International Air Force Modernisation 2014 – Conference Report

Alan Warnes provides an overview of Tangent Link’s two day International Air Force Modernisation event, which took place at Prince Hotel in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on June 9-10.

GENERAL TAN Sri Dato Seri Abdullah Bin Ahmad (Retd) chaired the conference, with Air Marshal Philip Sturley his able co-chairman. Opening the event was General Tan Sri Dato Sri Rodzali Bin Daud, Chief of the Royal Malaysian Air Force, which was supporting the event. His keynote speech summed up his thoughts on international air force modernisation and what it means for the Asia Pacific region.



Speakers, Chairman and sponsors share the stage at Tangent Link’s
International Air Force Modernisation conference.  The event was held in
Kuala Lumpur’s Prince Hotel on June 9-10. Over 150 delegates attended from eight countries.
All photos, Alan Warnes


Growth in Defence Budgets

He told the 150 delegates from eight different countries: “In Malaysia the growth in defence budgets and military procurements is rising.  Countries like China, Japan, South Korea and Singapore are set to spend more on defence in the coming years.  Australia and South Korea have ordered the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) and it is likely that Japan and Singapore will follow them in the future.  India is working with Russia on the T-50 advanced combat aircraft programme. While China is introducing new fighters like the J-20 and J-31.

“Apart from these countries, other countries in South East Asia are looking to modernise their fighter and weapons systems with more modern next generation aircraft for their air defence needs.  Alternatively others have to look at cheaper options.

“Modernisation is the order of a day, especially for the Air Force.  We have to face up to acquiring new equipment – either through upgrades or purchasing new platforms. While initially, purchasing is expensive it’s more cost effective in the long run.  This is because as equipment ages, so the risks to operational safety increase and obsolescence pushes up the cost of maintenance.

Thus Air Force modernisation seems a straight forward task.  Outlining the requirements and obtaining the finances to carry out fulfil those needs is a priority.


But a number of primary factors have to be considered:
1. What is the overall fleet of the Air Force and its duties? Modernisation can’t be done just for the sake of it.  It needs to be part of an overall strategy.
2. Fiscal restraints.  We have to ensure that every dollar goes in the right area and brings maximum value from the cost and a return on investment by the highest criteria.  Any programme must not be affected by cost overruns.
3.  We also have to be aware that the advent of the internet has made information more available and through these social networks the public get a lot more information.  Unfortunately the public think it all true!  This is a real issue for the military and any expenditure on defence spending.  Some information isn’t always accurate, and defence ministries and militaries have to be more pro-active to informing the public.  Modernisation efforts must include public diplomacy otherwise programmes can stall because of a public backlash.


“The RMAF has experience of this, when in 2008 the EC 725 acquisition was delayed for two years due to public concern.  The Public Accounts Committee investigated the purchase and cleared the procurement.  The situation could have been avoided if the public had been aware of the offsets. If we had delivered an explanation and justification of the procurement at the time, instead of ignoring it, we would have saved a lot of time.”

He went on to add, “One of the challenges that lie in modernisation, is THAT procurement should not see the delivery of a platform completed in time for the equipment becoming obsolescent. Planning a lead in time must be taken to ensure this doesn’t happen.  A key part of modernisation lies in the domestic defence industries

“Sending equipment overseas for repair and maintenance is vital, but we must look further to privatisation.  The days of the military doing everything are gone.

Foreign OEM companies should work with the RMAF so there is in country support.

“If funding is unavailable then alternative cheaper options to upgrade current systems should be considered.  Modernisation effects should not be looked as one solution but several.  Flexibility means they should look outside the box. We must look at solutions outside the normal way of doing things. This conference will look at the ways modernisation can be done and in doing so I hope that we can all share our experiences.”

It summed up what the conference should be considering and with the academics and military from the region, the speakers and delegates would discuss differing aspects of modernisation.

With Asia looks set to be the region with the biggest increase in defence spending, with a 4.3% rise over the next decade there was plenty to consider.



The Royal Malaysian Chief, General Tan Sri Dato’ Sri Rodzali Bin Daud
delivers his keynote speech on the morning of the first day.


Subhransu Sekhar Das, Director Aerospace and Defence Practice, Asia Pacific from Frost and Sullivan provided an overview of the modernisation of Asian air forces.  He highlighted how most modern military expenditure will be spent on training and simulation.  The Asia Pacific region is expected to witness the highest rates in military modernisation, primarily driven by spending in training and modernisation. With Air Forces expected most of this expenditure.

“A number of the military modernisation programs being undertaken in the Asia Pacific region would involve the introduction of newer technologies which require more personnel to be trained,” Subhransu said. “Simulation is one of those new emerging technologies. It is cost effective training for the future and while capital costs are high flexible costs are low.”

Everyone agreed that simulation is now a necessity to save money.  Quality simulation training is increasing, that is inevitable.  As Air Marshal Philip Sturley commented, “You cannot use all your on board airborne radars in live training, but simulation is a good solution, however training must have the right balance.

“We all accept military aircraft are getting easier to fly. In the RAF, 250 hours of flying per year is enough for a pilot, but what happens if you short cut the real flying.  If we have accidents it could be because we didn’t give enough real time flying.”
“Civilian pilots regularly have zero flying hours before getting in an airliner but in the military we can’t, we have to strike a right balance” said the Base Commander of the Su-30 base, Gong Kedak Brigadier General Zahani bin Zainal Abidin and a former A-4 Skyhawk pilot. He recognised the values of simulation and brought up the failings of the A-4 Skyhawk when compared to today’s technologies.

This theme of training new personnel came up several times throughout the conference, because of the increasing popularity of civilian companies being used to fulfil military roles. Everyone agreed that these companies must start training new young employees because the supply of older generation ex-military people will come to an end soon.


New Contractual Options and Procurement Models

Professor John Louth, Director of Defence Industries and Programme, Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) for Defence and Security Studies gave a fascinating presentation. He explained the ability needed to decide, generate, project, recover, replace, support and afford airpower.  How do you decide and generate the right equipment mix?  How to ensure you can afford to do this? Only when these ingredients are in place can you make air power sustainable.


Major Zailani bin Safari (Rtd) VP, Offset Management Services for MIGHT (Malaysian Industry Government Group for High Technology) discussed the Malaysian Government’s stance on offsets. Basically MIGHT is a think-tank for promoting newer technologies.  Offsets are a dirty word in many countries but Malaysia is now setting out its policy, which appeared to be a complicated one that didn’t necessarily mean the best solution for the Air Force would be bought.  He told us that the national offset policy is being revised and will be published during the third quarter this year.  All the government linked acquisitions over 50 million dollars would have to include 100% offsets to local programmes.

“Offsets were previously a last minute thing. Now we put it up at beginning.  Not at mercy of OEM and it will be part of tender procurement that will include all offset policies” he stressed.



The Chairman, General Tani Sri Dato’Seri Abdullah Bin Ahmad (left) and co-Chairman Air Marshal Philip Sturley
ensured the conference stuck to the agenda and of course the timetable.
They also ad-libbed with humorous anecdotes whenever they could!


Professor Ron Matthews, Head, RSIS Doctoral Studies spoke about offset programmes for procuring military aircraft and admitted offsets were a big topic and complex too.  “It should be straight forward, and a way of getting something in return. Tremendous tension emerges between the supplier and the procurement agency, which is often the government.  The vendor wants to restrict access to new technologies which has taken them decades to evolve”, Ron told us.

“Offsets are controversial these days – linked to corruption, although there is little evidence that offsets are corrupt.  In Europe offsets have been abandoned.  You cannot simply transfer technology it has to be suited to the calibre of the people.”
Ron provided a good example of this in Singapore where the forward thinking government has developed Seletar Park into an aerospace cluster.  A lot of OEMs are being attracted to this because of the skill sets, with Rolls Royce even setting up a centre to promote innovation in aerospace.  There are now 2000 people working on Trent series of engines in Singapore.


Maintenance Repair and Overhaul

After lunch Dr Laxman Kuman Behera, Research Fellow, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyse, New Delhi showed us the method that India uses as a contractual and procurement model for defence modernisation.  It appeared to be extremely bureaucratic and unwieldy but nevertheless gave us another perspective on how another country sets out conditions for its military procurement.

Military MRO – Adapting the Evolution of Technology was presented by Shamsul Kamar Abu Samah, CEO of Aerospace Malaysia Innovation Centre, MIGHT. He told us how the loss of MH370 showed that there was always a need for strong and modern assets.  The tragedy highlighted the need for better air defence systems – which is now being considered. “These latest systems are based on advanced technologies so it has to be a requirement to understand the technologies” he stressed.   Then provided the A400M as an example, totally different from what Malaysia has now. “Whatever we plan now has to be sustainable for next 20-30 years,” he told us.


Dr Andrew Jacopino, Executive Director Contracting, Defence Material Organisation in Australia has a huge experience in performance based contracting (PBC).  He told us in his paper Effective Use of Performance Based Logistics (PBL) in a MRO Contract’ how to put this good use, explaining that the whole role exists to equip and sustain Defence’s material capabilities. He went on to discuss the concept of PBC and how performance was related to payment, but how much and how often had to be defined in the contract.  And what kind of performance was required? Not forgetting of course that the contractor had to be kept motivated – largely by a carrot and stick’ approach. ’Jacko’ has been working with MIGHT for past two years on PBL.

Saab’s Lars Ekstrom discussed Network Centric Warfare to AEW&C with a focus of course on Saab’s Erieye system.  “I have been trying to sell the system since I was a Lt Col and now ten years after I left the Swedish Air Force we still haven’t seen it here yet!  Saab has 14,000 employees and the Erieye system has been sold to eight countries: Brazil, Greece, Mexico, Pakistan, Sweden, Thailand, UAE and Country X which he did not want to disclose.  He stressed that while it was an AEW&C aircraft there were differing modes of surveillance which included over sea.




Delegates got ready for the next speaker on the afternoon of the second day

Day 2 – June 10, 2014


After the Chairman’s Opening Address at 0930 the next morning, the Co-Chairman Air Marshal Philip Sturley provided a very interesting presentation based on personal experience of the Pros and Cons of Contractorisation from an Operational Commander’s Perspective’.  Everyone listened intently to what he had to say, with all his experience the audience new they could learn a few valuable points.

“In the days of the Cold War, all the aircraft and people were once military.  It wasn’t so much because of budget but because we wanted a high state of readiness.

It gave us strategic depth.  We kept our first line and second line servicing on base and deep servicing at maintenance units around the country.  It provided people with a chance to leave front line for a while and then return after a period of time.



Military personnel always get the chance to discuss topics with other foreign participants
and form new friendships.  Here, Colonel Praeveen Chhabra from India’s High Commission
in Malaysia chats to Captain Truong Cong Duy from the Vietnam AF&AD.


“Among the military there was no appetite for contractorisation. Industry was making money for providing spares and fixing them when they broke.  They were happy.  Hawks and Jaguars were more reliable than most but there was still reliability issues.  Both sides appear to have different priorities.

Today, equipment costs have risen above inflation, say 5% more than inflation and our readiness requirement went down after the Cold War ended.  People wanted to save money.  There was a call for more expeditionary forces.  The idea was that they would be discretionary and it was up to us as a nation whether we decided to take part.  But bear in mind that there has only been one year that a UK servicemen has not been killed, in 1968.  Although the Berlin Wall went down we were and still are involved in ops.

The accountants started showing more interest as austerity measures were introduced. Peoples costs went up – a service person from start to retirement is expensive.  The people slice’ was getting bigger and bigger and the equipment was getting smaller as were the budgets, but without a threat the bean counters got more and more say. There was an increasing need to provide value for money, to share the risk with industry.  We needed a process for them to produce equipment and keep our aircraft serviceable – there was a requirement to work with industry.



The Royal Thai Air Force’s Group Captain Jackkrit Thammavichai, Deputy Commander of Wing 7
at Surat Thani shares a lighter moment with the Chairman.


Initially it was the low hanging fruit that was picked. That didn’t include front line but deep servicing as well as training, catering and slowly, more and more was contracted out.  All of the ground facilities etc are now contractorised, engineering is shared, there is now partnering with BAE Systems.  While aircrew have remained service men, some training bases have few military personnel, just a few instructors and pupils.

At RAF Shawbury where the UK’s military helicopter pilots are trained there are civil instructors training on civilian owned Squirrels.  All the G115 Tutors that are used for elementary flying training are run by SERCO as is the engineering of Tucanos, Hawks and simulators.  Flight simulators plays a big part of our operational training, and at RAF Waddington we have moved cockpit simulation to the next level – where we can fly operational missions on Tornados, Eurofighters and even JSFs anywhere in world and then debrief it.  All run by civilians.

Staff Colleges are also run by civilians. We have one single staff course now at RCDS Shrivenham in Oxfordshire which was put under a Private Finance Initiative – a novel approach.  Now we have a college to be proud of on a 25 year contract.
Dwelling more on contractorisation, there is the A330 Voyager fleet.  We did not have money or capital to replace the VC-10 and Tristars air to air tankers which we rely on for strategic reach.  So we come up with novel contract, whereby a core fleet of 10 -14 A330s were supplied by the Air Tanker consortium, which runs the system and can also do civilian jobs. The reserve fleet can be used in case of war etc but during peacetime we can’t afford to use military people for this, so we have a sponsored reserves concept, which allows them to use the surplus A330s to fly holiday makers.

We are now bringing equipment back from Afghanistan but the contractors go out to Afghanistan and much of them are ex-military.  Search and Rescue is now a civilian contract.  Sea Kings are getting old and this opportunity was taken to consolidate one big contract.
There is one small issue though.  Air crews flying large helicopters in the RAF, and small ones in Army or Navy have been on permanent ops all of their careers in Iraq or Afghanistan.  The problem with losing SAR is it used to provide these pilots with a bit of a rest from deserts etc.  But we have lost it now.

There were issues he explained like the loss of flexibility.  As Base Commander on Tornados everything was his responsibility.  However if you contract out buildings, engineering, messes and simulators you have a matrix management system and have to try to work out who is responsible. It can be very, very frustrating when responsible for the output.


On transfer of skills, Air Marshal Sturley was concerned with the sustainability of people and skills.  With the military in Europe shrinking, the obvious source for these civilian companies was ex-military retired who were still young enough to work.  For first few years this is great.  But what happens when they retire? Because we are shrinking it is still ex-military being recruited but it’s not sustainable.  Unless industry starts training people there is going to be some serious manpower shortfalls.  There are some apprenticeships, but not many. There just isn’t the investment in technical skills for younger people.  There is a serious shortage of engineers in Europe and it is a problem.

Needless to say Air Marshal Sturley’s presentation went down extremely well and there were many questions from the delegations attending.



Senior Colonel Vo Ta Que Director of the Vietnam Air Force and Air Defence talks at the
IAFM Conference alongside his translator, Captain Truong Cong Duy.  It was probably the first time
VAF&AD officer had ever spoken at a foreign conference and they were well received.


Dato Jesbil Singh, from Malaysia’s National Defence University talked about the role the NDU plays in educating Malaysia’s military and serving officers from other nations.  While he said it wasn’t a marketing push for the NDU, it certainly sounded like it!


Sikorsky’s Nicholas D Lappos was certainly marketing the UH-60/S-70 in his role as Senior Technical Fellow for Advanced Technologies.  He talked about how missions dictate the configuration and how a country’s military balances its requirements.   “Dedicated attack helicopters sit idle most of the time during peace time” he said “but a multi role helicopter that could be fitted with guns is a better cheaper option.”  Clearly he was making a push for the UH-60/S-70 in the Malaysia market, where there is often talk about acquiring an attack helicopter. A multi role helicopter could be used for transport, SAR and disaster relief he said, suggesting that a common fleet of 22 multi mission helicopters might suit a country’s needs…and he didn’t mention Malaysia.
Brigadier General Zahani bin Zainal discussed the modelling and simulation and the effects on modern air force training.  Being the Base Commander at Gong Kedak, he was the right man to explain how it all worked at the RMAF’s newest base.


International Procurement Case Studies – Challenges In The Procurement Process

Tangent Link was privileged to have senior personnel from the Vietnamese Air Force and Air Defence (VAF&AD), Bangaldesh Air Force and Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) to talk during this afternoon session.

Senior Colonel Vo Ta Que of the VAF&AD spoke with assistance from his translator, Captain Truong Cong Duy talked about the modernisation, maintenance and refurbishment of the Vietnamese Air Force.  They spoke of its inventories and the issues that they had to overcome.  Interestingly the VAF&AD has designed and uses its own run flat’ tyres for their Su-27/Su-30s.

The RTAF’s Group Captain Jakkrit Thammavichai is a JAS 39 Gripen pioneer, having trained in Sweden on the aircraft.  The RTAF flies 12 Gripens and clearly the Group Captain was a fan.  He went on to describe how the aircraft operates within the RTAF’s air defence system.



The Bangladesh Air Force’s Air Commodore Mortuza Kamal spoke on
combat fighter training in the Bangladesh Air Force.


Air Commodore Mortuza Kamal discussed Combat Training in the Bangladesh Air Force’.  He highlighted how the pilots started flying on the Nanchang PT-6 before progressing to the L-39ZA and then heading to the three differing variants of F-7s.  Only the really experienced pilots flew MiG-29s as well as A-5s.  The latter is now earmarked for retirement but no replacement has yet been found.  A batch of K-8s will be delivered by end of year to assist with the Lead In Fighter Training (LIFT).

Professor John Louth talked about Partnering Initiatives with the Air Domain and Dr Andrew Jacopino looked at Optimising the Acquisition and Sustainment of a New Capability’.

The day ended with a number of questions and answers from the floor and at 16.45 the Chairman closed the two day conference, which all agreed had been thought provoking.  One of the many things Tangent Link conferences aim to do!


Tangent Link would like to extend their gratitude to sponsors Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation and Saab for supporting the IAFM Conference.