Exclusive Guest Column | By Shang-su Wu
Regarding possible directions of development, maritime would be a main focus of Malaysia’s military modernisation, as previous efforts concentrated on counter-insurgency (COIN).
Since the incursion of Philippine militants in Sabah in 2013, Kuala Lumpur have invested in the procurements of A-400M transporter aircraft, MD-530G light attack helicopters, M-109A5 self-propelled howitzers and LG-1 light howitzers, as well as adding firepower on the existing AW-109 and S-61A4 helicopters.
Although the absolute quantity of the acquisition is not very large, their mobility will support the newly formed 31st border brigade and other units to conduct COIN operations, with greater mobility than before.
In contrast, the maritime needs, namely maritime patrol aircraft and amphibious ships, have not been met yet. Despite the flexibility of using transporter aircraft for maritime patrol, Malaysia’s regular assets are only three Beech-200Ts, which are quantitatively and qualitatively insufficient to cover its large water territory.
As maritime security increasingly matters, a solution to beef up the capacity would be necessary. However, since maritime patrol aircraft at least involves with three services, the air force, navy, and coast guard (the maritime enforcement agency), certain coordination would be unavoidable.
In maritime Southeast Asia, amphibious vessels represent preparation for humanitarian aid and disaster relief (HADR) more than warfare. Kuala Lumpur’s two neighbouring countries, Manila and Jakarta, have introduced landing platform dock (LPD) mainly for HADR, as Bangkok also highlights the HADR purpose for its aircraft carrier. The substantial function plus the regional arms dynamics may pick up the project of amphibious ships above others under the “15 to 5” plan. Nowadays, there are broad options of accessing to major amphibious ships, which is likely to achieve an economic deal.
Those traditional big-ticket projects, such as fighters, would not be easy to proceed in the face of the current financial difficulty, but some alternatives mentioned before, such as upgrade or used assets, may retain some possibility for them. To upgrade or overhaul the existing MiG-29s cannot be ruled out, whereas used four-generation fighters, such as F-16C/D, are available in the global market.
In sum, although Malaysia may have less affordability, there are plenty of cases for countries with limited budgets to carry out their military modernisation. Within a similar strategic surrounding, the security demands will drive the Malaysian defence planners to create their own ways of managing military capabilities.
(Shang-su Wu is a research fellow on the Military Studies Programme of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.)
(This is the concluding part of the article. To read the first part, click here)
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