New Airbase at Bintulu

A Hawk and a Hornet flew alongside the B-52. USAF

SHAH ALAM: New airbase at Bintulu. RMAF will be operating a new airbase – barebone one – at Bintulu, Sarawak, just off the waters of the South China Sea within the next five years or so. Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said in a social media post today that the ‘bare bone’ airbase at Bintulu is one of the development projects approved for RMK12.

The Western Air Defense Sector hosts twelve members of the Royal Malaysian Air Force as part of a subject matter exchange entailing hands-on training at a radar site at Camp Rilea, Oregon, Aug. 27, 2021. The 116th Air Control Squadron, Oregon Air National Guard, provided a week long course on the TPS-75 mobile, tactical radar system which is capable of providing radar azimuth, rang, height, and identification of friend or foe information for a 240-nautical-mile area. (Courtesy photo)

His posting:

Antara fokus pembentangan #RMK12 oleh YAB PM @IsmailSabri60 di Parlimen – #RMK12 merangkumi langkah menambah baik kesiapsiagaan, kawalan sempadan dan penguatkuasaan, mempertingkat ketenteraman awam, mengukuhkan keselamatan dan pertahanan siber serta menjaga kebajikan anggota.

– pembinaan Bare Base Tentera Udara Bintulu, Sarawak, pembinaan Hospital Angkatan Tentera Terendak, Melaka dan peningkatan keupayaan aset maritim. Selain itu, kem tentera baharu di Felda Sahabat, Kem 5 Briged di Kota Belud akan siap dibina.
– Dasar Industri Pertahanan dan Keselamatan Negara akan diperkenal – menetapkan hala tuju industri tempatan berkaitan pertahanan & keselamatan. Kebajikan anggota tentera terbela, 10.2K unit RKAT dan kuarters sedang dibina, boleh diduduki dlm tempoh

Lockheed Martin TPS-77 Air Surveillance Radar – Transportable version of the FPS-117, the radar can be configured for C-130, C-17, truck, rail or helicopter transport. Used for illustration only

Not much details yet but it is likely the new airbase will be located adjacent to the Bintulu airport like in Kuantan and Labuan. It is likely to be equipped with basic facilities before being upgraded in the future including hosting one or two squadrons of aircraft.

Korean Aerospace Industries TA-50. KAI. Used for illustrative purpose only

It is also likely that the base will also be the control station for the new long range air surveillance radar Preparing For The New Radar as reported previously. The radar it self could be placed nearby or even 150km away with the data feed to its control station via satellite or fibre optic links. It is unclear however whether the radar will be the one procured by Malaysia or the one to be gifted by the US. It must be noted that the barebone air base is the only new development project announced today, the others were made public before and likely holdovers from the previous Malaysian plan. One project that has gone quiet, is of course the Bintulu naval base project. So one may well think that the airbase project may well suffer the same fate.

A CGI of P-4 MPA by De Havilland and PAL Aerospace. PAL

That said if the long-range air surveillance radar control station is co-located at the barebone airbase this may well ensure its completion under RMK12. Hopefully more funds will be available in RMK13 to make it a full fledged facility complete with at least two squadrons of fighter jets and associated aircraft.

A Nuri, CN235 and Hornet, among the aircraft that took part in Eks Paradise 2015.

Apart from the Armed Forces, the PM also announced two projects for the police for RMK12 – a radar system for five Marine police sectors and a GOF camp in Beluran, Sabah.

AMP Corporation mobile radars in service with MMEA under the SWASLA programme. The company also provide maintenance for MMEA coastal radars. The mobile radars are supposed to be used as a gap filler whenever the permenant radar stations goes down or undergo maintenance.

It must be noted that Bernama reports that the government had allocated RM400 billion for development expenditure for all sectors during RMK12 (2021-2025) period. I guess we have to wait for the 2022 budget later on for further information on what’s in store for the national security sector.

— Malaysian Defence

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39 Comments

  1. “one procured by Malaysia or the one to be gifted by the US”
    Has that been finalised & approved already? AFAIK, only the US gifted one is confirmed.

    About RMK12, RM400Bil or USD$96Bil for 5 years or USD$19Bil per year.
    2021 figures is USD$3.8Bil, meaning an incremental of 5X for next 5 years.
    Or easier to digest; 5% of GDP.
    I would like to see how they managed that without cutting social aids & nets to the rakyat in view of Covid.

  2. They can’t just dedicate a whole base for a single surveillance radar, a single radar post would suffice. If they want to have airstrips then they gotta get more aircraft squadrons. The inventory correctly is depleting with no replacement certain yet. This project would likely be completed mid or end rmk13 if we’re looking at the government’s track record. If its at the tip of sabah bordering South China Sea then medium/long range air defences would be good as well be we dont have those either. I really hope the government knows what they’re doing but honestly, they don’t. We are doomed

  3. @joe,

    RM400bil for DE under RMK12 is for all sectors, not just for security. Below are the excerpts from Bernama:

    “Rancangan Malaysia Ke-12 (RMK-12) merupakan pelan pembangunan menyeluruh yang akan memperkenalkan beberapa pembaharuan, bagi memastikan pertumbuhan ekonomi yang mampan dengan pengagihan peluang dan hasil yang lebih saksama.

    Perdana Menteri, Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob berkata, kerajaan akan memperuntukkan RM400 bilion bagi tujuan membiayai projek sambungan dan projek baharu di bawah RMKe-12.”

    Apart from the new camps for 5 Briged, 5 Division will also setup 22 RAD and 35 RAD supposedly by next year, according to the Panglima Div himself. Does it means that a new batch of 155mm guns and new batch of vshorad systems will be purchased in future to equip those units?

  4. Pidot,

    We need medium range SAMs but as part of a the national AD network, why to cover the SCS per see? Is China on the verge of taking our possessions there by force? Is conflict imminent? If we deploy SAMs can we create deconflict zones to ensure our aircraft can operate?

    If indeed we are “doomed” then there’s hardly a point in doing anything is there? Instead of generalising and making sweeping statements why don’t you provide a context to the point you’re trying to make?

    The purpose of the base is very clearly not for the sole radar but in order to be conduct and sustain ops in the area.

  5. Pidot – want to have airstrips then they gotta get more aircraft squadrons.’

    Both are needed actually. An adequate number of airframes and a ground support infrastructure. No point having more airframes if a lack of bases precludes us from effectively deploying them in certain area effectively.

    The fact that a base has been planned for Bintulu is an indication that it’s needed so aircraft in the vicinity can better operate in thr area without having to return to Labuan or elsewhere. Bintulu may also be intended to be utilised as a secondary or alternative base with nothing permanently based there, as was the case with Gong Kedak for several decades.

    Mike,.

    There is a requirement for a wheeled SPH.

  6. From my years growing up in Bintulu, I believe there’s already a radar near the MLNG plant area. Belongs to the Army if I’m not mistaken.

    But it’s a good thing they decide to have some semi airbase in Bintulu, as the AB in Kuching is quite a distance away (800 km++), so if intercepts are required off the shores Miri and Bintulu it would be faster from Bintulu (or Labuan, although I think Labuan is more to cover Sabah)

    Maybe base a flight of 4-5 LCAs in Bintulu?

  7. Bintulu bare base?

    That would surely be just an apron and a few sun sheds built at the current Bintulu civilian airport, similar to that build in Lahad Datu FOB.

    The bare base would be an ideal location for MALE UAV operations. MPA could still be based in Kuching, as is future LCA operations from Labuan.

    The US grant radar will be in sarawak, as the people of 330 Skuadron that went for the training. The groundworks for the new radar has already started, and it will be around the bintulu area, so that is separate news from the bare base in Bintulu.

    The new radar would be controlled from MADGE SOC III Kuching. No need for a dedicated C3 center in Bintulu

  8. AFAIK MAF have a land plot near Bintulu Airport marked for an Army camp, till now the said place is secondary jungle. Not sure if MOD returned the plot back to Sarawak.

  9. 22 RAD and 35 RAD in Sabah next year?

    That is news to me.

    What I do know is that 8 RAD has been raised in Camp Penrissen Lama Kuching, Sarawak on 8th September 2021

    22 RAD to get some G5 from 21 RAD? Surely SPHs if bought would be more suitable to support 4th Mechanised Brigade in Semenanjung.

    35 RAD to get MANPADs for intrim?

  10. Nowadays Labuan is intended more for a certain part of the South China Sea, not for Sabah per see.

    I doubt if the army has radars in the area. What you described could be a DCA ATC radar. How far is the plant from the airport?

  11. Hi, unrelated but I noticed when I tried to click on the title of this post on the main page, it goes to Nexter’s ads instead. I’m using PC

  12. Gonggok – “SPHs if bought would be more suitable to support 4th Mechanised Brigade”

    Ideally 4th Mechanised would be paired with the MBT regiment and the future SPH one, as part of a combined arms maneuver division.

  13. LOL too good to be true if our defence budget did get such a huge jump. Still, that is a huge sweetener to the rakyat what with RMK11 only had RM260Bil in comparison (caveat: the debt ceiling then set to 45%, now it will reach 65%). If rakyat budget got such a huge jump, it is likely there will be cuts elsewhere that rakyat won’t care nor take notice (ie defence budget).

  14. @Gonggok,
    Panglima 5th Div himself mentioned those 2 new units (plus a new RAJD skn) to be set up soon. He announced it during 2nd anniversary of the Div. The 8 RAD is intended for 1st Div.

  15. @ET
    I had the same problem. Nexter webpage kept coming up spamming this blog. It doesn’t seem to affect the older posts.
    I tried switching off my phone and then switching ‘ON’ again. Didn’t work so I switched browsers. Works for me though…

  16. The radar near MLNG Plant is a Marine Radar under Bintulu Port. There are other Radars on Bukit Nyabau, Bintulu. Possibly for Air Traffic control or Metrological purpose.

  17. @joe

    RMK11 had very low government spending even compared to RMK10, because of a time where saving money at all costs, even sacrificing nation development was the main objective of the government of the day. Cancelling plenty of projects. It was a time that even teachers had to fork out their own money to buy A4 papers to give to students, as the budget for paper has been taken away.

    To bring out our economy out of the doldrums of Covid19 pandemic, the government need to spend more to boost the growth of the economy. With RM400 billion development budget, hopefully this can be done.

    I don’t see there will be any major cuts to anywhere. It will be mainly from increased debts and all the savings in RMK12 now to be spent. But there will be an increased drive to pull in taxes. All the small business data (current account numbers, IC numbers, SSM numbers) from Geran Khas Prihatin (GKP) handouts by LHDN will be used to chase all the small business that has never paid any taxes. So be prepared for that.

    I believe that the defence development budget will increase proportional to the planned budget, but if consider the percentage of 2021 development budget for defence, it will not be a significant one.

  18. Must be quite impressive for our guys in a small fighter riding shotgun with one of these BUFFs. Huge, imposing & menacing. Literally a flying relic that packs a wallop.

  19. The MLNG site is quite huge, back when I was there it was the biggest LNG plant in the world in a single location, and due to its importance I think the airspace overhead is considered restricted. It’s a bit hazy to me now but I think it was a 45 minute drive from the old airport to the site; with the current airport it’s probably around an hour plus.

    I recalled that it was mentioned in ADJ that there was a military radar in Bintulu, and I have vague memories of seeing a spinning antenna in the vicinity of the plant. There was an army camp nearby, which was why I assume that the radar belonged to the army

  20. @gonggok
    Indeed an austerity budget when there was no need to, certainly it impacted the wallets on just about everyone; the rakyat, the civil servants, the Armed Forces, the private sector, LCS underfunding fiasco, the projeks, the cronies, plus of course GST introduction, all which in no small part had led to BN eventual downfall.

    But depressingly, from RMK11 to RMK12 our pie have not significantly enlarged in fact with Covid it had probably shrunk. So unless we’re going to haphazardly print money, such a huge cut for rakyat will have to come from elsewhere, increasing debt ceiling is one of it but we shouldn’t be too relieve as it would take generations to pare it back down to pre Covid levels.

    Nobody becomes rich by owing money, andso our Wawasan to be an affluent nation is further pushed back, which no doubts will have future repercussions on our ability to provide sufficient defence budgetary. Weapons & systems are getting pricier and I shudder to think we might not afford a future tech driven deterrence much less warfare against peers.

  21. The only dedicated primary search radars the army has are the pair of TRS-3Ds.

    If what you saw was painted in red or white it was a DCA ATC radar but I have no idea why it would be near the plant unless the plant was only a few KM away from the airport. When I was there almost 30 years ago the airport was smack in the centre of town.

    As another poster said, the radar belongs to the port. That is probably what you saw.

  22. ASM – “Maybe base a flight of 4-5 LCAs in Bintulu?’

    Depends on the need.

    One can also point out that they should be based at Labuan instead. Even if Bintulu houses no fighters on a permanent basis having a base there provides us with more operational flexibility.

  23. Maybe I am reading too much into the announcement but if we got the money, the site at the Bintulu airbase has the land area for a proper airbase. Usage of land at the Labuan airbase at the maximum already. Its the same for Kuching airbase. But it all depends on whether we have the funds or not.

  24. I see a bigger need for a RMN base at Bintulu.

    There is already a base at Kuching which can handle fighters and of course there is Labuan. If needed fighters can also divert to the existing airport at Bintulu and Miri – both are not RMAF bases but fighters can use the runway there and be refueled. Having said that there is value in having a RMAF Bintulu but I’d rather see resources expended on a naval base.

  25. Azlan,

    It could be, although I personally doubt that the radar belonged to the port. I saw it on a hillside overlooking the plant, accessible through byroad next to main road leading to the plant entrance. Probably around 2000-ish.

    In any case it’s nothing important. I agree that having a naval base would be preferable, especially with the port already there it shouldn’t cost too much to expand it to include the base.

  26. Suitable land area for naval/coastguard base is a challenge considering most if not all land along the sea from Bintulu going north up to Samalaju Industrial Park have been gazeted for industrial/economic use.

  27. True but then if RMN have a naval base there its imperative to have ships station there, probably one good reason the project remained a proposal. Which is of course the same expectation if RMAF were to build a full fledged airbase in Bintulu. Is there a precedent having three airbases so close to each other? Gong Kedak, Kuantan and Butterworth. With hindsight it is clear that we should have not build that airbase at Gong Kedak. It should have been at Bintulu which would have shown there was a strategic reason for us building the five stations on the rocks in the South China Sea

  28. Interesting that police marine getting radars…why do they need radat? Wont it be overlapping with so many radars system? Waste of money?

  29. There are some gaps in the current Sistem Pengawasan Laut currently managed by APMM. It appears that the government wants the marine police to be involved in the same role as well. Its not a waste money really as the system oversees our maritime borders. It however meant that the marine police and APMM will continue operating separately which is wasting money.

  30. “Apart from the Armed Forces, the PM also announced two projects for the police for RMK12 – a radar system for five Marine police sectors and a GOF camp in Beluran, Sabah.” Why the marine police needs radar system whilst the same is provided by MMEA n TLDM

  31. Bunian,

    The question is why in the first place there is even a need for a Marine Police when there’s a MMEA? This has been previously discussed to death here. Short answer : turf guarding, funding and government indecision

    I have no idea if the RMN actually has land based radars but another radar operator is the Maritime Insitute. It operates the chain of radars along the Straits of Melaka.

  32. So now in RMK12 the police and RMN is still spending money on things that is supposed to be bought and operated by MMEA?

    Great.

    Why cannot the Home minister be tasked to sort out the clear responsibilities of Police and MMEA once and for all?

    Why can’t RMN and MMEA sit down to properly delineate the maritme security operation tasks between them?

  33. The Home Minister do not have the clout to sort out the marine police, RMN and MMEA issue. Its up to the PM really. Only PM4 and PM7 had the clout to do it but even he shied away from it

  34. @Marhalim
    In a way, I do think the Government tacitly agreed to such overlaps for the purpose of sheer expediency.

    It sounds better from an accounting PoV to give RM15mil each to two entities doing the same thing as compared to giving RM30mil to one entity alone. Most politicians with half a brain would have zoomed in on the 30mil figures and the rest, those with less than half, wouldn’t have question either one. So you see its a win-win scenario for all parties.

  35. No lah, its just expediency and empire building mentality. Plus fearing the hard work to actually separate the job and function of MMEA and Marine police

  36. Gonggok -.”Why can’t RMN and MMEA sit down to properly delineate the maritme security operation tasks between them”

    Are you joking? Both are engaged in turf guarding and the funding which comes with. Rarely do organisations/services rarely give up anything unless they are forced to or it really benefits them – funding/burearacy. Even within the MAF there is fierce rivalry and turf guarding.

  37. Apart from the tendency of organisations to turf guard and compete for funding, there are bureacratic issues at play. Had the Marine Police been stood down, where would the manpower have gone? The MMEA had no need for so many extra people, plus the issues such as seniority and other things.

    Getting back, unless its forced to or benefits from it, no agency willingly gives up anything. Look at the several battalions of the GOF which lost their main purpose following the end of the 2nd Emergency and really should be taking on a much larger role against the non state threat in ESSCOM.

    One organisation which is poltically expedient but which should go is RELA. They also look silly in their camo uniforms and should be replaced by the auxilliary police.

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