To The Spratlys…

A RMN ScanEagle UAV on its launcher. RMN

SHAH ALAM: In the Approved Maintenance Organisation post, regular reader Tom Tom asked about the operational deployment of the Scan Eagle UAS by its operator Skuadron 601. As RMN had not announced publicly on the UAS deployment, I answered that I had no idea.

As if to answer Tom Tom question, the Eperolehan website on July 11 published a quotation notice (QN) for the rental services of assets to deploy the Scan Eagle UAS and related equipment from the Kota Kinabalu naval base to RMN Stesen Lima (Pulau Layang-Layang) in the South China Sea. Stesen LIMA is the name of one of the Malaysian stations located in the Spratlys in the South China Sea.

A file picture of Stesen LIMA. RMN

Anyhow the QN opened on July 11 and closes on July 18. Anyhow, the specification of the QN stated:

Memberikan perkhidmatan secara pakej ”door-to-door” bagi memindahkan sebuah sistem lengkap ScanEagle berserta peralatan dan kenderaan sokongan seperti yang diperincikan daripada
Stesen Udara Kota Kinabalu, Pangkalan TLDM Kota Kinabalu ke Stesen LIMA TLDM menggunakan
barge atau kapal laut kargo. Pemindahan perlu dilaksanakan sekali gus (single trip) sehingga
kesemua peralatan ditempatkan di lokasi yang ditentukan.

a. Menggerakkan kesemua peralatan sistem daripada Stesen Udara Kota Kinabalu ke jeti
operasi Pangkalan TLDM Kota Kinabalu (PTKK) menggunakan beberapa kenderaan pengangkut
dan kren. 4 x kontena akan dipindahkan secara bergilir-gilir ke jeti operasi PTKK menggunakan
sebuah low loader dan kren 10 tan yang diuruskan oleh firma. Kesemua peralatan ini akan disusun di
jeti operasi PTKK untuk proses pemunggahan masuk ke atas barge/kapal kargo.
b. Menyediakan sekurang-kurangnya sebuah barge bersaiz 60 meter x 24 meter atau kapal kargo yang
mempunyai kapabiliti mengangkut yang setaraf dan dilengkapi dengan kren 10 tan bagi memunggah
masuk peralatan daripada jeti operasi PTKK kecuali low loader firma dan Towing Vehicle
(pacuan 4 roda Toyota Hilux). Kedua-dua kenderaan ini akan dipandu naik apabila barge/kapal kargo tersebut merapat di beaching point/jeti sekitar Pelabuhan Sepanggar setelah proses memunggah peralatan yang lain selesai. Keseluruhan proses pemindahan dan pemunggahan masuk peralatan ini dijangka mengambil masa sekitar 12 jam.
c. Kesemua peralatan mesti secured for sea dan dibalut dengan kanvas sewajarnya sebelum
memulakan pergerakan ke STN LIMA. Tempoh perjalanan dijangka mengambil masa sekitar 32
jam bergantung pada keadaan cuaca. Tiada perwakilan TLDM yang akan mengiringi pergerakan peralatan tersebut.
d. Barge/kapal kargo akan merapat di beaching point yang bersesuaian setiba di STN LIMA dan
memulakan proses memunggah keluar kesemua peralatan. Kru TLDM yang berada di STN LIMA
akan mengkoordinasikan penyusunan peralatan bersama dengan wakil firma mengikut lokasi yang
telah ditentukan. Keseluruhan proses ini dijangka mengambil masa sekitar 12 jam. Barge/kapal kargo
akan bergerak pulang ke lokasi asal setelah proses pemunggahan keluar selesai.
e. Tiada keperluan untuk melanggan khidmat insurans bagi pergerakan sistem dan peralatan daripada PTKK ke STN LIMA.

Skuadron 601 personnel and their ScanEagles and supporting equipment posed for a photograph at the CO parade on June 17, 2023. Skuadron 601.

As the Scan Eagle UAS is an ISR asset it is likely to be used for that purpose when it is deployed at Stesen LIMA. As it has the endurance of 20 hours, a Scan Eagle UAS could also cover the other stations in the area.
RMN Eastern Fleet Commander Rear Admiral Muhammad Ruzelme Ahmad Fahimy (right) handing gifts to Stesen LIMA personnel during a visit to the station recently. RMN

It is also likely that Skuadron 601 personnel will also be deployed to the station to operate and maintain the UAS.

— Malaysian Defence

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Shah Alam

27 Comments

  1. “Tiada perwakilan TLDM yang akan mengiringi pergerakan peralatan tersebut.” Why no escort?

  2. @ tomtom

    that “lot of stuff” also applicable if the Scaneagle is to be deployed on ships.

    A reason why navies like the RSN is looking at larger Frigates (which is currently looks more and more likely to be a variant of the Danish Iver Huitfeldt aka RN Type 31e aka Indonesian Navy Merah Putih Frigate) to enable UAVs to be deployed from them.

    https://www.defensenews.com/naval/2023/03/28/singapore-buys-six-combat-vessels-that-can-serve-as-drone-motherships/

  3. Haiqal – “Why no escort”

    Against whom? Nobody interferes with the movement of our ships in the area including resupply efforts [unlike the case with the Philippines] to the reefs we claim and physically occupy.

    … – “A reason why navies like the RSN is looking at larger Frigates”

    When operated from a ship UASs tend to require less space for their gear compared to when operating on land; in most cases operations are from the CIC and plug into the ship’s existing architecture; wouldn’t be the case on land where you’d have to worry about everything from operator consoles to power supply.

    In due time I hope that the powers that be view UASs the way they should; they are national assets which require resources to acquire but they can’t been seen or placed in the same category as manned aircraft.

    Way before the Ukraine we saw in Libya, Syria and other places how vulnerable UASs are to soft and hard kill means. The TB2 was placed on a pedestal by observers and fanboys but the Ukrainians now only deploy to them as ISR assets away from hostile fire on account of effective Russian defences and EW [something I foresaw before the war]. By July 2022 it’s estimated that the Ukrainians had lost some 80 percent of the UASs they had prior to the war.

    UASs must be bought and in numbers because they will be attrited., Sure like manned aircraft UASs will evolve; will get more survivable by having defences and being much faster but we haven’t yet reached that stage.

  4. I was about to ask the same question that Haiqal asked. That’s the first thing that caught my attention. I’m not really worried about espionage since the Scaneagle is a 20-year old design and I’m sure hostile countries are aware of its’ capabilities. I’m more concerned with theft or vandalism. How much would it cost to station 1 personnel onboard the ship for the 32-hour trip? Hmm…

  5. ” UASs must be bought and in numbers because they will be attrited ”

    I have been saying the same thing for ages. We cannot afford to buy any UAS that we cannot afford to lose. Why i prefer cheap UASes for us to learn from, like the TB2, or if in need of more advanced UAS (but still low cost), something such as the Kratos XQ-58 Valkyrie.

    Our ANKA buy (for just 3 airframes) cost USD 91.6 million. Morocco bought 13 TB2 for USD 70 million, that comes with 4 remote control ground stations, a configurable simulation system for flying the drones, and a digital system for tracking and storing information.

    Exactly why i am very much against the Anka buy. It is very expensive and we cannot afford to lose it. It will make us take wrong conclusions about operating MALE UAVs. When something is expensive and cannot be lost, it will end up as a hangar queen, instead of actively flying out there. We should not be in a situation, preferring not flying uavs in fear of losing it, and risking not getting live situational awareness for our troops, sailors and fighter pilots.

    Tropical rain, winds, clouds and humidity is tough on equipments and radio signals. UAV airframes must be considered as attriable, and buying replacement airframes to be considered as a normal operational wear and tear under OPEX. So operating costs need to also take into account the need to buy a handful of airframes every year to replace those that are destroyed.

  6. … – “Why i prefer cheap UASes for us to learn from, like the TB2”

    This has been discussed extensively. Anka is primarily for ISR and it’s size, range, endurance and lift capacity reflect that. The TB2 is a primary strike platform. It has less capable sensors which are configured to support the strike role, not ISR.

    In short the TB2 is not the platform for the extended ISR role – measure of efficiency measured against measure of success.

    … – “Exactly why i am very much against the Anka buy”

    There is a profound difference between operating something in a peacetime environment and a wartime one … We will use Anka to monitor our maritime domain in a peacetime environment. If war breaks out we will still use Anka; it as well as a lot of other things we operate will be lost or vulnerable; it is what it is.

    As for peacetime hazards; shite happens even with users who’ve been in the game for decades. Could be a weather or a technical related reason; like everything else we operate precautions will have to be taken and a learning curve will have to reached.

    … – “will make us take wrong conclusions about operating MALE UAVs”

    The evaluation team which dew up the specs would have looked at various factors. Also, we are new in the MALE game but we have experience of operating UASs in a local environment even if they are small ones or ones in a different size/weight class. It’s not as if we’re totally new to the game or have zero experience to the challenges associated with the operational use of UASs ..:

    h – “I’m more concerned with theft or vandalism. How much would it cost to station 1 personnel onboard the ship for the 32-hour trip? Hmm”

    We are transporting something to the Spratlys not the steppes of Central Asia or the jungles of Guinea. Precautions will be taken but if anything serious happens having “1 personnel onboard the ship for the 32-hour trip”will not make a difference.

    As it stands contractors routinely move stuff; some more sensitive or expensive compared to ScanEagle but now this is issue because news that ScanEagle will be transported hits the news?

  7. “Why no escort?”
    Not a holiday destination, not a shopping destination. Just a small island in the middle of sea. Who would want to go? Somemore during monsoon season.

    “We cannot afford to buy any UAS that we cannot afford to lose”
    Indeed if we have to treat UAS as we do with manned planes, then we surely will be extra careful and restricted how we use them to prevent risk of loss. If were to expect an 80% attrition rate, lets say each cost RM 1mil, then we have to spend RM 100mil and expect to lose RM 80mil which is something we cannot afford. This is normal but if the beancounters & ministers cannot accept it then, no doubt we will either try preserve as hangar queens unless they are really needed or use up until no more flyable UAS left.

  8. ” Anka is primarily for ISR and it’s size, range, endurance and lift capacity reflect that ”

    TB2 can be used for ISR and has similar range and endurance to the Anka.

    Only the lift capacity is reduced (as expected from a smaller airframe). But the Anka on ISR mission will not need to use the higher payload capacity anyway as no weapons carriage are needed on ISR mission.

    So on ISR only mission, without the need to drop any kinetic weapons, both TB2 and Anka has almost the same capability.

    ” As for peacetime hazards; shite happens ”

    As you only have 3 Anka’s, how many can you afford to crash? In all probability, zero.

    If you got 13 TB2 instead, with 4 ground stations, you could have 3 flying on operational missions, with 1 ground station on standby/training. You could probably crash 50% of the fleet (6-7 TB2’s) and still have 3 flying operationally and 1 on training.

    So is what TUDM doing now (buying 3 very expensive MALE UAV) really in the spirit of “must be bought in numbers because they will be attrited” narrative of yours?

  9. The prices of MALES and other high end UASs will steadily rise. Just like how manned aircraft evolved in WW2 [chaff, RWRs, etc] to cope with various threats; soon we’ll see UASs with self defence suites; as well as improved sensors and other things. It’s not beyond the realm of imagination that within a decade or so we’ll see UASs configured for the air to air role in operational service. We’re already seeing nascent steps for ASW configured UASs; the sky’s the limit as the cliche goes.

    As of 2023 almost nothing is “cheap”. We can and should get large numbers of off the shelf reactively “cheap” short range systems for issue to arty, infantry and other units but there will be no substitute for an expensive MALE or other types of UAS for specific niche roles. If one goes cheaper it will come with penalties; whether less capable sensors or electronics which are more susceptible to EW.

    As of now: UASs are slow and defenceless targets which are vulnerable in a contested environment; people talk about the Ukraine but we saw this way before in Libya and Syria. We should also not draw hasty wrong conclusions; UASs played a pivotal role in Nargano Karbakh but it took heavy armour and infantry to take ground and one side had AD systems not configured to handle UASs.

    Whilst discussions tend to be on the actual platform; what’s more vital is how it fits in the overall scheme of things; i.e. organisation, C3, decentralised decision making; jointness [will a RMAF Anka be able to share a feed with a RMN ship or with a RMAF MPA – people may assume but they really shouldn’t] etc, stuff I often harp about. Stuff which will be the main chsltbfe with operating UAS at their maximum potential.

  10. Unfortunately, the TB2 was never entered into the MALE UAS tender. It is likely that the Turkey government has decided that only the Anka took part in the competition.

  11. Marhalim – “It is likely that the Turkey government has decided that only the Anka took part in the competition”

    If we had expressed an interest we could have asked for it to be included in the tender or contacted the company. We did not and the company did not offer it because our requirement was for a ISR platform; which is what the few designs which were offered were/are. The TB2 is a tactical/operational level strike platform [was used as such in Libya and of course in the Ukraine] and the tender as issued specified the need for a ISR platform with certain specs.

    “…” may confidently say “as no weapons carriage are needed on ISR mission” but he conveniently overlooks EW and other payloads which are routinely carried by ISR platforms. This is in contest with the TB2 which has a fixed sensor suite and carries ordnance but nothing else. We ordered ESM payloads from Saab in 2015.

    Putting aside range, endurance and payload issues there was mention in a podcast that the sensors of the TB2 are optimised for target acquisition and designation and not for surveillance per see which makes it less capable compared to the sensor suite on Anka.

    Has Bayraktar ever participated in any LIMA or DSA ? Unless I’m mistaken it has not. Has it ever conducted a briefing for MINDEF or the RMAF; the kind which normally occurs unreported? I have no idea but I doubt it.

    If we ever issue a requirement of a strike UAS; the TB2 will be offered no doubt.

  12. So in future the rmn will not have to operate male uavs now that rmaf already bought mpas and uavs? How about rq21 blackjack for rmn maybe?

  13. Hulubalang “TB2 can be used for ISR and has similar range and endurance to the Anka.”

    That’s akin like saying MSA,LCA, RoRo ferry, 4.5 gen jet & UAS can do the jobs of MPA,MRCA, MRSS & 5gen jet with sensor fusion & attack helo and we can do without the latter.

    While a chepo 12v drill can do anything a corded hammer drill can do on paper. You going to spend considerably more in manhours & the drill being push beyond it design capabilities going to suffer higher maintenance due to wear & tear & ultimately faster replacement.

    ANKA sizes are pretty much standard for a MALE & most manufacturers would have the incentive to minimise R&D and maximize market potential by building equipment to fit into multiple platforms at that ‘standard’ sizes. If you go around being ‘creative’ & run non standard size MALE ultimately you are sacrificing current & future’capability’ compared to other MALE or you going to spend an Arms & a leg for R&D to miniaturised it further to have the same capabilities as everyone else

    A good example would be the ASW suite for ANKA size MALE are a/would be a thing. As the saying goes pays peanut & you’ll get a monkey. ultimately you get exactly what you paid for as There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

  14. During Mahathir second stint as PM, the government had some sort of a seminar which include the Turkish government involvement and Bayrakar the company that produced TB2 took part in it. The company sign an MOU with a local company but the thing simply went quiet during COVID.

  15. The main point i am stressing is how and what kind of UAS we should/can buy and use that we can afford to lose a few?

    Having the best expensive UAS is useless if we are afraid to fly it to avoid it being lost/crashed/shot down.

  16. Maybe RMAF should just cancel the deal, redo the tender. Turkey themselves promote the drones differently. TB2 seems to be promoted as an offenive drone with ISR capability meant to operate over land. Anka is promoted as an ISR drone with strike capability meant for higher altitute operations over sea and land. This is reflected in the design. Anka has higher operational ceiling, longer endurance and ability to carry heavier payloads. TB2 has a smaller payload capacity, around 10% less endurance, and flies lower. Which means Anka has the spare power to lift heavier payloads higher and fly longer while TB2 lacks the extra power to do so, making it operate less of a MALE drone when carrying heavy payloads. Perhaps RMAF prefers a drone that has extra spare power for future EW payloads, or prefers a drone to fly higher for better over the horizon capabilities. Over sea, that extra 3 hour endurance is a lot of difference. The Army might be be more suited to operate the TB2.

  17. … – “Having the best expensive UAS is useless if we are afraid to fly it to avoid it being lost/crashed/shot down.”

    Having a “cheap” UAS and one that can be bought in numbers is “useless” if it can’t do the job. Measure of efficiency measured against measure of success …

    A mix is needed; high and low end …

  18. Is the Anka deal include sat-com?

    Give the area of sea we need to cover, sat-com on the UAV make sense as well.

    I think MAF have also expected their sat com capabilities with latest measat launch

  19. Hopefully we can expand several of the outlying outpost to at least Pulau Layang2 size. These outposts are effectively our own aircraft carrier

  20. “They will not cancel the deal lah.”
    Stranger things have happened. And wouldn’t be the first time a PH Govt had cancelled something.

  21. May not happen. Might not happen. But I wouldn’t put it past them if it does happen.

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