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

Defence Should Not Be Politicized

Hardly a week prior to this posting, there was a medical evacuation flight for two civilian patients made by the Royal Malaysian Air Force from Tawau to Kota Kinabalu.  Fuel cost for the flight alone, made using one of the RMAF’s workhorses, the Sikorsky S-61A4 “Nuri” helicopter, would have cost around RM6,500.  That is for just that one flight, let alone keeping all our aircraft airborne-ready to protect our airspace from intruders.

You may call me bias, as I was once part of the Air Force, but the organization is extremely proud of its capabilities.  And recently, the decision by the Air Force to allow alternative media practitioners a “no-holds barred” open day session at the RMAF Base Kuantan proved successful in answering many of the peculiar questions about the nation’s defence spending.  I was honoured not only to have been invited along by the Minister of Defence, but also for being able to help clarify certain things based on my experience to other bloggers.

Two Mig-29N interceptors from No.17 Squadron initiating the “Forced Down” maneuvers

For the first time (probably) in the history of the Armed Forces, the Air Force allowed civilians a peep into its daily life, and were allowed to question anything from operational capabilities right to the case of the missing F-5E engine.  And it was a good thing that the Minister and the Air Force were very open in answering each question.

A “target” being hit by BAe Hawk 206 close air support aircraft after being “painted” with laser-targetting device employed by the RMAF Commandos, the PASKAU

The bloggers were first taken to the Air Movement building where they were given a briefing of the activities ahead while having breakfast.  They were then taken to a static display of aircraft operated at the RMAF Base Kuantan.  They were shown the types of air interdiction missiles as well as air-to-ground munitions used by those aircraft.  Next, a section of the RMAF Commandos, the PASKAU, jumped off from 10,000 feet in a HALO (High Altitude Low Opening) formation to land in the center of the airfield where they employed a laser-targetting device to guide laser-guided munitions from the BAe Hawk 206 aircraft towards a target.  Having achieved their objective, two S-61A4 Nuri helicopters flew in tactical formation at tree-top level to extract the commandos via the SPIE-Rig (Special Purpose Insertion/Extraction) method.

Members of the elite PASKAU unit being extracted using the SPIE-Rig method

Next, the bloggers were divided into two groups.  I was in Group ‘A’ together with the Minister, Deputy Chief of Air Force, and blogger Big Dog where we were taken to the No.17 Squadron, home of the Smokey Bandits (Mig-29N).  There, we witnessed scrambling of Alert 5 aircraft that were sent to intercept two inbound bogeys (unknown aircraft) entering Malaysian airspace.  The term Alert 5, for the uninitiated, means from the point the scramble siren is sounded until the aircraft is airborne, takes five minutes.  There are, of course, different levels of interceptor aircraft readiness.

“Taufan Ganas 2” of the No.17 Squadron scrambles to intercept bogeys entering our airspace

Next we were brought to the No. 320 Sector Operations Squadron Center.  This center is one of the centers that have the whole view of what is happening in and around our airspace.  It is a superior version of what I used to see almost two decades ago and I must say I am proud of how the Air Force has spent its money.  It is both my hope and that of the Air Force’s that the Government would allocate funds for Airborne Early Warning and Command (AWACS) aircraft to further enhance this capability.  On the question of frequent intrusions to the south of the Peninsula, it is obvious that the RMAF is very well aware of what is going on there, and suffice to say, having seen the capabilities of our radar defence system, that it is not true at all what some Members of Parliament, in particular from the Opposition, have been saying.

Real-time feed of all the aircraft inside our airspace, monitored by the No.320 Squadron. This image can be zoomed in to see each individual area

With the addition of the Air Combat Maneuvering Instrumentation system our pilots have tripled their kill ratio compared to what it was back in the late 1980s and early 1990s.  Back then, our Air Force was already a force to be reckoned with.  Now, as in the words of a squadmate of mine who is associated with the ACMI system:

“You can run, but you cannot hide!”

The visit at the RMAF Base Kuantan ended with a visit to the training facilities developed locally by or in co-operation with local defence players.  These facilities have produced world-class skilled officers, men and women in order to protect us better.  Lunch was served at the Air Movement building where the Minister answered several questions pertaining to the Air Force, including debunking of claims that very senior officers of the Air Force are involved in the case of the missing F-5E engine.  It is clear now that the Opposition does not want the case to be tried by the Courts Martial because they have a lot to hide, and are trying to divert attention by framing others.

The Minister also asked for both mainstream and alternative media practitioners to be fair to the Armed Forces, and not politicize defence spending.  This is in light of the Opposition ridiculing the Armed Forces, especially in the Scorpene submarines case, that has somewhat affected the morale of the men and women of our Armed Forces.  When their claims of the Scorpenes not being able to dive was debunked live during LIMA 2011, they went to town with the costs of procurements and expenses.

I am sure they will never question the RM6,500 fuel cost for the S-61A4 Nuri medical evacuation flight last week had it been one of their family members being flown for medical treatment.  Therefore, stop politicizing our national defence.

Inside the C-130H transport aircraft