Saving Sarawak

I see several Sarawak-related pages claiming that no one, including the mainstream media, cares or has given coverage to the flood situation in Sarawak.

Comparing the response both the government and non-governmental organisations gave to the floods on Kelantan and Pahang to the ones now in Sarawak, the Sarawak-related pages say that there is very little that is being done by the Federal Government.

Government Assistance

All Federal Government agencies in Sarawak have been put on flood watch standby as early as December 2017. This includes, but not limited to, the Army 1st Division, the Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM), and the Fire and Rescue Services Department (FRSD).

The FRSD has been evacuating people from flooded areas, and in one particular instance, evacuated Suriah Bakar, 35, of Kampung Parong, Kota Marudu, who was in labour.

Prime Minister Najib Razak himself is constantly monitoring the flood situation in Sarawak and has promised to ensure that relief reaches all flood victims.

As at noon today (Thursday 8 Feb 2018), only five areas in three divisions in Sarawak have recorded water level above the Alert level. They are in the Miri, Bintulu and Kapit districts.

Only the Bintulu-Belaga road in Bintulu, and Long Jegan and Long Panai in Miri have water levels that are above the Danger level, while Ng Merurung in Kapit and Kuala Binyo in Bintulu have water levels that are above the Alert level.

The areas that are affected by the floods are Samarahan. Sarikei, Sibu, Serian, Bintulu, Mukah and Limbang.

Malaya-Biased Media?

While the Borneo Post has been actively updating the flood situations in Sarawak, Sarawakians complain that the Peninsular-based media, especially the electronic media, have not been giving ample coverage.

This is absolutely not true. Just yesterday I pointed to a Sarawakian friend URLs of mainstream media reports on the flood situations there, including the ones by NST, Berita Harian and Utusan Malaysia.

BERNAMA and RTM have been airing the plight of Sarawak flood victims. Even the station most hated by the Opposition, TV3, has been consistently reporting on the flood situations in Sarawak, covering flood relief centers as well as the latest evacuation operation this morning by the Civil Defence Force (APM) involving a woman in labour at Klinik Entabai, in Julau, Sarikei.

Social Media and Floods Fever

As far as social media is concerned, there is very little that the ordinary Semenanjung folks can do. While we can start collection centers here, sending stuff over there would not be economical at all.

Whilst there have been many flooding in the Peninsular, I made myself available for three – the Johor floods of 2006-2007, the Pahang floods of 2013, and the Kelantan floods of 2014. Those were the flood disasters that Peninsular people got together and helped government agencies to provide assistance to flood victims.

In Johor, I provided assistance between Parit Botak and Rengit. In Pahang, I assisted Her Highness the Tengku Puan Pahang in the Kuantan and Pekan areas. In Kelantan, my former classmates and I brought supplies from Putrajaya to the hospitals in Gua Musang, Kuala Krai and Jeli.

In Johor back in 2006-2007, two waves of floods hit the state. In the first wave, 90,000 people were evacuated. Just when they thought it was safe to return home, a second wave struck and caused 109,831 people to evacuate.

In 2013 Pahang, 40,819 people were evacuated.

In 2014 Kelantan, more than 170,000 had to be evacuated. The scale of destruction that I saw with my own eyes in Gua Musang, Manek Urai and Kuala Krai was just beyond comprehension. Even Kuala Muda in the aftermath of the 2004 Tsunami did not look as bad. Yes, I was there too in 2004 with a Malaysia Airlines aircraft captain friend (he now flies for Air Asia).

I took the above photo at Kampung Bukit Tebuk near Chiku while on the way from Kuala Krai to Gua Musang on 31 December 2014 because I saw this man at the Manek Urai relief center queuing for food for his family earlier in the morning. At this point he had walked 14 kilometres to get home.

Pulau Pinang in November 2017 saw 71,294 people evacuated. This was when Lim Guan Eng was seen crying for help…literally.

In comparison, the total number of evacuees in Sarawak as of last night was 4,859 people. It is a number that is still very manageable by the state government and its NGOs.

I have not seen any NGO in Sarawak running a donation campaign to collect cash and kind for flood victims there. If there is such a fund I am sure people in Malaya (a term fondly used by Sarawakians for Peninsular people which isn’t a nice term) would be glad to chip in. After all, I have relatives in Samarahan, Kuching, Miri, and friends working on the Pan Borneo Highway project that are affected by the floods.

Nor do I see throngs of 4X4 vehicles (which happens to be in abundance in Sarawak) carrying relief items to affected areas like it was done in the Peninsular.

How can anyone start anything if the Sarawakians themselves don’t do anything for fellow Sarawakians? I promise not to ask how many Sarawakians actually donated to flood victims and relief missions in Kelantan, Pulau Pinang, Johor and Pahang. To where should we Malayans send our donations to?

So, the feverish pace you saw in the Peninsular was because of the magnitude of the floods and the destruction they caused. The absence of any social media hype by socmed practitioners in Sarawak on the flood situation says all that.

I am not saying that the flood situation in Sarawak is not bad. Any flood is bad. But it doesn’t do justice when people sit and complain about it on social media expecting to be spoon fed. Just start something instead of whining. There are many here on this side of the South China Sea who would want to help.

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’s A400M Proves Its Worth In Marawi

Many often question the purchases of military hardware by the Malaysian Armed Forces without once realising the need for those platforms. The purchase of the A400M airlifter by the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) did not escape such criticisms.

This morning while many were asleep, a RMAF A400M aircraft was loaded with 19 tonnes of aid for the people trapped in Marawi City. This is the first Human And Disaster Relief (HADR) mission that involves the A400M.

RMAF A400M (M54-04) while being loaded with HADR aid

The A400M is a new-generation airlifter that is capable of lifting 17 tonnes of payload more than the other large transport aircraft in the RMAF’s inventory – the C-130H, and is able to fly 200km/h faster too.  It is said to be able to carry what the C-130H cannot carry, and land and take-off from where the C-17 cannot.

The Battle of Marawi that began on 23 May 2017 has killed not only the combatants but also innocent civilians. Apart from being caught in crossfires, 40 civilians are known to have died as a result of dehydration and a further 19 due to diseases contracted in congested evacuation camps.

The Malaysian SMART team accompanying the aid awaits as more aid makes its way to the aircraft hold

Due to the good relationship between the Najib Razak and Duterte administrations HADR aid is being sent from Malaysia to assist the people of Marawi. 11 personnel from the Special Malaysia Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team (SMART) are also sent to assist in the distribution of the aid.

The A400M is captained by Lieutenant-Colonel Baharin bin Mohamad RMAF and is assisted by Major Wan Azrul bin Wan Azmi RMAF. The aircraft will take approximately 4 hours and 15 minutes to Cagayan de Oro and will be on ground for nine to ten hours. No refuelling is required for the aircraft to make its return leg unlike the C-130H.

It is without doubt that the RMAF had chosen the perfect aircraft, without which such mission would have required the utilisation of more aircraft and manpower, and a higher operating costs.