Malaysia defends sovereignty by improving maritime defense

Malaysia defends sovereignty by improving maritime defense

Joseph Hammond

The Malaysian government is bolstering its defense capabilities as tensions increase in the South China Sea over maritime boundaries. The government recently announced plans to acquire two maritime patrol aircraft and three medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aerial systems (UAS).

Companies hoping to supply the aircraft must submit their offers by November 26, 2020.

“This is a long-overdue purchase,” Adib Zalkapli, a director at strategic consultancy firm Bower Group Asia, told FORUM. “Malaysia has been facing serious threats to its territorial integrity, from foreign fishermen to people smuggling. The additional asset will definitely help in dealing with some of these threats.”

Kuala Lumpur’s new spending pledge follows an April 2020 incident in which an exploration ship hired by Malaysian national oil firm Petronas faced off against a Chinese government survey vessel encroaching on Malaysia’s exclusive economic zone.

Earlier in 2020, the Boeing Co. subsidiary Insitu delivered six ScanEagle surveillance drones to the Royal Malaysian Navy under the U.S. Maritime Security Initiative, which calls for Malaysia to receive 12 of the aircraft by 2022. Maritime Security Initiative funding will also allow Malaysia to convert two of its seven Indonesian-built CN-235 transport aircraft, pictured, for maritime patrol duty.

The country’s defense procurement priorities were most recently described in the Defense Ministry’s first white paper, issued in December 2019 under the government of then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

“In developing the required capability, the [Malaysian Armed Forces] will adopt modern technologies such as AI [artificial intelligence], drones and other state-of-the-art surveillance tools to reduce dependence on the workforce in conducting related operations,” the white paper stated.

The Royal Malaysian Air Force also plans to acquire four maritime patrol aircraft and six UAS to improve maritime domain awareness as part of its 2021-2025 spending plan.

Malaysia’s defense budget is expected to grow 12% in 2020 to U.S. $3.7 billion, according to Jane’s Defence Weekly. The new patrol aircraft also will potentially help curb illegal fishing, which costs Malaysia about U.S. $1.4 billion each year, according to the white paper.

Joseph Hammond is a FORUM contributor who reports from the Indo-Pacific region.