Hawks Intercepts PLAAF aircraft

A picture from a Hawk flying near one of the Y-20s. RMAF

SHAH ALAM: Hawk aircraft from Labuan airbase has intercepted 16 PLAAF transporters which flew over the Malaysian EEZ and entered the Kota Kinabalu flight information region and almost violated the country’s airspace on May 31. The formation of 16 PLAAF Xian Y-20 transporters were first detected flying in formation crossing the EEZ about 11.53am, the statement issued by RMAF chief Gen Ackbal Samad said.

A picture from a Hawk flying near one of the Y-20s. RMAF

A flight of Bae System Hawk Mk208 fighters from 6 Squadron at Labuan airbase were put on alert as the command centre monitored the flight of transporters which were flying trail in tactical formation. The Hawks were scrambled to intercept the PLAAF transporters it entered the KK FIR. The formation was intercepted by the Hawks at 1.33pm for a visual inspection. The formation turned around and returned to their original track after they passed over the airspace of Beting Patinggi Ali. The distance to Sarawak when they around was only 60nm, RMAF said.
One of the Y-20s intercepted by RMAF on May 31, 2021. RMAF

The full statement:

TUDM telah mengesan penerbangan mencurigakan sebanyak 16 buah pesawat Tentera Udara Republik Rakyat China/ People’s Liberation Army- Air Force (PLAAF) memasuki ruang udara ZMM, Kota Kinabalu FIR dan menghampiri ruang udara nasional pada 31 Mei 2021.
Penerbangan pesawat-pesawat PLAAF tersebut telah dikesan oleh Radar Pertahanan Udara TUDM daripada Pusat Pertahanan Udara (CRC 2) di Sarawak pada jam 1153H. Pesawatpesawat tersebut telah dikesan terbang secara formasi taktikal in-trail pada jarak 60 batu
nautika di antara satu sama lain. Formasi panjang tersebut juga telah terbang dengan paten dan haluan yang sama menggunakan satu titik laluan masuk dan keluar. Mereka kemudiannya didapati mengubah arah penerbangan di ruang udara Beting Patinggi Ali yang berkepentingan kepada negara.
Pesawat-pesawat tersebut telah dikesan terbang pada ketinggian di antara 23,000 kaki sehingga 27,000 kaki dengan kelajuan 290 knots melalui Singapore FIR sebelum memasuki ruang udara ZMM, KK FIR dan seterusnya terbang menghala menghampiri 60 batu nautika daripada pesisir pantai Wilayah Sarawak yang dikhuatiri akan mengancam KEDAULATAN NEGARA. Pihak TUDM telah meletakkan pesawat Hawk 208 daripada No. 6 Skuadron, Pangkalan Udara Labuan di dalam keadaan siap sedia melalui Operasi Curiga TUDM. Pemantauan menerusi radar pertahanan udara diteruskan ke atas pesawat-pesawat tersebut disamping beberapa percubaan untuk mengarahkan mereka menghubungi kawalan trafik udara KK FIR. Apabila arahan tidak dipatuhi dan didapati melangkaui persempadanan KK FIR menghala ke ruang udara nasional,TUDM telah melancarkan pesawat-pesawat pemintas pada jam 1333H untuk melakukan
identifikasi visual. Hasil daripada pemintasan udara yang dilaksanakan, TUDM telah mengenalpasti pesawat-pesawat tersebut adalah daripada jenis Ilyushin Il-76 dan pesawat Xian Y-20. Pesawat-pesawat jenis ini merupakan pesawat pengangkut strategik dan berupaya
melaksanakan pelbagai misi.
Insiden ini merupakan perkara yang serius terhadap ancaman KEDAULATAN NEGARA dan KESELAMATAN PENERBANGAN berdasarkan kepadatan trafik udara di dalam laluan penerbangan (Airways) di dalam KK FIR. Insiden ini telah dikendalikan oleh TUDM khasnya dan
ATM amnya berlandaskan undang-undang dan peraturan penerbangan antarabangsa International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) serta Strategi Pertahanan Udara Nasional (SPUN). Kementerian Luar Negeri telah mengambil maklum tentang perkara ini melalui
Kementerian Pertahanan. –Tamat-

A combo picture of the interception. RMAF

It must be noted that the RMAF had intercept PLAAF and PLAN aircraft in the EEZ within the last three years but never in the numbers as reported above. It is likely the number of aircraft and the brazen nature of the intrusion was the reason for the statement by the RMAF.

— Malaysian Defence

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About Marhalim Abas 2191 Articles
Shah Alam


  1. If only TUDM have made decision to buy LCA 5 yrs ago by now TUDM should have sub sonic or super sonic plane in the air , and the sheer numbers will deter would be aggressor or bully…
    If ATM religiously bought mid n hi level anti air missile in small batches but consistently non of this will be happening.( Not necessarily from EU or USA ).
    When TLDM can afford to buy 8-10 hulls of moderate 60- 80 mtrs boats….no they go for expensive boats that is still in the shipyard.
    While every asean countries are doing right now is show of numbers be it in the air land n sea… malaysia on tje other hand tries to mimick their southern neighbour go for quality buy….
    Expecting FPDA, USA…to assist in any minor tensions….
    All because malayland MANTRA we are not going for hi intensity war…but TO BE PREPARED does not HURT at all….

  2. I guess they are posturing and trying to make a statement by sending such a large group of strategic airlifters into our FIRs and so close to Malaysian border. Just perhaps demonstrating to Malaysia, Vietnam & Indonesia that they have the reach to deploy airborne troops so far from their shores.. not sure though if they have have similarly sufficient resources to deploy a trail of fighter aircraft in large numbers with attendant tankers to support. That will be another thing!
    Taking into consideration their induction of quite a few large naval combatants in last 2 years which are potent and capable of supporting large scale amphibious assault operations like the Renhai Class CGs and Yushen class LHD type assault ships, its sets a tough tone. In next 5 years this will only get worse as they build up more amphibious capability to deploy probably division level amphibious assault forces.

  3. Does this really implies something that required our country to do something ? As we all know our defense has been lacking for past many years especially our planes. With LCA and MRCA nowhere to be known despite many talks.Sukhois, Hornets and Hawks seem not enough. We need the planes otherwise, we will not be taken seriously.

  4. So I am guessing PLAAF is gearing up to ‘welcome’ HMS Queen Elizabeth & her escort vessels eh? Things in South China Sea are going to heat up in the coming days.

  5. They must be testing if our country under new lockdown could still respond to their brazen goading. Nice to know our QRA are still working well and not taking things lightly. China’s ambassador will have hell to pay.

  6. CSL – “So I am guessing PLAAF is gearing up to ‘welcome’ HMS Queen Elizabeth & her escort vessels eh”

    I think we can safely rule out that scenario; don’t you?

    It’s not as if a large PLAAF formation came close to the RN carrier group and only charged course at the last minute and it’s not as if the RN carrier group was operating well within our territorial waters.

    CSL – “are going to heat up in the coming days.”

    Why? Not necessarily.

  7. The RMAF announced that the 16 plane formation was detected by radar in Sarawak; although TNI radar on Natuna and possibly Kalimantan would also have detected the formation.

    For me there are 2 interesting points; I believe this is the 1st occasion it has publicly released details on a live intercept. Secondly, the presence of 16 PLAAF planes in the formation is something I find odd.

    Before someone mentions it; no it wasn’t SIGINT because 16 planes are not needed and it can be done from quite a distance away. Was it to send a political message – if so was it to us per see or to other players? Some will speculate it was to test our reaction times but again 16 planes are not needed and they already have a pretty idea on our capabilities; as well as the extent of our radar coverage over the area.

    Hopefully the RMAF will milk this for all its worth by pushing the politicians for more funding. The opposition has called for dialogue on the issue as well as the need to address the MAF’s needs. Good in practice but also rich in that over the years when they were in the opposition they had a very misplaced and negative view on defence; they never came up with an alternative defence policy (promised for the 2013 GE); as they did with the economy and other areas.

  8. I think Gov and RMAF should reconsider to activate the the MiG-29 into operational as interceptor for temporary services..to be based at at labuan or setup new based somewhere in Swak…. suggestions Bintulu as new air base…

  9. it is time to expedite the LCA procurement and to get additional F18 to supplement the less than adequate F18 sqdn. RMAF can request for 8-10 Super Hornet for that matter besides 36 LCA. A fleet of 36 MRCA & 36 LCA at least will enhance the readiness and operational capability of the fighter sqdns to be deployed where they are needed most.

  10. Somebody has been knocking at our door for some time now and only now are we publicly acknowledging it.

    Maybe nows the time to get some (20) pre owned F-18 fast before they are snapped up or otherwise buy the FA-50.

    Not much F-18s are out there, the Kuwaiti ones will only be available in 2025 and above and this if the government do fund them. And if Kuwaiti decides to sell them to us which they might not.

  11. Far – “think Gov and RMAF should reconsider to activate the the MiG-29”

    Zero chance of that happening. They have been mothballed; their engines need overhauls and there are no pilots current on the type. Plus; priority is on getting the LCA programme moving.

    Lalok – “A fleet of 36 MRCA & 36 LCA at least will enhance the readiness and operational capability”

    A fleet that size will certainly allow us to generate and sustain a higher tempo over a certain period but operationally; only a AEW platform will enable us to fully exploit the capabilities of our fighters to the fullest.

    Far – “suggestions Bintulu as new air base”

    What on earth fir? We face a shortage of assets; not bases. Fighters can also – if needed – be deployed – to Kuching or anywhere else with a runway but ab actual new dedicated air base in Sarawak doesn’t provided added value – it’s also a very expensive undertaking.

    The key is early warning and having enough fighters to maintain a QRA.

  12. Zainal – “only now are we publicly acknowledging it.”

    Just because we are only publicly acknowledging it doesn’t mean in the past we didn’t do anything in response to Chinese actions. We sent diplomatic protests; submissions to the UN; etc, etc. Quite a lot also happens via back door channels.

    Zainal – “Maybe nows the time to get some (20) pre owned F-18”

    Zero interest/intent on the art of the government and the RMAF. Going down that route will also divert resources from other areas which the RMAF feels are more vital. If anything we should be seriously looking at increasing the number of LCAs for the initial batch.

  13. @RedSot
    Are you serious?! Firstly don’t conflate TLDM & TUDM wants, needs, and priorities. The best way to stop such overflights is to have constant AWACS/AEW presence in the air & ready to scamble jets up, not just having LCAs alone. The issues with LCS has nothing to do with air incursions from PLAAF, TLDM having a number of smaller hull ships won’t deter them. The LCA/LIFT requirement is to ageing fighters & trainers, but to patrol SCS we need the AEW plane.

    “deploy a trail of fighter aircraft in large numbers”
    They don’t need to when each PLAN carrier group have 30+ frontline fighters.

    If we go for SH, we can forget about getting 5th gen fighters for MRCA requirement.

  14. Hey my bad…china airforce only did the incursion into malaysian airspace…none of CCG n their rouge fishing boat bothers malaysia EEZ.
    So what we need to prepare TUDM is with AWACS so they can watch over the airspace for us….sounds great.forget about “sedia payung seblum hujan” thing… Malayland will always be malayland….period

  15. Suggestion. Since we ARE short of funds. What if, in the common interest in countering the PLAF and the PLAN, we were to get the Indians agree to an offer they can’t refuse. I mean, they have the lot.

    1. HAL Tejas as LCA – 36 + 12 two seaters
    2. HAL Dhruv + LCH based helicopters – 30
    3. Embraer based AWACS planes – 4
    4. Dornier Do228 MPA – 10

    5. Nilgiri class frigates – 4 (BrahMos included)
    6. Saryu class OPV -10

    All made in India of course.

  16. @RedSot
    Lets stick to the topic of this article which is PLAAF incursion by air. To counter that, we need key air resources rather than ships. If you want to counter CCG sea incursions, even ur 60-80mtr ships won’t deter CCG 165mtr long Zhaotou-class patrol cutter.

  17. zainal,

    Unlikely …. We don’t have that level of relationship with the Indians and various stuff they have on offer either is not suitable for our needs or we have identified stuff from other suppliers which are more suitable.

    If we’re really serous in getting various things in numbers from the same country; South Korea makes stuff far more suitable for our needs compared to India and various South Korean OEMs; as part of government backed deals; can offer long term “friendly” financing.

  18. Malayland need to be spell it out for them…..
    1. 60-80 mtr boat can be armed with lo n mid level air defence missiles….if ATM wants to have far out to sea multi layered AD.These boat are not in a fix position so it can be unpredictable for any bully or aggressor to point which boat is armed with AD missiles.
    Like i said again..tactics n technics to deploy weaponery need art n creativity.
    Indonesia filipines vietnam brunei dont deploy their AWACS to ensure their airspace is safe from incursion…
    CCG can have ship as big as 170 mtr, that does not mean they are invinsible against mines….
    PLAAF,PLN,CCG knows what malayland have and their limited abilities but to surprise them from the NORM might make them think twice to venture further n using same tactics n technics…

  19. – Taiwan is a Spratlys claimant and PLAAF aircraft regularly fly close to its airspace – ROCAF
    E-2s form a vital component of the island’s air defence network by providing early warning and battle management.
    – Same goes with Japan. PLAAF aircraft are regularly intercepted and JASDF 767 AEWs/AWACs play a vital role.
    – As for Indonesia, Brunei and the Philippines; AEWs are in the long term wide list of the TNI-AU. The RBAF doesn’t even have fighters and PAF only has a squadron of F-A/50s – no great revelation they safeguard national airspace without a AEW.
    – Of course it’s possible to safeguard airspace without a AEW (nobody suggested otherwise). Lots of countries also rely largely on secondary ATC radars for general surveillance – not the ideal of arrangements but possible.
    – The question is really not whether one really needs a AEW to safeguard one’s airspace but the fact that a AEW supplements (by being able to “look” much further) existing surveillance assets; whether ground or air and enables one to fully maximise the full capabilities offered by fighters; (it’s not the 1950’s anymore – current gen fighters are intended to work with a AEW platform) as part of a network centric network – which is why many countries have them.

  20. “These boat are not in a fix position so it can be unpredictable for any bully or aggressor to point which boat is armed with AD missiles.”

    China would not care much on any of our ships armed with AD missiles as same as they do not care much about US ships armed with anti-ship and AD missiles. They know we would not simply shoot their aircraft down unless our ships were shot upon and that we would follow the SOP of intercepting them with fighters just like the Hawks did. But this does not meant that our ships should not at all not equipped with some sort of AD missiles or any AD weapons.

    “Indonesia filipines vietnam brunei dont deploy their AWACS to ensure their airspace is safe from incursion…”

    Sorry but what sense does it make if not deploying AWACS would ensure safety of the airspace? I would argue that it is more ‘safer’ to deploy AWACS. Furthermore, Indonesia, Philippines, Brunei and Vietnam don’t have any AWACS to begin with.

  21. China’s attitude is not going to help the L-15’s chances in the LCA competition!

  22. @RedSot
    We do plan to have boat in those sizes, the LMS class ships. Supposedly high flexible with multimission modules, they could spam missiles but whether they can target is another matter as these are unlikely able to mount a medium ranged air radar with its power needs.

    “Indonesia filipines vietnam brunei dont deploy their AWACS”
    is cause they airforces don’t have AWACS/AEW.

    Mining a sea lane is a dual edged sword as mines cannot differentiate friend or foe, military or civvie boats. Looking to sink a ship during peace time to send them a message is asking for trouble really. Read; Spanish-American War.

  23. Quad group is expecting to invite Malaysia a few other countries to join to form what will be called as Quad plus group. Highly likely this is the message to Malaysia to think twice.

  24. Shah,

    You seriously think China cares or that it actually thought it has a chance of winning the LCA competition?

  25. Azlan “You seriously think China cares or that it actually thought it has a chance of winning the LCA competition?”

    I believe it has a “chance.” Under our model, rationality and end user requirements take a back seat. It is more important to satisfy certain other factors, such as our need to sell commodities and our price constraints as well as to advocate the sale via the right influential people.

    China does “care” to the extent that Malaysia is a country whose territory China has claims, is in a region that is a focus of competition with the US, and one that has not yet purchased a major weapons system from China. In those senses, a sale to Malaysia is more significant than say a sale to Thailand, Myanmar or Laos, which have no SCS territory under Chinese contention and which have previously bought major platforms from China.

    If they manage to sell us a major platform such a fighter, MBT or missile system, it would be a first and would reflect the growing extent of Chinese influence among governments in the region. That would be much more significant than the commercial substance of selling us a small number of actual platforms.

    joe “Mining a sea lane is a dual edged sword as mines cannot differentiate friend or foe, military or civvie boats.”

    Current smart mines are able to distinguish military from civilian vessels by means of differences in signatures, and can be reconfigured after deployment.

    Also, not all mining tactics are employed with the aim of destroying enemy ships. Minefields can be made known, such that civilian shipping will avoid the area and the enemy will either have the area denied to them or be delayed by haivng to address the potential or actual presence of mines.

  26. AM – “ smart mines are able to distinguish military from civilian vessels”

    Not to mention the fact that there is such a thing as GPS. Positions are marked mote accurately compared to the days of charts.

    To be fair the bulk of mines are still of a type little changed from WW1. Not many users have “smart” ones programmed to detonate upon detecting a specific acoustic signature.

    AM – “Also, not all mining tactics are employed with the aim of destroying enemy ships”

    Indeed. It’s psychological. Whether one has laid a dozens or 5; it has a effect. Mines are sea denial in value – they don’t necessarily have to sink anything to have a effect but whether on land on at sea that have to be covered or a opponent will be able to deal with the threat unhampered.

    AM – “In those senses, a sale to Malaysia is more significant than say a sale “

    I fail to see how. It’s not as if we’re committing to say 5-6 billion of purchases over the next few years. Ultimately any sale would be a token one; we’d still buy most of our stuff from elsewhere and we’d still have a closer relationship with the likes of the U.S. and Australia.

  27. AM – “I believe it has a “chance”

    The politics aside; there are times when we put our foot down (to use a cliche) on what we won’t buy. Also take note that it was politically expedient to buy certain things Chinese; unlike the case with the present government.

    AM – a sale to Malaysia is more significant than say a sale”

    It’s short term and not substantial. What’s more long term and binds us closer to China is economics – we are China’s largest trading partner in ASEAN and China is the 2nd largest foreign investor.

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