Britain unveiled a model of a new jet fighter, ‘The Tempest’, at the Farnborough Airshow in Britain in July. REUTERS PIC

LAST month, the defence minister talked about the operational readiness of the country’s jet fighters, which caused much consternation to the public.

The Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) responded by attributing the lack of readiness to a combination of budget scarcity and mandatory servicing of the SU-30MKM fighters.

RMAF has proposed the Capability Development 2055 (CAP 55), a transformation plan that included new procurement, enhancements and upgrading of RMAF assets.

CAP 55’s focus is on ensuring that RMAF stayed relevant by shaping its war-fighting capability to ensure threats are deterred and contained.

CAP 55 takes into account the type of platforms or systems that RMAF should possess up to 2055.

It must be stressed that RMAF is not requesting the sky and the moon with CAP 55, but what any decent air force will want and have in its inventory. These assets are crucial for RMAF to maintain air parity.

We have to look at CAP 55 vis-à-vis regional air forces, which are ahead in terms of planning and acquisition of air assets, especially Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Singapore is in talks for the F-35 jet fighters to replace its F-16s by 2030.

RMAF has not specified the types of aircraft it hopes to buy with CAP 55.

However, we can deduce the following:

LEAD-IN fighter trainer (LIFT) and light combat aircraft (LCA). Among the contenders are KAI TA-50, Hurjet and M-346.

It must be noted that the primary task of LIFT is advance jet training and secondary air-to-air and air-to-ground;

MULTIROLE combat aircraft (MRCA). For any new acquisition, we have to be cognisant of the fact that the F-35 will be the last manned fighter.

The future MRCA will be of hybrid fighters — (manned and unmanned).

According to Jane’s Defence Weekly, by 2025, one third of United States Air Force’s assets will be unmanned, and the world is following suit.

The Tempest — a stealth fighter aircraft concept designed and manufactured in the United Kingdom for the Royal Air Force, by BAE Systems, and unveiled at the Farnborough Air Show in July — strengthens this point;

MARITIME patrol aircraft (MPA) will be one of the “sensors” to address the leaning of RMAF as “shooter” heavy, rather than having an equilibrium of “sensor” and “shooter” platforms.

MPA is a mandatory platform in our geo-strategic location, which is littoral based with two SLOCs (Sea Lanes of Communication): the Straits of Malacca and South China Sea.

Any incident in this part of the world will be felt by the rest of the world.

And the millions we are losing in terms of natural resources from our Exclusive Economic Zone are of grave concern too;

MEDIUM-ALTITUDE long-endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial vehicle.

Most air forces in this region have MALE UAVs in their inventory, mainly the IAI Searcher (reconnaissance UAV) and Heron.

Indonesia flies and operates them. UAV is a significant strategic asset.

With an on-station time of more than 20 hours, it can virtually fly over-watch around-the- clock missions, compared with manned platforms which are limited by regulation and human endurance; and,

AEW&C aircraft, or airborne early warning and control system.

The need for this has been apparent since 1990s. With the technological advancement in sensors and AESA (active electronically scanned array) radars, the manned platform of Wedgetail, Erieye, Sentries and Mainstay will be a thing of the past.

If the CAP 55 blueprint is supported by the government, there is a high probability that RMAF can achieve air superiority in line with its plan.

The hallmark of Malaysian foreign policy and defence doctrine has always been neutrality and defensive in nature.

However, they cannot exist in a vacuum. They must be supported by deterrence.

Air power is an important element in the deterrence trinity of capabilities, credibility and communicating.

Let’s hope the government takes heed of RMAF’s CAP 55 and ensures that the RMAF stays supreme in the skies.

JEYAGANESH GOPALSAMY

Kuala Lumpur

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