Is There a Need for an ABM capability?

SHAH ALAM: AT the recent military parade in Beijing, China displayed a long line of its most advanced hardware including ballistic missiles, nuclear and non-nuclear ones. The non-nuclear ballistic missiles are the ones most creating the biggest buzz, the Guam killer; carrier killer etc.

Guam Killer is the nickname given to DF-26C, a derivative of the DF-21, the notorious “carrier killer” missile. It has a range of 3,500 to 4,000 km, which would put the US military bases on Guam, the largest and southernmost of the Mariana Islands, within its range.

What is interesting is that both missiles are described as able to hit medium and large size ships, a feat previously attributed to the DF-21 missile only.

A graphic from SCMP.

China missiles range
China missiles range

From the graphic above we now know that Malaysia is within range of the DF-26B. Although commentators have stated that targeting moving ships will posed a big challenge even to China, land targets are much easier to hit which means all of our bases and facilities are vulnerable even to these non-nuclear ballistic missiles.

If such an attack took place, our ships and planes will have no place to return to.

Yes, I know that at the start of the parade China President Xi Jinping promised that China will remain committed to peaceful development and will never seek hegemony or expansion.

But as we all know, things and leaders changes and thinking otherwise is foolish.

A graphic by SCMP on China weapons displayed at the recent military parade. SCMP
A graphic by SCMP on China weapons displayed at the recent military parade. SCMP

However, before we get into a frenzy over this, we need to ask an important question, can we afford an ABM capability? Of course not, not with the current economic situation. At bare minimum we probably need three frigates with ABM capabilities together with at least three regiment of a land based system. That will probably cost at least RM20 billion just for the entry into the exclusive club.

Apart from money, more importantly however, the move towards an ABM capability will mean a shift in our strategic outlook which seemed to be too occupied with the Lahad Datu incursion.

Military vehicles carrying missiles march at the Tiananmen Square during a military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two, in Beijing, China, September 3, 2015. China's President Xi Jinping and world leader inspected 12,000 troops marching across the square. ( The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP Images )
Military vehicles carrying missiles march at the Tiananmen Square during a military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two, in Beijing, China, September 3, 2015. China’s President Xi Jinping and world leader inspected 12,000 troops marching across the square. ( The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP Images )

I am not being cynical but even if money was available, an alternative defence strategy will not be implemented any time soon as the current mindset is towards internal defence.

Hopefully this too will change but it’s unlikely within the next two years.

–Malaysian Defence

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About Marhalim Abas 2225 Articles
Shah Alam


  1. Hii..Mr. Marhalim..

    Nice article.. btw, if i have 20 bilion to spend for mlitary asset, it is nice to see our soldier n their equipment are up to date using a new tech. Mybe we can follow the way of singapore manage the money for military procurement.

    Hahaha…mybe no need to have such a big item like icbm or abm…with a long range (nnti uncle sam marah pulak) Mybe we can have some short distance like iskander E system. Just for protection. N spend more on anti missile system like s 300 series, sampt system or patriot.

    Just my sekupang.

    Btw after we settle our internal securty problem (sbah cases, pirates, border probs & etc.) lah. Bru boleh fkus pd tahap ni.

  2. Abm (air defence) frigates?

    The most affordable would be those danish Iver Huitfeldt-class frigate. But does tldm has a need for it?

    But a ballistic missile trajectory would be a little easier to track compared to anti-ship missiles. Early detection of the ballistic missile should give a ship or the fighter air cover of the ship adequate time to counter the incoming ballistic missile.

  3. China I believe has had missiles that can reach South East Asia since the 1990’s. The difference now is that they have more missiles and that their missiles have become smarter. The Chinese also have long range cruise missiles.

    I don’t think it’s something we should worry about as missiles fired at us from the mainland would mean that we are in a full scale conflict with China and if that were to happen there would be not much we can do about it, even if we doubled or tripled our defence budget. Irrespective of how much we allocate to defence, a country our size, with our population and industrial base, can’t
    – despite what some would think – square off against China.

    We also have to ask ourselves : in what circumstances would the Chinese decide that there is a need to target Malaysia with missiles? If China were to hit us because we were playing host to the U.S. military, then we can safely assume that we would benefits from U.S. protection. If the Chinese decided to hit us because we had openly joined a U.S. coalition, then we would also benefit from U.S. protection. Over a small clash in the Spratlys; China is unlikely to resort to such drastic measures.

    Also, in the event of war, the Chinese would be saving their missiles for use against Taiwan, Japan and the U.S. They would also reserve stocks in case India got involved. If they saw a need to use military means against ASEAN members, they could resort to other means. They could also resort to non-military means to gain their objectives.

  4. M.F.J,

    Unless things take a drastic change, we will never get an IRBM or a cruise missile. Doing so would send the wrong signals to our neighbours and could destabilise, not stabilise, the region, which in turn would be counter productive to our national security. It could also be pointed out that if we ever wanted to have the capability to harm our neighbours or to project power, we would invest more in airpower or enable the army to conduct high tempo, sustained ops – both offer more flexibility and more utility than IRBMs.

    Indonesia went public in the 1990’s about how serious they were in buying Scuds. For reasons never explained, the plan died a natural death. It is for the same reason, I believe, that no ASEAN country, will want to be the 1st to get something like Brahmos, despite the missile having been marketed to several in the region.

  5. Mr.Azlan.

    Yeah….agree on that point. Btw, why dont we invest more on mrca, MR-Sam, Aewc and improve land radar. I believe it will be no issue in ASEAN.

    im sure 20 bilions is enough for these items.

    But then,its just a day dreaming.

    No mney no talk.

    Pray for more sukhoi and NEW grippen.
    Plus AEWC.


  6. I have a question, even one day RMAF has six combat aircraft sqn how would them to be based eg:5 at penisular and 1 at swk/sbh or vice versa

    Well it depends on the type of facility they have in Sabah/Sarawak. IMO it will be great if they developed a new air base for the fighter squadron , my preference is Bintulu.

  7. We should not forget the other elephant in our backyard, namely India. Both countries are rivals and have had conflicts in the second half of the 20th century. Part of the reasoning for India’s Military strength has been to be able to counter China, especially at their shared borders.

    Pakistan, the most direct opposition force to India, gets a lot of military support from China. Their most modern fighters and tanks are either Chinese in origin, or built with Chinese technical assistance. India is very well aware of this, and their military programs are aimed not only at Pakistan, but at China as well.

    Much like China’s claims that since the territories within the China Seas are subject to their interest, so too does India make a similar claim with the Indian Ocean. Attempts by the PLAN to secure port facilities in Sri Lanka have angered India as what they see as an encroachment into their “backyard.”

    India’s own ABM program is in response to the threat of both Pakistan and China’s Ballistic Missiles. The same can be said of India’s Ballistic Missile programs. While they may not be as technically advanced as the Chinese are, they are closing the gap.

    So meanwhile we in Malaysia are stuck between the PRC, the USA, and India. As Azlan has said, if we were to be the target of these Chinese missiles, it is because we have sided with China’s enemies in a global conflict. I don’t think Malaysia has a need for an ABM capability at this time.

  8. Pakistan’s Ghauri – despite all the claims that it’s homemade – is a Chinese missile and China reportedly has imposed strict controls on the use of Pakistani nukes. The last thing China wants are jittery Pakistani generals triggering a nuclear war with India.

  9. In think China will not waste their top end missiles and risks the location of their missile silos on small country like Malaysia when there are many other, less expensive ways to make us comply. Should we possess ABM capability? If we have money to go around, then why not. But bear in mind that such action will inevitably catch the attention of those big fish. And no country will want to sell their ABM system to us without imparting with it a certain ‘political contract’ as to whom the system should be pointed at.

    “But a ballistic missile trajectory would be a little easier to track compared to anti-ship missiles. Early detection of the ballistic missile should give a ship or the fighter air cover of the ship adequate time to counter the incoming ballistic missile.”

    yes the trajectory is easy to track (if we have the know-how) but it is not that easy to intercept. Current ICBMs tactics have many ways to counter ABM system such as MIRV, manoeuvrable re-entry, depressed trajectory etc. Then again, ICBM accuracy is still difficult to master, the US and Russia spent many years studying Earth’s gravitational anomalies to ensure dependable trajectory but I guess maybe now that could be solved using electronics.

  10. For 2 batteries of S300 (with limited ABM ability) it cost the Vietnamese around USD300 million (internet vary source) back in the early 2000. Taking into inflation of at least 6% p.a., it would probably going to cost any country in SEA now around USD400 million to USD500 million for similar equipment, but remember Vietnam has been using Russian equipment since late 60s and has developed he necessary support and infrastructure to operate them, thus it may cost another USD100 million to USD 200 million to acquire the necessary support and infrastructure.

    I would rather if we have the money, we use to buy 2-4 AEWACS or similar number of MPA that would be more meaningful to us.s

  11. Wow. Active missile defence. To paraphrase TPTL in his Bernama TV interview about submarines putting us in the Premier League, missile defence would be the Champions’ League.

    The PLA Second Artillery has certainly come a long way — land-based long-range ballistic missile, SLCM, ASBM, and all the other missile-related acronyms. Not to mention her indigenous surveillance and GPS satellites needed for targeting. The ballistic missiles re-enter at hypersonic speeds, and can reach max range in minutes, making interception or evasion well nigh impossible. How’s that for getting into the enemy’s OODA loop?

    Let me add to Azlan’s points. I think China’s main worry in the Pacific is the US ability to intervene in case of a fracas between them and regional powers viz Japan, Taiwan, S Korea, ?Australia. China can’t match US’s technological and numerical advantage. She’s using a missile-centric strategy to carry out A2AD in the Pacific against US maritime forces, perhaps — to me at least — a variant of the ‘Jeune Ecole’ school of maritime strategy. It’s instructive that China’s equivalent term for A2AD is ‘anti-intervention’.

    Of course, in the midst of all this, the other question is does China herself have a workable ABM system?

    As for us, I don’t know. We may need tactical missile defence in the future but I don’t think we should get missile defence capability just yet, especially not alone. Not because of cost — because the govt will allocate money if it thinks the threat is real and immediate and such a system is needed — but because of the wrong signal such a system would send.

  12. Before we even go into costs and the implications of acquiring such a capability, the question we should ask is whether the current threat environment requires us to get an ABM capability : I believe the answer is an unequivocal no.

    We have to concentrate on getting the stuff we actually need and not get side tracked. As it is, we are already in a neither here nor there situation with an underfunded and overstretched MAF and have a public that is largely anti pathetic.

  13. Well. Lets not talk about ABM now. Lets get our basics right. So mrca, morw artilkery both ling n medium range, more 120mm mortars, mpa, aew, isr capabilities.
    So if we dont even have our basics right, we dont need to talk about others

  14. Sorry, my previous comments were about the ballistic missile attacking a ship.

    That is in my opinion the most probable scenario, or one of the reefs in South china sea being hit. I don’t see the ballistic missiles being launched at any malaysian territory.

  15. Get the Aster–well Singapore has it.

    Practically, Malaysia needs something like CAMM-L. That is more than sufficient.

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