Saturday, March 28, 2009

Silently Vigilant In The Gulf

First reported as a rumour by KL Security Review in February, it has since been confirmed in a Jane's Defence Weekly report that the Royal Malaysian Navy's training frigate KD Hang Tuah has been deployed to the Gulf of Aden and she will return in April. This is despite earlier reports that the RMN's presence in the Gulf of Aden will not be extended beyond February if no funding is allocated as the Navy was concerned when initially told that the funding for these deployments would have to come out of its existing operational budget. This would have resulted in the RMN having to scale down its training in 2009 to accommodate such costs. But such concerns may have been eased by the news that the 19 March supplementary funding bill had allocated RM27.9 million was to pay for fuel costs incurred by the RMN in its 2008 deployments to the Gulf of Aden to protect ships belonging to Malaysian shipping companies transitting the Gulf. As it was earlier announced that the government spent RM14.6 million to finance the operations of Malaysian navy vessels under 'Ops Fajar' from Sept 4 to Dec 31 last year in the Gulf of Aden, that still leaves RM13.3 million to finance these operations until April I guess.

Although I feel that using the last remaining training frigate in the fleet for fleet operations is not suitable especially for such a long overseas deployment as I am sure the Navy's trainees will not be on board and thus are deprived of onboard training in the meantime, I guess that is the price to be paid by our Navy that is currently short on operational assets after their patrol craft an OPV squadrons has been transferred to the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency. With the prior announced commissioning of two new Kedah class OPVs this month seems to be further postponed, the RMN may have to wait further to ease the shortage before they can send a more suitable vessel to undertake the operations in the Gulf and allow our training frigate to undertake her assigned role again. Until then we wish our men on board KD Hang Tuah in the Gulf good sailing! May they uphold the prestige their predecessors has gained in the short time our naval vessels has operated there.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

MAWILLA 3 Receives Her First Corvette

KD Laksamana Tun Abdul Jamil Slowly Approaching The Navy Pier

Since operating from 28 August 2007, Markas Wilayah Laut 3 Or Command Naval Region 3(MAWILLA 3/ COMNAV 3) Royal Malaysian Navy has managed to strenghten the security in the northern waters of the Malacca Straits. Such security focus is important in the area due to the high monthly traffic of an average of 6000 units of merchant shipping transiting the waters according to statistics. The waterway which faces the Indian Ocean is also strategic and vital as it is the northern gateway of the Melaka Straits for trading vessels. Located at Tanjung Gerak, Mawilla 3 is the third naval base for the RMN and is built on an area of 19 hectares with a 200 metres pier that can accomodate the largest RMN ships and the Laksamana class corvettes that will be based there. On 23rd March, the naval base received her first corvette, the KD Laksamana Tun Abdul Jamil that became the first navy vessel to dock at the navy pier that has only recently been completed. With the build up of assets at the naval base, those sailing the waters up north can now depend on a strong guardian to safeguard their security.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Something To Watch Over Us

Finally after suffering launch delays due to problems with the satellite launching company, RazakSAT should finally find its orbit after the launch on 21 April 2009. RazakSAT, named after the second Prime Minister of Malaysia Tun Abdul Razak, is a mini class satellite weighing 180kg and the first remote sensing satellite in the world to be orbiting the equator. RazakSAT will orbit at an altitude of 685km after it takes off from its launch pad at Kwajalein Island in the Marshall Islands and will subsequently orbit the equator every 100 minutes and snap images of Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, India, Sri Lanka and the Philippines. African countries covered include Somalia, Rwanda and Nigeria. Even South America would be on the radar. The equatorial orbiting satellite would enable observations of the earth’s surface to be made more often compared with a polar orbiting satellite, that is, RazakSAT can revisit the same spot four to six times a day during daylight although it may not be possible to get a nadir view of regions near 9 degrees north or south for up to 25 days. Even so, its orbit will carry it over some portion of Malaysia 14 times a day.

Inverted position of the RazakSat with panels folded to the side. Note the camera at one end

RazakSAT is equipped with a medium-sized aperture camera (MAC), a pushbroom camera with 5 linear detectors (1 panchromatic, 4 multi-spectral) to capture high resolution images of the Earth along the near equatorial orbit. The 2.5mm Medium Sized Aperture Camera on the satellite has a ground sampling distance of 2.5m (black and white or panchromatic) and 5m (colour or multi-spectral) and at the nominal altitude of 685 km, MAC has a swath width of 20 km. The size resolution is said to be similar in clarity as looking at a container truck from space. Thus RazakSAT is expected to provide high resolution images of Malaysia that can be applied to land management, resource development and conservation, forestry, fish migration and security. It is the last application that really interest me as now Malaysia can secure its own geospatial information security without relying on third parties. And although it has been reported that for less than RM2,000, you can now have a satellite image of your neighbourhood or a place of interest, Malaysian Remote Sensing Agency director general Darus Ahmad has said that a committee comprising government agencies such as the military and police would vet requests for “sensitive” images. Nonetheless just imagine for yourself the military applications RazakSAT can provide for the defence sector of our country. The availability of the Malaysian home grown high resolution satellite, the RazakSAT stands not only to benefit the country in terms of better management and utilisation of resources but also is something to watch over us.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind?

I recently visited again a blog written by one of our active Nuri Helicopter pilots and one of his recent postings really hit home concerning the situation with the safety of our Nuri's and the delayed, and hopefully not aborted, long overdue replacement with the EC-725 SAR. And talking about the SAR requirements, read here why such specifications for the Nuri replacement is necessary and not a luxury, an insight coming from a real pilot and not some pseudo pilots who write to the press claiming they are ex-airforcemen but what they write betrays otherwise.

Posted by Jeffrey Matisa

I know people shudder when I say I am a Nuri pilot, especially when their full fathom of aviation experience and knowledge is from Malaysian Airlines and Air Asia. Some respond with, "Oh, the flying coffin?" When someone not form the fraternity starts a tirade on this lady, I bristle. You cannot, based on what our maligned press feeds you, make an attempt to come across as informed and knowldgeable on an aircraft that has saved lives many times over those whose she has taken through no fault of her very own. Do you actually intend to sermonise the clergy? Would you who live in danger no greater than the ones of your own making in the foundries of your luxury sports cars, make attempt to preach to us whose lives are on the line in using hardware sinless but for her age in the execution of duty? ......

........I was having lunch in the navy wardroom in KD Sri Semporna last January as guests of the Commanding Officer when an ex-commander turned naval contractor asked me about the airworthiness of the Nuri, almost kindly and concerned was he. He contrasted this against the Nuri mishaps he had heard of over his own 30 years in service. I maintained as I do with all who ask, that it is not airworthiness that comes to question with the Nuri.

A pilot has all the authority to snag an aircraft less than serviceable for a task if he examines it and finds it so. But with an operational and meteorological environment far changed from that which the Nuri found herself first flying in, greater demands are placed upon an airframe that was designed in the infancy of helicopter history, to operate from sea-going decks rather than where altitude performances would infringe when trying to climb above inclement weather, just for instance. These diversifications and others strain the initial design brief of both the aircraft and the aircrew who must now take on the workload at the point where his aircraft is rendered a mere platform for task execution without integral equipment to absorb the said workload. Eventually breakpoint will be reached and aircrew failure will ensue as human performances and reserves are overwhelmed. An aircraft sporting today's current hardware is better designed to surmount the limitations encountered by older aircraft, delaying the point of human failure, making for better mission accomplishment and flight safety.

When the RMAF asked for the EC-725 helicopter to be bought so that the Nuri could be phased out, we asked for the full Combat Search and Rescue variant for this very purpose. So that we could be equipped to do what we do. To save lives in the face of hostility. To save lives, period. We were in fact on the brink of getting the EC-725 when it fell victim to politicking and blogger sabre-rattling, and hence the fleet replacement programme is now shelved due to the "uncertain global economic climate".

This of course, is absolute hogwash. Wherever the mischief was sniffed, that was not the area where the remedy, no matter its suitability, was applied. Instead, we who work are punished with the indefinite delay of what we need to do our job safely within the demands of today's "uncertain" climate, be it the economics, environment or security which concerns and affects us. If we were anything like England where members of the executive and royal families served in the air force helicopter flying squadrons instead of being served by it, I wonder what this stirring of phantoms would have produced for us by way of the Nuri replacement programme. Thus do we fly the Nuri, without the luxury of choice but with pride of service currently unrivalled in this neighbourhood.

So now you know, replacing the Nuri's is really a pressing requirement and not someone's idea to get rich quick. Even if there is an element of profiteering despite the purchase procedures being cleared by the PAC, that can be dealt with separately and should no longer be an obstacle to confirm the order. Our aircrews' lives are more precious than squabbling and politicising an issue that not only affects their lives, but also the life that they may be trying to save on mercy missions. So even though the controversy and subsequent suspension of the purchase may have quieten down the issue now, let not this purchase languish further in some dark vault of public consciousness, coming only to the forefront again when the next Nuri crashes. When that happens, the blame should no longer be put to the airforce or the government, it falls squarely on those who for their political benefits forces our airmen to fly aircraft that are no longer suitable to carry the tasks they are asked to perform. We are only needlessly penalising the blameless when we further delay equipping our brave men with the equipment they really need.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

I Wonder?

As today is the closing of the Pakistan International Naval Exercise Aman 2009 held in Karachi in which our own KD Kedah participated, I do wonder if she will be directed to remain in the area to continue escorting our merchant ships through the treacherous Gulf of Aden. This is especially since the host navy announced their own intentions to send their warships to the Gulf soon. It is my opinion that since we have already sent the patrol ship to the region already, she might as well be berthed there for a while further where at a minimum she should wait for a convoy of our merchantmen to organise and then be shepherded through the treacherous waters before returning home. This would give more bang for our money in these lean times as the cost of sailing to and from Pakistan can be further defrayed to cover the cost protecting our shipping in the area no matter how temporary. If the cost of deployment from a friendly harbour is prohibitive, then the KD Kedah can be kept deployed at sea as her endurance at sea as a patrol vessel should allow her to just that and this would be a great opportunity to test the capabilities of the ship and crew. KD Kedah can further also conduct trials and tests of her combat systems and war intelligence centre while she is there as this was part of the reason given for her participation the naval exercise. Let's see if the KD Kedah immediately returns home or as I suspect or she will remain in the area to escort our merchantmen. In the meantime please enjoy some photos of KD Kedah leading the line of warships participating in the Aman exercise that you may not be able to find in our local media.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A Classic Case Of Armed Forces Procurement

Many local defence forums and even defence blogs lament the dearth of defence purchases in Malaysia, worried that our armed forces are not duly armed and capable to meet any possible threats that the nation may face. They nonetheless seem to forget that not all such arms purchases can be announced as a matter of national security, and many who are actually in the know will never disclose such purchases unless given the go-ahead by the highest echelon of the military and the government. Thus it does not came as a surprise to me that the Malaysian Army has announced as per the following article that they will receive a regiment of Astros MLRS II by the end of this year, a purchase many did not suspect or knew about before this. Thus my reminder is simple, have faith in our armed forces as they are professionals, even though they seem to be a favourite target of allegations by our politikus and pundits.

Monday March 2, 2009
Army to get rocket launchers

KUALA LUMPUR: The Royal Malaysian Army will receive 18 multiple rocket launchers – the Astros II – by the end of the year.
Artillery officers were undergoing operational training, said Army Chief Jen Tan Sri Muhammad Ismail Jamaluddin after launching the army’s 76th anniversary celebrations at Kem Perdana Sungai Besi yesterday.
The Astros II were purchased from Avibras Industria Aerospacial International Ltd of Brazil in 2006. The deal was signed by then Defence Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak for about RM27mil.

Whatever it is, we should be able to do a more effective saturation firing with the receipt of the second Astros Regiment like shown above after this. So adversaries beware!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

A Quiet Return, And A Far Quiter End?

KD Sri Indera Sakti Leading A Convoy During Ops Fajar

Well I was a bit surprised to read in the new Malay version of KL Security Review that Ops Fajar Operational Vessel KD Sri Indera Sakti had arrived home at Lumut Port without much fanfare on Friday 27 February 2009. After checking all the mainstream newspaper websites, not one seems to have recorded this historical fact, the ending of our first purely naval overseas deployment. Even the Royal Malaysian Navy website sadly did not publish this fact. Even though the second deployment in the Gulf of Aden did not have any showy success with the rescue of our national sailors nor ships other than the mundane, albeit not so newsworthy tasks of convoy escorts, the KD Indera Sakti did manage to get herself involved in the rescue missions of other nations' vessels that deservingly received thanks from those grateful nations. Too bad such gratefulness was not exhibited at home with some even questioning the cost of the whole operations by shortmindedly saying that it should be purely a commercial trade matter rather than a national security matter. Can they not think that if we do not protect our own lines of communications and the ships and sailors that manned these lines, what happens if these ships and sailors refuse to serve and thus causing disruptions to our national and international trade. Look beyond such speculative, vengeful and politically motivated thoughts and look sensibly at the quantitive and qualitative cost and benefits of the operation to the nation. Not to be vain as otherwise why would other nations suddenly jump on the bandwagon of either joining the Combined Task Force 150 in the Gulf or emulating our own independent operations if there is no benefits to their own national interests. As it is, there is no official announcement if this operation will be extended further even after it officially has ended.Let it not be only when another crisis strikes would our naval vessels return to operations in the Gulf, as for want of money or undue criticism of the operation exposes our sailors and ships to the dangers that are clearly present still in the waters of the Gulf. In any case, Bravo Two Zero to the men of KD Inderasakti for job well done!

Men of the KD SRI INDERA SAKTI safely returned to their base in Lumut on 27 Februari 2009. They were welcomed home by the RMN senior officers and family members.(Markas Armada TLDM)