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Monday, March 14, 2016

Defence Asset Procurement Policy - Threats - Part 2

Note: In the previous article, we have explored some of the procurement methods that are in practiced in several countries, including our own.  We also explored how failure to monitor procurement issue had led to a weakened RMN

Information shared in this article could not be independently verified.  And even if it has been independently verified, I do not and will not identify them to protect individuals who have and may have shared these information with me.

Tun Hussein Onn
Military procurement doctrine is largely driven by threats that a country is facing.  Malaysia does not run far from this.  As mentioned in the first instalment of this article, the invasion threat and the Domino Effect theory had convinced our defence planners back then to convince then Prime Minister Tun Hussein Onn (father to the current Defence Minister, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein).
Son, Datuk Seri Hishammudin Tun Hussein

In fact, understanding the threat that Malaysia is facing today should be the driving reason in formulating a defence assets procurement policy to ensure that our defence forces stay current and is able to counter potential threats.

There are 2 forms of threats to a nation; external and internal threat.

External Threat
Traditionally, external threat refers to threats posed by another nation.
Addressing threat from another nation is very tacky.  Due to diplomatic consideration, many of these threats have to be handled via back channels.
As a sovereign nation, Malaysia shares both maritime and land borders with 7 countries; Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei, Philippines, Vietnam and China.

We have a long history with Thailand.  Several northern states, Perlis, Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu were once part of Siamese Kingdom.

With both governments are on very friendly terms, hostility between both nations are very unlikely.  However, that was not the case about 10 years ago.

Then Thailand Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was embroiled in internal political strife.  His heavy-handed policy in handling drug trade prevention had claimed many lives.
Former Thailand Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra

Then, the Southern Thai insurgency exploded. There were insinuation that Malaysian Govt was involved in instigating the insurgency but no evidence were offered.

Soon, there were reports of men in dark clothes spying at Malaysian installation from Thailand. Situation was hot.

The Prime Minister went on a trip overseas, and Thai military took over.  Immediate deescalation happened and border became calm.

Apparently, it was rumoured that the Prime Minister had had wanted a border skirmish to be made at Malaysian border to divert the people's attention away from his troubles.  To ensure smooth coup d'etat, it was believed secret envoys were sent to both Malaysia and Singapore to apprise them of the situation.

Potential Threat
Both Malaysian and Thai governments share very close relationship.  Key influential individuals in Thailand had expressed good relationship with Malaysia.

Nevertheless, today's Thailand has moved closer in relationship to China. This was largely due to US Govt criticism of Thailand's implementation of Lèse majesté.

This in turn affects the balance of power in the region.

Malaysian - Indonesian relationship are like that of two siblings.  Both nations bore nearly similar culture and language.

Yet, it was Indonesia that was the only one country which has officially sent their military personnel against our country during the Confrontation.

Potential Threat
Due to the politicised past of Indonesia's armed forces, there is a possibility of rogue military personnel in the country.

As recent as last year, there was some altercation involving an Indonesian reporter whom had highlighted that Malaysia had built a lighthouse within Indonesian territory of Kalimantan Barat.  The allegations were denied.  Nevertheless, Malaysian military personnel took down the so-called lighthouse on goodwill. 

The past 3 years saw Indonesia having expanded their military power.  This includes enlarging of a military base located on Natuna Island, which is strategically located in the middle between Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah Sarawak.
Natuna Island

Thankfully, anti-Malaysia trend that is largely the work of vigilante group, Bendera has lessened.  However, potentially the issue may flare up again from time to time, depending on issues like welfare of Indonesian workers in Malaysia and which Indonesian heritage is being claimed as stolen again.

Another potential point of contention is the overlapping claims between both countries over Ambalat, located in the East of Sabah. 

The oil-rich location has been contested by both nations, and in one occasion had resulted navies of both nations beings sent to the location.  One Indonesian navy vessel was partially damaged after being knocked by a RMN vessel when both navy faced off.  Fortunately, cooler head prevailed. 

A potential issue that could be blown out of proportion by Malaysian media, both mainstream and alternative is the issue of Indonesian military blowing off foreign fishing boats found to have fish illegally in Indonesian waters.  While there were prior cases of Indonesian personnel being arrested in Malaysian waters and hijacking Malaysian vessels to be towed to Indonesian waters, Indonesian Govt action is entirely legal as the boats that were marked for destruction were vessels which had been given green light by Indonesian Govt.  In fact, the same have been done by Malaysian fishery department for years, albeit without the explosive fanfare. 

The Philippines was one of the two nations that had vigorously protested the formation of Malaysia as she claims Sabah as her own.

While she was not directly involved in the Confrontation, Manila became host to the A M Azahari, head of Parti Rakyat Brunei which led a bloody attempted coup against Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddein III, then ruler of Brunei (Channin, Eileen, 2013).  It was with this pretext the Sultan later broke away from the negotiation to form Malaysia.

However, Manila's involvement in Confrontation was not as sinister as the infamous Oplan Merdeka.
 Knowing that any direct invasion of Sabah would not be acceptable by international community, a covert plan was formulated with the recruitment of Muslim Tausug (Suluk) youth.  These youth were to infiltrate into Sabah and incite the local citizens against Malaysian Govt.  These groups, masquerading as locals would then sent out pleas to international community for intervention and help.  And the Philippines Govt would send their armed forces to provide relief to these men.  With a superior armed forces, Malaysian Govt would capitulate and they would gain Sabah. Or so they thought would happen.

They did trained at least 1 unit of Muslim Tausug youths.  However, due to unknown circumstances, the youths mutinied.  A version claimed they mutinied as they had found out they were to be deployed to invade Malaysia.  They would not fight against fellow Muslims.  They were in the impression they would be deployed against New Philippines Army (NPA), military wing of banned Communist Party of Philippines.  Thus, they revolted.  Another version claimed their salaries were never paid.

Most stories pointed out all the youths were massacred save for one who brought the incident to the knowledge of Senator Benigno Aquino Sr.  With the very damaging report, the incident, now known as Jabedah massacre, was brought to the attention of Philippines House of Representatives. 

The outcry that ensued led to Nur Misuari to form the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) which then brought Southern Philippines into an endless turmoil until today.
Nur Misuari

There were rumours of Malaysian involvement, ie training and arming but these were largely unproven.  Despite Nur Misuari confirming such arrangement, these were made after he was arrested by Malaysian authorities while escaping a dragnet by Philippines authorities for another failed coup.

Potential Threat
While the Philippines' threat is not high, one must never discount their intention.  With President Benigno Aquino Jr is going to step down, a couple of their presidential candidates have expressed that Philippines claim over Sabah will be part of their central policy.

Military-wise, the Philippines are not able to mount a full-scale offensive to wrestle Sabah.  However, we must not discount they may use trained special operations troops or elite troops to wrestle Sabah.

As a conventional force, they would not be able to fight us but on the group, unit versus unit, they may have an upper hand.

Recently, they have embarked on several military modernization programme which includes purchasing of 2 logistics ships for their navy and 12 units of Korean-made FA50.

Another potential threat from the Philippines is her insistent claim over several islands which are also claimed by several countries, including China and Malaysia. While the Philippines' antagonism is largely targeted against China, any conflict in South China Sea will severely affect Malaysia and we should not discount attempts to pull Malaysia into the conflict.

Malaysia and Brunei have very warm ties.  Interestingly, despite having warm ties both nations do have a border dispute.

Limbang Division, Sarawak is being claimed by Brunei as part of their territory.  Incidentally, Limbang was one of the starting point for Brunei Rebellion which was led by A M Azahari.
The status of Brunei claim is currently unknown.

Malaysia - Singapore relationship is especially unique.  Though historically intertwined with Peninsular Malaysia, both countries were administered separately by the British.  Therefore, when Malaya gained her independence, she did not join. 

In 1963, both countries together with Sabah and Sarawak joined hands to form Federation of Malaysia.  However, it was soon apparent that years of separate administration has placed a large gap in expectation of both nations. Thus, on 9 August 1965, Singapore was 'booted' out of Malaysia. 

Probably, the word 'booted' out sounds too harsh.  However, that was what the mainstream history teaches us, until 2015 when Singapore Govt decided to declassify information pertaining to Operation Albatross that was kept by then Singapore's Finance Minister, Goh Keng Swee.  Details of Operation Albatross claimed that negotiation for separation had happened soon after the formation of Malaysia and was with the tacit approval from Malaysian Govt.
Mr. Goh Keng Swee

While we shall never know for sure if this is true, as the water had flowed under the bridge, let bygones be bygones. 

Relationship between both nations soured in 1980's when Tun Mahathir took over the helm of the nation.  With the clashing personalities of both Tun and then Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew, it seemed to be an one up-manship show. 

1997 financial crisis so the relationship worsened when Tun Mahathir's request for financial assistance from Singapore was rebuffed.  The soured relationship climaxed with the suggestion to destroy the Causeway and replace it with a crooked bridge. 

When Tun Mahathir stepped down, relationship between both nations began to thaw and under the current Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, the relationship is at the best.

Potential Threat
Singapore has the strongest military in Southeast Asia and has the most advanced defence research industry in the region.  

Of all Malaysian neighbours, Singapore is also the only country that had a military training scenario of invading Malaysia.  The Mersing Line was part of Singapore's military training which calls for occupation of Malaysian territory up to Mersing.  Status of whether the training scenario is still being used is unknown. 

While the Mersing Line may seems to be a threat towards Malaysia, it is likely to have been promulgated due to perceived instability in Malaysia. 

As Singapore does not have defensive depth, they have chose to implement total defence and forward defence.  Hence, building of defensive line at another country, ie Malaysia. 

When the plan was promulgated, Singapore may have been worried about the seemingly belligerent Malaysia and antagonistic behaviour some of our leaders.  Hence, the creation of the Mersing Line.  This was not helped that in 1991, both Malaysia and Indonesia had chosen to conduct a large scale airborne exercise near Johor, forcing Singapore to mobilise their reservists. 

As mentioned earlier, Singapore does not have a defensive depth.  Thus, despite all the military prowess they have mustered, they are still vulnerable.  If Malaysia fell into chaos, Singapore would likely to implement their Mersing line, not to occupy Malaysian territory, but to ensure Singapore would have a defensive buffer, much like the French's Maginot Line.

Relationship between Malaysia and Vietnam actually goes back a few centuries.  However, the relationship was adversarial in nature.  Vietnamese kingdom ambushed and slaughtered Malay envoys sent to China from Malacca, which resulted in a raid by Malacca Navy supported by Chinese Navy and Japanese Navy as observer.

During Vietnam War, Malaysia had provided both morale support and supplies to the South Vietnamese Govt.  Tan Sri C C Too, who played an important role in the war against Communist Party of Malaya was seconded to the US Govt to help prepare a propaganda module to be implemented in South Vietnam.

Also rumoured, but yet to be confirmed and proven, that Malaysia had secretly sent at least 1 unit of Rangers and 1 unit of Senoi Praaq to assist in CIA operations in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.  The Rangers were brought back, but the Senoi was said to have been abandoned by CIA in Vietnam.  Not much of a trouble though as the men were rumoured to have fought their way back to Malaysia and returned to service in the famed Senoi Praaq battalion.

Post-Vietnam War saw that Vietnam as a potential threat against Malaysia.  Captured US weaponry and Soviet supplies were found to have made their ways to Communist guerrillas hiding in the jungles of Betong.

Vietnamese Air Force were also detected to have infiltrated our airspace at least on 2 occasions.

On the maritime front, a rocky outcrop in the Spratly's which we claimed, had our markers destroyed and replaced with Vietnamese markers.  The Vietnamese Navy action later forced us to build our 5 outposts in Spratly's chain of islands.

Potential Threat
We still have overlapping claims with Vietnam overs the Spratly's.  Thus, they are potentially an enemy.

However, they are known to be pragmatic.  Despite being in confrontation with China on the Spratly's issue, both nations remain cordial. 

Vietnamese has also largely forgiven the Americans for Vietnam War. 

Militarily, Vietnam can be considered as a middle power.  With 4 Gepard class frigates, 6 Advanced Kilo submarines and 36 units of SU30 of various variant, Vietnam can certain pack a punch if not handled properly.  Not to mention with a large fleet of war reserve, we may see ourselves outclassed by the Vietnamese. 

Thankfully, business relationship between both nations have probably made it difficult for Vietnam to go against us in a conflict.  Thus, paving way for diplomatic settlement. 

However, as Vietnam still retains communism as central ideology, any signs of protest against a foreign country can be seen as a govt-sanctioned event.  Thus, it would be a good indicator for Malaysia to observe. 

Malaysia - China relationship is a very unique relationship.  Diplomatic relationship established since the Ming Empire have passed from one successor to another. 

With modern day Malaysia is being viewed by China as natural successor to the Malaccan Sultanate, the communist government has been known to handle Malaysian affairs differently as compared to rest of Southeast Asia. 

The last 5 years have seen foreign direct investment from China soaring high.  These were largely due to friendly relationship between the leadership of both nations. 

The recently concluded sales of 1MDB assets to a Chinese energy firm also saw their confidence in political stability of the country; such strategic assets are usually being targeted for nationalisation by nationalistic populist parties.  Case in point would be Venezuela. 

The recently concluded signing of Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement which is a US foreign trade agreement is also a likely reason for increased in Chinese foreign direct investment; a key purpose of the trade agreement was to create a trade barrier to Chinese products so to slow down Chinese military expansion.  By having the factories in Malaysia, Chinese companies would be able to circumvent the trade agreement. 

Even with the missing Beijing-bound MH370 did not put much dent in the relationship of both nations. 

Potential Threat
As recent as March 2013, PLA - Navy had came to James Shoal which they called as Zhenmu Reef to conduct military exercise.  Using 4 navy ships, the exercise was successfully conducted in an area located about 80 nautical miles from Bintulu.  The event did not catch public attention as Malaysia was then in the midst of eliminating Suluk intruders in Eastern Sabah. 

Recently, there was an uproar that Chinese Navy vessels were seen patrolling in the coastal waters of Sarawak.  There were also allegations that China had planted their border marker on Beting Patinggi Ali, which was later debunked.

While I did received photos of alleged Chinese Navy vessels in our waters, discussion with fellow defence watchers and observers, particularly those from Malaysia Military Power, we agreed that the vessels in concern were in fact Chinese Coast Guard (CCG), which is considered as civilian vessel.  Interestingly, in our discussion we had to agree that technically we do not have reasons to prevent them from entering the area during peace time. 

Mr. Huang Huikang and Sarawak's Chief Minister, Tan Sri Datuk Patinggi Haji Adenan Satem
However, we should be able to put the issue to rest as Chinese Ambassador to Malaysia, Mr. Huang Huikang during his courtesy visit to Tan Sri Datuk Patinggi Haji Adenan Satem has clarified that no Chinese vessels are operating in Beting Patinggi Ali vicinity and if they are, they do not anchor down.  The announcement itself can be considered as a tacit recognition that Beting Patinggi Ali as part of Malaysian territorial waters. 

However, threat from China remains. 

With China building massive structures at Mischief Reef, it has now placed Malaysian territory within reach of China's fighter jets.
PLA - Navy Liaoning

Additionally, introduction of Liaoning into PLA - Navy's inventory would see that China would be able to increase her power projection capability. 

This would be interesting as to see if China would adopt similar doctrine with USN to have multiple screening vessels. 

Thus, methods to counter China's threat would need to be dynamic and according to what they would probably use against her neighbours. 

In our next article (tentatively to be ready by end of March 2016), we will look at non-traditional threats.  This was supposed to be discussed together in this article. But the article had turned out to be too long.  Thus, I decided to break the article here. 

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