Sunday, September 28, 2014

Innovations in defence: Malaysia Boleh

When the Royal Malaysian Navy was tasked to conduct anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden, it cranked into action plans to convert civilian-flagged vessels into naval auxiliaries.

The two ships, Bunga Mas Lima and Bunga Mas Enam, exemplify the British concept of Ships Taken Up From Trade or STUFT, a concept for harnessing civil resources as military assets that was demonstrated with decisive effect by the British Royal Navy during the Falklands/Malvinas War in 1982.

This gem of an idea by the Malaysians is but one of many examples of the innovative spirit in defence science and engineering north of the Causeway. The speed with which the MISC ships were role-changed for a naval role, given a fresh coat of haze gray warpaint and teeth in the form of naval helicopters tells us something about the level of the ops-tech integration in Malaysia's defence eco-system.

More recently, Malaysian Minister of Defence, Hishammuddin Hussein has said abandoned Petronas oil rigs off Sabah are to be given a new lease of life as forward operating bases. The converted rigs will be gifted to the Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCOM) as floating lily pads that can be used to generate and sustain the Malaysian military's presence and authority in the seas south of the Philippines that have been used by lawless elements to test Malaysian resolve.

Malaysia's plans for Petronas oil rigs hark back to the British idea of building platforms to defend the mouth of the River Thames against German air and seaborne intruders during World War Two. They also mirror the Iranian practice of using oil rigs to exert a military presence at sea.

When ESSCOM's assets are in place, Malaysian authorities are likely to welcome opportunities to square off the challenge. Knowing the level of training and motivation of Malaysian forces, such engagements are likely to be embarrassingly one-sided.

Closer to home, the raising of two battalions of Keris (Brazilian ASTROS II) multiple rocket launchers by the Malaysian Army shows that its defence strategists understand and appreciate the decisive impact that MRLs have in the confined battespace of peninsular Malaysia.

So while an MRL - a tactical level artillery asset - would hardly caused ripples when fielded by a European army (so vast are distances there), the weapon system is a tactical asset with strategic effect in the Malaysian Army's theatre of operations. In Europe, strategic weapon systems are subject to close monitoring and arms control protocols. But not so in Southeast Asia.

Clearly, someone in the Malaysian defence ecosystem must  have recognised the advantage that a mobile weapon system with a long reach can have during an Auto Strike situation when drawer plans must kick into action quickly to beat the reaction time of a hostile force as it mobilises from peace to war.

The addition of Metis M anti-tank missiles to Malaysia's war chest some years ago is noteworthy on two counts. Firstly, from an operational standpoint, the Metis missiles pack a punch as they have been designed to destroy modern main battle tanks like the Merkava. Secondly, from a force development standpoint, the in-service date for these hard-hitting missiles is indeed interesting to ponder over. Isn't it?

Alas, the Malaysians may not be masters of maximising public relations value from their defence innovations. They lack an annual Defence Technology Prize ceremony which lauds innovation, creativity and best practices in military technology. And while in Singapore, the Singapore Combat Engineers' idea for building a Floating Platform as an interim venue for our National Day Parades has been widely publicised, we have yet to see the Petronas oil rigs enjoy similar PR traction.

But just because you don't hear about their innovations, doesn't mean they have none to celebrate. Give credit where it is due. Well done Malaysia.


Chew said...

Thank you for the comments about the Malaysian Armed Forces (MAF). They try their best with weapon systems which are usually fostered on to them by certain politicians, which are not of their choosing. MAF are like the British, making do with inadequate weapons coupled with some expensive white elephant military systems which promise a lot, cost a lot and deliver very little! There's a lot of emphasis on training (6 months' BMT) and experience (UN missions to the Congo, Somalia, Cambodia, Bosnia, to name a few, with some 18 soldiers killed).
It often seems that MAF are able to do their duty in spite of the politicians instead of because of them. For instance, a driver of an APC was killed by a RPG during the rescue of US Rangers in the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993. He was awarded Malaysia's highest military valour award. That had many veterans I spoke to foaming at the mouth because as they explained it, he was nothing more than a "taxi driver".
That award was suppose to be on par with the Victoria Cross, given to soldiers who achieved heroic feats such as attacking machine guns or multiple enemies single handed. As they said, if that is the case, than every Malaysian combat veteran who had faced fire during Emergency I & II against Communists Terrorists, Confrontation with Indonesia and UN missions, might as well be given that medal! Oh, they did give that medal to an accountant who was murdered in Hong Kong during an investigation of a corrupt business. Such brave valour !
However, in spite of all that, MAF are still capable of thinking out of the box when need requires. Malaysian Battalion (MALBATT) during the Bosnian War earned the respect of the Serbs when early on during their deployment, they threatened to shoot their way through a Serb checkpoint which was holding up their passage. This, despite superior numbers and heavy weapons at the beck and call of the Serbs. MALBATT seldom had problems with Serb checkpoints after that. Compared that with the cowardly actions of Dutchbat who surrendered some 8,000 civilians to the Serbs, who killed them all in the Srebrenica massacre. MALBATT veterans I have spoken to, have said that they would have never surrendered the civilians in their care, even though they were as lightly armed as the Dutchbat were. And in case you think this was all bravado, just remember the last stand of Lt Adnan and his men at the Battle of Pasir Panjang.
Another reason for such sentiment is because of what happened during the first Malaysian UN peacekeeping mission in Congo during the early 1960s. Faced with Congolese rebels, the CO of the Malaysian force there surrendered some Italian airmen who were in their care, even though earlier on, there had a been a standoff between the rebels and two junior officers who, disobeying earlier orders, had stood between the rebels and the Italians. Unfortunately, they were ordered directly by their CO upon threat of court martial to surrendered the airmen, which they reluctantly did. These airmen were later butchered and ate by the rebels. The CO was later court martial for cowardice and dishonorably discharged, whilst the two junior officers were awarded medals of valour.
After that debacle, it was always the policy of Malaysian UN peacekeeping forces that you never surrender anybody. That was why when the Americans ask for MALBATT help to save their Rangers during the Battle of Mogadishu, it never crossed their mind to refuse. It was an atonement of sorts. The Americans never forgot that and when they withdrew from Somalia in 1994, they were instrumental in nominating Lieutenant General Abu Samah as the Commander of United Nations Operation in Somalia II.
Ties that are forged from shed blood and combat experience tends to be stronger than ties that are forged on paper. It is no secret that when MAF ask for a favour from their American counterparts, they can always expect a positive answer. As they say, they owe us one.
KL Chew

earlyfalloutboy said...

Upcoming: Malaysia to evacuate citizens from Yemen.