Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Rant(ver. 2): talking without thinking

Every now and then the author encountered few questions regarding Malaysian military, especially the acquisition programme. These questions ranged from some very bright one (such as why did Malaysia bought A-4 Skyhawk) to something like “bila mau beli F-22?”

One thing for sure, and that is WE DIDN’T BUY MILITARY EQUIPMENTS FOR THE SAKE OF IT, meaning that we didn’t buy something just because we can.  There are many circumstances that should be considered. Though there are many reasons that dictate the “to buy or not to buy”, the author has selected few main reasons which should answer many questions regarding our military spending.

Indeed the main reason of military spending. In Malaysia’s case, the fund generally comes from Five Years’ Plan, where the equipment has been evaluated, tested and confirmed as essential to either replace obsolete equipment, to complement the current equipment, and/or to boost the current capability of the Armed Forces.

More often than not, whenever the economy slows down, the first place to cut the spending is the Armed Forces’ checkbook. These is one of the reason why some of the obsolete equipment has not being replaced (such as the S61A4 Nuri helicopter), or being replaced in a slower pace than expected (them APCs).

Another obvious reason which affecting our acquisition programme. Usually western-bloc weapon system is more expensive than eastern-bloc weapon, due to labor cost, the overall sophistication and the quality, although in recent years system that originates from eastern-bloc (such as Russia and former USSR countries, and China) has significantly improved in term of quality.

It should be noted that non-traditional weapon suppliers (Such as Pakistan, South Korea and South Africa) would sell their weapon system at cheaper price, as well as some attractive offers(extensive Tot, offset deal, barter deal, etc) to attract more customer (which usually tend to buy from traditional weapon supplier).

We buy what we need, and we first buy what we needed the most. Usually weapon system which has significant strategic value (such as MBTs, naval vessels, and combat aircrafts), will be on top of the priority, as well as weapon system that would severely affect our military deployment/logistics/buildup (in case of MPSS programme).

Often in many armed forces throughout the world, the infantry is being put on the bottom of the list. Thankfully MAF doesn’t neglecting the infantry’s need and we saw significant infantry modernization programme since mid 90’s, which not only focused on new equipment, but also the entire infantry structure (the BIS structure, by cutting the manpower while boosting the firepower).

Many people only see the cost of particular equipment on the price tag (even that wouldn’t be written in stone, since the price depends on the number bought, level of sophistication, and if we are in good terms with the supplier). When the acquisition is made, Mindef need to make sure the current infrastructure/personnel support are capable to maintain that particular equipment. These maintenance ranges from the spare parts, armaments, real time cost to operate the system(such as cost per flying hour in combat aircraft and helicopters) and not to mention the personnel capable to man the equipment. Malaysia’s logistic problem is quite unique, since we are one of the first countries to operate state-of-the-art equipments from both blocs (Eastern and Western), in particular, the fighter aircraft procurement. And more amazingly, we are capable to make them work seamlessly within our doctrine.

Another important thing is that to train a particular personnel (pilots, MBT drivers and commanders, COs, etc) are not cheap, and often they were sent overseas to train. One particular example of  acquisition blunder is Myanmar, where the pilots and ground personnel has no experience in maintaining MiG-29, and only a handful (of the already small batch of MiG-29 acquired) are in flying condition.

The weapon acquired should be fit nicely on our military doctrine (deterrence, non-territorial, defensive oriented). Why on earth should we buy a long range bomber in the first place? The same can be said to low level attack aircraft (A-10, Su-25), aircraft carrier or LCAC?

Acquiring these kind of weapon would not just be costly, but also going to change the geopolitics stability in the region (in which will be discussed later)

6-Overall impact on MAF
In what particular way the acquisition will have impact on MAF structures/deployment/strategy? For example, what would a more expensive T-90 give us compared to PT-91M (which is cheaper and has Leopard 2A6 upgrade kit on it)? Again we could buy a cheaper system but also has similar impact on our capability.

Now ask oneself: What would a more expensive Eurofighter Typhoon give us compared to Su-30MKM?

Some military supplier has stated the “guideline” on the application of the weapon system. Britain, for example, has stated that the weapon of its origin SHOULD NOT be used in a civil war (Indonesia breaks the agreement, twice, during East Timor conflict and recently, Acheh. Now almost all of their British-made weapon are being stored or retired due to lack of spare parts). While the US already put so many strings in the deal (no offset deal, source code to be provided in the foreseeable future, armament should only be shipped if the country really needs them, the copyright rule to prevent reverse-engineering, ‘monkey model’ equipment for non-allies, the system should not be placed in a location in which will harm it’s close allies, etc).
This is pretty much made the F/A-18F deal between Malaysia and the US to be put on hold until some of the string being withdrawn.

Sun Tzu, one of the best military strategists once said, “Military action is always driven by political motivation”, and the same can be said to military procurement.  The acquisition are always being used as political leverage to either flexing military might, gaining support from supplying countries, or even to gain some kind of legitimacy on disputed issues(such as EEZ areas or island).

Not to mention that buying a weapon system from the wrong country would spark a political outcry within and outside the country (some terrorist group would go for our head if we go for Israel, some country would go for our head if we go for Iran).In the old days of 60s all the way to late 80s, buying a Soviet-bloc weapon is a no-no since we are a very pro-western those days (the author recalled the proposed Mi-8 as Nuri’s replacement which sparked controversy which led to the plan being scrapped).Nowadays the same pressure is felt should we buy military system from Iran or North Korea.

Any major military acquisition worth billions of Euros will raise some issues from neighboring countries, and these would change the regional geopolitics around. One wrong move (such as hasty acquisition, or the quantity of system being acquired) would send the wrong message to other countries and would disrupt the harmony in region, and even trigger the arms race (something that should be avoided).

Now before asking the question about what MAF SHOULD buy, do give a thought about all the points above.


  1. Good effort.Mindef should be thankful to you for explaining to the general public some guidelines in the equipment/arms acquisition process. Wish critics would visit your blog, do more thinking and talk less.

  2. The problem is the institutional deficiencies in handling procurement across the board.

    I.e., the many opportunities for corruption to enter the fray.

    This is just one way for individual politics to affect procurement and the root cause are the fundaments of our institutions. Assessment of "need" may be done by military staff, but it is up to individual politicians to drive the procurement forwards using institutions not fit for purpose and every step of the way, they can assert their own interests.

  3. klau la blog ni ditulis dlm bahasa melayu, lagi menarik..

  4. good aticles.. why dont u write anymore.. last article was a year ago man..

  5. Setuju....kandungan blog sangat menarik untuk mendidik semua rakyat Malaysia dan alangkah eloknya jika artikel sebegini diterbitkan dalam akhbar Berita Harian atau Utusan Malaysia.