When the Government under Tun Abdullah announced Malaysia intended to procure Eurocopter EC725 CSAR version with 5 rotor blades, there was a strong uproar from the opposition party, saying the helicopter was way overpriced and the government did not study other options before putting the dots on the i's and crossed the t's.
Before we go any further, let's have a look at the allegations thrown.
There are other cheaper alternatives
True, there are other cheaper alternatives. But like buying a car, there are premium models and there are basic models.
Some of the other alternatives offered to RMAF back then were just basic models. These basic models would be more taxing to the crew as they would have additional tasks to do, some of it which had been automated in the Tupai. (Note: Tupai is colloquial nickname by defence follower as the numbers, seven two five sounds like the word Tupai. In Malay, Tupai means Squirrel)
Others, while cheaper do not have a proper logistics support for spare parts. Something which Eurocopter is able to provide remedy to with their Asia Pacific office in Senawang.
At least one of the cheaper alternatives was actually not even the agent to the OEM or Original Equipment Manufacturer. It is something like the Brabus. If you have issues with the helicopter's frame or any parts supplied by the original manufacturer, you're screwed. In other words, we will not be able to send the helicopter back for proper repair.
Why buy CSAR version when we can have basic version?
This issue came up because at the same time, Brazilian Air Force had procured basic version of Tupai at a much cheaper price for their own use.
With the CSAR capability, the government had considered the fact our pilots may get shot down behind enemy lines in the event of war. It is more reassuring to a pilot if you tell him that if he is ever shot down behind enemy lines, he can expect efforts to rescue him, than say, oh good luck finding your way back home.
A major difference for the CSAR version compared to the basic Tupai is it has 5 rotor blades compared to 4 rotor blades. RMAF explained that 5 rotor blades allow the Tupai to generate lesser noise. Which in turn allow the Tupai crew to have higher chance to infiltrate behind enemy line and escape with their package.
Not to forget, Brazil bought more Tupai than us, and volume comes with better discount.
Why the government buy something without testing it?
Come on guys. You can lie to normal civilians who don't follow defence news but for us in this awfully small group (thankfully it is growing), we saw how RMAF had been testing the helicopter in multiple occasions. Most of the testing were unofficially done, thus never made it to the mainstream news.
What else the government did not tell you?
That being established that the Tupai purchase was justified, the opposition uproar has caused the deal to be examined by PAC which later declared it as clean. Unfortunately, the delay had caused the contract price to rise due to exchange rate, forcing RMAF to procure lesser number of helicopters, half to be exact.
Were there anything else the govt? Yes. There was one critical point that the govt should have pointed out why Tupai is better than the rest.
With 5 rotor blades, the helicopter is able to generate additional lifting power compared to a similar helicopter with only 4 blades. This additional lift allow the helicopter to have additional operating capacity in terms of height and distance.
Today, we get to see another folly that was perpetrated by oppositions that choose to politicise every defence asset purchases. It would have been easier to support and agree with them if they had been like the opposition party in Great Britain. When the ruling party had neglected the defence, it was the opposition party's prodding that helped UK MINDEF to get additional procurement. This was true especially in 1950's when the British police officers and military personnel in Malaya had prodded the opposition to help them wake up the ruling govt of the 'civil' war that was taking lives by the hundreds every month.
With the recent earthquake in Sabah trapping many climbers on top of Mount Kinabalu, RMAF Tupai is the only helicopter in MAF that can fly to the top of the mountain. And with only 12 units spread nationwide, the RMAF can only spare some of the helicopters to Sabah as the same is also required in Peninsular Malaysia and Sarawak for other duties.
In view of recent development in terms of humanitarian crisis in our country and region (massive flooding in Northern part of Peninsular Malaysia and East Coast), flooding in Sabah and Sarawak, and now this earthquake crisis, additional helicopters should be procured to ease of Malaysia's need for HADR (humanitarian and disaster relief) platform. Add in the need for more long range surveillance platform for Sabah, the government should consider the procurement of more helicopters, preferably more Tupai for logistical consideration.
|EC725 on top of Mount Kinabalu. Photo credit to RMAF PR|