A USAF F-15 lands at RMAF Butterworth during Exercise Cope Taufan 2014. Photo: Dzirhan Mahadzir
The US Air Force’s most advanced fighter aircraft, the F-22 Raptor, saw “action” for the first time in South-East Asia in this year’s biennial Cope Taufan joint exercise with the Royal Malaysian Air Force.
More than 40 aircraft were involved in Cope Taufan 2014, which took place from June 9 to 20 (see graphic). It was the biggest such exercise to date and also saw the deployment of a home-grown, purpose-built Command and Control System which proved well up to the complex task.
Cope Taufan 2014 also involved special operations forces from both countries, namely the RMAF’s Paskau (PASukan Khas Angkatan Udara ) and the Malaysian Army’s Gerakhas special forces; while US forces were from Special Operations Command Pacific, specifically the USAF 320th Special Tactics Squadron and the US Army’s 1st Special Forces Group.
Overseeing the exercise were RMAF Director of Operations and Exercises Major-General Datuk Seri Affendi Buang and USAF 11th Air Force Commander Lt Gen Russell Handy, who both hosted a media day for the exercise on June 15 where both generals highlighted the strong cooperation and partnership between the two countries and their respective air forces.
The exercise scenario revolved around a hypothetical enemy threatening the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia and the South China Sea with the USAF and RMAF aircraft alternating between playing the defenders and attackers.
For example, one mission exercise had a force of eight USAF F-15s intercepting two RMAF C-130s and a USAF C-17 which were escorted by four RMAF Su-30MKMs, six USAF F-22s, two RMAF Mig-29s and two RMAF F-18s.
A whole range of other missions were carried out, ranging from resupply drops to downed pilot rescue, night parachuting and a large number of DACT (Dissimilar Air Combat Training) exercises in which the two countries’ fighters conducted mock dogfights against each other in one-on-one and two-on-two scenarios. The smaller RMAF Hawks were used in a two-on-one scenario against one USAF aircraft.
The DACT results were of great interest globally as many wanted to know how well the RMAF would perform against the F-22 Raptor, but neither side would officially release information on the outcomes, saying it was purely a matter for the two air forces. It is learnt that the RMAF did indeed score some “kills” on the F-22s, including one by a Hawk, but the USAF also racked up its own tally of RMAF planes.
Exercise director RMAF Col Suri Mohamad Daud, a fighter pilot himself, stressed that air combat was only one part of Cope Taufan 2014: “Anyone can go up in a plane and fly but coordinating everything between the two different air forces and the experience gained from doing so is the more important part of it.”
Col Suri stated that a vital element was the RMAF’s home-built Command and Control System which was put together for the exercise and able to tie in all the aircraft, bases and radar stations involved. This was a complex task. given that the aircraft were dispersed among four RMAF airbases – Butterworth, Subang, Kuantan and Gong Kedak – and the aerial exercises took place all over Peninsular Malaysia, with over 400 sorties flown in the exercise period (a sortie is defined as a flight by one aircraft).
Col Suri said the development of the system showed that RMAF personnel were capable of developing equipment for their own needs and did not necessarily have to rely on commercial industry.
“Besides, when you go to war, you are not going to have civilian contractors with you to provide you with equipment,” he added.
On the outcome of Cope Taufan 2014, Col Suri said it was “a successful exercise as both sides learnt a lot from operating with each other. The experience gained by such exercises is important as it enables each of us to understand how the other works and operates, and enables us to work smoothly in future if we have to do it for real.”