Defence: RMAF’s A400M Proves Its Worth In Marawi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Defence: Teka Bila Kem Tentera Mula Hendak Dijual?

Kian viral di WhatsApp ialah satu pesanan dari Yang Berbahagia Brigadier Jeneral Dato’ Mohammad Arshad bin Mohammad Raji (Bersara) yang pernah berbakti dalam Tentera Darat Malaysia.  Pesanan beliau berbunyi begini:

Surat terbuka kepada Menteri Pertahanan Malaysia

Kami dimaklumkan bahawa sebuah kem tentera peninggalan tentera British yang menyimpan banyak sejarah dan kenangan pahit manis pada ribuan veteran ATM yang pernah berkhidmat dan menduduki kem tersebut, akan dijual (atau pun sudah dijual) dengan sewenang- wenangnya kepada pihak awam.

Ini bukan kali pertama sebuah kem tentera peninggalan British dijual, tanpa menghormati sejarah silam, iaitu sesuatau yang amat berharga kepada veteran ATM, terutama bagi mereka-mereka yang pernah bertugas dan menduduki kem tersebut. Kem-kem peninggalan tentera British yang telah dijual oleh kerajaan adalah seperti berikut:

1. Kem Majidee, Johor Baharu, Johor
2. Kem Transit, Ampang, Selangor
3. Kem Tebrau, Johor Baharu, Johor
4. Kem Lapangan Terbang Sg. Besi, Kuala Lumpur

Kami baru difahamkan bahawa Kem Batu Kantomen, iaitu sebuah kem induk lojistik bagi Tentera Darat Malaysia bertempat di Jalan. Ipoh, Kuala Lumpur akan/telah menjadi mangsa untuk dijual/telah dijual. Disini kami ingin tahu samada maklumat berikut benar atau tidak:

1. Keluasan kem tersebut adalah dalam jangkauan 200 ekar.
2. Benarkah kem tersebut dijual secara rundingan terus kepada Lembaga Tabung Angkatan Tentera (LTAT)?
3. Benarkah harga yang ditawarkan kepada LTAT ialah RM2.3 bilion, dan bukan mengikut nilai pasaran semasa?
4. Benarkah arahan sudah pun dikeluarkan bagi semua anggota dan unit yang sekarang masih bertempat di Kem tersebut berpindah keluar dengan secepat mungkin?
5. Benarkah peruntukan sebanyak RM700 juta disediaka untuk pemindahan ke kem-kem lain buat sementara waktu sehingga kem baru disediakan?
6. Benarkah RM1,6 bilion dari harga jualan tersebut akan digunakan bagi membayar veteran-veteran yang tidak berpencen, yang akan diumumkan oleh Perdana Menteri pada Perhimpunan Raksaksa Veteran pada 31 Jułai ini di MIECC, Balakong, Selangor.

Persoalan nya sekarang……apa perlunya Kem yang besejarah ini dijual dengan begitu tergesa gesa dan melalui rundingan terus?

Sekiranya tiada sebarang kenyataan dibuat oleh Menteri Pertahanan dalam tempoh 14 hari dimana mana media massa menafikan maklumat ini, maka kami anggap maklumat ini benar. Jika ianya benar, maka adakah ini satu petanda bahawa kerajaan sedang menghadapi kesulitan kewangan akibat skandal 1MDB, dan tujuan Kem Batu Kantomen dijual secara tergesa gesa adalah bagi menyelamat kan kerajaan dari masalah kesulitan kewangan serius yang dihadapi sekarang?

Brig Jen Dato Arshad Raji ( B)”

Sebagai seorang bekas pegawai tentera, saya berasa amat terharu masih ada di kalangan bekas pegawai kanan tinggi Angkatan Tentera Malaysia yang masih mengambil berat akan kebajikan para veteran serta tradisi ketenteraan. Semoga Allah Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala merahmati niat murni beliau.

Namun sebagai seorang yang gemar mengkaji, saya suka membaca apa jua pesanan mahupun artikel-artikel dan kemudian membuat sedikit penyelidikan untuk memastikan fakta-fakta yang diberikan bukan sahaja oleh YBhg Dato’ Arshad, tetapi oleh sesiapa sahaja.  Dan sepertimana di dalam grup-grup WhatsApp Veteran yang mana saya ikuti, sekiranya betul dan memberi manfaat akan saya kongsi, yang tidak betul saya terangkan.

Sebagaimana kisah mengenai “kedudukan strategik” Pangkalan Udara Kuala Lumpur yang telah saya terangkan, kisah kini berkisar beberapa buah kem Tentera Darat (TD) yang merupakan kem-kem warisan peninggalan British.  Sudah tentu tempat-tempat tersebut mempunyai banyak peninggalan sejarah.  Kem-kem tersebut di atas adalah, elok saya ulangi di sini, Kem Majidee dan Kem Tebrau di Johor Bahru, Kem Transit Ampang di Selangor, dan Kem Batu Kantonmen di Kuala Lumpur.  Di antara kem-kem yang saya sebutkan di atas, Kem Batu Kantonmen mempunyai nilai sentimental buat saya kerana pada tahun 1988 di situlah saya dan rakan-rakan bermain ragbi melawan pasukan MINDEF Officers Rugby semasa membuat persediaan untuk perlawanan tiga perkhidmatan menentang TD dan Tentera Laut DiRaja Malaysia (TLDM).

Kedudukan Kem Batu Kantonmen kini

Namun, kepesatan pembangunan kawasan bandar menyebabkan kesemua kem yang dinyatakan di atas dihimpit pembangunan yang tidak lagi menjadikan kawasan-kawasan tersebut strategik.  Kalau dulu kem-kem tersebut berada di pinggir atau luar bandar, kini kesemuanya terhimpit dalam sebuah bandaraya yang membangun pesat.

Pelan penjualan Kem Batu Kantonmen ini sebenarnya dibuat pada tahun 2002 lagi, tujuh tahun sebelum 1MDB ditubuhkan.  Ketika itu, negara ditadbir oleh seorang Perdana Menteri yang lain.  Kerajaan Negeri Perak ketika itu juga telah menyediakan satu tapak seluas 680 hektar (hampir 7 kali keluasan Kem Batu Kantonmen) untuk tujuan penempatan unit-unit TD yang terkesan akibat pembelian kem tersebut.

Pada tahun 2011, Boustead Holdings yang ketika itu mempunyai Lembaga Tabung Angkatan Tentera (LTAT) sebagai pemegang saham terbesar, iaitu 59 peratus saham syarikat, telah menyatakan

Berpandukan nilai hartanah pada tahun 2011, tanah yang belum ditukar kegunaan milik Kem Batu Kantonmen seluas 98 hektar (atau bersamaan 240 ekar) itu adalah sekitar RM40 hingga RM80 sekaki persegi.  Ini bermakna jumlah yang boleh diperoleh dari penjualan tanah tersebut ialah sebanyak RM845 juta.  Nilai tersebut KINI adalah sekitar RM1.7 billion.

Sepatutnya kita tidak mempersoalkan sebarang pembelian yang dibuat oleh sama ada Boustead mahupun LTAT kerana apa jua pembelian yang mendatangkan hasil untuk kepada kedua-dua organisasi tersebut akan memberi manfaat kepada para anggota dan pegawai sama ada yang masih berkhidmat mahupun yang telah bersara.  Ini adalah kerana Nilai Pembangunan Kasar tanah tersebut sebanyak RM8 billion setelah ditawarkan kepada LTAT dengan harga RM2.3 billion bermakna keuntungan kasar yang bakal diperolehi adalah berjumlah RM3.2 billion, yang mana akan menjadi dividen masa hadapan LTAT itu sendiri.

Sekiranya benar RM700 juta telah diperuntukkan untuk perpindahan yang dinyatakan juga adalah satu jumlah yang besar dan berpatutan.  Malah, kita sepatutnya berasa gembira adik-adik kita yang kini berkhidmat, berpeluang dipindahkan ke kem-kem serta pangkalan-pangkalan yang moden, lebih selesa, dan lebih sesuai sebagai instalasi tentera berbanding bangunan-bangunan uzur.

Kenapa juga kita mempersoalkan kenapa kem-kem bersejarah ini dijual secara terus tanpa memanggil tender?  Pada saya, ini soalan peringkat amatur dan bukannya peringkat pakar strategi.  Sekiranya dipanggil tender maka ianya terbuka kepada syarikat-syarikat pemaju gergasi yang pasti akan menafikan Boustead atau LTAT peluang untuk membuat keuntungan yang boleh dinikmati oleh semua yang menabung di LTAT dan para veteran.

Yang saya tidak faham adalah kenapa seorang bekas pegawai kanan tinggi TD mempersoalkan imbuhan sebanyak RM1.6 billion yang akan diberikan kepada para veteran yang bersara tanpa pencen?  Adakah para veteran tidak berpencen tidak layak menerima imbuhan seperti bayaran pencen bulanan yang diterima oleh mereka yang berpencen? Adakah veteran tidak berpencen berada dalam kasta yang lebih rendah dalam hirarki Veteran?

Sayugia diingatkan juga buat semua veteran dan mereka yang masih dalam perkhidmatan, begitu getir cabaran mereka yang berkhidmat sebelum kita sehingga merdekanya Tanah Melayu dan terbentuknya Malaysia kemudian dari diberi arahan oleh pihak British yang mentadbir kita sebelum ini.

Pada tahun 2016, Kementerian Pertahanan United Kingdom telah membuat pelan untuk menjual LIMA PULUH ENAM kem-kem tentera termasuk kem-kem tentera yang lagi penuh dengan sejarah, termasuk yang pernah digunakan untuk melatih para tentera semasa Perang Dunia Kedua seperi Woolwich Barracks di London dan Fort George yang sejak azali menjadi kem Batalion Ketiga, Rejimen DiRaja Scotland.

Kini kita pula ingin memalukan mereka yang berkhidmat sebelum kita dengan menjulang peninggalan kolonialis.  Kalau benar dkerajaan pusat bersalah menjual kem-kem usang yang disanjungi, kenapa kita berdiam diri apabila bangunan bersejarah yang pernah menempatkan Markas Dua Divisyen di Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah, Georgetown, Pulau Pinang dijual dan dirobohkan untuk pembangunan baharu?  Banyak juga kenangan saya di bangunan tersebut dalam tahun 1980an.

Dan telah dibuktikan bahawa 1MDB tidak mengalami sebarang kerugian mahupun kesulitan kewangan.  Saya kecewa sekiranya YBhg Dato Arshad mempergunakan emosi para veteran untuk mencapai tujuan politik kerana kenyataan yang melibatkan 1MDB sememangnya berbaur politik.

Biarlah sekiranya kita hendak memperjuangkan hak, perjuangkanlah dengan betul, dan bukannya berlandaskan yang batil.  Kita ini semuanya veteran.  Setiap hari kubur menghampiri kita.  Eloklah kita benar dalam percakapan dan perbuatan tanpa sebarang niat yang memesongkan.

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: Appreciate The Men and Women Protecting The Nation

One of the things introduced by the Najib Razak administration is for Ministers to go down to the ground and meet with the frontliners, learn about the problems that they face as well as consider the proposals from them on how things can be done better.  The days of “I’m a Minister therefore I know better” or “You are new therefore you know nothing” are over.

Sun Tzu quoted in Chapter 10 of the ‘Art of War‘:

Treat your men as you would your own beloved sons. And they will follow you into the deepest valley.

Taking queue from both his boss and Sun Tzu, Minister of Defence Dato’ Sri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein rushed off to Kuantan after the conclusion of the recent National Security Council meeting to rendezvous with the Royal Malaysian Navy frigate KD Lekiu which was conducting a patrol in the South China Sea.  Despite the very limited time that he has, he made it a point to meet the frontliners to see how they are getting on while keeping the nation safe and secure during the fasting month.

Hishammuddin looking at the KD Lekiu before landing (taken from the Minister’s Twitter)

Hishamuddin, who was accompanied by the Chief of the Armed Forces  General Tan Sri Raja Mohamed Affandi Raja Mohamed Noor, and the Chief of Navy Admiral Tan Sri Ahmad Kamarulzaman Ahmad Badaruddin RMN, landed on board the KD Lekiu at 5.30pm and was met by the Commanding Officer of the KD Lekiu, Captain Mohd Fadzli Kamal Mohd Mohaldin RMN who then gave the Minister a short safety briefing.

Hishammuddin saying goodbye to the crew of the EC725

When the Ec725 helicopter took off and flew by the starboard side of the KD Lekiu, Hishammuddin said, “That helicopter crew is excellent, and for it to be able to land on this ship shows great cooperation between the Air Force and the Navy.  That is how the services, the Army included, depend on each other for support.”

True enough. It was the first time that the KD Lekiu had accepted the EC725 on its flight deck.

On board the Minister spent his time talking to the officers and men, asking them how do they find spending Ramadhan and Aidil Fitri away from home.  There are times that the KD Lekiu, like many other man-o-wars in the navy, have to spend up to three months at sea away from home, regardless of the festive seasons.

This scene is repeated throughout the Minister’s visit – officers and crew asking for a photo op with the Minister and the latter is always obliging

Through the Royal Malaysian Navy’s “Rakan Maritim” (RAKAM) program where the maritime community especially the commercial fishermen work hand-in-hand with the Navy to provide information especially on crime at sea,  the fishing community has been providing such support especially through the “Initiatif Bertanya Khabar” (IBK) conducted by the individual naval vessels that are on patrol.  A fishing trawler that was hailed came alongside.

The Minister is seen helping a trawler crew come on board

Encik Ramli bin Isa and Fauzi bin Omar had been out at sea for four days with another crew member.  The moment they realised that it was the Minister himself whom had helped them up, their face lit up.  The Minister, General Raja Mohamed Affandi and Admiral Ahmad Kamarulzaman asked them how they were and if they find that the waters are safe from foreign elements.

I later asked the two fishermen of the Navy’s initiative.  They are very happy with it and find it reassuring that the Navy has been actively making its presence felt.  On meeting the Minister, they were very surprised that a Minister would want to even ask how they are.

I know he must be really busy but for him to make time to ask me how I am is like having a dream come true,” said Encik Ramli.

Hishammuddin later gave some food to the fishermen for them to break fast with.

Hishammuddin later had a talk with some of the crew which was also attended by the Commanding Officer and the Chief of Navy.  There, the Minister related to the men the government’s plans for the Navy, and how the Ministry is working hard to facilitate the Navy’s 15-to-5 transformation program.

DS Hishammuddin and TS Ahmad Kamarulzaman spend a few moments with the men of the KD Lekiu

Tan Sri Kamarulzaman is happy with the progress of the 15-to-5 transformation program where the Royal Malaysian Navy will limit its fleet types to just five instead of the current fifteen.  The program will see the RMN operating only Littoral Mission Ships, Littoral Combat Ships, New Generaion Patrol Vessels, Multirole Support Ships, and Submarines.

RMN’s 15-to-5 transformation program (courtesy of Senang Diri)

As we waited for maghrib prayers, Dato’ Sri Hishammuddin said to me, “I’m amazed by these navy people.  They stay months at sea guarding our waters.

I guess we’ll just have to make the public understand about what they do out here,” I replied.

The Minister frowned and replied with a sigh, “That is another matter. It is so difficult to get the public to understand wht these people do here, the hardship they have to go through. Imagine if these people are not here to do their duty. Mosul, Aleppo can happen here.”

It is so damned hard to get the support of the people, especially from the non-Malays, let alone to get them to join.  But when something happens, they would be the first to condemn, especially so in the case of the fatal crash that killed two of our RMAF pilots.

The usual comments made especially by the non-Malays about the Malaysian Armed Forces

How the realisation that without the Malaysian Armed Forces this country would be in ruins escapes them puzzles me.  It is because of these men and women that they are able to wake up in the morning and make money, and then go home to sleep peacefully.

Perhaps it is time for the National Service to be what it is – a two-year active duty upon attaining the age of 18, followed by a 10-year stint as reservists.  That would probably make them have a better understanding of the Armed Forces and love the country as something more than just a place to make money in.

In the meantime, the men of the KD Lekiu will continue to be vigilant so we can all wake up shamelessly in total ignorance of their existence.

Defence: The Brave Die But Once

It is a sad day for the nation. We lost two Ops Daulat heroes, Major Mohd Hasri Zahari RMAF, and Major Yazmi Mohamed Yusof RMAF.  The nation mourns for them.  What happened to them 21 minutes into their flight, 60 kilometers North Northeast from the Kuantan Air Base will not be known until the Board that has been set up to investigate this incident comes out with its final report.

Details are sketchy.  The pair took off at 11.09am and communications was lost at 11.30am.  They were said to be performing a Functional Check Flight, which requires a rather complex form of flight manouvers depending on the function that needs to be tested.  For example, an aircraft that has recently had an engine change will need a specific profile for that Functional Check Flight.

If it was a Functional Check Flight, the crew would have had a checklist that they needed to follow.  They would record their findings according to each of the item, in sequential order, given in the checklist for them to perform before signing off upon completion of the Functional Check Flight.

Something must have happened in the midst of the flight that only the Board would be able to deduce after gathering all the facts.

Officers and men (and women) of the Royal Malaysian Air Force, like in the other services, are paid to die if necessary.  When they step into the aircraft, no matter how well they are maintained, there is that nagging little part in their mind that knows that there is a chance that they might not come back alive.  Just as we drive to work every day.  When we leave home, how sure are we that we will get to see our family again?  But the pilots knew what was expected of them when they applied to join His Majesty’s Armed Forces.  We, as Malaysians, know that these two would die for anything as long as others may live. My only grouse is, every time something like this happens, instant “experts” flood the Internet with baseless accusations and theories.

THEORY NO.1 – LIKE MH370 THE RMAF RADAR PEOPLE ARE SLEEPING AGAIN, THAT IS WHY THE AIRCRAFT IS STILL MISSING

For those who still think that radar covers everything that is above the surface of the Earth, please have someone swing a baseball bat at your head – repeatedly.  Radar only covers some 15 percent of the surface of the Earth.  The Air Defence people did not sleep that night when the MH370 went missing.  They saw where it went until the aircraft went out of radar coverage.  You can read more about it here. The details of the flight may have changed a bit as we have learnt much more about what happened at night, but the RMAF was spot on with its procedures.

In the case of the missing BAe Hawk 108 aircraft, you must first know how radar works.  The radar transmits a radio beam which bounces off a flying object, and the beam that is bounced back is received by the radar’s receiver.  This is then translated as an image on the radar screen for the operator to see.

I explained a bit more early this month on how the RMAF Air Defence radar works.  Please read about it here.

The Hawk went down.  Which means it no longer reflected any beam for the radar receiver to receive.  How can there be any image showing on the screen?  So based on the last seen position, a search-and-rescue team was dispatched by helicopter to the last known location of the missing Hawk.  They found the bodies of the pilot but not the aircraft.  This I shall answer in…

THEORY NO.2 – THE HAWK IS MISSING BECAUSE THE RMAF DOES NOT KNOW WHERE IT IS

This is the obvious, actually.  If the RMAF know where the aircraft is, this theory of your would be academic.  But no.  If you expect to find a wreckage that is almost intact, think again.

In 1996, ValuJet Flight 592 fell out of the sky after taking off from Miami and disappeared in the Everglades.  The DC-9 aircraft with 110 on board was shredded into pieces by the impact.  It took months before they could retrieve as many pieces of the wreckage that could be found.

In 1993, an RMAF PC-7 crashed into a paddy field in Perlis.  The PC-7 is a much slower aircraft compared to the Hawk.  When I arrived at the scene, it too was shredded into pieces.  Nothing that resembled an aircraft could be seen.  We found the engine a couple of days later buried 12 meters deep in the soft paddy field.

The ground where the Hawk is said to have gone missing is a secondary jungle that is swampy in nature.  The wreckage could be in there somewhere. All we need to find is the impact point.  This may also be related to Theory No.4.  But that is for later.

THEORY NO.3 – THE HAWK IS AN OLD JUNK

How old is old for an aircraft?

I shall not compare military aircraft to civilian airliners.  I shall not even compare the Hawk to the C-130H that we have been operating since 1976.  They conduct different missions and face different kind of airframe stresses.  However, be mindful that the Royal New Zealand Air Force operates C-130s that are more than 50 years old.  Older than I am, in fact.

I will then compare the Hawk to another aircraft that probably faces even greater airframe stresses – the F-16A.  The United States Air Force retired its F-16s that entered service in 1979 only five years ago.  Therefore they were in service for 33 years!  The Hawk has been in service in the RMAF for 22 years now.  The USAF has over 5,000 aircraft and the average age of 25 years!  The Republic of Singapore Air Force only retired its A-4SU after 31 years in service.  In fact, our F-5Es entered service in 1975 and was only retired in 2015 the same year the RSAF retired its F-5Ss after 36 years!  Was it old?  Ask a Tiger-driver how superb the F-5 was as it was retired.  Only the avionics could be considered old.

THEORY NO.4 – WHY DIDN’T THEIR CHUTES OPEN? DON’T THEY HAVE EJECTION SEATS?

The bodies were found 20 meters from each other.  An eyewitness said that she saw both men with their chute deployed.  I don’t know how credible this eyewitness is.  I hope that she is not as credible as the makcik who said she saw the MH370 somewhere in the North Andaman Sea from 40,000 feet.

Truth be told, I am sure that the top brass are as equally perplexed as I am.  That is why they have convened a Board to investigate this.

Could they have ejected?  Perhaps.  I can only think of them being too low and were in a full dive when they did so.  Back i the 1980s, an Aermacchi MB-339A that was performing aerobatics went into a dive.  The air crew ejected but they were too low and the orientation of the aircraft was not one in which they could have ejected safely.  At least one of the air crew wen through the wall of a house.

Being in full dive would also explain the missing aircraft as it could be in shreds with a large portion of it down in the swampy ground.  I can only speculate here and I hate to speculate.

So, let us just let the RMAF conduct their investigation and we get on with our daily lives, can we?  And in the meantime, let us offer our heroes some prayers, and pray that the family they have left behind be given the strength to face the dark days ahead until light comes shining back into their life.

And stop hiding behind user names and keyboards while hitting out at the RMAF over this incident.  Cowards will die many times while the brave die but once.

Defence: The Silent Sentinel

An RMAF Sukhoi Su-30MKM multirole combat aircraft performs a tight turn on a hot afternoon

Many are awed by the performances put by the Royal Malaysian Air Force’s stars at the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace 2017 exhibition – the Sukhoi Su-30MKM Flanker and the Boeing F/A-18D Hornet.

Many can imagine the manoeuvres these mighty aircrafts could do in combat, but not many know who or what makes them tick.

They are the Air Defence Controllers, the guardians of Malaysian airspace.

An air defence radar basks in the sunset

Majority of Malaysians are not aware of their existence until the MH370 disappeared.  Suddenly, this silent service came under an intense spotlight, especially when shone by those who do not have an iota of idea of how airspace and air defence in Malaysia work.

When Malaya gained independence in 1957, the airspace of the nation was only monitored by two long-range radars located at Western Hill in Pulau Pinang and Bukit Gombak in Singapore through the Anglo-Malayan Defence Arrangement which ended in the late 1960s.

The Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) set up three air defence centres (ADCs) namely the No.1  ADC at the Butterworth airbase, No.2 ADC at Bukit Jugra, and No.3 ADC at the Kuantan airbase.  These three ADCs shouldered the responsibility of monitoring our airspace.

The late Tun Haji Abdul Razak visiting the No.1 ADC accompanied by the Chief of RMAF, Air Vice Marshall Dato’Sulaiman bin Sujak (later Tan Sri)

The RMAF has since expanded its air defence by creating five squadrons to also cover Sabah and Sarawak, and one Ground-Based Air Defence Squadron.

So how is it that it is the Air Defence Controllers who make the fighters tick?

There are two types of radar in use by the RMAF, Primary and Secondary.  While the radar rotates 360-degrees, radio waves are transmitted and will bounce off targets as an echo and is received by the radar system’s receiver unit.

The Primary radar is the one that transmits the energy waves that bounces off targets while the Secondary radar interrogates the signal from the target’s transponder.  This is then processed and the data is fed into the Command and Control system which is displayed on a screen and the target is then tracked by a Surveillance Officer who tracks and labels the target.

An Identification Officer then conducts identification procedures by correlating both radar and track data with information received from other agencies such as the Department of Civil Aviation.  If the target does not correspond with a non-hostile or non-civilian target, then the unidentified target will be reported to the Officer-in-Charge.

An RMAF radar Command and Reporting Centre (CRC)

The Officer-in-Charge then conducts a threat assessment and evaluation of the unidentified target.  Simultaeneously, the recognised air situation data is also displayed in the National Air Defence Centre to enable the Higher Authority to monitor the situation and assist effective decision making.

A visual identification of the unidentified target may be needed, or if the target poses a threat, the Officer-in-Charge then scrambles fighters to intercept the target.  If threat exists, the RMAF’s surface-to-air defence systems would be put on the highest alert to anticipate a hostile act by the said target.

A fighter is scrambled to intercept the target

The pilot intercepting the target will then make a visual identification of the target and report back to the Fighter Controller.  Instructions and orders from the Higher Authority are also relayed back to the intercepting pilot who will then execute either a Force Down procedure or chase the target out of our airspace while comunicating with the target either through the radio or signals.

Only if the instructions are not obeyed will the pilot escalate the rules of engagement.  If the instructions are obeyed and a force down is required, the intercepting pilot will escort the target to the nearest airfield or airport where the target will be investigated.

The elaborate and complex systems that the RMAF Air Defence Centres employ are among the best, and therefore need the continuous support and understanding of not only the higher management of the RMAF, but also of the Government to ensure that hardware, software and its operators remain dynamic, well-maintained and trained.

And although they are mostly trained locally by the RMAF, some do get their training elsewhere in the world. For example the RMAF has had officers do their Basic Air Defence Operator Course in Australia.  Some get trained as Air Weapons Controller in the United States of America. Some attend their Master Controller Course in England, Advanced Defence Weapons Controller in Bangladesh to name a few.

RMAF Air Defence Officers attending their Basic Air Defence Operators Course in Australia during the earlier days of the RMAF

And when you spend your time with your family, friends, or sleep at night, and while the interceptor pilots are on standby inside their crew room, remember this – you only get to go about living a happy life and going about with your personal business because of these glamourless silent sentinels who watch our airspace round the clock.

Pertahanan: Terhempas Atau Pendaratan Kecemasan?

Helikopter Sikorsky S-61A4 Nuri milik TUDM yang telah melakukan pendaratan cemas di SMK Balung, Tawau
Helikopter Sikorsky S-61A4 Nuri milik TUDM yang telah melakukan pendaratan cemas di SMK Balung, Tawau

Hari ini saya diajukan beberapa soalan dari berbagai pihak mengenai kejadian yang melibatkan sebuah pesawat helikopter Sikorsky S-61A4 Nuri milik TUDM di Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Balung, Tawau.  Untuk memudahkan penulisan, izinkan saya menulis dalam bentuk soalan-soalan yang telah diajukan kepada saya:

SOALAN 1: Media telah menggunakan perkataan “terhempas” namun pihak TUDM menggunakan istilah “mendarat cemas.”  Boleh Kapten terangkan perbezaan kedua-dua istilah tersebut?

Istilah “terhempas” menggambarkan suatu situasi diluar kawalan.  Sebagai contoh, pesawat mengalami kegagalan sepenuhnya fungsi alat kawalan yang mengakibatkan sesuatu pesawat itu terus jatuh diluar kawalan (uncontrolled descent).

Contoh-contoh dalam negeri yang terbaik termasuk kejadian helikopter terhempas yang mengorbankan Allahyarham Datuk Seri Jamaluddin Jarjis pada tahun 2015, dan kejadian helikopter terhempas di Sri Damansara pada tahun 1997.

Akibat kejadian “terhempas” kebiasaannya akan mengakibatkan kemusnahan total kepada kerangka pesawat, disertai kehilangan jiwa dan/atau kecederaan parah kepada majoriti penumpang.

Mendarat cemas” ataupun “pendaratan kecemasan” ialah suatu tindakan yang dilakukan sebagai respon kepada sesuatu kejadian kecemasan, contohnya respon juruterbang kepada kegagalan fungsi enjin pesawat. Dalam kejadian semalam pada pengamatan saya, juruterbang telah bertindak untuk cuba mendaratkan pesawat di suatu tempat lapang di antara dua blok sekolah menggunakan kaedah “auto-rotation” namun telah tidak cukup masa untuk mencapai kawasan tersebut.  Siasatan oleh pihak TUDM akan memberi lebih pencerahan mengenai kejadian ini.

SOALAN 2: Pada pendapat Kapten, apa punca kejadian? Adakah ia boleh dielak?

Semua kejadian boleh dielak. Namun kita tiak boleh menjangkakan sesuatu yang bakal berlaku walaupun semua langkah telah diambil untuk mengelak sebarang kejadian yang tidak diingini.  Contoh terbaik: Lewis Hamilton terpaksa keluar dari perlumbaan F1 di litar Sepang baru-baru ini walaupun sedang mendahului para pesaing lain akibat kerosakan enjin walaupun penyelenggaraannya amat baik.  Hanya siasatan terperinci dapat memberi gambaran punca kerosakan kepada pesawat Nuri tersebut dan juga kereta yang dipandu Lewis Hamilton tempoh hari.

SOALAN 3: Masalah teknikal dikatakan antara punca kejadian. Adakah wujud faktor tersebut atau Nuri itu sendiri tidak boleh diselenggarakan lagi kerana usianya yang sudah lanjut?

TUDM, sayap udara TLDM dan Pasukan Udara Tentera Darat mempunya rejim penyelenggaraan pesawat yang amat baik. Usia lanjut sesebuah pesawat itu tidak banyak memainkan peranan sekiranya penyelenggaraan adalah baik.

SOALAN 4: Adakah pesawat Nuri kita terlalu tua dan tidak sesuai lagi untuk latihan memandangkan komponen dan besi pesawat sudah uzur dan haus seperti didakwa sesetengah pihak?

Masih banyak varian Sikorsky S-61 yang masih digunakan di seluruh dunia termasuk juga yang digunakan oleh State Department Amerika Syarikat.  Malah ianya juga salah satu helikopter yang digunakan untuk mengangkut Presiden Amerika Syarikat.  Tentera Udara DiRaja New Zealand masih menerbangkan pesawat Hercules C-130 mereka yang sudah berumur 51 tahun. Usia pesawat bukan merupakan faktor.

SOALAN 5: Apakah sudah sampai masa Nuri digantikan bagi megelakkan insiden yang sama berlaku? Jika tidak, adakah Nuri masih lagi perlu digunakan?

Nuri adalah pesawat yang masih diperlukan.  Aset-aset Nuri TUDM juga kini diserapkan ke dalam Pasukan Udara Tentera Darat untuk tujuan “air mobility.” TUDM menggantikan pesawat Nuri bukan kerana usia atau masalah penyelenggaraan tetapi adalah kesesuaian peranan yang dimainkan oleh TUDM seperti Combat Search and Rescue, Special Forces Insertion and Extraction yang memerlukan helikopter berperanan khusus.  Pesawat Nuri juga telah melalui beberapa proses penambahbaikan kerangka dan avionics untuk menentukan ianya selaras dengan keperluan masa kini.  Ini termasuk peningkatan upaya gearbox, bilah kipas utama dan bilah kipas ekor dan pautan data digital. Malah peningkatan upaya pesawat Nuri dengan memperkenalkan “glass cockpit” atau kawalan digital sepenuhnya yang sesuai digunakan dengan teropong kegunaan malam (night-vision goggles) telah dilakukan untuk sesetengah pesawat Nuri.

Ini menunjukkan pesawat Nuri masih lagi relevan, terutama untuk tujuan pengangkutan saiz sederhana atau penghantaran platun infantri ke medan.

SOALAN 6: Apa nasihat, cadangan, pandangan Kapten kepada TUDM demi masa depan aset seperti Nuri dan keselamatan pengguna helikopter tersebut?

Kementerian Pertahanan perlu menentukan “end-user” mendapat bajet yang diperlukan untuk menentukan perolehan, pengoperasian dan penyelenggaraan aset-aset bukan sahaja TUDM, malah untuk Angkatan Tentera Malaysia amnya, dapat diteruskan dengan baik dan memenuhi doktrin Angkatan Tentera Malaysia.

Pesawat Sikorsky S-61A4 yang telah diserap oleh Pasukan Udara Tentera Darat
Pesawat Sikorsky S-61A4 yang telah diserap oleh Pasukan Udara Tentera Darat