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: Airbus C295 Another Possible Platform For Malaysia’s MPA

Even before the incident involving the crash of a Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) Beechcraft Super King Air B200T Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) talks were rife in the industry about the limited capabilities the T200 could offer as an effective MPA and possible replacements.

The four, four-man crew aircraft in the RMAF’s inventory  complementing the C-130MP in performing the MPA role but subsequently replaced the latter due to operational costs versus mission requirements.

RMAF Beechcraft Super King Air B200T MPA

The B200T, however, has a limited endurance of four hours, maximum cruise speed of approximately 300 knots (540 km/h) which makes its on-station loiter time somewhat limited unless the aircraft is deployed on a detachment which means logistics support have to be deployed as well.  In the long run it would be uneconomical for the RMAF to run such missions.

Malaysian has recently expressed interest in second-hand Lockheed/Kawasaki P-3C Orion of the Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force (JMSDF) which are being replaced by the Kawasaki P-1 MPA. Although the RMAF is understandably weary of “hand-me-down” aircraft, the ready-to-fly P-3Cs offer an attractive opportunity to close the maritime patrol gap with hardly much that is needed to be done.  The P-3Cs have internal bays for torpedoes and depth-charges plus ten hardpoints on the wings for anti-ship missiles, torpedoes and mines.

The downside is that the last P-3C Orion to be delivered to the JMSDF by Kawasaki was on 1 February 2000, making the aircraft offered to the RMAF 17 years old or more!  The last aircraft delivered by Lockheed was in December 1994. The four Allison T-56-A-14 turboprop engines, although giving more speed, could only give a maximum range of 3,835 kilometers, which is only 700 kilometers more than the B200T, making the P-3Cs true gas-guzzlers. In December 2008, the US Navy had to ground 39 P-3Cs or 1/4 of its fleet due to age-related wing cracks. The average age of the Orions then were 28 years old.  17-year old P-3Cs have less than 15 years to offer to the RMAF unless an expensive service-life extension program is initiated for the fleet.

If acquired, the P-3Cs would be flying mainly RMAF’s anti-shipping missions.  These missions would require the aircraft to fly near wave-cap levels where the engines not only burn more fuel, but also be demanding on both the crew and the aging airframe.

JMSDF P-3C Orion (courtesy of Today’s Atsugi)

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 drove Airbus Defence and Space to fly the Asian route while delivering an Airbus C-295 Maritime Surveillance Aircraft to Brazil.

The aircraft, which is in a Search-and-Rescue configuration, made its stop in Malaysia late on Friday evening after Thailand and Vietnam.

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

Airbus Defence and Space’s marketing director Fernando Ciara explained that Airbus had decided to fly the Asian route through Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, South Korea, North America, Mexico before delivering the aircraft to the Força Aérea Brasileira to showcase a platform that not only would be suitable for the SAR/MPA/ASW roles but would be friendlier for aircrews to transition to given that most of the countries mentioned, especially to Mexico, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines are already operating either the C-295 or CN-235 aircraft, while Canada has been authorised to purchase the C-295.

Fernando Ciara, Airbus Defence and Space marketing director explaining the capabilities of the C-295

The commonality between the C-295 and the CN-235 also potentially leads to  even lower operating costs.  Ciara added that 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 C-295 makes the best option for maritime patrol and surveillance as well as anti-submarine warfare missions in Malaysia.

The C-295 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 P-3C’s speed of 760 km/h and the B200T’s 540 km/h, but has a range of 5,600 kilometers compared to the P-3C’s 3,800 kilometer range and the B200T’s 3,100 kilometer range.

This first of two SAR aircraft will be delivered to the 2º/10º GAv (2nd Squadron of the 10th Aviation Group) of the Força Aérea Brasileira at Campo Grande, Brazil

The anti-submarine warfare version, which is already in service with one operator, is equipped with underwing stations to carry weapons and other stores.

The Brazilian SAR C-295 carries the Elta EL/M-2022A(V)3 surface-search radar

The C-295 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.

Malaysia is Airbus’ third largest market in Asia, after China and India.  Today there are 125 Airbus commercial aircraft flying with Malaysia’s airlines, with another 470 on order for future delivery.

200 Airbus helicopters are also being operated in Malaysia including the H225M and AS555SN flown by the Malaysian Armed Forces, and the AS365 in service with the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency.

In addition to the CN235s, the RMAF is Airbus’s first export customer for the new generation A400M airlifter and has four aircraft in service.

Defence: All Is Fair In The RMAF

“Good iron doesn’t make nails, good men don’t make soldiers.”

That is the old Chinese adage which is still probably true especially for the Malaysian Chinese today.  It is the same adage that the late Lee Kuan Yew lamented about in one of his memoirs. The participation of the Chinese community in the Malaysian Armed Forces is still poor despite numerous recruitment drives done to get them to join.

In 2010, out of an approximate 100,000 men and women of the Malaysian Armed Forces, only 0.2 percent of Chinese joined the Malaysian Army, 0.3 percent joined the Royal Malaysian Navy, while 0.4 percent joined the Royal Malaysian Air Force. For the Indians, the numbers are 0.7 percent, 1.1 percent and 1.7 percent for the respective branch of the Malaysian Armed Forces.

It may be on the extreme end to say that the Chinese probably feel that it is far more important to make money than to play a role in defending the country, but the notion that I get is that they probably feel you cannot prosper working for the government.

It could also be due to the unwillingness of the youth nowadays to undergo hard training no matter how good the pay is. But that does not answer why the number of Malays are more in the Malaysian Armed Forces.

As a result, the Malaysian Armed Forces is overwhelmingly Malay.  Hence, in any leadership line up you would see more Malays becoming senior and star officers compared to the non-Malays.

This lopsided scene is then misinterpreted as the non-Malays do not stand a chance to rise and make the ranks – a perception that is played by those irresponsible to instill an anti-establishment feeling among the non-Malays.

Let us take the RMAF, for example, where the organisation has four non-Malay star officers (Brigadier-Generals and above) out of a total of 47.  That represents 8.5 percent of the total number of star officers compared to the 2.1 percent of total non-Malay participation in the RMAF, which is looking at increasing the number of non-Malays to a minimum of 20 percent of the total strength.

It is also important to note that among the operational officers, two non-Malay lady officers stand out the most.  They are Major Patricia Yapp Shau Yin RMAF and Major Teoh Siow Ling RMAF.

Major Patricia Yapp Shau Yin RMAF attributes her success to discipline, hardwork and determination, not race nor gender.

Major Patricia Yapp who hails from Sandakan, Sabah is an examplary Qualified Flying Instructor (QFI) who is the world’s first female pilot to fly the Russian-made Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29N.

When asked if there is discrimination in the RMAF towards women or the non-Malays, she said the men and women all do the same field training, physical training and flying training. Women don’t get special treatment and are all evaluated by the same standard and are given the same opportunities. The key is to never give up trying after each failure because it has taken her a lot to be where she is now. It is all about discipline, courage, teamwork and commitment.

She is saddened though that during one of the recruitment drives in her home state of Sabah, she waited for half a day for Sabahans to turn up but none did during the second half of the day.

Major Teoh Siow Ling RMAF flies the Lockheed C130H Hercules tactical transport aircraft

Major Teoh Siow Ling RMAF also attributes her success to discipline, determination and hardwork.  The Melaka-girl is aware that some non-Malays say that she would fare better elsewhere, for example, in the Republic of Singapore Armed Forces.

It is not true that there is discrimination against the non-Malays in the RMAF,” she said. “There are those who are my seniors who are Malays who still hold the rank of Captain. Race has nothing to do with it.

It is only because the number of non-Malays are small that you do not get to see a huge number go up,” she added. “If you don’t work hard, you will not go up and it doesn’t matter what race you are. If you do not shine, no one will see you and you will remain where you are.

The RMAF has had many pilots flying the fixed and rotary winged aircraft in its inventory since its establishment.  Not once has the RMAF barred any non-Malay to be involved in handling any sensitive equipment or information.  The Army has, if my memory serves me right, produced 29 non-Malay star officers, the RMN 22 while the RMAF 19.

Compare this to our Southern neighbour.  The Malays have only been accepted into the Armour Formation two years ago.  In fact, the Singapore Armed Forces used to have or still has a discriminatory policy towards the Malays, not allowing them to hold sensitive key positions thus depriving them of promising careers in the SAF.

Such discrimination does not exist in the Malaysian Armed Forces, which have produced 70 non-Malay Generals and Admirals.  All is especially fair in the RMAF.

Therefore, there is no reason for the non-Malays to shy away from joining the Malaysian Armed Forces.  There is also no reason for the people of Sabah and Sarawak to feel as if they would not be able to compete against those from the Peninsular.  After all, Major Patricia is from Sabah.

And the current Chief of the RMAF is from Kuching, Sarawak.

Keyboard Worrier

The above is a video on the attack by Yemeni Houthi rebels on the Saudi Arabian frigate “Al Madinah” last month, taken from the YouTube channel belonging to Defence Updates.

For those who are not familiar with the Yemeni conflict, it is about forces loyal to the former President Ali Abdullah Salleh who was deposed during the 2011 Arab Spring now fight those who are loyal to President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi who won the 2012 elections unopposed.

Ali Abdullah Salleh is backed also by the Houthis who are Zaid Shia that are thought to be backed by Iran, a claim that has been denied by Iran.

The Houthis took control of the government through a series of actions and Yemen’s northern neighbour, Saudi Arabia, has announced this as an unconstitutional coup d’etat.

The Arab League, meeting in Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt met in March 2015 and several countries of the League pledged military support for Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi.

The following are countries that are now involved directly and indirectly in the Yemeni conflict through what is now known as ‘Operation Decisive Storm’ otherwise known as ‘Operation Storm of Resolve.’

Belligerents involved in the Yemeni conflict
Belligerents involved in the Yemeni conflict

As you can see, Malaysia is not involved in the conflict and has not committed any troops or assets to assist the coalition against the Houthis.

However, there will be those momes who insist that Malaysia is involved in Yemen.  The person below included:

Example of a mome
Example of a mome

In his delusion, the Royal Malaysian Air Force is involved in the bombing of Yemen, possibly getting the RM2.6 billion donation as well as the billions of Ringgits worth of investments announced recently during the visit of King Salman, for helping Saudi coalition forces bomb Yemen.

I checked the RMAF’s order of battle to see which bomber assets are involved in Yemen and found this:

RMAF AirCo DH.10 bombers that the RMAF used extensively during World War One in the Battle of Kampung Pisang
RMAF AirCo DH.10 bombers that the RMAF used extensively during World War One in the Battle of Kampung Pisang near Kampung Gajah in Perak. Over 2.6 billion enemy personnel and civilians died as a result of aerial bombing campaigns by the RMAF from 1914-18

That is how absurd the claim by Opposition supporters such as the above that they would dish out lies no matter how stupid it would make them look.

I would rather the police take action against the above rumour-monger.

So how is the RMAF involved in Saudi Arabia?

Malaysia works closely with Saudi Arabia on the issue of the Da’esh. The fortnightly consultations between the two governments do include, at times, issues on Da’esh and other terror groups.  Malaysia is a member of the Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism (IMAFT) although it does not provide men and assets tot he coalition, and has involved itself in ‘Exercise North Thunder’  with 20 other countries in the northern region of Saudi Arabia.

Malaysia gives support to the IMAFT but does not provide military assets
Malaysia gives support to the IMAFT but does not provide military assets

What about the reports saying there are RMAF C-130H transport aircraft with ground support crew stationed in Saudi Arabia?

The RMAF has flown out Malaysian workers and students out from Middle Eastern countries that are in a conflict.  During ‘Operation Pyramid’ the RMAF had had to evacuate workers and students out from Egypt TWICE.  The situation in Egypt is still as delicate as during the Arab Spring.

In April 2015, the RMAF flew 67 students whom had fled Yemen out of Djibouti to Jeddah.  However, 131 Malaysian students have refused to leave Yemen.

Therefore, the Malaysian government through Wisma Putra and the Ministry of Defence is monitoring the developments in the Middle East closely and prudently stationed RMAF transport assets in Saudi Arabia in case there is a need for an immediate evacuation of Malaysian citizens.

Those who think that this option is a waste of taxpayers’ money can blame those who have refused to leave the nations in conflict, but for a government that many claim to not care about its citizens, this is how it shows it cares the least.

The first revelation by Allah to Muslims was IQRA’ or READ.

Not many Muslims in Malaysia do even that.

Defence:Excellence Despite Impediments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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