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Friday, September 14, 2018

Should We Procure New Jets?

Recently, Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu had highlighted that there are only 4 Russian-made jets that are operational.  Which leads to the question of were there any misadventures, so to speak, in our Air Force?  Fortunately, or unfortunately, the issue was not spinned out of control by the Opposition, which incidentally were the previous government, which accounted for their tameness in this issue.  Hence, I did not really need to write much on this issue.

With MINDEF PR in action, they had clarified that 14 of the Russian-made SU30MKM were actually undergoing mid-life refitting.  Unfortunately, there were no good news on the Miggies, which are no longer in operations, as far as I know.

Further clarification on the issue affecting the Che Su (as I call them) was written by Capt (R) Abdul Rahmat, better known as Seademon.  You can read it here.

Welcomed Approach - With Wariness
To be frank, I personally welcomed Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu's revelation.  It was certainly an eye-opener to some.  Though I do question the need to reveal the exact number of operational assets.  But this is reflective of his character, still new in understanding how to run his job properly.

Weak Political Will in Defence
The unfortunate side-effect though is that his 'revelation' led to having the previous government being hammered for wasting huge funds for military jets procurement.  Which I find to be ironic as the previous administration had a weak political will to spend on military.  As mentioned previously, the 1.2% to 1.6% of GDP expenditure that we had is one of smallest in the world.  A huge part of the weak political will is that the near-incessant politicisation of our defence spending by the then opposition, claiming that we are never going to war.  Yeah, right.  Tell that to the Polish with their Anglo-Polish agreement. 

Not that the previous administration failed to ensure defence portfolio is taken care of.  There are some snippets of development that they had planned and were going to be implemented post-GE14, but as I am at no liberty to go into those details, I will have to leave it as it is, especially since information that I have received pointed that due to the change of government, the particular project is no longer viable and no longer within the interest of the counterparty.  I will leave it at that.

Urgent Need
That being said, there is still a need to fill up the gaps left by the Miggies.  With only 8 Hornets and 18 Che Su to cover our whole airspace, this leaves our Air Force severely weakened.  I'm not even considering our Hawks which are technically trainers and are utilised as close air support, much like US Warthog or Russian Frogfoot are being used. Well, scratch that, more like how Broncos are used, but jet-powered. 

Poland's Experience
Fine, fine, I know there's someone out there that recently had written to the media claiming that we can live without an air force because we will not be going to war at any time.  Point taken. 

But, as I mentioned before in a previous article, just have a look at Poland in 1939.  They tried to prepare themselves for war against Nazi Germany, but they were not able to prepare sufficiently. 

Ethiopia's History
Maybe Poland is not good enough as an example.  Let's look at Ethopia.  Today, whenever we mentioned Ethiopia, what comes to our mind is a famine struck nation.  Some of us might remember the image of a vulture waiting next to a malnourished child.  The image was so strong that the photographer ended up killing himself for not helping the poor child.

But do you know that Ethiopia is one of the world's oldest nation?  Ethiopia was even one of the founding nations to the League of Nations, an international body not far different from today's United Nations.  But that was not sufficient to prevent Benito Mussolini's imperialistic dream of having a colony in Africa. 

With a military force of 800,000 troops as compared to Italy's 500,000 troops, plus being a founding member of Leagues of Nations, you would have thought that Benito Mussolini would avoid going to war in a foreign land.  But he did.  With about 600 aircrafts and about 800 tanks at his disposal, he invaded Ethiopia, which only had 13 aircraft and 4 World War 1 era tanks. 

Not only Ethiopia had very few aircrafts and outdated tanks, the army were using outdated personal weaponry, some were even using spears.  As a result, Ethiopia had lost the war in 1935, only to regain their homeland in 1941.  By then, it was estimated 377,500 Ethiopian soldiers and 382,800 Ethiopian civilians had been killed.  Are you willing to risk this happening to Malaysia? 

Duty of the Government
It is the duty of the Government of the day to ensure that the military is sufficiently strengthened to prevent misadventure by any belligerent.  While I personally abhor war, but the fact that there are people out there that may want pieces of our country, we should support the procurement of military assets to strengthen our Armed Forces.

While we are on this issue, I must point out that I agree with many of the points highlighted by Kua (yeay, I finally said his name).  The government must look into the mishmash assets that our air force had procured in the past.  Note to readers, if you start to blame this mishmash as the result of political intervention by past leaders from then government, yes, you are right.  But I personally don't think this would change much as the same people responsible for these procurement decisions are still in power, albeit under different political platform.

But I disagree with his approach of wanting the government not to procure new jets to replace those facing obsolecence.  And to repeat or rather to reemphasise, that it is the responsibility of the Government to ensure that in the event of a war, we would not end up like Ethiopia or Poland. 

So if the government wants to buy new jets, I say yes.  But make sure that it is what the Air Force wants and needs, not which politicians get to supply.

Our Role
Our roles in this unfortunately flawed system that we have today is to make sure what the government had procured makes sense.  Making sense here means the assets are required by MAF and would not pose issues to us in the future. 

Not A Fanboy Stuff
Defence procurement is not just about getting the best system available, but the best system that suits you. If you have read my series of articles on defence procurement, you will see that there's a lot of consideration that must be made before a procurement is committed; needs, costs, diplomacy, design philosophy (you may also call this operational philosophy), logistics, training, etc.  You'll get a better picture there. 

For far too long, Malaysian defence procurement had been too much of a fanboy dream. We get excited with what the government had procured without considering the effects on future operational requirements.  Note the word "future".  There's no policy or paper on what our country needs.  I believe Kua had highlighted the same.

Now now there.  Don't get triggered.  I started as a fanboy too.  When we first bought the Miggies, I searched as much details about them Miggies as I had hoped to be a pilot.  But alas that did not happen.

And I learnt much during these last 20 plus years.  So you can too.  But let's get back to the topic.

Inflated Defence Spending
One area I find and noted in defence procurement is what I believe is over-inflated defence spending worldwide.  The cost of equipment has shot up that many nations are not able to properly arm themselves. 

Consider this.  During World War 2, the belligerents had hundreds of fighters and bombers to their disposal.  These days, these numbers had dwindled to probably 200 units to 400 units for majority of these belligerents.  But for countries like Malaysia, some countries can afford only around 30 to 50 aircrafts.

This itself isn't too bad, considering that if these equipment are cheap, war would be a daily affair.

Studying the Syrian conflict, I had once proposed the MAF to dispense off the Air Force and strengthen our ground-based air defence.  Sounds good on paper, till I debated this with fellow enthusiasts.  I did not take account of our naval force that may be out of range of ground-based air defence umbrella.

Another weakness in that idea is that our ground forces and naval fleet will not be able to call out for air support when needed.  So scrap that idea of replacing the Air Force with ground-based air defence.  We still need fast movers. 

Combat Air Wing
These days, my preference is to have a 2-tiered Air Force combat wing.  First tiers would consist of highly capable top of the line fast movers.  Ideally, these should be MRCA.  As their price is prohibitively expensive, we will have very small number of these.

Second tier aircrafts should be considered.  These should be numerous enough to provide sufficient coverage for the whole nation.  I recalled recently the Air Force Chief mentioned to have these second tier, to be known as LCA or Light Combat Aircraft. 

With the above being procured, the Air Force would still need a third type of aircraft for training purposes.

The less sexier wing of our Air Force is our transport units.  Right now, we have Charlies, CN235 and A400M of Mission Impossible fame.  We might want to nix one type, ie to consolidate our force to Charlies and A400.  One is a tactical another is a strategic lifter.  But that depends on if we are going to buy newer Charlies to replace those lost in the past, and if we are going to procure MPA in the form of CN295, as CN235 and CN295 share many common parts.

Rotary Wing 
Then we also have the rotary wing.  Currently the workhorse is still the venerable S61A4 Nuri.  Many of our pilots and air crews are even younger than the helicopters they are flying.

I see they will likely to operate for some time, as apparently to write them off now not only would be a disaster to the rotary wing, but recent trend pointing to the fact that these Jolly Green Giants still have quite a lot to give back to the nation.

But newer helicopters should be considered, but that's a different topic altogether.

Now there you have it, my views.  You may debate the points.  No harm on that.  In fact, it would be good if you can contribute to the knowledge.

Don't fault Kua for his views.  Probably his lack of understanding on the need to maintain a military force is why he opposed new procurement.  And it is our role, the rest of us that understand the needs, to educate him and his supporters.  Till next round.

Note: if you choose to have a balanced view, you may read Kua's writing here.

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