Monday, October 7, 2013

Royal Malaysian Air Force shows the sharp end of its Su-30MKM fighter force

More than meets the eye: A Royal Malaysian Air Force Su-30MKM, Malaysia's most capable warplane, pulls up over Dataran Merdeka (Independence Square) in Kuala Lumpur on 21 September 2013, with wingtip pods not seen before on RMAF Su-30s. When paired with A2G (air-to-ground) munitions paraded at ground level, the pods are believed to give the RMAF's Su-30s the ability to engage enemy air defences from afar. Growlerski is a moniker given by the Malaysian Military Power blog. Image by Iwan from The image is used with the kind permission of the Malaysian Military Power blog. Click here to access the blog.

Odd one out: The Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) included a special treat for eagle-eyed plane spotters at the Malaysian Armed Forces 80th Anniversary Parade. The last Su-30MKM in this flight of four carried wingtip pods thought to contain electronic warfare equipment. According to Malaysian defence enthusiasts, the pods were not carried during flypast rehearsals. This is not a photoshopped image as the pods are visible in images of the parade taken by this blog. Image by Iwan from The image is used with the kind permission of the Malaysian Military Power blog.

Most spectators would have missed it - the pair of slender pods on the wingtips of just one of a quartet of Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) Sukhoi Su-30MKM warplanes in diamond formation that thundered over the Malaysian Armed Forces 80th Anniversary Parade on 21 September 2013.

There was nothing in the commentary that told spectators what to look out for or what this piece of defence equipment was designed to do. But joining the dots weeks after the parade, it is apparent that the RMAF used the parade to showcase hard and soft kill options for its most advanced fighter force.

For the Rakyat whose eyes turned skyward at the arrival of the RMAF's most advanced warplanes, the low level flypast by Su-30s and other RMAF war machines presented yet another photo opportunity. The flypast triggered a chorus of cheers and applause that rippled across the crowdline at Dataran Merdeka as the MAF put its firepower on show.

For defence enthusiasts who invested time and effort sifting through their haul of images from the parade, the picture of the flypast by 11 Skuadron's warplanes opened their eyes to the RMAF's warfighting capabilities. This included the RMAF's ability to suppress or destroy enemy air defences in Wild Weasel-type attacks, including dealing with AEW platforms, with Su-30MKM warplanes in the vanguard of RMAF strike packages.

The wingtip pods appear to be a form of electronic countermeasure of Russian origin designed to allow the host aircraft to befuddle enemy radars with spoof signals. That fact that the pods were designed during the Soviet era to defeat NATO's integrated and multi-layered air defences is noteworthy. One should also bear in mind that the Su-30 family, which evolved from the Su-27 Flanker, was the USSR's answer to the state-of-the-art in American fighter aircraft technology.

Integrated show of force
What was seen in the air must be matched with the firepower shown at ground level. The MAF staff officer who made the decision to kit up one Su-30MKM with the special pods and unveil seldom seen A2G munitions must have trusted that a professional audience would know what they are looking at and would understand its implications.

Malaysian bloggers tell Senang Diri that the two rehearsals did not include all the bells and whistles seen during the actual parade. The Royal Malaysian Navy had an Exocet anti-ship missile as part of the Mobile Column rehearsals, but the business end of 11 Skn's war machines appeared only on the actual day of the parade.

These include Russian air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions - including cruise missiles - acquired for 11 Skn. The missiles went on parade for the first time and follows their display some years ago at an RMAF Open House (which had a lower signature compared to the parade).

Levels of combat capability
In not so many words, the RMAF has made a declared capability in SEAD and DEAD missions as it has shown that it can suppress air defences using EW (soft kill) or take them out using precision-guided munitions (hard kill).

The declared capability by the RMAF indicates it is in possession of, cognizant of and exposed to, the level of military technology represented by the defence electronics and munitions it displayed.

Strategic ambiguity
The number of systems/munitions in its arsenal and the level of competence in fielding the said systems cannot be deduced simply from the capability declaration during the parade. This in itself is a form of deterrence as the strategic ambiguity that regional defence planners must grapple with works to the MAF's strategic advantage.

It is important to remember that a declared capability is not the same thing as an operational capability. The latter includes having a concept of operations (CONOPS) that governs how military power is to be employed. CONOPS must be more than paper plans. These need to be exercised regularly to acquaint everyone with their role in the whole scheme of things.

Defence professionals would appreciate that operational capabilities, particularly for new weapon platforms or weapon systems, need to be scaled up from baby steps. Progress made from IOC to FOC could, in some cases, take years as integration and force coordination issues are worked out and the capability matures along the way.

In addition, an operational capability is distinct from a technical capability. You may tell the world you have such a capability (declared capability) and the necessary doctrine and tactics (operational capability) that script how warfighting will be waged. But it is your technical capability that will spell out the effectiveness of such measures when the button is pressed.

During WW2, Japanese ground forces understood the value of supporting infantry operations with armour. They did so while opposing American beach landings by using light armour to support the infantry as a form of Counterattack Force. However, their CONOPS was let down by the technical inferiority of Japanese tanks versus American armour which were more capable in firepower, mobility and protection. By 1945, the Americans had the added advantage of honing their combat edge in armour tactics, having fought the Germans in Europe, and used their combat experience to devastating effect against Japanese tanks.

Also in WW2, both the German Luftwaffe and United States Army Air Force (USAAF) recognised the value of twin-engine fighters for long-range operations. But German Bf-110 Zestroyers assigned for extended range air ops early in the war had a woeful combat record as they were technically not up to the mark when pitted against single-engine fighters like Hurricanes and Spitfires.

Undaunted, the USAAF employed twin-engine fighters for essentially the same roles in later years, with notable successes as engine output and aerodynamics on platforms such as the P-38 Lightning helped American pilots meet and defeat single-engine fighters. The CONOPS for both air arms were sound and articulated competently - just that the Luftwaffe was let down by a technically inferior air platform.

The term Ops-Tech Integration has often been used to bridge how warfighters see the battlefield with how the defence science community tailors war machines for the same arena. Common sense tells you that the existence and depth of Ops-Tech Integration cannot be discerned from a parade or open house. But this factor should be borne in mind when crafting capability estimates because an experienced and robust Ops-Tech Integration framework can spell war-winning potential by giving both sides a real world reality check.

The last takeaway concerns Information Operations. In particular, the value of crowd sourced intelligence in the blogosphere that has always been appreciated by this blog.

Regular readers would have seen the blog posts about the ATM Ke80 event, in the lead-up to the 21 September parade and thereafter. The reports went cold after about two weeks.

Interestingly, the unsolicited prompts to write about the Su-30's Wild Weasel-type SAM-suppression capabilities popped up after netizens noted that the blog had apparently missed the special mission Su-30. That prompt is much appreciated. Putting aside the originator's identity, timing and motivation behind the prompt, the RMAF Su-30 capability development is worth writing about on pure news value alone. Hence this post.

Check Six!

Many thanks to the Malaysian bloggers who assisted with this post.

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Royal Malaysian Air Force displays Russian missiles at ATM Ke80 parade. Click here


  1. is su 30MKM better our f-15SG?

  2. our f-15 can beat the a** out of their flying coffin aka su-30. hope war will be soon, sg would easily annex JB. :)

    1. Dude, SU 30 MKM is the advanced version of SU 30, which is on par with F22 Raptor. Do you think your junk F15 can take on the Raptor?

  3. Why on earth would you want to annex JB? Sure, sign up as a policeman and manage the crime there after it is annexed. By the way, they just lost a whole cache of weapons - fell into the sea! Im sure some elements with criminal intent will find them somehow.

  4. Platforms is secondary to systems. RSAF, at about 140 plus combat planes, is not just bigger than regional counterparts, but has a good system which is linked to other systems such as the navy ad army. Think about it - AEW & C planes, UAVs, Aster 30, Spyders, Formidable frigtes and much more - all inter-connected. You do not go head to head with the RSAF unless you have an equivalent or better system.

  5. Yes, let's defeat Malaysia so we can stand alone against Indonesia.

  6. FYI - down under will handle those indonesians.

  7. War mongering is unnecessary. All sides lose in a war. There are no victors only victims.

    The SAF is a last resort option which can only be used only when there is no other choice when the very survival of our country is at stake.

    Annexing a neigboring state in a war situation is nonsense. That leaves the rest of the country to deal with. That means a long drawn protracted conflict with no end in sight. Dont we not learn from history ?

  8. Singaporeans know that the saf is for defence only and triggered only when sg is threatened.

  9. From the way some of the posts are written, it is clear they r not Singaporean in origin - no basic appreciation of the role of the sad. Simple envy and mouthing nonsense.

  10. Lol. We actually have an outstanding relationship with Indonesia. Much better than Malaysia.

  11. All these talking cock between MY and SG missed the fact that both need each other as a counterweight against a much bigger neighbour that want to ganyang MY and call SG a little red dot.

  12. since '79, the two "brothers" are still disputing over ambalat, a sea block in the celebes sea.

  13. These weapons on the SU30 look impressive but just how good are the systems, as the cold war (design) is now decades old.

    Consider how the Chinese has as much as possible moved away from Soviet origin design and for good reason.

    Malaysia would do better to have more FA18s but updated with as much technology as the US will grant. I;m sure that second hand FA18s whilst not the show stoppers the SU are (or with comparable legs), are probably more effective in air to ground.

  14. Correction: Indonesia wants to ganyang Malaysia. Not Singapore. Don't rope us into Malaysia's disputes. Singapore has an excellent relationship with Indonesia.

    1. Dude the indonesian have been bad mouthing malaysia and sg.furthermore both my and sg have defence alliance.fpda exist for the sake of the what if indonesia attack my and sg in order to take full control over trade route at the strait of malacca.rmaf has sead capabilities while saf has aesa radar.don't you these two countries air force is complimenting the shortcoming of each other air force.

  15. That's not exactly true. Singapore was a victim of Indonesia's threats as well, just there is no territorial dispute to harp on.

    I believe if any neighbour wants to invade, Singapore will not only display its military might but quietly promise the President or PM a bribe to behave nicely for the rest of his term.

    Separately I was saying that Japan and Taiwan are losing access to advanced US technology partly because the US tacitly recognises the risk of Chinese espionage in these countries. I believe this will one day happen to Singapore.

  16. That was decades ago. And Indonesia was going up against Malaya and not Singapore per se. If Malaysia is so worried about Indonesia, she should develop her own capabilities instead of getting a neighbor to help. As said, Singapores relationship with Indonesia is excellent.

  17. Please don't engage in speculation. Have you heard of Russian tech? They will quietly sell to anyone with the money.

  18. I won't say Indonesia's relationship with Malaysia is any worse than ours. Indonesia has bilateral exercises with both countries at the same level. Indonesia has not said it will ganyang either country for decades, either.

    Furthermore both we and Malaysia share in a defence alliance as an insurance against Indonesia because of the Confrontation and more recently because of its behavior in East Timor.

  19. We're waiting for visit our Hutan Hujan Tropika..and soon you'll die there..just bcos of mosquito bite!LOL..

  20. maf proven by ops daulat for modern combat... saf?

  21. SG will someday be return to.the owner, Johor as indicated in the agreement.

  22. cina bukit mau main sama melayu???
    rimau gila tak sabar mau ratah bangkai cina bukit.
    singapork cibai..kasi potong apak lu punya lanchau!!!

  23. SU-30 MKM as a jet fighter is one of the best in the world! SU-30 MKM is a copy of the India SU-30 MKI with canards and thrust vectoring. The early Flankers were already very agile fighters and the India SU-30 MKI had proven even greater level of agility and degree of attack when fitted with canards and thrust vectoring. That is why even the Russians learn from the Indian version and used canards and thrust vectoring on their SU-35, probably the best 4th Gen jet fighter of the world.

    My understanding is that since the SU-30 MKI was a older version, the Malaysian's SU-30 had better avionics which is also critical in modern air battles.

    Cope India Exercise had proven that the SU-30 MKI had beaten the F-15 flat! It was even said that the Indian pilots engage the US F-15 without even turning on their bar radars as that radar is consider a highly military secret at that time! Both the Russians and Indian did not want the US to learn about the bar radar from that exercise!

    If you look at F15's history, it is developed as an air superiority fighter which does not emphasis on agility while the Russians develop the SU-27 with great maneuverability!

    In war, good jet fighter is only a part of the formula where the pilots plays an even more important role! This is like giving the best sword in the world to a lousy untrained swordsman!

    The maintenance and backup team also plays a vital role because they are the people who can ensure if you can even get your jet fighters up in the air!
    Thirdly, there is also the great importance of AWACS! In modern air battle, AWACS is so important that it was said that destroying the AWACS of the enemy is as good as destroying 2/3 of the enemy's attacking squadron! With AWACS, you have 'see' the enemy long before they see you and you can put your fighters in the best attacking position while the enemy did not even know that they are being ambushed!

    Why did US always have air superiority over enemies like Iraq and other rogue states? It is because the Americans had developed a complete air superiority system and it does not depends on the ability of one single superior jet fighter alone!