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Monday, January 9, 2017

Politicisation of Sungai Besi Air Base Impending Closure

Politicising defence is always the easiest way for any politicians to gain traction anywhere, but especially true in Malaysia.

Sungai Besi Camp
Recently, the sales of Sungai Besi Camp land, the birthplace of Royal Malaysian Air Force was used by certain politicians as evidence that the Najib administration had sold off the country.

This was largely started by a naive military officer by the name of Mohd Zulhelmi when he posted that we lost our sovereignty because of politicians selling off our land and using Sungai Besi camp as an example.

This was despite fact that the sales of the land had been known much earlier.

The sales of the land was decried as a betrayal of all Malaysians as the Base is being said as historical and strategic.

Historical Value
Historical, yes as the birthplace of RMAF. The location is also the site of first airfield in Malaysia. The first airplane that landed in Malaysia had landed at this very airfield.

This was also the airfield where Lt Gen Gerald Templer bid farewell as the last British Governor to Malaya.

One section of the air base also served as the Air Force Museum.

Thus, as an amateur historian, I am pained to see the piece of property being let off for redevelopment as the location is a very sought after piece of real estate.

Strategic Value
However, if anyone tells you that Sungai Besi Camp is a strategic camp, and the sales is an ultimate betrayal of the nation, tell the person he or she is a bullshit.

The Air Force Base located at the Sungai Besi Camp is being purported as a very strategic camp critical to the defence of Malaysia.

However, I must note that the camp has largely lost its strategic value.

High-Rise Development
Development of high risk buildings around the area has negated the ability of the Base to operate as RMAF staging area. None of the air force's top tier combat aircraft or even transport aircrafts can land at the air base.

Smaller planes used for training, ie fixed wing propeller type aircraft may be able to land at the airfield, but it is very risky due to deluge of high-rise buildings in the location.

Today they will protest the move of the air base, but when an incident happen, they will blame the government for not moving the base.

The same development around the area has resulted the air base no longer viable to run certain operations, especially strategic-type operations as the base will not be able to ensure no prying eyes into the operations.

Heavy Traffic
Another factor which had negated the Base's capabilities as a strategic location is the very heavy traffic found at all major intersections surrounding the base.

At a glance, you will realise that the heavy traffic will prevent efficient deployment of troops in the event of crisis. Troops will have difficulties to access the camp as they are likely be stuck in traffic.

Affected Logistics
Inbound and outbound logistics are also affected. Goods can't be transported via the base as the heavy traffic will ensure the logistics trapped in the middle of the traffic. Closure of the main road to the air base to facilitate such logistics might affect operational security which might lead to information security leaks.

In fact, the move away from Sungai Besi has ensured that the issues I mentioned earlier be resolved.

Solution to Sungai Besi Air Base Woes
The one of the locations which had been identified to place the units displaced by the move is Subang Air Base.

As the air base is away from main transportation line, roads to the airport does not suffer from serious traffic jams.

The airport is also closer to national war reserve supply (Note: this is a public info and don't laugh as we do have a war reserve) and supply depot for United Nations emergency supply relief.

There are also very few high-rise building surrounding the locations which would and could pose threat to the base.

Other than these benefits, the land swap deal following the sales of Sungai Besi Base is that the company will build 9 other new bases for Malaysian Armed Forces. This to me is a good deal as the military gets to get new bases nationwide.

Loss of a Tactical Air Base
The move however, will deprive NSC (National Security Council) a tactical air base which can be used to deploy National Special Operations Force (NSOF) troopers to respond immediately against potential terrorist attacks within the city limits.

The newly formed NSOF which consists of all branch of security services in Malaysia are currently based at Sungai Besi Camp and there are no information where they will be redeployed. Based on current information, they will likely be redeployed to Subang Air Force Base.

If they are based at Subang, this might mean a delay between 5 to 15 minutes to deploy troops from the air for some locations.

However, I believe the NSC and the air force to a certain extent will be relying more on the RMP Counter-Terrorist Wing under the Special Branch to ensure attacks are foiled even before they can be executed.

Land Swap - A Blast from the Past
The same land swap deal also reminds me of another RMAF land deal back in the 90's which is not known to many people.

A piece of land which was alienated to the RMAF as a reserve land for future development was sold to a private firm. The land was later developed into Bandar Utama and One Utama shopping complex.

Yet, I do not recall the air force being compensated with any new land after the deal.

The only snippets of this deal was published either by NST or The Star which was published during the last 10 years. The article was about the grandness of One Utama, but the part on the sales of the land had more or less shaken my trust in the Government.

Weird though. The supporters of the politicians that are claiming this deal as selling off the country didn't think that this deal back in the 90's is a betrayal when the air force did not have the land being compensated.

Never Trust Politicians
There you have it. Politicians raised the issue when and because it is advantageous to them politically even when it does not make sense. Not because they're patriotic. Repeat, don't trust politicians.

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