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Saturday, March 26, 2016

Defence Asset Procurement Policy - Non-Traditional Threat - Part 3

In the previous article, we have discussed about the threat that is posed by our neighbouring countries.  These traditional threats (called so as these are threats potentially posed by one country to another) unfortunately are not politically correct, thus seldom gain traction within our sociopolitical discussion sphere.

This article on the other hand will touch on non-traditional threats.  This is actually a bit of misnomer as non-traditional threat is a common threat faced by all nations.  If handled incorrectly, non-traditional threats can easily overwhelm a country and bring chaos to a country.

In the first 50 years of Malaysia's existence, she was threatened by communist insurgency.  Led by the political bogeyman Ong Boon Hua or better known as Chin Peng, the word communism became synonymous with treachery and evil to most Malaysians, especially amongst rural Malaysians.
Japanese Red Army - the first foreign terrorist
group to operate in Malaysia.
On 5th August 1975, this changed when Japanese Red Army stormed the AIA Building located in the middle of Kuala Lumpur.  More than 50 individuals were taken hostage. Thankfully, the incident was resolved without loss of lives.

Non-traditional threat can be largely classified into two broad categories of threats; internal threat and external threat. 

Internal Threat
Internal threats can be further classified into two categories; separatist movement and terrorist group.

Separatist Movement
Separatist movement is a movement with specific goals of gaining independence for a territory within a country.  Separatist movements are largely political movements.  However, many separatist movements also operate armed wing.

Examples of separatist movements are Sabah Sarawak Keluar Malaysia (SSKM) and Sinn Fein.

As their struggles are political, the best approach would be to allow them the freedom to share their views.  In fact, preventing them from voicing out their grievance is likely to further inflame a segment of the society who would identify with their struggle.

Terrorist Groups
Malayan Communist Party
The world has never been so dangerous as before.  Terrorist groups can be found in nearly every corner of the world.  The reason for formation of these groups varies from genuine and legitimate reason to gain emancipation all the way to anarchist ideologists.  Some are formed for old times sake, ie al-Qaeda, which means The Base, was originally for mujahidin veterans of Afghanistan War against Russia.  For the sake of discussion and categorisation, terrorist groups under internal threat are home-grown terrorist groups.  Local branch of an international terrorist group should be considered as local terrorist group as they are usually local affiliates and is not fully controlled by the parent group.

Examples of such groups in Malaysian context are Malayan Communist Party, Al Mau'nah groupKumpulan Militan Malaysia (KMM) and Tanzim al Qaeda.

External Threat
Velupillai Prabhakaran - his death heralded
the end of LTTE.  Or so we thought?
External threats refer to threats posed by individuals or entities beyond the normal border of a country.  These are usually terrorist groups which are founded overseas but operates in another country.  Example of external threats posed by terrorists groups are that of Khatibah NusantaraAbu Sayyaf Group, and Liberation of Tamil Tigers of Eelam (LTTE - once thought to have cease to exist after the death of Prabakharan during the final days for Sri Lankan civil war in Jaffna, the group is believed to have since revived itself with fresh membership).

Criminal Element
Criminal element comes into the picture under the following circumstances:
  • Large syndicated crime organisation may be able to threaten the security of a country.  Examples of criminal organisations that can directly threaten the existence of a country are Los Zetas and Medellin cartel.  Financial strength from drug cartelling gave these criminal organisation more than sufficient fund to buy enough weapons to go head-to-head against the government of their respective countries.  Please note, while they do appear to have similar characteristics with terrorist organisations, they have different underlying reasons;  terrorists with their ideology while drug dealers their money. 
  • Conduit for terrorist and foreign intelligence services.  Weapons used by terrorists in the attack in Paris and Madrid bombing were tracked to smuggling syndicate.  While during the Cold War, both sides were known to utilise contacts within smuggling syndicates to smuggle their agents into and out of infiltration area. 
  • Syndicates can also be involved in assisting foreign forces in invasion.  During Second World War, bad relationship between Mussolini's Fascist government with the Mafia of Sicily had led to the Mafia assisting Allied forces by sabotaging Mussolini's forces and Nazi Germany's forces effort in defending Sicily from Allied's invasion.  (Another factor was that many of the Sicilian Mafia had relatives in the United States that had been drafted into US Army).
How does these Threats Affect Procurement?
Before we explore what are categories of assets should be procured for non-traditional threats, we need to understand that most if not all of these threats should be handled as police matters.   Only when the threats reach certain level that it would require military intervention. 

As we are specifically discussing on procurement of assets for national defence, our focus would be on purchasing of defence assets for the purpose of counter-insurgency warfare.  

The continuous threats posed by communism after Merdeka saw that Malaysian military being geared specifically to counter-insurgency warfare, or in short, COIN warfare.  The threats posed by insurgency warfare resulted in defence spending being focused on counter the threats from communists.  

This in turn had pushed our military procurement to purchase assets that is more suitable for counter-insurgency. Little or less focus were made on purchasing assets that can be used for conventional forces. 

During the recent threats to Sabah, we have seen our government reacting with the same manner.  The last 20 years have seen MAF moving from being a COIN-centric force to a conventional force (one must admit our effort to build a conventional armed forces was wanting due to lack of a proper guiding policy).  The threat in turn saw MAF refocusing on procuring assets that are suitable for COIN warfare.  The purchase of 6 MD530G helicopters is a proof of the switch. 

While some may see that the purchase as a step back (ie viewing the purchase as an attempt to reconfigure MAF from a conventional-centric force to be a COIN-centric force), the fact is you need a COIN-capable force to fight a COIN warfare. 

US Military Mistake in Vietnam
US military made the mistake in Vietnam where they had used conventional warfare tactics against Viet Cong forces.  By focusing on numerical and technological advantages only, US military soon found they were at disadvantage.  The only US military units that were effective against Viet Cong were US Marine and Green Beret (Nagl, 2002).  Ironically, the US military command were not happy with the units as they do not operate within normal conventional military structure and had them redeployed as conventional forces.  This had further reduced their effectiveness and played a role in the fall of South Vietnam. 

COIN-Centric Vs COIN-Capable
As mentioned earlier, COIN-centric focus means the military is being drawn along the line of non-conventional warfare, with focus on section-level capabilities.  The military focus on being able to operate and fight the enemy using the same tactics used by the enemy.  COIN-centric forces do not have capability or have very limited capability to operate a division-wide task as their operations at most are company-sized movement.  Combined arms capability is either non-existent or very limited, as area of operations are too deep into the jungle to co-opt armour element and artillery element.  At most, close air support and casevac (casualty evacuation) are available if needed. 

Using this definition, Malaysian Army of the past do not fit into this definition as Malaysian Army did operate at divisional level (Op Gonzalez, the brainchild of then Lt Gen Ghazali Seth was at divisional level).  
Gen Tan Sri Amar Mohd Ghazali bin Seth
Whereas a COIN-capable force is a conventional military force with the ability and necessary assets to conduct COIN operations.  The military command structure understands and is able to implement hearts and minds campaign in the area of operations and is flexible enough to be able to accept non-conventional idea when facing an insurgent force.  Success is measured in terms of areas under control instead of kills.  A very good example of a COIN-capable force is British Armed Forces and US Armed Forces during the last 5 years.  Therefore, Malaysian Government should endeavour for our Malaysian Armed Forces to be reconfigured as a conventional armed forces with COIN-centric capabilities. 

What Assets are Suitable?
To face non-traditional threats, the most critical addition to a conventional force is helicopter.  Granted, any modern conventional military already have helicopters in their inventory.  

In the context of facing a non-traditional enemy, the government should consider to purchase suitable dedicated helicopters to be placed under the control of Royal Malaysian Police Force air wing. The helicopters and their respective crews should be dedicated quick-reaction force. 

As for the threat posed by the Suluk intruders in Eastern Sabah, a propeller fixed wing close air support aircraft should be considered to complement rotary wing support.  Propeller-type is preferred as they travelled slower.  Thus would be able to identify ground situation better than a jet-type fixed wing aircraft.  Plus, it is more cost effective to use a propeller-type aircraft as compared to using jets.

However, it would prudent for me to remind the government that we face not only non-traditional threats but also traditional threats.  Assets for conventional armed forces needs to be procured to prevent ourselves from becoming a shadow force that would be easily pushed aside by other countries. 

In the next article, we will look into logistical consideration.  More often than not, logistics are usually overlooked when either the government or military plans for new assets procurement. 

Other than logistics consideration, Malaysian military assets purchase seems to have no regards on operational requirements, purchasing assets in very small quantity. 

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