Political Expediency, the 90 per cent Rule

KUALA LUMPUR: With the current hot political climate, Malaysian Defence feels it is the right time to expand further on what his thoughts on the the term political expediency really means.

Since this is a complex subject, Malaysian Defence expects this post to continue for several chapters and maybe even more.There will be some addendum and revisions along the way, so bear with me. This is not a witch hunt but facts as known to Malaysian Defence. Those with other facts should chip in in the comment section. Who knows we might just end up learning from each other and in the process makes Malaysia a better country.

Historical Perspective

Defence was not the priority of the first Federation government before and shortly after independence despite the communist insurgency. With the British providing men and material, the Federation was able to concentrate on providing funds and material to the ordinary rakyat even as the Emergency was grinding along.

With an independent nation backing him and the Communists pushed into the jungle, chased by Malayan soldiers and police ably backed up by the British, Tunku was given the freedom to expand the Federation into Malaysia. It was this expansion that led to to the modernisation drive of the Malaysian armed forces which remains unrivaled to this day despite the apparent lack of prosperity.

A bigger border meant that more ships were needed to patrol the waters and the nascent RMN was given a boost with the building of the Kedah-class ships which eventually numbered around 20 vessels. The Marine police was also beefed up with some 20 PX class boats being built around the same time period of 1963 to 1973. We have yet to replicate both of these programmes in terms of size and vision to this day. Large numbers of the orginal PX class remained in service as does a smaller number of the old-Kedah-class are still patrolling our waters today.

By the time the confrontation started , Malaysia became into being at least 10 of these vessels were already in service, a fortuitous turn of events in terms of what had happened next. Six years after independence. the then Malaya became Malaysia with Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore as one country, with Brunei jumping the hoop at the last moment. Sukarno, the then Indonesian president, with a grandeur plan of Indonesia Raya was none too please apparently. He mistakenly believed that the Malays would loved to join their brothers and be part of the bigger Indonesia.

It was apparent that the short-lived Ganyang Malaysia campaign and the escalating conflict in Vietnam had left a deep impression on the politicians and military planners. The first two frigates for the navy was ordered in 1966/67, the Hang Tuah and Hang Jebat. And the lessons of the air-mobile operations in Vietnam, which was arguably experimental, also subsequently led to the purchase of the Nuris and Alouettes around 1969, an order that could be worth more than RM1 billion (in 2008 figures)

If any criticism could be made against these procurements was the purchase of frigates, both of which were different animals altogether. The old-hang Tuah was originally built for Ghana, while the Jebat was probably built to our specifications, the only gas-turbine warship that the RMN ever operated. Both ships also differed in their armaments with the Jebat armed with the twin 114 mm guns while Tuah had the anemic 57mm gun.

Nonetheless, both ships sailored on for 30-years with the Hang Tuah, with its diesel engines, still operating a training cum patrol vessel to this day

It was during this frenetic period of the creation of Malaysia, the confrontation, the separation of Singapore and the racial riots of 1969, the arms build-up although limited in scale continued. It was expanded further after Tun Razak took over with the purchase of more patrol boats for the marine police and with the procurement of the fast attack craft, guns for the navy. With frigates costing too much money, Malaysia like other smaller navies finds that FACs, now armed with the first generation anti-ship missiles were pretty effective and powerful at the same time.

In the 80s, shortly before his demise Tunku was reported to have said that Saudi Arabia fearing that the Vietnam conflict would engulf the region, was prepared to fund the purchase of Phantom fighter bombers, submarines, tanks and frigates for Malaysia. Tunku of course said no but no one had come foward to deny that friendly foreign funds had helped to pay for the massive outlays in terms of procurements during the first 15 years of the country’s independence.

Malaysian Defence estimates that the procurements during the 15 years may well exceed RM10 billion (in 2008 figures) and perhaps even more.

That withstanding, no one can deny that procurements made during these 15 turbulent years were anything but extra-ordinary for the breadth and vision, typified by their longevity in service. Perhaps these equipment will still be with us even all the way to the year 2020.

Next: Late 70s and the Mahathir Years.

Malaysian Defence

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