KUALA LUMPUR: Everyone who has Astro and subscribed to the Learning Channel will have seen the Mythbusters. These fellas get paid to have fun busting myths and urban legends.
However in Malaysia there is an ongoing myth that the Armed Forces can afford to have a lot things that other countries routinely fly or shoot. It is not the layman alone who live in these dream world, unfortunately the myth is perpetuated by the officialdom, those people with stars on their pips and get escorted around. No wonder the layman are confused.
One of the biggest myth is that we can afford a high-and lo fighter mix. With a average annual budget of RM12 billion (an operating budget of RM9 billion and procurement budget around RM4 billion) lets face facts, we cannot afford many things, even things already in service!
Yes every now and then, we splurge around, 18 Sukhois, two submarines etc you get the picture but at the end of the spending spree, our Armed Forces remained under-funded leaving most of these assets on the ground, yards and hangars. Our pilots, tankers and sailors never attained the hours their counterparts in NATO countries routinely clocked in annually.
So why buy the planes, tanks and ships in the first place? Because we truly believed our own myths. The reality is that we cannot afford to fly, drive or sail the assets we do have to international standards. The various accounts from open sources can confirmed this although we might not like it.
So any talk about buying new fighters (ships and tanks) is really a pile of excrement. Unless, we bummed up our defence budget northwards, even the current fleet will remained hangar queens. Even the much highly regarded Hornet fleet also has its own share of problems, I am told.
One must remember that the cost of shiny new planes, ships and tanks etc are not limited to the initial procurement only but the whole life ownership cost. It is difficult to estimate actual ownership cost without getting the user figures but the rule of thumb is that for a 30 year period, one need to spent or ready the same amount invested to ensure that it is used or can be used to its full capability.
For example, if one spent RM1 billion on one weapon system one must expect to spend or ready the same amount and more to maintain and update it for the next 30 years. If no money is available to service or maintain it, the system can be on the books for 30 years also but will not be very useful if a shooting war takes place which was the reason for purchasing it in the first place!
If you don’t believe me, look at the figures for the Scorpene submarines. We spent around RM3 billion plus to buy the two submarines and we are spending around RM3 billion more to maintain them for the next five years. If we are lucky the same amount will be needed at every five year interval. The total ownership cost may well be above RM20 billion when the submarines are retired in another 25 years barring any plans to extend their service lives. Yes, submarines are an extreme example but its the only weapon system we have that the maintenance cost have been publicly announced, so I guess its the best example for this discussion.
Money or the lack of it is the reason we have seen weapon systems being retired prematurely. For example, the A version of the Machis and canibalisation of the Pinzgauers. We can assume that no one had calculated the amount of money to maintain them so the next best thing is to retire or canibalise them. Its cheaper in the short run of course but it was probably the best option when operating funds run short but the procurement budget is uncorked. And the biggest problem is that the same thing keep repeating every time the five year procurement is unveiled.
Ten years ago when the procurement genie was uncorked, the Flankers, MBT and Scorpenes were let loose. Ten years on, almost the same wish list is on the table. This time around its the Super Hornet/Typhoon/Gripen; AV8 and NGPV Batch 2.
But somehow the officialdom miss-look the fact that we still need to maintain the previous weapon systems we bought and the need to prepare the money to service the toys on the wish list. Did they miss the boat? Of course, how else can you explain the reason the operating budget continue to be squeezed dry? Yes, one can blame the floundering economy as the main reason but why is the chatter for new things when funds are available instead of increasing the operational budget? Initial affordability seemed to be the sole financial criteria.
So what will the Armed Forces give up to pay for current and future procurements? I have no idea but lets stop perpetuating myths all right? Maybe if we stopped, the powers that be will also faced up to reality. But I guess we need to run our own Mythbuster episodes to ensure this happens…
–Malaysian DefenceIf you like this post, buy me an espresso. Paypal Payment