by 12 percent; manufacturing sector rose 7 percent; services rose 6.6 percent; construction 6.1 percent.

At 53.2 percent debt to GDP ratio, it means that the government is still able to pay off its debts.

As a comparison, Japan’s debt to GDP ratio is 250 percent; the US is at 106 percent; France is at 96 percent while the UK is at 89 percent.

Among ASEAN nations, Singapore has the highest debt to GDP ratio which is at 112 percent.  Any country that has its debt to GDP ratio exceeding 100 percent means that it has debts more than it could make money.

But do we hear anyone from the countries mentioned above complain?

Epilogue

Every day we hear of ill-informed Malaysians complaining that our country is in such huge debt that the country will soon be in ruins.

Selective statements by the likes of Jomo is not helping the situation. And it certainly does not help especially when his statement was intentionally directed at the Prime Minister’s Office, and not the Prime Minister’s Department where the budget was given.

Perhaps, it was malice on his part to intentionally and falsely painting the wrong picture, to make the Prime Minister look bad.

Or perhaps it was the editor of the said portal who spun Jomo’s statement to make it look as if Jomo implied that it was the PMO instead of the PMD.

Either way, Jomo’s intentional or unintentional non-mention of the debt-to-GDP ratio shows the bad blood he has with the Najib administration.

A true economist would give the WHOLE picture.

Jomo is not.

(This article was first published by The Mole)

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: 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

Endorsing The Enemy

Almost three years ago the nation witnessed the slaughter of several police officers and men by a bunch of low-life thugs from the Southern Philippines, men of the self-proclaimed Sultan of Sulu, Jamalul Kiram III landed in Kampung Tanduo in Lahad Datu and demanded for the return of Sabah to the Sultanate.

 
The women above lost their husband and their children have lost forever a normal life.

Anwar Ibrahim, too, lent support to the thugs. He met up with Nur Misuari before the incursion and Jamalul Kiram III openly announced his support for Anwar as the new Prime Minister of Malaysia should BN fall during the 13th General Elections.

   
 
Treachery must run deep in Anwar’s family. On the 9th November 2015, his daughter and MP for Lembah Pantai, Nurul Izzah, went to lend her support to Jacel Kiram, daughter if the now rotting Jamalul Kiram III. Talk about insensitivity! Jacel Kiram still claims that Sabah belongs to Sulu.

  
To add insult to injury, DAP’s Teresa Kok had this to say to reporters about Nurul Izzah’s visit:

  
The visit is not serious, she said, and the events that took place at Kampung Tanduo is a bit of an old story.

I hope she could tell China to now stop asking for an apology from the Japanese, and that the Jews should forget the Holocaust ever happened.

Whoever votes for these MOs again ought to be castrated and raw iodine poured on their wound.

ESSCOM: The Toothless Cookie Monster

Just before midnight on Sunday, 4th May 2014, four heavily armed men dressed in army fatigues robbed four fishermen of their boat engines off Tanjung Labian, the scene of last year’s bloody incursion by armed Filipino men.  Around 2.45am on Tuesday, 6th May 2014, just 51 hours after Sunday’s incident, five armed men also dressed in army fatigues kidnapped Chinese national, Yang Zai Lin from his fish farm on Pulau Baik south west of Lahad Datu.  The Marine Police sent two fast patrol craft, a PA-class and a PSC-class, to intercept the boat the armed men used. There was an exchange of gunfire between them near Pulau Mataking but the armed men evaded capture in international waters after reaching the Sibutu islands, some 10 nautical miles from Mataking, quoting the Sabah Police Commissioner, Datuk Hamza Taib in The Star newspaper.

I cannot but agree with Kalabakan MP, Datuk Ghapur Salleh who was quoted to have said the following:

““Esscom is a toothless tiger. They have no command of the police or the army. It is better to get someone who has power.”

For those who have never been to that part of the world, let me first orientate you on the landscape.

Map showing Lahad Datu and Pulau Baik
Map showing Lahad Datu and Pulau Baik

As you can see in the map above, Pulau Baik (where the incident took place) is at the bottom left of the map, definitely more than 30 nautical miles away from Lahad Datu.

A map showing Lahad Datu, Semporna, and their proximity to the Sibutu islands of the Philippines
A map showing Lahad Datu, Semporna, and their proximity to the Sibutu islands of the Philippines

The distance between Pulau Baik and the fringe of the Sibutu islands is approximately 50 nautical miles. In calm seas and in a really fast boat, it should take an hour from Pulau Baik to the Philippines.

Mataking island and its proximity to the Sibutu islands
Mataking island and its proximity to the Sibutu islands

The distance between Mataking and the Sibutu islands is around 8 nautical miles.

Looking at the landscape, it would be erroneous to treat the whole area like any other borders that Malaysia has with its neighbours.  And appointing a civilian to head trans-border armed incursions is downright negligence.

The marine police dispatched two patrol craft to intercept the armed intruders but stopped once the armed men were in their territorial waters for reasons only known to them.  This morning’s incident is the third cross-border kidnapping incident in the areas controlled by ESSCOM.

The two fast patrol craft sent to intercept the armed men are very fast ones indeed (see photos below).  Why they stopped once the armed men crossed into Filipino-waters puzzles me.  I do not know how well read the people running ESSCOM are, but maybe they only read certain parts of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) such as Paragraph 3 of Article 111 of the Convention that states the following:

The right of hot pursuit ceases as soon as the ship pursued enters  the territorial sea of its own State or of a third State.

Perhaps, Paragraph 2 of the same Article should have been read too! It says:

The right of hot pursuit shall apply mutatis mutandis to violations  in the exclusive economic zone or on the continental shelf, including  safety zones around continental shelf installations, of the laws and  regulations of the coastal State applicable in accordance with this  Convention to the exclusive economic zone or the continental shelf,  including such safety zones.

In this case, in fulfilling with Article 98 of UNCLOS, a breach by our patrol craft into the waters of the Philippines would have been a technical breach, with mutatis mutandis applied, based on an agreement between the Philippines (then Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Carlos P Romulo) with Indonesia and Malaysia in July 1977 allowing cross-border hot pursuits and a system for families to cross the borders, while Article 100 of UNCLOS empowers the Philippines to allow that arrangement to be in place.

A Royal Malaysian Police's PA-class patrol craft
A Royal Malaysian Police’s PA-class patrol craft

With regards to this, the former Chief of Navy, Admiral Tan Sri Ramlan Mohamed Ali RMN, proposed in 2000 (after the first kidnappings in Sipadan) specific designated sea routes for vessels to enter Sabah, and enhancing monitoring capabilities by installing surface search radars (Project 1206) on islands off Sabah.  This was proposed in a meeting with the then-Chief Minister of Sabah, Tan Sri Chong Kah Kiat.  This proposal would have enhanced security in Sabah, especially in areas now under the jurisdiction of the ESSCOM.  However, when Chong Kah Kiat was replaced in 2003, the proposal was mostly forgotten.

Kidnapping for ransom in an area that had seen the death of several Malaysian servicemen defending the nation and later sworn to be defended from further incursions by armed Filipino men is unacceptable.  Three kidnappings involving four hostages in a span of six months is disgusting.  I am not sorry for standing by my opinion that the ESSCOM should not be headed by a civilian.  ESSCOM, in my opinion, is not RASCOM. Although the RASCOM (Rajang Security Command) was set up by the National Security Council in 1972 to combat communist insurgency by the Kalimantan Utara People’s Party (PARAKU) chiefly in Sibu, Sarikei, Kapit and Mukah areas.  There was not much cross-border incidents as the terrorists were mainly domestic, unlike in Eastern Sabah.  In the ESSCOM area, the security forces struggle to deny people from the Philippines from landing in Sabah for both economic and malicious reasons. No matter how developed the ESSCOM areas may be, you will still get Filipinos who would do anything in Sabah for personal gains.  The gold that can be found in Sabah is worth risking their life for, and there are tens of thousands just 50 nautical miles away who are willing to take that risk once in a while, group by group.

A Royal Malaysian Police's PSC-class fast interceptor similar to the one involved in the shootout near Mataking
A Royal Malaysian Police’s PSC-class fast interceptor similar to the one involved in the shootout near Mataking

If you look again at the maps above, both kidnappings took place on islands very close to the mainland.  This did not happen on the peripheral islands such as Mataking, Mantabuan, Boheydulang or even Timba-Timba.  It is a well-known fact that our waters in Eastern Sabah are very porous in nature.  I however suspect that the kidnappings were executed by people on the way back to Sibuti from either the Lahad Datu or Semporna areas.

Last month, I was in Eastern Sabah and managed to speak to a few personnel involved in guarding the islands in that area.  What I noticed different this time is that even the Army no longer has its Rover RHIB interceptors stationed on the islands of Siamil and Sipadan.  In the course of a week I was in that area, five fish-bombing incidents took place in Siamil alone and there was nothing the Army could do about it as they did not have a boat to pursue the perpetrators.  Red tapes caused by the formation of ESSCOM has slowed down procurement processes.  I was also told by senior operations people on the mainland that they are even frustrated by the Director-General of ESSCOM for rejecting the military’s need to conduct clandestine operations in Lahad Datu and Semporna to flush out suspected sleepers (as I would term them).  This clearly shows the lack of understanding by the DG of ESSCOM of military operations, and certainly of creating ESSCOM without giving due respect for defining its raison d’être with clarity and utmost conviction.  You cannot run an agency that fights trans-border armed intruders like a government department. You are bound to fail miserably.

An Army personnel stands guard at Siamil island and can only watch boats go by
An Army personnel stands guard at Siamil island and can only watch boats go by

As mentioned in a blog post of mine that I wrote last year, Defence-in-Depth is the method that should and must be employed in Eastern Sabah.  The first layer would have to be that of Force Projection – a term used to describe a nation’s ability to project power and exert influence in the ESSCOM area.  This has to be achievable and has to be sustainable in nature.  Firstly, all cross-border family members need to have their boats registered and each boat is assigned with a registration number that is stored into a database that can be easily accessed by patrol crafts, surface and aerial combat units.  These registration numbers must be displayed on the bow of their pump boat. They can only enter via the designated routes that Admiral Ramlan proposed back in 2002. We have many shallow reefs in that area and manned stations or posts can be built where each boat wanting to enter will have to report to first layer posts to register their intention.  Once their destination is made known, they will be issued with a colour-coded pass that they need to surrender at the second-layer post which would be at their destination.  The process is reversed when they want to return to the Philippines.  These first layer posts should be manned by the equivalent of an infantry section with RHIB interceptors at hand to intercept violators.  Each of these posts would also house surface search radars that transmits radar data to a sectoral command center.  Radar picket vessels should be on station to cover the approaches to and from Eastern Sabah and should cover all 1400 kilometers stretch.  This is where the two of the Principles of War come into play: the Concentration of Force, and Economy of Effort. Obviously, based on my observations at Siamil and Sipadan, the Angkatan Tugas Bersama 2 (ATB2) is ill-equipped to carry out such tasks.

Basing of assets also need to be considered.  While it is good to have major surface units such as the navy’s NGPV to be on station, these vessels are limited in endurance unless supply vessels are also available to re-supply and re-fuel.  These vessels need to be on-station for weeks before they can be replaced by another surface unit.  Major islands along the approaches from the outer limits all the way in should also have combat helicopters stationed on them.  Combat helicopters carrying two PASKAL snipers each can be airborne in under ten minutes to intercept armed intruders.  Certainly in the incident early this morning, the availability of such asset would have helped prevent the kidnappers from seeking refuge in their own territory.  Auxiliary ships, perhaps smaller versions of the Bunga Mas 5 and Bunga Mas 6 operated by the Navy with the assistance from MISC need to be employed in these areas to support operations.

Good intelligence is important.  There is nothing as valuable as good intelligence.  More often than not, even during the February 2013 incursion that led to the Ops Daulat, intelligence played an important role.  The coordination of good intelligence is equally important but I was told that such a thing does not exist under ESSCOM.  Valuable intelligence remain valuable only if they are acted upon in the quickest possible time, thus commanders need to have a good grasp of strategic and tactical knowledge that their Decision-Action tempo has to overcome that of the enemy they are fighting.  However as it is, the soldiers on Siamil and Sipadan can only watch if intruders sail past them at a safe distance.

On land, villages that may be used as hiding places for sleepers and intruders should be relocated at new villages and that would make effective the Chief Minister’s plan to introduce curfew in high risk areas.  Cutting off the locals from the intruders would also help in identifying them and distinguishing them from locals.  This is the area Mentek should be concentrating on as an Immigration officer and as an act for the Sabah people – weed out the illegals.

Of course, diplomacy has to be one of the layers of defence-in-depth.  In pursuant of Article 100 of UNCLOS, the Philippines must render all assistance in the repression of piracy as well as in upholding the 1988 Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts at Sea (SUA) that came into force in 2005.

Ops Daulat was not the first time that we have had armed incursions. on the 25th September 1985, 21 armed intruders dressed in Army fatigues attacked Lahad Datu town at 12 noon.  The Royal Malaysian Police’s patrol boats PX29 and PX16, later supported by PZ14 cornered the intruders at Mataking and decimated them.  While in pursuit, the marine policemen received an order from the then-Sabah Commissioner of Police to “not allow the pirates to live.”  Such was the statement of the aim, clearly defined, and that order determined the outcome of the battle.

Eastern Sabah is not just any security zone.  It is a zone that faces members of battle-hardened paramilitary groups that have been fighting the Government of the Philippines since the late 1960s.  Therefore, protecting this zone means having to conduct military-like operations that should be handled by professional combatants and not by civilians.  If the statement of aim of the strategy is to deny incursions, then it would have to be conducted with resolve and not through half-baked approaches or emulating other security zones whose methods are peculiar only to those areas, but not in areas managed by ESSCOM.

Leave defence of the nation to the professionals!

ESSCOM’s Failure: Who To Blame?

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If you think it is disgusting that armed men believed to be from the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf could infiltrate our borders of the east coast of Sabah last November, shoot dead a tourist from Taiwan and kidnapped his wife, then again a few days ago taking a tourist from China and a resort worker away, guess what is even more disgusting? That the man above, the Deputy Minister of Home Affairs, had the cheek to say the following (as quoted by The Star:

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Who are we to blame then, Wan Junaidi?

May I remind the Deputy Minister that ESSCOM was created on 7th March 2013 to ensure the security of the ESSZONE is taken care of in a holistic manner so there would be no recurrence of the Lahad Datu incursion and of other similar incidents. Maybe I can provide the Deputy Minister with a statement by the Prime Minister on Police Day 2013 that was posted on ESSCOM’s website.

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ESSCOM is an agency under the Prime Minister’s Department to undertake the enhancement of security in the ESSZONE defined as 10 districts from Kudat to Tawau spanning 1,733.7 kilometers, to prevent recurrence of any form of intrusion by unwanted foreign elements.  The method that should be employed to affect this is by applying the Defence-in-Depth concept that I wrote about in March of 2013 when ESSCOM was first formed.  The military has worked with the police in a support role on numerous occasions starting with the First and Second Emergencies of 1948-1960 and 1968-1989 periods respectively, in various UN missions such as to Cambodia, Liberia, and Timor Leste. The military also supported the operations conducted by the police in Ops Daulat last year, and since then the military and police have conducted basic recruit training jointly at the Army Recruit Training Centre in Port Dickson to enhance better understanding between the two.  Therefore, the issue of one not being able to accept orders by the other does not arise.  In any case in peacetime, the command of the police prevails and the military plays a supporting role, and this has always been case.  The Immigration however, does not have any experience in operational security as they only act as filters to immigration, and not experienced nor trained in deploying combat assets.  It is no secret that the southern Filipinos have no respect nor fear for our Immigration Department. They only fear our police and the military.

I don’t subscribe to Wan Junaidi’s remark that the resorts should close down. They have been in existence even before the formation of ESSCOM. They are still located within our littoral zones. Should they not be protected? Should there not be security forces stationed at these resorts as there is on Mataking, Mabul, Sipadan, SiAmil and other islands?  If the resort owners do not cooperate, what is the problem? Who makes the policies? Can’t action be taken against resort owners who do not respect policies? Stop giving stupid excuses, Wan Junaidi, and start behaving like a Deputy Minister.  If ESSCOM cannot even get the buy-in because it does not have the will to enforce and execute policies, it should be disbanded and leave it to the police and military to run an enhanced version of Ops PASIR. The Immigration Department should just go back to stamping passports and weed out illegal immigrants.

So, who is to be blamed, Wan Junaidi?  Who is to be blamed for appointing a non-combatant to take charge of a combat situation? Who is to be blamed if as a result of the appointment two armed incursions have taken place resulting in the kidnapping of three people and the death of one?  I will blame Wan Junaidi for making stupid statements, one after another, and blame the government for making him a Deputy Minister.

ESSCOM ERROR

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When the government announced the formation of the Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCOM), I said to myself, “About bloody time!”. I imagined security sectors formed from Kudat to Sandakan to Lahad Datu to Semporna and Tawau, mirroring what we used to have along the Malaysian-Thai border during the Communist insurgency such as Kota Alfa, Kota Bravo, Kota Charlie and Kota Delta spanning Kuala Perlis to Tumpat. The initial aim was to combat the communist guerrillas and stopping their infiltration from Southern Thailand. After the treaty in December 1989, we had elements of the Unit Pencegahan Penyeludupan (UPP) or the Anti-Smuggling Unit operating in these areas in a supporting role, to curb the smuggling of contrabands and also human trafficking.

Instead, I find it rather amusing when the Ketua Setiausaha Negara announced that Datuk Mohammad Mentek has been appointed as the Director of ESSCOM effective April 1st. What is wrong with this appointment? Mohammad Mentek is the Director of Immigration for the state of Sabah, the agency that, in my opinion, has failed badly in curbing the in-flow of illegal Filipino and Indonesian immigrants into that state.

The New Straits Times ran a story on Mohammad Mentek’s appointment and a statement by the KSN that was complemented by Mohammad’s curriculum vitae; citing even that Mohammad would be very experienced in the field of security and public order.

This April 1st appointment has to be an April’s Fool joke with an extremely bad taste. Surely the KSN should know the functions of the Immigration Department like the back of his hand. If I may provide a memory-jogger for all, the. immigration Department’s functions are:

  • 1. Issuing of passports and travel documents to Malaysian Citizens and Permanent Residents.

    2. Issuing of visas, passes and permits to Foreign Nationals entering Malaysia.

    3. Administering and managing the movement of people at authorised entry and exit points.

    4. Enforcing the Immigration Act 1959/63, Immigration Regulations 1963 and Passport Act 1966.

  • If you think I made the above up, read it here. How much of an expert do you think the Sabah Director of Immigration would be in the field of counter-insurgency warfare, joint-command operations and public order? Other than the pen being mightier than the sword, I doubt if the person’s handled anything more than the butter knife, let alone deploy battalions of soldiers and policemen in combat situations.

    This is another example of the government missing out on a good opportunity to make things better. Obviously, the main concern when we talk about Sabah right now is its defence from foreign elements. With the heavy presence of our security forces there, we can only see illegal immigrants returning to their homeland, and not the other way round. Therefore, the government should have had a clear aim (again, quoting from the Principles of WAR) in ensuring its strategies in making Sabah more secure conform to this aim. A concept called Defence-in-Depth should have been adopted instead where the Army and Police’s General Operations Force occupy the peripheral islands off Sabah, as being done in Ops PASIR, supported by the Navy, Marine Police and the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency. These are the front-liners that will be meeting armed militants head-on. Onshore, defence and security should be effected by the Army and Police. The Immigration Department will just stick to its supporting role, weeding out illegal immigrants.

    Therefore, in my opinion, the ESSCOM should be jointly-directed by the Deputy Commander of the Army’s 1st Division, one of the deputies of the Commissioner of Police, Sabah, and the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency’s Head of Regional Enforcement for Sabah and Labuan. The reason is because they are in-charge of the combat and combat-capable units operating in this region, not the Immigration.

    In conclusion, the choice of the Director of Immigration for Sabah as the Director for ESSCOM is a grave mistake. I respect the person for who he is, but if the government wants to be seen serious in protecting the Malaysians in the state of Sabah, leave the job to the professionals. Not someone who holds a Master of Science (Statistics) degree and a Bachelor of Science (Mathematics) degree from the University of Minnesota, United States.