Defence priorities in need of Mat Sabu’s attention

  • Letters
  • Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Taufan Ganas MIG29 11squadron from Kuatan (from left) Sebastian William, Mej Ahmad Edros Osman and Kapt Norazan Othman at the MIG-29 jet.

CONGRATULATIONS to our cook at Kamunting Detention Camp during Ops Lalang, Mohamad Sabu (Mat Sabu), on being appointed our new Defence Minister. He has been quoted as saying that his first task as Defence Minister is to investigate an alleged military land privatisation deal made to a company owned by three individuals. All well and good, but surely this is but one small part of the overall big defence picture that needs reviewing.

There are a number of systemic aspects of that big picture that demand his attention. Certainly, Malaysia has a litany of scandals surrounding arms purchase commissions, especially the Arms for Aid scandal during Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s term in the 1990s and the Scorpene scandal under Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s watch. Not only do the rakyat deserve an assurance that such scandals will never happen again, they also need the Defence Minister to look afresh at Malaysia’s defence priorities.

No doubt the new minister’s first suitors will be the French government trying to sell him their Rafale fighter jets in a deal worth RM10bil. Remember, the French have already succeeded in selling two Scorpene submarines to Malaysia for more than RM7bil, the single largest defence purchase by our country to date. The French are desperate to sell their arms because these make up 60% of their exports! They obviously have not heeded the wise words of their littérateur Albert Camus who said, “Peace is the only battle worth waging.”

Our new Defence Minister will no doubt also soon be feted by British Aerospace who are competing for a slice of Malaysia’s defence pie. They are trying to flog their Typhoon fighter jets in a RM10bil deal.

The key question the new Defence Minister needs to ask is whether Malaysia actually needs any of these fabulous toys, considering the cost of fighter jets is spiralling way out of control and such “toys” are so quickly obsolete.

One of the rare moments we got to use our F18 fighter bombers and Hawk 208 fighter jets was against those invaders described by then Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammudin Hussein as a “rag-tag army” in Lahad Datu a few years ago. Wouldn’t armoured cars and tanks and mortars have sufficed against that motley crew?

Malaysian taxpayers need to be wary of this latest and record-breaking arms deal. Let us not forget the scandal over alleged commissions in that Scorpene submarines deal.

Pakatan Harapan made a big deal out of the ballooning national debt during the recent election campaign. Malaysia’s external debt rose to RM883.4bil (US$215.5bil) or 65.3% of GDP at end-December 2017, according to Bank Negara Malaysia. This raises a red flag about whether we can afford such levels of defence spending at all. More importantly, is what we are spending allocated wisely on arms priorities considering our debt situation?

Malaysian taxpayers deserve answers to these key questions: Are multi-role combat aircraft our priority at the moment considering the latest state-of-the-art (US) F35s cost at least half a billion ringgit apiece? And if the most advanced US-made fighter jet costs more than RM500mil, should these French Rafales similarly cost that much?

Malaysians need to be reminded that with RM10bil, we can build at least 10,000 rural schools or 1,000 district hospitals. Note that we only have just over 1,000 Chinese primary schools and slightly over 500 Tamil schools in the whole country today!

The new Defence Minister must also investigate why nearly half the Royal Malaysian Air Force’s (RMAF) squadron of Russian MiG-29 combat planes are grounded and call for a report on the relative performances of our MiGs, Sukhois, Hawks and F18s purchased in recent years.

Can we also have an audit report on the compatibility of our bizarrely diverse Russian, British, US (and now French?) fighter jets and especially the compatibility of their avionic systems? What lessons do our past purchase choices hold for our future fighter jet procurements? These are questions the new Defence Minister must pose to our Air Force chiefs. They are important considerations for forging our defence policy.

The broader question the new Defence Minister must pose to our Armed Forces chiefs is: Who are Malaysia’s enemies and what appropriate weaponry do we need? The new Members of Parliament must ask our new government what Malaysia’s national defence policy is. This question has never been properly debated in parliament.

During the Lahad Datu incident, it was clear that our two submarines built by the French DCNS sitting pretty at Sepanggar Bay and our six New Generation Patrol Vessels (costing RM9bil) were not the most suitable vessels in the circumstances. It brings to mind the question of the appropriate vessels that should be the priority for our navy.

Before the Lahad Datu incident, the main “enemies” testing the capacity of our armed forces were the pirates in the South China Sea and the Straits of Malacca. There were no bigger “enemies” than those seafaring marauders. Are state-of-the-art fighter jets and submarines the appropriate weaponry against pirates?

These would likewise be inappropriate if “international terrorists” and suicide bombers choose to target Malaysia.

We have been told that Malaysia wants to revamp its ageing naval fleet in the face of threats from rising tensions in the South China Sea. Malaysia’s navy aims to replace all 50 vessels in its ageing fleet and this will be led by the procurement of four littoral mission ships (LMS) built in collaboration with China. The deal is worth more than RM1bil.

One would imagine that “rising tensions” would be referring to China’s claims to the disputed islands in the South China Sea. So, if China is seen as a possible “enemy”, should China have a hand in the building of these littoral mission ships? It seems a very strange logic in justifying the purchase of these four warships.

Or are the Asean countries also seen as possible “enemies” since there is an unspoken arms race among them through the years? Total defence spending of the Asean states has doubled over the last 15 years in absolute terms, with countries like Indonesia and Thailand witnessing military expenditure growth rates of 10% on a year-by-year basis.

The Malaysian Navy is also reported to be in the final stages of negotiations with French shipbuilder DCNS to build the larger littoral combat ships (LCS), three new multi-role support ships (MRSS) and two more submarines. Knowing the bill for the two Scorpene submarines was more than RM7bil, Malaysian taxpayers should be prepared for the worst.

So, exactly how are decisions made in the Defence Ministry to purchase the submarines, corvettes and frigates instead of more patrol boats to guard our coastlines? MPs would do well to demand an answer.

It has been reported that some macho men have welcomed Mat Sabu as the new Defence Minister because of his “Rambo” image. The Mat Sabu I know is actually a person who has a strong persona yet gentle in many ways. I urge him not to fall for the Rambo model but to promote a culture of peace as the defence policy of our new Malaysia.

To uphold Malaysia’s non-alignment policy, we need to positively resist alignment with any superpower and display genuine independence in foreign and military policy. Asean’s Zopfan policy should emulate New Zealand’s example by denying all port facilities to any ship carrying nuclear weapons. Malaysians must take charge of creating a culture of peace in the region. There is no justification for war.

A culture of peace in Malaysian society is a vision that is only attainable in a society that respects human dignity, social justice, democracy and human rights. It is such an environment that can settle conflict and differences through dialogue and democracy and not through threats and repression. To achieve a culture of peace, our new Defence Minister could heed these wise words by Chinese philosopher Mozi, circa 470-391 BC: “To kill one man is to be guilty of a capital crime, to kill 10 men is to increase the guilt ten-fold. This the rulers of the earth all recognise, and yet when it comes to the greatest crime – the waging of war on another state – they praise it! So those who recognise a small crime as such, but do not recognise the wickedness of the greatest crime of all – the waging of war on another state – cannot distinguish right and wrong. So as to right and wrong, the rulers of the world are in confusion.”


SUARAM Adviser

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Opinion , Letters; Defence; Mat Sabu


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