HUT Maritim Malaysia Ke-16: Ancaman Kedaulatan dan Masalah IUU

Agensi Penguatkuasaan Maritim Malaysia akan menyambut hari ulangtahunnya yang ke-16. Bagaimanakah rupa cabaran yang bakal dihadapinya pada masa akan datang?

10 hari sebelum berakhirnya tahun 2020, China mengumumkan bahawa grup tempur kapal pengangkut pesawatnya yang terbaharu, Shandong, sedang dalam pelayaran ke Laut China Selatan melalui Selat Taiwan untuk menjalani latihan-latihan. Pada hari Krismas 2020, pesawat pengangkut terbesar China dari jenis Y-20 dikesan telah membuat pendaratan percubaan di Terumbu Fiery Cross di Kepulauan Spratlys. Kedua-dua perbuatan China ini memberi isyarat bahawa negara tersebut mempunyai kebolehan untuk mengirim bala bantuan untuk memperkukuhkan kuasa tenteranya di kawasan yang menjadi rebutan pelbagai negara tersebut.

Di perairan negeri Perak pula, 181 bot nelayan asing yang menjalankan penangkapan ikan secara haram (IUU – illegal, unreported, unregulated) telah diusir oleh kapal peronda KM Malawali dalam masa enam hari bermula 28 November 2020 hingga 3 Disember 2020. Selain perairan Perak, lain-lain bot nelayan asing juga diusir keluar dari perairan Pulau Pinang, Kedah, Pahang dan Terengganu.

Dalam bulan Disember 2020, Maritim Malaysia negeri Pulau Pinang berjaya menahan dua buah bot dalam dua kejadian kejar-mengejar kelajuan tinggi (high-speed chase) berasingan di laut dan merampas sejumlah dadah bernilai hampir RM11 juta.

Ketiga-tiga keadaan di atas mencerminkan cabaran-cabaran yang sedang dan bakal dihadapi oleh Maritim Malaysia pasca hari ulangtahunnya yang ke-16 pada 15 Februari 2021. Sebagai sebuah agensi penguatkuasaan yang masih muda, Maritim Malaysia telah terpaksa meredah ombak bukan sahaja di samudera luas, malah dalam konteks geopolitik serantau. Untuk mengupas isu ini dengan lebih lanjut, kita bahagikan cabaran-cabaran ini kepada x bahagian seperti berikut:

  • China, Vietnam dan Ancaman Kedaulatan
  • Pendatang Asing Tanpa Izin (PATI) dan Pelarian Rohingya
  • Penangkapan Ikan Secara Haram (IUU) di era pandemik COVID-19
  • Pengoperasian Aset dan Masalah Penguatkuasaan

CHINA, VIETNAM DAN ANCAMAN KEDAULATAN

Kedaulatan Malaysia kini tercabar bukan sahaja dengan pencerobohan-pencerobohan yang dilakukan oleh nelayan-nelayan dari China dan Vietnam di Zon Ekonomi Eksklusif (ZEE) Malaysia di Laut China Selatan (SCS) tetapi juga dengan yang dilakukan oleh kapal-kapal dari China Coast Guard (CCG) dan Vietnam Coast Guard (VCG).

Punca permasalahan ini adalah apabila China mengisytiharkan sebahagian besar SCS sebagai wilayah maritimnya serta menambak terumbu-terumbu di kawasan Kepulauan Paracel dan Spratly yang merupakan kawasan tuntutan bertindih melibatkan lima buah negara lain iaitu Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Filipina dan Brunei. Kawasan ini ditanda di dalam peta keluaran China sebagai terkandung dalam Nine-Dash-Line yang melanggar prinsip UNCLOS yang mana China merupakan salah sebuah negara yang telah meratifikasi perjanjian tersebut.

Keadaan ini diburukkan lagi dengan satu undang-undang yang digubal pada 22 Januari 2021 di China membenarkan kapal-kapal CCG untuk menggunakan kekerasan termasuk menembak mana-mana kapal yang dianggap menceroboh kawasan yang dituntutnya. Nelayan-nelayan Vietnam dan Filipina pernah menerima padah berhadapan dengan kapal-kapal CCG sebelum ini, dan keadaan ini memaksa para nelayan Vietnam untuk belayar jauh ke selatan untuk menangkap ikan. Akibatnya, mereka memasuki ZEE milik Malaysia di mana keadaan mendesak mereka untuk bertindak ganas supaya tidak ditangkap oleh pihak Maritim Malaysia. Umum tahu salah satu insiden telah berakhir dengan kematian seorang nelayan Vietnam.

Kegagalan ASEAN dan China untuk menyelesaikan masalah Code of Conduct (CoC) sejak 2002 juga memainkan peranan membenarkan China meluaskan tuntutannya di SCS. Walaupun ini merupakan permasalahan yang dipertanggung jawabkan kepada Kementerian Luar Negeri (Wisma Putra), Maritim Malaysia terpaksa menanggung risiko serta akibat kegagalan tersebut.

Kehadiran Duta China ke Malaysia yang baharu, Ouyang Yujing, juga sedikit-sebanyak memberi isyarat bayangan kepada Malaysia dan ASEAN bahawa China akan terus cuba menekan Malaysia sebagai salah sebuah negara yang menuntut sebahagian wilayah Kepulauan Spratly supaya menerima tuntutan China ataupun berkompromi untuk adakan kerjasama di wilayah tersebut. Ouyang Yujing yang dahulunya merupakan bekas Ketua Pengarah Bahagian Hal Ehwal Sempadan dan Lautan China dikatakan lebih berpengalaman dan lebih berwibawa menangani isu CoC dan SCS berbanding Duta sebelumnya iaitu Bai Tian. Ini sudah tentu menyukarkan lagi penyelesaian CoC SCS yang cuba dicapai sebelum akhir tahun 2021.

Sejak Disember 2020, iaitu setelah digantung selama 11 bulan akibat pandemik COVID-19, China telah memperkenalkan semula pelayaran kapal mewah membawa para pelancong China ke Kepulauan Paracel. Di antara agenda pelayaran ini ialah untuk membolehkan para peserta mendarat di salah sebuah pulau yang dituntutnya dan diadakan satu upacara menaikkan bendera negara China serta sumpah setia mempertahankan Kepulauan Paracel (Xisha) daripada ancaman lain-lain negara.

Inilah realiti yang mungkin dan bakal dihadapi oleh Maritim Malaysia pasca sambutan hari ulangtahunnya yang ke-16, di mana China mungkin membawa kapal-kapal mewah ini ke Beting Patinggi Ali (Luconia Shoals) dan Beting Serupai (James Shoal) di luar pesisir pantai negeri Sarawak dengan diiringi kapal-kapal ronda CCG dan lakukan perkara yang sama untuk memperkuatkan tuntutannya ke atas kedua-dua beting tersebut. Bagaimanakah tindakbalas yang akan ditunjukkan oleh pihak Maritim Malaysia sekiranya ianya tidak dilengkapi dengan aset-aset yang lebih berkeupayaan adalah menjadi suatu tanda tanya.

Selagi CoC tidak mendapat persetujuan kesemua pihak yang membuat tuntutan, dan dihormati oleh China, sehingga itu Maritim Malaysia akan terpaksa berhadapan dengan masalah nelayan Vietnam dan keangkuhan kapal-kapal ronda CCG di wilayah maritim Malaysia.

PENDATANG TANPA IZIN (PATI) DAN PELARIAN ROHINGYA

Pada 13 November 2020 dilaporkan dalam suatu sidang media bahawa terdapat lebih kurang 20,000 orang PATI yang berada dalam tahanan di seluruh negara. Ini bermakna kerajaan membelanjakan sebanyak RM800,000 sehari untuk menyediakan makanan untuk kesemua PATI yang ditahan ini. Ini menjadikan jumlah perbelanjaan yang ditanggung pembayar cukai untuk makanan harian PATI yang ditahan sebanyak RM24 juta sebulan.

Bagi kos ujian saringan COVID-19 yang ditanggung oleh pembayar cukai untuk 20,000 PATI yang ditahan ini, ianya berjumlah RM60 juta untuk sekali calitan. Ini tidak termasuk kos rawatan yang ditanggung pembayar cukai sekiranya mereka didapati positif COVID-19. Bukankah wang ini lebih baik dibelanjakan untuk kebajikan dan kesejahteraan rakyat kita sendiri?

Maka, adalah tidak masuk akal radio-radio karat yang meminta kerajaan lebih bersikap prihatin terhadap PATI terutamanya pelarian Rohingya yang sering mengambil kesempatan ke atas keprihatinan rakyat Malaysia untuk menjadikan negara ini destinasi pilihan kerana peluang yang disediakan oleh jaringan perniagaan yang menunggu mereka di sini.

Masalah kemakmuran ekonomi di Malaysia serta pandemik COVID-19 menjadi bebanan kepada Maritim Malaysia serta lain-lain agensi sokongan kerana terpaksa menentukan PATI dan pelarian Rohingya dihalang dari memasuki perairan negara dan bukannya ditahan. Penguatkuasaan seumpama ini adalah lebih sukar dari tindakan tangkapan yang kini menjadi pilihan terakhir agar tidak ada mana-mana petugas barisan hadapan di perairan kita terdedah kepada jangkitan COVID-19. Sebarang penambahan jumlah PATI yang ditahan adalah bebanan yang terpaksa ditanggung oleh pembayar cukai dan para petugas barisan hadapan.

Tambahan pula, baru-baru ini dilaporkan seramai 200 orang pelarian Rohingya telah melarikan diri dari kem pelarian di Lhokseumawe, Aceh untuk mencari cara untuk ke Malaysia juga. Pelarian ini adalah dari kalangan mereka yang telah menaiki bot dengan bantuan sindiket dari kem pelarian di Bangladesh yang telah gagal menyelinap masuk ke dalam perairan Malaysia setelah diusir atau dihalang oleh penguatkuasaan yang kuat dan terpaksa mendarat di Aceh.

Dibantu oleh sindiket di Indonesia, mereka dan PATI dari Indonesia bergerak dari Aceh ke Medan, dan seterusnya ke Tanjung Balai di mana mereka akan menaiki bot-bot menuju ke pantai-pantai negeri Selangor seperti di Kapar, Sungai Besar, Morib dan Sabak Bernam. Selain negeri Selangor, negeri Sabah juga menjadi tumpuan PATI dari Selatan Filipina dan Indonesia. Di antara bulan Januari hingga 23 Oktober tahun lalu, seramai 6,782 orang PATI yang berada dalam tahanan di negeri Sabah telah dihantar pulang.

Di sini kesedaran rakyat Malaysia terhadap masalah PATI dan pelarian Rohingya serta sokongan terhadap usaha Maritim Malaysia menghalang kemasukan mereka ini adalah amat penting untuk kekuatan moral mereka yang terpaksa berhadapan dengan masalah ini. Usaha Maritim Malaysia untuk membendung dan menghalang kemasukan PATI dan pelarian Rohingya bukanlah suatu perkara yang mudah; malah ianya disukarkan lagi dengan tanggapan negatif oleh NGO-NGO dan rakyat Malaysia sendiri yang tidak faham kesan negatif terhadap mereka dan negara.

PENANGKAPAN IKAN SECARA HARAM (IUU) DI ERA PANDEMIK COVID-19

Penangkapan ikan secara haram, tidak berlapor dan tidak terkawal (illegal, unreported, unregulated fishing) juga dilaporkan telah memberi kerugian sebanyak RM6 bilion kepada negara pada tahun 2019.

IIU bukan sahaja bermakna pelakunya adalah bot nelayan asing (BNA) tetapi juga bot nelayan tempatan (BNT) yang menangkap ikan di luar zon atau kawasan yang dibenarkan, sebagai contoh: bot nelayan laut dalam Kelas C2 menangkap ikan di zon Kelas B atau Kelas C, atau bot nelayan yang berdaftar di negeri Terengganu menangkap ikan di negeri Johor.

Penjualan ikan di tengah laut, memberi laporan palsu mengenai jumlah tangkapan, penggunaan peralatan yang dilarang seperti Pukat Sorong, pukat tunda dua bot, Bubu Naga, Pukat Pari, bahan letupan – kesemua ini terangkum di dalam definisi IIU.

BNA dari Vietnam, Thailand dan Indonesia sering mencerobohi perairan kita untuk menangkap ikan. Sebelum era pandemik COVID-19, penguatkuasaan adalah lebih mudah kerana agensi-agensi seperti Maritim Malaysia bertindak dengan menahan BNA serta awak-awak, dan ini menjadi satu bentuk pencegahan terhadap BNA yang lain. Namun, kerana sebab yang telah dinyatakan di atas, penahanan dan tangkapan bukan lagi menjadi langkah yang digalakkan untuk membendung penularan pandemik COVID-19.

Masalah IIU di Laut China Selatan (SCS) berhubung kait rapat dengan pertindihan tuntutan ke atas Kepulauan Paracel dan Spratly, dan juga penangkapan ikan berlebihan di Vietnam. Sejak 1997 lagi sudah terdapat laporan mengenai kegiatan penangkapan ikan berlebihan di Vietnam yang menyebabkan pengurangan mendadak sumber perikanan di negara tersebut. Ini diburukkan lagi dengan ketiadaan sebarang bentuk pengurusan sumber perikanan walaupun terdapat undang-undang untuk menguruskan hal itu di negara tersebut. 20 tahun kemudian, perkara yang sama masih dilaporkan oleh Vietnam di mana Jawatankuasa Tetap Dewan Negara Vietnam (NASC) menzahirkan perasaan risau kerana kehidupan laut di sepanjang 3,200 kilometer pesisiran laut negara tersebut dikatakan pupus.

“Dulu kita menangkap ikan dengan terlalu banyak. Kini kesemua laut kita – Bach Long Vy, Truong Sa atau Phu Quoc sudah kosong,” kata bekas Timbalan Ketua Staf Tentera Darat Vietnam, Leftenan-Jeneral Pham Ngoc Minh kepada Jawatankuasa Tetap tersebut.

“Inilah punca nelayan kita keluar menangkap ikan di perairan negara lain dan ditahan.”

Di Selat Melaka, pencerobohan oleh BNA Indonesia pula menjadi-jadi kerana penguatkuasaan lebih kepada tindakan mengusir keluar BNA dari perairan. Oleh kerana kekangan terhadap cara penguatkuasaan akibat pandemik COVID-19, kita dapat melihat bagaimana BNA Indonesia giat lakukan penangkapan ikan sehingga 10 batu nautika ke dalam perairan kita di antara tenggara Pulau Pinang hingga ke pertengahan perairan negeri Perak.

Di antara bulan Januari 2020 hingga Oktober 2020, sebanyak 89 buah bot nelayan asing ditahan bersama-sama 912 orang tekong dan awak-awak. Jumlah terbesar adalah BNA Vietnam iaitu sebanyak 73 buah dan 820 orang tekong dan awak-awak. Ini diikuti BNA China (7 buah dan 72 orang tekong dan awak-awak), BNA Indonesia (6 buah dan 17 orang tekong dan awak-awak), dan BNA Thailand (3 buah dan 4 orang tekong dan awak-awak). Dari segi kawasan pula, 72 buah BNA ditahan di Laut China Selatan, 10 buah di perairan selatan Johor, 4 di Selat Melaka dan 1 di Laut Sulu.

Masalah IIU ini meruncing sejak Perintah Kawalan Pergerakan (PKP) mula dikenakan pada 8 Mac 2020 di mana SOP penguatkuasaan lebih kepada tindakan pengusiran untuk mengurangkan beban ke atas pusat-pusat tahanan serta sistem pengurusan kesihatan negara. Di antara tarikh mula PKP hingga 30 November 2020, sebanyak 591 buah BNA telah diusir. Dari jumlah tersebut, 445 telah diusir dari perairan negeri Perak di mana 388 telah diusir sepanjang bulan November 2020 sahaja! Inilah dilema yang dihadapi oleh Maritim Malaysia mempertahankan kedaulatan perairan negara.

PENGOPERASIAN ASET DAN MASALAH PENGUATKUASAAN

Sebagai sebuah agensi yang masih baharu, Maritim Malaysia telah banyak menempa kejayaan walaupun dengan keadaan yang tidak begitu kondusif. Dengan jumlah keanggotaan sekitar 4,000 orang, Maritim Malaysia dilengkapi dengan lebih kurang 70 buah kapal peronda bersaiz melebihi 20 meter, lebih kurang 170 buah bot peronda laju berukuran kurang 20 meter, enam buah pesawat sayap putar dan dua buah pesawat sayap kaku.

Sebahagian besar kapal peronda adalah merupakan perolehan melalui pindah milik termasuk aset-aset dari Japan Coast Guard (JCG), Australian Border Force, Tentera Laut DiRaja Malaysia dan Polis DiRaja Malaysia. Maritim Malaysia kini dalam proses menambah keupayaan dengan perolehan lebih banyak kapal peronda terutamanya yang berukuran lebih 40 meter untuk meningkatkan keupayaan rondaan terutamanya di Laut China Selatan (SCS).

Walaupun jumlah kapal dan bot peronda milik Maritim Malaysia menjangkau lebih 200 buah, bukan sahaja ianya tidak mencukupi tetapi aset-aset pindah milik yang diterima sudah berusia lebih 20 tahun. Lebih kurang 30 peratus kapal ronda berukuran lebih 20 meter sudah berusia lebih 30 tahun.

Satu lagi masalah yang dihadapi ialah apabila penahanan BNA ataupun BNT dilakukan, bot-bot tersebut perlu ditunda balik dengan segera untuk proses seterusnya sementara tekong dan awak-awak ditahan dan bahan kes yang disita dan disimpan di lokap dan bilik simpanan Maritim Malaysia yang diwartakan.

Ini bermakna kapal peronda yang terbabit perlu tinggalkan kawasan operasi untuk menunda BNA dan BNT tersebut. Kawasan operasi yang ditinggalkan terbuka kepada lain-lain BNA dan BNT untuk dicerobohi. Bayangkan sekiranya penahanan dilakukan di jarak 150 batu nautika, penundaan satu hala akan mengambil lebih kurang 30 jam atau lebih, dan untuk belayar kembali ke kawasan operasi akan mengambil masa lapan jam. Ini tidak termasuk masa yang dihabiskan untuk laporan-laporan yang perlu dibuat berkaitan penahanan tersebut. Sudah tentu dalam masa dua hari atau lebih tersebut, BNA terutamanya akan bermaharajalela di kawasan tersebut mengaut khazanah negara yang menguntungkan negara mereka.

Maritim Malaysia telah pun mencadang kepada Kementerian Dalam Negeri supaya perolehan kapal-kapal jenis Multi Purpose Mission Ship (MPMS) dibuat untuk membantu mengatasi masalah ini. BNA dan BNT yang ditahan di zon-zon melebih 30 batu nautika boleh ditunda dari kawasan operasi ke MPMS yang berhampiran. Perjalanan balik ke kawasan operasi mengambil masa kurang lima jam. MPMS-MPMS ini juga dilengkapi lokap untuk menempatkan tekong dan awak-awak yang ditahan.

Ruang tempat tidur yang banyak juga membolehkan kru gantian kapal-kapal peronda Maritim Malaysia bermalam di situ sebelum menggantikan kru yang sudah lama berada di kawasan operasi. Ini bermakna penjimatan kos jangka panjang akan berlaku kerana proses ulangbekal tidak akan mengambil masa yang lama dan kapal boleh berada di kawasan operasi dengan lebih lama tanpa perlu pulang ke pangkalan dengan kerap.

Mungkin penambahan yang perlu untuk Maritim Malaysia ialah perolehan beberapa buah kapal tunda (tug boat) berukuran 20 hingga 30 meter berkeupayaan menarik di antara 70 tan hingga 100 tan (bollard pull) untuk menunda BNA dan BNT yang ditahan di MPMS. Selain itu, kapal-kapal tunda tersebut boleh dijadikan juga sebagai crew boat untuk menghantar dan membawa balik kru kapal-kapal peronda.

Jumlah pesawat sayap kaku dan sayap putar juga perlu ditambah terutamanya untuk pengoperasian di Labuan, Sandakan, Bintulu dan Kuching. Jumlah yang sedia ada di Stesen Udara Maritim Malaysia Subang sangat tidak mencukupi untuk liputan rondaan dan tugas MSAR di seluruh negara. Adalah diharap pihak kerajaan dapat mempercepatkan perolehan-perolehan bukan sahaja aset-aset udara, tetapi juga aset-aset laut yang sangat diperlukan untuk penugasan dan penguatkuasaan yang lebih berkesan.

KESIMPULAN

Dalam usia yang begitu muda Maritim Malaysia sudah menampakkan kematangannya yang dicapai sebelum usia. Namun, kerajaan perlu pro-aktif mencari dana untuk mempercepatkan perolehan aset-aset dan sumber manusia yang sangat diperlukan oleh Maritim Malaysia.

Dalam pada masa yang sama, saluran diplomatik yang lebih jitu dengan negara-negara jiran yang mempunyai tuntutan bertindih amat diperlukan untuk menangani pencerobohan oleh nelayan militia China serta CCG. Mungkin sudah sampai masanya untuk kembali kepada konsep MAPHILINDO yang pernah diutarakan oleh Presiden Macapagal sebelum berlakunya Konfrontasi 1963-1966, dengan cadangan penyertaan Vietnam dan Brunei untuk berhadapan dengan ancaman China.

Campurtangan China terutamanya dengan mempengaruhi beberapa buah negara anggota ASEAN untuk berpihak kepadanya dalam rundingan CoC dan DoC Laut China Selatan (SCS) hanya akan membantu melengah-lengahkan sebarang jenis persetujuan dan memberi masa kepadanya untuk memperluaskan pengaruhnya di SCS. Penulis berpendapat bahawa ASEAN tidak boleh menjadi platform untuk menyelesaikan masalah SCS kerana tidak semua negara anggota (Singapura, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar dan Thailand) mempunyai kepentingan di SCS. Indonesia yang pada mulanya tidak mempunyai kepentingan kerana tidak mempunyai tuntutan bertindih kini terpaksa memainkan peranan di SCS kerana pencerobohan-pencerobohan yang pernah dilakukan oleh CCG.

Bagi Maritim Malaysia, kesemua cabaran yang sedang dan bakal dihadapi ini akan menjadikannya lebih matang dan berwibawa, membuktikannya sebagai sebuah organisasi barisan hadapan yang bukan sahaja mempertahankan kedaulatan negara tetapi amat serius melakukannya.

Selamat Hari Ulangtahun Ke-16, Agensi Penguatkuasaan Maritim Malaysia. Teruskan mengawal, melindung dan menyelamat.

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

58 And Wanting

Will the 58th Air Force Day see the full retirement of the MiG-29N?

2016 has seen the Royal Malaysian Air Force lose two of its valuable assets – a CN235 transport aircraft, and a MB-339CM lead-in fighter trainer. To top that, there is still no announcement of a stop-gap measure to replace the MiG-29N.

The shortfall is very noticeable especially among observers whom have noted that in regional exercises, the RMAF would normally commit four fighters per squadron while a neighbour could easily muster ten.

The Royal Malaysian Navy has recently embarked on its Littoral Combat Ship program. This has been a long-awaited program given that China has forward bases in the Spratlys after reclaiming some 1,170 hectares. Commercial aircraft have been landing at the airstrips built there, we know what those airstrips are able to handle.

The Falklands War of 1982 and the Force ‘Z’ disaster closer to home on 10th December 1941 are poignant reminders that air superiority and the element of surprise are critical in modern air and naval warfare. Without the MiG-29s or their replacements force projection is somewhat limited. Maritime Patrol Aircraft play an important role in locating   enemy surface assets, while airborne tankers will allow air assets to have longer loiter and patrol capabilities. As written in a previous article an Airborne Early Warning system would also help the RMAF to “see beyond” what it currently could. The RMAF has been in want of AEW assets since the 1980s, a dream yet to be fulfilled.

Also important would be a mobile radar in the Peninsular with at least three in Sabah and Sarawak would enhance our air defence capabilities. Passive radar system would also enhance aircraft identification process.

Importantly everything should be at a minimum operational and combat readiness level of seventy percent. And this number should include the spares we need to run these systems.

The RMAF has very good and skilled human assets but without the tools needed to make the organisation combat-effective. Again, it is hoped that the government can pay serious attention to the needs of the Armed Forces – the RMAF in particular. A stop-gap measure with over 70 percent operational and combat readiness is what the government needs to assist the RMAF with.

Only then the RMAF would truly be “Sentiasa Di Angkasaraya.”

Happy 58th Anniversary, RMAF. We hope your dreams will soon come true.

Paradise Won

A flight of B-52 bombers from the USAF flew around Second Thomas Shoal and Mischief Reef in the Spratlys and were quickly challenged by Chinese Air Traffic Controller during the weekend of the 8th and 9th November 2015.

US PACAF released the transcript of the exchange between the bombers and the Chinese ATC and was reproduced by Alert 5 and are as follows:

Chinese ATC: “You have violated my reef. Change your course to avoid misjudgement.”

Chinese ATC: “You have violated the security of my reef. Change course to avoid misjudgment.”

Reply from the B-52: “I’m a United States military aircraft conducting lawful activities in international waters, and exercising these rights as guaranteed by international law. In exercising these rights as guaranteed by international law, I am operating with due regard to the right and duties of all states.”

China has been making de facto claims on the Spratlys by doing reclamation works on reefs that include the construction of airfields and enforcing its “Nine-Dash Line” policy all the way into Malaysian Exclusive Economic Zone. Being the sole regional Big Brother China has been flexing its muscle against its smaller neighbours economically and militarily. China’s runway at Fiery Cross reef has a runway that could land a H-6G bomber that could operate 5,700 kilometres from a home base, not to mention Shenyang J-11 fighters that could operate within a radius of 1,400 kilometres. Malaysia is now within a 45-minute strike distance.

As if that is not enough, the threat if asymmetric warfare from Sulu in the southern Philippines is also a clear and present danger. On the 15th November 2015, the Abu Sayyaf was reported to have met with elements from the IS to conduct terrorist attacks in Malaysia. The Abu Sayyaf is also notorious fir the kidnappings of westerners and Malaysians alike.

 

RMAF assets involved in Ex Paradise 2/15 – photo by Marhalim Abas
 
With the above in mind, the Royal Malaysian Air Force conducted and concluded Exercise Paradise 2/15 from the 9th until the 20th November 2015. With the objective to test its combat readiness and capabilities in the Second Air Region, the RMAF deployed assets such as the F/A-18D Hornet, Su-30MKM Flanker, BAe Hawk, 108/208, C-130H-30 transport aircraft, KC-130 tankers, CN-235 transport aircraft, helos such as the Sikorsky S61A4 Nuri and the Eurocopter EC725 and also involved the RMAF Special Forces regiment. The Malaysian Army’s 10th Brigade (Para) provided a team of air despatchers.

 

A RMAF F/A-18D Hornet from No.18 Squadron – pic by Capt Rahmat
 
Up until the 18th November 2015, a total of 198 air sorties had been flown. During the Field Training Exercise (FTX) RMAF assets successfully conducted Air to Ground firing exercises as well as Air Drop operations and insertion of special forces elements to support ground operations.

During the War Exercise (WAREX), the assets were then combined for Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR), High-Value Air Asset Protection (HVAAP), Combined Air Operations (COMAO), Mixed Fighter Force Operation (MFFO) and Large Force Employment (LFE).

According to Exercise Chairman, Major General Dato’ Mohd Shabre bin Haji Hussein RMAF, the exercise achieved more than 90 percent of its objectives in accordance with the Scenarios of Exercise (SOE) and was a success.

The media was also invited to witness the exercise in a bid by the Ministry of Defence as well as the RMAF in educating the media, and in turn the public, on the capabilities of the RMAF and the importance of public support towards the Malaysian Armed Forces in general.

Members of media had the privilege to take part in a Aircraft Force Down exercise involving fighter and transport assets.

 

Members of the media experiencing aircraft force down procedures in a side-exercise – photo by Fadzli Hafiz
 
In an observation by this writer, the Ministry of Defence has to seriously look at beefing up the assets of both the Royal Malaysian Air Force as well as the Royal Malaysian Navy. The Chinese government gets away with murder in the South China Sea simply because Malaysia lacks effective deterrence. The RMAF for example should be equipped with AWACS aircraft as well as the still-elusive MRCA.

 

A KC-130 tanker leading a formation of F/A-18Ds, Su-30MKMs and Bae Hawks – photo by MINDEF
 
This writer opines that in line with the principles of force projection, MRCAs should also be based in Labuan in sufficient numbers to deter the advance of PLAAF and PLAN assets, while the Hawks concentrate especially in providing air support for the ESSZONE by having forward operating bases in Tawau and Lahad Datu or Sandakan. Without strong deterrence, Malaysia will never be able to have diplomatic bargainjng power against any larger forces in the region.

South China Sea: The Gatling Gun Approach?

China's build-up in the South China Seas brings this region closer to a conflict
China’s build-up in the South China Seas brings this region closer to a conflict

We need to look at what we see as the threats. What you see is the story unfolding in Syria and Iraq and which fighter is not there at the moment? You’ve got the Super Hornets, you’ve got the Typhoons and yet it is still unfolding before our very eyes. And secondly, the threat from IS is different from our traditional terrorist threats that we have faced in the past, don’t compare with the threats that we’re facing from IS.”

Those were the words uttered by the Malaysian Defence Minister on the eve of the recent Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace exhibition that concluded on the 21st March 2015. He added:

You will see the gatling gun that we have fitted on our A109s and maybe the threat that we face just requires a gatling gun.”

Many defence practitioners, analysts, journalists and bloggers such as I, felt as if the military had been let down when we heard those very words uttered on board the Royal Malaysian Navy’s frigate, KD Jebat.  Malaysia has been seeking for the replacement of the MiG-29N fleet for the longest time, and now it has been stalled again.  Furthermore, the fight against the IS is first and foremost a counter-insurgency warfare that falls within the purview of the Home Ministry, with the Defence Ministry in a supporting role.

It would be good to note, too, that missing from the airshow for the first time at LIMA ’15 are the Smokey Bandits, the RMAF’s aerobatics team that consists of the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29Ns.  It was looked forward to, and missed by many.

In March of 2013, the PLA-N sent its largest and most modern amphibious assault ship, a destroyer and two guided-missile frigate to James Shoal (Beting Serupai), 80km off the coast of Bintulu in Malaysia’s state of Sarawak, to conduct an oath taking ceremony there.  The PLAN sailors and marines pledged to “defend the South China Sea, maintain national sovereignty and strive towards the dream of a strong China.”  Just 80km off Malaysia’s coast, this flotilla went unchallenged by the Royal Malaysian Navy or by the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency vessels.

The RMAF Su-30MKMs are about the only MRCA capable of taking on the PLAN or PLAAF but lack miserably in numbers
The RMAF Su-30MKMs are about the only MRCA capable of taking on the PLAN or PLAAF but lack miserably in numbers

While the Minister focuses on the IS threat, which really should be looked at by the Home Ministry and not Defence as it involves counter-insurgency warfare, both the Royal Malaysian Navy and the Royal Malaysian Air Force are in dire need of more capable assets.  Without the MiG-29Ns and the F-5E Tiger IIs, the RMAF is down to just 18 Sukhoi Su-30MKM Flankers and 8 F/A-18 Hornets, supported by 14 BAe Hawk 208 and 6 BAe Hawk Mk 108.  Of course, that is if the serviceability rate is at 100 percent.

The Royal Malaysian Navy’s combat power is represented by 2 Scorpene submarines, 2 Frigates (with 6 to be constructed), 6 corvettes, 6 offshore patrol vessels, and 8 missile boats.  Although the Royal Malaysian Navy could give any enemy a bloody nose if required, without air superiority achieved, there will be a repeat of what happened to Force Z in 1941.  The RMN is also somewhat impaired given that its OPVs are fitted-but-not-with strike-capable weapons such as anti-air and surface-to-surface missiles.

The Kedah-class OPVs have been fitted-but-not-with SSMs (Photo courtesy of BERNAMA)
The Kedah-class OPVs have been fitted-but-not-with SSMs
(Photo courtesy of BERNAMA)

Underscoring its intention to subjugate the other claimants especially Malaysia, the Chinese Coast Guard was found in the vicinity of the Luconia Shoals, 150km off Miri, early this month.  With a large to cover, both the Royal Malaysian Air Force as well as the Royal Malaysian Navy are very much lacking in assets.

A Malaysian vessel intercepts a Chinese Coast Guard cutter at the Luconia Shoals off Sarawak, Malaysia - picture courtesy of WSJ
A Malaysian vessel intercepts a Chinese Coast Guard cutter at the Luconia Shoals off Sarawak, Malaysia – picture courtesy of WSJ

In his speech during the recent Air Force Day celebration, General Dato’ Sri Roslan bin Saad RMAF underlined three approaches to ensure that the RMAF stays on top of the game:

  • The amalgamation of assets and organisation: this approach gives focus to the readiness of aircraft and radar systems. Through the Chief of Air Force’s Directive Number 19, several action plans have been formulated to ensure that the serviceability rate for aircraft and radar systems remain high.
  • Enhancement of Human Resource: this is done by raising, training and sustaining the RMAF’s manpower by increasing its specialisation and competency levels.
  • Optimisation of Available Resources and Finance: this is by formulating a strategy to ensure that resources and finances are being managed properly and are well managed.

General Dato Sri Roslan bin Saad RMAF, the Chief of Air Force, delivering his speech at the Air Force Day parade at the Kuantan Air Base.
General Dato Sri Roslan bin Saad RMAF, the Chief of Air Force, delivering his speech at the Air Force Day parade at the Kuantan Air Base.

In my opinion, the amalgamation of assets should also include the reactivation of the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29N Fulcrum as well as the Northrop F-5E Tiger II fleets.  With limited funds available for the addition of more interceptors as well as MRCAs, perhaps the RMAF should get the MiG-29Ns back online in a reduced number. The final number of MiG-29Ns maintained by the RMAF was ten.  Perhaps eight is a credible size to maintain.  We know that engine hours is no longer the issue with the MiG-29Ns. If budget constraint is a concern, no upgrades are needed for now. They can still perform their MRCA role with what is readily-available, and perform as Smokey Bandits when needed.  It would be worthwhile to note that the Indian Air Force has upgraded its much-older MiG-29Bs to the MiG-29UPG, at par with Russia’s MiG-29SMTs but sporting western avionics.  I am more than sure that Malaysia’s Aerospace Technology Systems Corporation Sdn Bhd (ATSC) could propose an upgrade to the MiG-29Ns. These upgrades would be cheaper than a total fleet purchase which negotiations will take years to conclude.

The Republic of Korea Air Force (RoKAF) maintains more than 400 F-5E Tigers in its inventory while the Republic of China Air Force (RoCAF) maintains more than 200.  These old analog interceptors are based near where the threats are.  The most interesting point about the F-5Es are that they run on analog systems and require less time from cold start to interception.  Malaysia had about 16 F-5Es and 2 RF-5E Tigereye that could do Alert 2 standby for first interception while the Alerts 5 and 7s could come and back them up later.  Two squadrons could still be maintained perhaps in Kuching with an FOB set-up in Miri and Labuan for F-5E detachments.

The two suggestions above is for the RMAF to consider while it waits for budget and arrival of the new MRCA.

It is of no secret that while Dassault Aviation has been promoting its Rafale MRCA heavily in Malaysia especially, the fighter jocks of the RMAF prefer the F-18Ds that they have; and if any addition is to be made to its MRCA fleet, it should be the F-18Ds.  End-users’ opinions and evaluation must be seriously considered.

The other threat that faces Malaysia is the potential insurgency in Sabah’s ESSZONE.  While “helicopters with Gatling guns” may be considered an answer, a helicopter is slow to get away from a fire-fight.  Time and time again we have seen how rebels in the southern Philippines who are also responsible for the kidnappings as well as skirmishes in Sabah brought down military helicopters.

The real answer is in a platform that can deliver enough payload at high speed and conduct effective strafing of known enemy positions.  The RMAF should consider reactivating the Light Attack Squadron (LAS) that was used in counter-insurgency warfare in the 1980s and early 1990s.  The Pilatus PC-7 Mk II, while acting as the aircraft for the LIFT program (Lead-In Fighter Training), can also be used as both counter-insurgency warfare aircraft as well as in support of the roles taken up by the Hawks 108 and 208 as well as the Aermacchi MB-339CM.  Economy-of-effort has always been part of the Principles of War and still holds true today.  Having the experience in the LAS I believe will make them better pilots for the F/A as well as MRCA roles as they progress later.

RMAF BAe Hawks and Aermacchi MB-339CM light fighter/lead trainers flying past during the Air Force Day parade
RMAF BAe Hawks and Aermacchi MB-339CM light fighter/lead trainers flying past during the Air Force Day parade

The RMAF also lacks the eye-in-the-sky.  From the days when I joined the RMAF in the 1980s, the AWACS have always been sought after but never procured.  An AWACS provides the RMAF as well as the RMN a good detail of what is happening both in the sky and at sea.  Four AWACS with good loiter endurance based in Kuching working round-the-clock should suffice. Kuching is at the nearest point between Borneo and the Peninsular, and covers the South China Sea easily.  On top of this, Maritime Patrol Aircraft with anti-ship and anti-submarine capability should be made available for the RMAF.  This is to complement the RMN in its role especially in the South China Sea.

I am not sure but I believe we cannot see much of what is beyond the Crocker range in Sarawak.  Mobile radar systems could be stitched along the range to provide better coverage of what goes beyond the range.  The data can be fed via satellite or HF system.  The RMAF’s HF system is more than capable of providing accurate radar picture of the area.

The Malaysian Army’s “top secret” Vera-E passive radar system should also make its data available and fed into the RMAF’s current air defence radar system to enhance the capability of the the latter.  There is nothing so secret about the Vera-E.  Several keys tapped on Google and one would be able to find out about the Malaysian procurement of the system.  I am flabbergasted that the Malaysian Army has yet to share the Vera-E data with the RMAF.

The government should also allow the RMN to look into procuring available assets from the USN that are capable to deter PLAN assets from entering sovereign waters unchallenged.  Apart from capital assets. the RMN should look into converting some of its smaller assets such as the CB-90s and RHIBs into Unmanned Surface Vessels (USV) with 30mm stabilised weapons and targeting system complemented by a STRIKE-MR fire-and-forget missiles that could be operated remotely to conduct swarm attack on larger enemy units.  Using the USV swarm tactic, the RMN should look at the tactics used by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) to sink larger Sri Lankan naval units.  Using the CB-90s as well as the RHIBs for swarm warfare at shoals and atolls controlled by Malaysia in the South China seas fits with the concept of “working with what we have and not what we feel we should have.”  Swarm forces can neutralise or deter larger forces from advancing further, while the USV concept does not need the unnecessary loss of lives to achieve its objective.

I urge the government to reconsider the budget put forth by both the RMAF and the RMN. Budget constraint should not be a reason the military is not allowed to enhance their current capabilities.  The warfare doctrine based on the principles of selection and the maintenance of aim must be respected if the Malaysian military, in particular the RMAF and RMN, is to achieve its objectives which mainly is to act as deterrence from potential belligerent forces.  If the RMAF and RMN are not allowed to be strong, Malaysia will always be bullied at the South China Sea diplomatically.