Oz to Redevelop RMAF Butterworth

A RMAF Hornet and C-17 comes together in this picture at Butterworth airbase on June 29, 2018.

SHAH ALAM: Oz to redevelop RMAF Butterworth. Australia is planning to redevelop RMAF Butterworth airbase in Penang under an AUS$60 million to AUS$70 million budget. (RM218 million using the higher amount)

Australian Defence Magazine on August 25 reported on the Invitation to Register Notice which was published on the Australian Government tender website on August 8. The notice is below:

The RMAF Butterworth Infrastructure Project aims to further strengthen Australia and Malaysia’s strong and long-standing Defence relationship through the provision of infrastructure at RMAF Base Butterworth by way of foreign assistance. Investment in infrastructure demonstrates Australia’s commitment to the bi-lateral relationship with Malaysia.

The Project aims are to:
re-develop existing Malaysian Facilities which have shared use between stakeholders including Australian Defence Force, the Malaysian Ministery of Defence and the Malaysian Armed Forces; and
conduct service refresh works on Australian-leased facilities to enhance RMAF Base Butterworth’s capability.
Specifically, the Project will seek to achieve the following outcomes:
provide upgrades to increase capacity, condition and compliance of the Australian leased facilities to align with the growing operational and Australian Defence Force engineering services requirements;
provide upgrades for redeveloping the Malaysian facilities to increase the condition, capacity and compliance with the existing and future Malaysian Ministry of Defence requirements;
advance cooperation and relationships between Australian and Malaysian Governments through investment and ongoing joint operations; enhancing the capabilities and capacity of our regional partners by strengthening resilience against nature disasters and other non-traditional security threats; and delivering quality infrastructure that meets the requirements and priorities of Malaysia by promoting sustainable development and connectivity.

A Nuri on static display seemed swamped by the crowd at the Butterworth airbase open day in September 2018.

According to the ADM report, the work will be extensive and it is likely the two fighter squadrons there, namely No 18 Skuadron and the No. 15 Skuadron will have to move out for the duration of the upgrading work. It must be noted back in 2018, the Australian government announced an AUS$22 million funding also to upgrade the facilities used by its forces at Butterworth. Apart from RAAF, the Australian Army has a more or less permanent detachment at the airbase, the Butterworth Company.
The new windows for the air traffic control tower at RMAF Butterworth. Note the tarmac seen below is formerly the second runway of the airbase. It used as a runway was discontinued in the 70s. ADF in Kuala Lumpur.

It is likely that upgrading is part of the on-going Malaysia-Australia Defence programme. Last May, under the programme, Australia awarded a Malaysian company, Armourseal, a contract to replace the windows of the air control tower.

— Malaysian Defence

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27 Comments

  1. Maybe we shall have asked for the 2nd hand M113s, C130s and FA-18 Super Hornets(still active but can queue first) for donation also. Hoping for the boys in Mindefs to do anything other than wasting money is proven too difficult

  2. Saw this tender in The Star newspaper few weeks ago. The tender is put out by Aussie Government so it appears that Aussie taxpayers will be footing the bill and not coming from our pockets.
    Thank you Aussie Sam!

  3. The problem with trying to get free second hand stuff is that there are always people who will say MY is not dumping ground for old stuff and also those whose pockets will not be filled if we got free stuff. Both exists independently though there is a group out there who are the same people. These group is the most numerous and more importantly have direct contact with the powers that be

  4. Hazone,

    We have no requirement for surplus
    M-113s and C-130s. We have more C-130s on strength than we actually need.

    It’s also not so much the “boys in MINDEF” but our politicians and their system which results in us not getting the best value for our cash.

  5. Thank me….I am an Aussie taxpayer. It’s a bit of a disgrace Malaysia cannot upgrade such a vital piece of infrastructure itself. This plus the LCS only means malu Malaysia.

  6. That was the reason a private company in the past had offered to buy the airbase land and replace it with a new one built some 100km away. Clearly our defence budget is too low to do any thing really. Anyhow its not malu to ask your mate for help. It’s malu for not asking

  7. No one mind really as long it meets the needs of the end users. The problem is that some people due to their personal interest have been making various claims about it

  8. @Tom Tom
    I also thank Aussie Government for ratcheting up tensions in South Asia with unilateral AUKUS. Now I wonder what is an Aussie taxpayer meddling in our affairs.

  9. If we are asking abang aussie for some freebies then I suggest we get those tigers once their apache arrived.

  10. No, lah, Oz is ditching the Tigers and NH90s as they are very expensive to maintain and at the same time very glitchy. Why should we take over the troubled birds then?

  11. Don’t worry Joe, Oz will be spending less money on all things defence from now, so no more funding or financial help from Australia. There is a newly elected Labor government, and Labor traditionally cuts and limits defence spending. They are dove-ish. You will just have to for a Coalition government to return (most probably in 6-9 years) before Australia assumes a more hawkish military posture.

  12. At the risk of asking the obvious, does this eliminate the possibility that Butterworth air base will be relocated to make way for urbanisation? There was talk about this some years back.

    AUKUS – That sounds hypocritical. Malaysia has relations with the US and UK (and Australia) and yet you object to Australia doing the same.

    “Aussie taxpayer” – You are surely aware that many Malaysians work overseas. My guess is this is the case.

  13. Yes, this likely will eliminate any plans to relocate the base elsewhere. It must be noted that the RMAF had never expressed any desire or inclination to move elsewhere despite offers from the private sector. This was not the case with Sungei Besi or Simpang airbase.

  14. Tom Tom – “This plus the LCS only means malu Malaysia”

    Two things; since when do we know what’s “malu”? Only reason the RMN has an organic UAS capability and the RMAF another radar is thanks to the American taxpayer. On Butterworth; yes we should be spending to upgrade it but to be a devil’s advocate the Aussies also benefit [a lot – their only permanent based abroad] from it; thus they should also help pay to upgrade it.

    Tom Tom – “There is a newly elected Labor government, and Labor traditionally cuts and limits defence spending”.

    This is presumptuous speculation. Given the importance Australia places on defence and the acute realisation ad agreement on the part of the average Aussie towards defence towards the threat posed by China; I very much doubt that any Australian government will significantly cut back on defence.

    AM – “does this eliminate the possibility that Butterworth air base will be relocated to make way for urbanisation”

    I do indeed hope so.

    AM – “That sounds hypocritical”

    I understand why the countries involved decided on AUKUS but the FPDA is a non binding agreement which has been around for decades and on top on being non binding doesn’t have the element of enabling a partner to have a significant – sensitive – capability/technology.

  15. @AM
    We have long standing multilateral defence relationships with the Western Powers purely for self defence purposes. AUKUS is to extend the West’s hegemony far away from Aussie borders. We don’t see the need for nuke subs in order to power project as part of “defence” policy. That’s the big difference.

    “many Malaysians work overseas”
    They made their home. We make ours. Friendly neighbours don’t mossey onto others affairs.

  16. “We have long standing multilateral defence relationships with the Western Powers purely for self defence purposes. AUKUS is to extend the West’s hegemony far away from Aussie borders.”

    Say what you want but as a country involved in territorial disputes with China, it is in our interests both to have meaningful relations with “Western” powers (which we do, we have more exchanges with the US than anyone else, which you may call an “out of region” power) and to support freedom of navigation principles even if you call them “Western.” By extension it benefits us if Australia, the power whose support we seek, is itself in a viable position relative to China.

    AUKUS is one such means of ensuring Australia’s position, and in any case merely formalises the kind of cooperation that has been going on for years with the US and UK.

    Without “Western” support we would have to deal with China on a bilateral basis, as China would much prefer. Thankfully this is something we don’t have to resort to in practice, even if we distance ourselves from other powers in a diplomatic sense.

    And South East Asia is by no means “far away from Aussie borders” as you put it.

    “Aussie taxpayer” A Malaysian who simply works or has ever worked in Australia, UK or Singapore is still a Malaysian. It’s quite a different matter from having “made their home.”

  17. Mate, the IILSS defined Aussie borders extremities to the limits of their EEZ up just before reaching East Timor and PNG. They have no sovereign business in SCS if AUKUS is purely for self-defence. To patrol their EEZ, diesel subs are more than capable as they have been using all these while. They have no need for first-strike capable long range missile systems as their threat is not from an invasion (try invading a continent, not even Russia could conquer the whole of Ukraine).

    The point of AUKUS is to power project.
    Why? It is to protect Aussie sea trade routes with their business partners.
    But who is their largest trade partner? China.
    So you see the irony of it.

    Like many others here, I welcome the presence of Western Powers here as a counterbalance but not if it upsets the cart and ratchet the tension. Say if Aussie had acquired such long range strike capability, would they base one such at Butterworth? It could likely happen, and what do you think would China response be like? And then there is Marcos Jr’s Pinoy pivot back to US fold. Things are gonna hot up thanks to actions and reactions which begets more actions etc.

  18. @joe

    Then what do you propose? Everyone lay low and just allow the SCS to become a Chinese lake?

    By the same logic, no one would invade China, a continent with a billions people which also happened to be a nuclear power. But here they are, forward present themselves in our neck of the wood, grabbing land along the way to push themselves even further out.

    The aussie for more than half a century desire a forward present to defend themselves while we die to our limited capability desire a backup. It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement that maximise both countries national interest.

  19. ”To patrol their EEZ, diesel subs are more than capable as they have been using all these while.”

    Yes and no. Australia’s major worry [as you’re no doubt aware] is not an actual invasion per see but a foreign power closing on restricting Australia’s access to the world’s shipping lanes [a situation it found itself in 1942 and which was only eased after victory at Midway and the Solomons]. It’s also a primary focus to be able to deploy and sustain the ADF well beyond its shores in support of Australian interests [as it did in Korea, Vietnam and Malaysia/Malaysia].

    Subs operating in Australia have a long way to travel before reaching their operational areas; hence having Collins which is an ocean going SSK [as opposed to littoral bats like Scorpene] with the needed endurance and range but still has limitations. Having SSNs is the logical answer as it better enables the RAN to deploy and maintain its subs way from Australian bases.

    ”They have no need for first-strike capable long range missile systems”

    They do because they do not intend to wait till a threat materialises on their doorstep before initiating counter action. Traditionally a major concern was Indonesia and the F-111s were bought with Indonesia also in mind [we know that had the TNI opposed INTERFET’s landing in 1999 RAAF F-111s would have hit targets in Java]. Today, the AFD sees a need for Tomahawks and other long range stuff in order to be able to hit PLA targets before they can threaten Australia. Recently there was also talk on the possibility of the RAAF getting B-21s in the future.

    ”And then there is Marcos Jr’s Pinoy pivot back to US fold. ”

    It never left… The US. has a binding treaty with the Philippines and it has a shared military history with it that goes far beyond that with any other regional country – it’s in the collective consciousness of both countries [there are also VA facilities in the Philippines and a high number of U.S. vets reside there]. Ties may have been strained under Duterte and a lot of rhetoric and hubris was uttered but make no mistake the military relationship remains solid.

  20. @Zaft
    Well they have the usual 6 options:
    1. Do nothing
    2. Issue a statement deploring their conduct
    3. Lodge an official protest
    4. Cut off trade relations
    5. Break off diplomatic relations
    6. Declare war

    Well so far:
    1. Doing nothing implicitly meant allowing them
    2. Issuing a statement w/o intent will make them look foolish
    3. Lodging a protest, it will be ignored or rebuked
    4. Aussie had been trying to cut trade relations so we’ll see how it goes, otherwise…
    5. & 6.

    Whoever hurts (economically) more than the other will sooner give up unless they get outside help. What I don’t advocate is antagonising acts that would ratchet up tensions. China is basically doing what AUKUS is intending to do, so it is not simply a matter of one is better than the other as both are rotten in their intent. The reason why China needs presence in SCS are caused by the realisation that a US CBG could effectively choke off their own trade routes and seeing recent decades of US active presence there. The reason for 9 dash lines, and massive carrier constructions. Action begets reaction.

  21. ” The reason why China needs presence in SCS are caused by the realisation that a US CBG could effectively choke off their own trade routes”

    It better enables them to break out of the First Island Chain [the Indian Ocean is vital for them because their energy supplies pass through it] and better enables them project power in the area; to protect the shipping lanes they so depend on; to conduct ops against Taiwan and to contest the presence of other powers. The U.S. doesn’t need a CBG per see to restrict China’s access to various choke points and shipping lanes; a combination of subs, land based air power [most littoral states are U.S. friendly], mines and other things things will suffice. A CBG’s main value is projecting power and making it hard for PLAN to operate.

    “massive carrier constructions”

    The first carriers were at intended to enable some level of experience to be made. Follow on ones are intended with the need to project power far beyond China’s shores [we know this from Chinse military writing] and not necessarily to go head to head against USN carriers.

  22. In 1995, the United States sent a nuclear aircraft carrier through the Taiwan strait and positioned 2 nuclear aircraft carriers close to China in response to threats against Taiwan. In 2022, China closes sea and airways around Taiwan to conduct military drills including firing a ballistic missile over Taiwan – essentially blockading Taiwan. The simple premise is, a strong military enables such show of force and enhances national power. The complex explanation is, this illustrates how threat is not defined only in the context of a sudden military action, but includes the long-term strengthening of own power while degrading the opponent’s power – this is not a China concept, but a Western concept. In 1995, the ability to push 2 carrier battle groups so close to China in 1995 allowed the US to convince everyone this side of the world that it can protect them if they sided with the US – a diplomatic win, that likely convinced many that strengthening economic and diplomatic ties with the US is key to their own security. In the past 25 years, China primarily relied on economic, diplomatic, and informational power to erode US influence in the region. The military being the most visible and physical element of national power, reaffirms China’s power and influence. China’s military power is not used as an invasion threat, but to hardened its territorial claims – except for Taiwan. Today, China is the top trading partner in Southeast Asia, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. US influence and power has degraded the in the military, economic, diplomatic, and informational spaces – thereby presenting a threat to US national power. Threat is not just an existential military action. Excessive socio-economic dependence is a threat. Inability to exert control over national borders is a threat. Inability to keep sea and airways open is a threat. Being financially dependent is a threat. Inability to convince the adversary to restraint their military actions is a threat.

  23. “long-term strengthening of own power while degrading the opponent’s power – this is not a China concept, but a Western concept”

    Utter nonsense. The Arab conquests of Persia, Central Asia and North Africa; the Golden Horde; Tarmalene; Japan’s expansion in the 1930’s and 1940’s, etc, all were not Western and all contained an element of “long-term strengthening of own power while degrading the opponent’s power”..

    “Excessive socio-economic dependence is a threat”

    Why is why in the past when fevered minded people go gaga about China; I pointed out that should missiles start flying our main worry would be be the economy. Similarly in the past when people said we shouldn’t buy AMerican be cause of the threats of embargoes: I pointed out that should we be embargoed our main worry would be the economy not sourcing spares for our
    U S.gear.

  24. “To patrol their EEZ, diesel subs are more than capable as they have been using all these while.”

    That’s rich coming from someone who previously advocated that we acquire various high end systems mainly to “make our neighbours sweat” (your words).

    It is ridiculously simplistic to say that Australia can continue to rely on SSKs just because they have done so in the past with Collins and Oberon class boats. It is more accurate to say that they got away with it because of circumstances that have long past. Australia enjoyed a degree of security because of the lack of various capabilities among potential foes. In that time the Chinese navy has gone from a coastal defence force to one that can and does operate close to Australian shores, in the SCS, the Pacific and in the Indian Ocean. There was also the fact that American forces were stationed in the Philippines until the 1990s.

    Going by your logic, one can name any number of capabilities that we should not acquire or have acquired, from AMRAAMs to UAVs, just because we have not had to use them in war for many years.

  25. “That’s rich coming from someone who previously advocated”
    I guess the word ‘sarcasm’ must be missing in your dictionary. No need to be so triggered bro. Nothing we do except acquiring nuke ballistic missile would make them sweat. Come to think of it, hmm….

    Again let me point out the irony of arming oneself to go to war against your main trading partner here. Key point to note, you might not be their main trading partner so if shit happens, guess who will suffer the most here. While the SSKs have been defending Aussie waters, I see the nuke subs theater of operation will be further afield in SCS region and key choke points; ie Malacca Straits, Sunda Straits, the archipelagoes between East Timor and PNG.

  26. joe “I guess the word ‘sarcasm’ must be missing in your dictionary.”

    I guess next you could excuse yourself for insisting for ages that Singapore’s GDP in USD is 3x our GDP in USD because of “currency.”

    joe “Key point to note, you might not be their main trading partner so if shit happens, guess who will suffer the most here”

    Oh yes, you have a point here. But as usual you have failed t notice the obvious fact that if China and Australia are ever at war, Australia will not be alone. Look it up, Australia’s allies make up a greater share of China’s trade volume than China makes of Australia’s. So by your logic, the side that “suffers the most” at least economically isn’t necessarily China. Sarcastic much?

    There’s also the fact that Australia and China have different sea lines of communication and which are vulnerable to interdiction at different points. If China’s energy shipments have to pass through certain choke points one way and China’s navy has to pass through the other way, “suffers the most.”

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