KUALA LUMPUR – August 1, 2018: While some may have found it unbelievable, news on the grounding of most of the air force’s Russian jets were not surprised at all.
The main reason for the grounding of 24 of the 28 jets, MiGs and Sukhois, is simply the age of the jets, especially the former.
The 10 MiG-29s were delivered in 1995 while the 18 Sukhoi Su-30MKM were delivered in batches in 2007 and 2009.
News on the grounding of the jets that are now being serviced to ensure their air-worthiness was told to Parliament yesterday by Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu.
Ever the political most Malaysians are, the news somehow sparked a debate over two issues: what was deemed to be irresponsibility by the previous Barisan Nasional government in ignoring the conditions of the fighters and Mohamad’s faux pas in revealing what some say was sensitive military information.
“Although their lifespan can stretch for over 30 years, fighter jets need maintenance just like any other vehicle. Even more so with the Sukhois if you were to compare with the MiGs,” said Captain (R) Zariffi Azmi who was with the army’s Engineering Corps.
A Sukhoi, according to him, needs to be serviced roughly after every two flights while a MiG usually does not need servicing until after its 15th take-off.
The US$900million Sukhoi deal agreed to in 2003 was signed between then Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and Russian President Vladimir Putin went the later became the first Russian leader to visit Malaysia.
The fighter jets formed part of Malaysia’s major arms procurement spree, including a 1.035 billion Euros deal in 2002 to buy three French submarines, a British and Russian missile systems worth US$364 million and 48 attack tanks worth US$368 million from Poland.
One former officer who thought Mohamad’s revelation was out of place was RMAF Captain Abdul Rahmat Omar, who contended that the information could entice those interested in attacking the country, physically or economically, to plan their strategy.
“They now know that if they park a carrier battle group in the South China Sea to allow drilling rigs and fishing trawlers to exploit our economic exclusive zone, there is very little we can do, apart from sending the navy without protective air cover. We’re not totally defenceless, it’s just that we don’t have force projection this week,” he said.
Zariffi agreed on the need for the country to maintain a show of force in order to prevent untoward intrusions.
“Not just our neighbours; pirates and terrorists would think twice in messing with us if they think our defences are strong. He (Mohamad) needs to know that they are things he cannot tell the Parliament willy-nilly.”
While agreeing that disclosure about the state of the country’s fighter jets has its downsides, another retired RMAF officer, Lieutenant Colonel Ahmad Ghazali Abu Hassan, retorted that the matter was not a big deal because to him the number of ready-for-take-off Sukhoi jets is not top-secret information.
“It was good that the minister was being transparent because now the public can have a glimpse of our military’s conditions.”
Ghazali further said the disclosure indirectly showed the incompetence of the armed forces’ leadership that must be made accountable for allowing so many jets to undergo simultaneous servicing.