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: LIMA ’17 Roars In Langkawi

Three RMAF Airbus A400M aircraft perform a fly pass at the LIMA ’17 exhibition

Defence expenditure is likely to rise as this region and beyond continue to face traditional and non-traditional threats.  The role of the defence industry is also changing dramatically, as new and changing threats require further research and development, increasing the overall costs and pricing of defence products and services.

This was the gist of the message conveyed by Dato’ Sri Najib Razak, the Prime Minister of Malaysia, at the opening ceremony of the Langkawi International Aerospace and Maritime 2017 (LIMA ’17) exhibition this morning.

“We need to equip our fighting men with the capabilities required to face modern warfare, both symmetrical and asymmetrical, and LIMA ’17 brings together major aerospace and maritime firms from around the world to demonstrate their state-of-the-art static and aerial displays and cutting-edge technologies,” he added.

One of the exhibitors, Leonardo Helicopter Division, a division of the Leonardo S.p.A that is headquartered in Italy, celebrated today the successful reaching of the impressive 100,000 flying hours milestone with the Weststar Aviation Services’s AW139 fleet.

Weststar Aviation Services is the largest South East Asian offshore helicopter services provider and largest helicopter operator of the AW139 in Asia.

Dato’ Sri Najib Razak visiting one of the booths at the Mahsuri International Exhibition Center in Langkawi after the opening of LIMA ’17

Leonardo has also brought the ATR-72MP aircraft which is being proposed for Malaysia’s requirement for an advanced new maritime patrol capability.  In the Electronics Warfare segment, Leonardo has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Hensoldt (the new name for Airbus DS Electronics and Border Security) to offer Mode-5 IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) solutions to customers around the world. This collaboration between two European leaders in defence electronics technology shows how, by joining forces, the team can position itself as market leader for cutting-edge new requirements. The two companies, working together as “Team Skytale”, have already been selected as preferred bidder by the UK Ministry of Defence to upgrade IFF systems on more than 400 land, sea and air vehicles.

The ATR 72MP is a multirole Maritime Patrol, Electronic Surveillance and C4I (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and Intelligence) aircraft with very affordable costs, developed and built by Leonardo’s Aircraft Division from the platform of the modern ATR 72-600 regional turboprop (pic courtesy of Leonardo Company)

The IFF technology allows operators to electronically identify friendly forces, distinguishing them from potential enemies. It does this by sending out an interrogation signal to unidentified platforms and verifying the automatic responses that are sent back, effectively a modern-day challenge and password system. Ensuring that ground, air and naval crews can reliably recognise their compatriots is one of the main ways of avoiding ‘friendly fire’ incidents. In 2020, all NATO nations are mandated to switch over to the new, more-secure ‘Mode-5’ version of the technology and other nations looking to operate alongside NATO forces will also need to be able to interact with the new standard. Mode-5 uses the latest cryptographic techniques to avoid the threat of deception by adversaries.

In another development, Thales has been selected by AirAsia to supply avionics systems on AirAsia’s new fleet of 304 A320neos.  Thales will equip the 304 single-aisles with its market leading Flight Management System (FMS), the navigation solution of choice for Airbus aircraft, alongside the THALES/ACSS T3CAS surveillance platform, the preferred solution for all Airbus single aisle aircraft.

AirAsia’s Airbus A320neo (pic courtesy of Economy Traveller)

Thales has been partnering with AirAsia, leading LCC in Asia, since 2005, forging a close relationship in support of the airline’s growth strategy. AirAsia already equips their entire Airbus fleet with Thales systems and has selected the group for all maintenance and support operations for Thales systems equipped across their entire A320 fleet of 200 aircraft. In addition to the avionics suite, Thales will continue to provide a Repair-by-The-Hour (RBTH) long-term maintenance contract to support AirAsia’s fleet expansion.  The agreement provides guaranteed turnaround times on repairs and offers a commitment of reliability with reduced operational risk.

Malaysia Minister of Defence, Hishammuddin Tun Hussein, meets with representatives from five countries to discuss asymmetrical threats by Da’esh

Meanwhile, Malaysia’s Minister of Defence, Dato’ Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein, met with representatives from five countries including Pakistan, Turkey, Indonesia and Qatar to present his view on how to combat the Da’esh threats.  The establishment of the King Salman Center of International Peace was also on the agenda of this meeting.

The RoKAF Black Eagles performing the “Bomb Burst” formation over Langkawi

Making its debut in Langkawi is the Republic of Korea Air Force’s 53rd Air Demonstration Group.  Commonly known as the “Black Eagles” the RoKAF team buzzed the skies of Langkawi in their KAI T-50B Golden Eagle supersonic advanced trainers.  The T-50B is one of the few supersonic trainers currently available in the world.

The Russians is well-represented.  The “Russian Knights (Russkiye Vityazi)” aerobatic team showcasing their Sukhoi Su-30SM aircraft for the first time outside Russia, while the Royal Malaysian Air Force performs aerobatics in its Sukhoi Su-30MKM.

The air aces of the two countries, whose performances constantly evoke admiration of the audience, highly praised the flight characteristics of their supermanouverable aircraft.

President of Irkut Corporation Oleg Demchenko marked the high skills of pilots and their ability to use the maximum extent of the fighter’s capabilities while First vice-president of UAC Alexander Tulyakov said: “Positive evaluation of aircraft given by pilots is very important for us – the developers and manufacturers”.

The meeting resulted with a joint photo shoot against the background of Su-30SM and Su-30MKM aircraft.

Sukhoi Su-30 pilots from the Russian Knights and the RMAF’s No.11 Squadron pose together

Russian’s Rostec State Corporation is working with the government of Malaysia to expand cooperation through the supply of civilian products and aviation.

“Over the last 20 years Malaysia has been a strategic partner of the Rostec State Corporation. We are actively involved in military and technical cooperation in a number of areas: aviation, the army and the military navy, and in recent years our cooperation has gained momentum.  We are currently engaged in arms supply programs and are upgrading technology that was previously supplied to Malaysia.

We are also looking to extending our cooperation to civil areas that have growth potential: electronics, composite materials and IT. The civil aviation market, especially the helicopter sector, is also showing great potential for us,” said Head of the joint delegation from Rostec and Rosoboronexport at the 2017 LIMA exhibition Viktor Kladov, Director for International Cooperation and Regional Policy Department of the State Corporation.

“LIMA-2017 is the most important event for the aviation and military navy markets of Malaysia and the surrounding region and our participation in it is a long-standing tradition. LIMA-2017 is attracting representatives of various countries of this region and we are looking to conducting fruitful negotiations both with the Malaysian Government and delegations from other countries,” he pointed out.

In the afternoon, the Prime Minister Najib Razak officiated the Maritime Segment which also involved major exhibitors such as THALES, MAST, ACS and SAAB, showcasing the latest technologies in defence products and a demonstration by the elite forces of Malaysia’s security enforcement agencies.

This year’s opening gimmick had the elite forces searching for a box containing a key for the Prime Minister to activate the launch sequence. The key was located using technologically-advanced, unmanned equipment that assisted the forces, including from the Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN), and was handed over to the Chief of Navy, Admiral Tan Sri Ahmad Kamarulzaman Haji Ahmad Badaruddin who then handed it to the Prime Minister.

Following the launch, a live action demonstration from the RMN Special Forces, the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency, the Royal Malaysian Police and the Marine Department of Malaysia with the setting being a hostage rescue mission at sea.

Demonstration by the Royal Malaysian Navy’s special forces, the Marine Operations Force of the Royal Malaysian Police, the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency and the Marine Department performs a demonstration

Later, Najib officiated the naming ceremony of the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency’s latest Offshore Patrol Vessel, the “KM Pekan”.  In attendance were Defence Minister Hishammuddin Tun Hussein as well as Japan’s Deputy Minister of Land Infrastructure, Transportation and Tourism, Tanaka Ryosei.

The “KM Pekan” is one of two offshore patrol vessels donated by the Japanese government to the MMEA in 2016.  Both vessels are 92 meters in length with speed of 20 knots and endurance of 30 days, suitable for enforcement missions in the South China Sea as well as in eastern Sabah.  Both are equipped with a helideck and state-of-the-art radars.

According to the Director-General of the MMEA, Admiral (Maritime) Datuk Seri Ahmad Puzi Ab Kahar, a set of crew has been sent to Japan to bring home the second vessel.

For yesterday’s article, please click Defence: LIMA ’17 To Be More Exciting

Defence: LIMA ’17 To Be More Exciting

The Langkawi Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition 2017 will be more exciting than the previous editions because there is a marked increase in floor space as a result of the re-introduction of the Maritime Segment at the Resorts World, Langkawi.

There will be the array of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) and Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUV) that will be on display such as the United States Air Force MQ-1 Predator, United States Navy MQ-8 Fire Scout, Thales Fulmar Mini-UAV, SAAB AUV 62AT, and the TBN UAV from Ukraine.

The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) will be debuting the newly-received offshore patrol vessel ‘KM Pekan’ donated by the Japanese government.

LIMA ’17 has confirmed 555 exhibitors from 36 countries and is expecting over 180,000 trade and public visitors from all over the world. LIMA ’17 will be held from 21 to 25 March 2017 in Langkawi. This year will mark the 14th edition in its 27 year history and is expected to be the best and biggest one to date.

Irkut Corporation of Russia will be featuring the Russian Air Force’s aerobatic team ‘Russian Knights’ in their spanking new Sukhoi Su-30SM.  This would be the return of the Russian Knights’ to LIMA and their first tour outside the Russian Federation in the Su-30SMs.

Sukhoi Su-30SMs of the Russian Knights at the Langkawi International Airport

Irkut will also be featuring its scout/attack helicopter, the Kamov Ka-25 “Alligator.”

Irkut Corporation will be featuring aircraft models of the entire Irkut product line will be presented at the UAC stand: the Su-30SME fighter, the Yak-130 and Yak-152 training aircraft, and the new MC-21 commercial liner.

Irkut Corporation comes under the Russian pavillion which is under the charge of JSC Rosoboronexport, which is a part of the Rostec State Corporation. Rosoboronexport is in-charge of the united Russian stand at LIMA’17 showcasing over 500 products from 20 enterprises of the defence industry complex of the Russian Federation.

LIMA’ 17 also serves as the perfect platform to encourage further co-operation between Malaysia and regional & global allies in both the maritime and aerospace industries, specifically on asset acquisition as Armed Forces around the world are modernizing their asset bases. For example, the Chiefs of Navy Roundtable Talk at LIMA’17 this year will bring together 12 Chiefs of Navy and 24 representatives to discuss about “Naval Capability Based Acquisition Reform”. Subsequently, the LIMA’17 Air Chiefs Conference will also be taking a similar approach this year, and the attending Chiefs of Air Force and other senior air delegations will be tackling the “Air Force Capability Based Acquisition Reform”.

The Ministers of Defence and Transport viewing the preparations at the Maritime Segment before the Press Conference cum High Tea on board the Royal Malaysian Navy frigate KD Jebat

Another first for LIMA 17 will be the involvement of youths from across the country. The Ministry of Youth and Sports, together with the Ministry of Defence have invited over 500 young individuals from Briged Sukarelawan Khidmat Negara (BSKN), Universiti Pertahanan Nasional Malaysia (UPNM), Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) Perlis, Parlimen Belia Malaysia, iM4U, Gabungan Pelajar Melayu Semenanjung (GPMS), Majlis Belia Malaysia (MBM) and our Reserve Officer Training Unit (PALAPES). They will be attending a Comprehensive Educational Tour throughout LIMA ’17 and attend engagement sessions with leaders in the defence sector. On the final day, a Transformasi Nasional 2050 (TN50) Townhall Dialogue on defence to encourage the youth to play a larger role and capture their aspirations about the future of Malaysia’s security.

ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, GUAM — A B-1B Lancer soars over the Pacific Ocean after air refueling training here Sept. 30. The B1B Bomber is deployed to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, as part of the Pacific Commands continuous bomber presence in the Asia-Pacific region, enhancing regional security and the U.S. commitment to the Western Pacific. The B1 is from the 37th Bomb Squadron, Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. Bennie J. Davis III)

Other than the Russian Knights, the Black Eagles, the aerobatic team of the Republic of Korea Air Force will be making a first-time appearance this LIMA. The Black Eagles’ performance involves 9 KAI – T50B jet aircrafts. LIMA 2017 will also see the TNI-AU’s Jupiter as part of the aerobatic demonstrations on show. Our very own Royal Malaysian Air Force’s SU-30 MKM and F/A 18D jets, the Rafale from France, the Gripen 39C/D from Thailand and 2 Supersonic B-1 Bombers from the United States Air Force will also perform flypasts during the exhibition.

The Royal Malaysian Air Force’s Sukhoi Su-30MKM will be performing solo aerial displays throughout the five-day exhibition in Langkawi