By: Mike Yeo
MELBOURNE, Australia — Malaysia’s military continues to struggle to implement plans to recapitalize its assets, as the government’s budget is battered by slow economic growth mainly due to falling oil revenues.
As a result, major procurement programs for the Malaysian Armed Forces have mostly been put on hold even as existing platforms rapidly approach obsolescence. For the Royal Malaysian Air Force, this means that badly needed fighters, trainers, helicopters and maritime patrol aircraft will unlikely be acquired in the short to medium term.
Situated alongside the vital maritime trade routes and the hotly disputed islands of the South China Sea of which it partly claims, Malaysia faces a unique geographical challenge, as its territory is split by the South China Sea into two separate landmasses 365 miles apart at its narrowest point.
This has had the effect of spreading the RMAF thinner, with the service recently moving a squadron of BAE Hawk 108/208 light attack aircraft to eastern Malaysia in response to continuing unrest and lawlessness in neighboring southern Philippines. This has spilled over into Malaysia on a number of occasions in the form of kidnappings and even an armed insurrection in 2013 that necessitated a military operation, including airstrikes by RMAF aircraft, to it put down.
Malaysia’s $3.6 billion 2017 defense budget represented a 13 percent drop from 2016’s budget. And it represents 1.2 percent of gross domestic product, taking defense spending in real terms down to 2002 levels.
The budget includes $104 million to the RMAF for procurement, but as Malaysian defense analyst Dzirhan Mahadzir told Defense News, this will be used to pay for ongoing programs rather than new acquisitions.
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