Sunday, February 27, 2011

Things We Did...All Those Years Ago

I have just read an entry in my brother's blog. It was about the floating lanterns recently banned in Malaysia as it was alleged to cause hazard for air traffic. What really rekindle my memory were his last paragraphs where he told the story of us burning crumpled newspapers so that the trapped hot air caused the paper to float upwards and back down with a fiery glow (potential fire hazard, right?) and that our mother never knew about it (that is until our sister read the entry and reported back to her!). Well, that was not just one act of misdemeanours when I was a kid...there's a number of them, really.....

Pompeii Writ Small
When I was a kid, my late father planted a jackfruit tree. The tree later became the home for a couple of colonies of kerengga (a large, biting ant). The ant soldiers were a constant threat to me whenever I tried to sweep the dried leaves on the ground. So what did I do? Spray them with insecticide? Bah! That's conventional so I tried something exotic - melted plastic from discarded pails and basins. I burned off one of a large shard of plastic so that the melted plastic fell to the ground, incinerating any unlucky ants caught underneath it. Certain plastics even melted like raindrops - making my extermination efforts much easier! Then I got even more, uh, sadistic.....Instead of attacking the ants on the ground, I attacked their nest (or is it hive?). The kerengga made their nest by folding the jackfruit leaves so that the nest is protected from the elements, leaving only one entrance for them to get in and out. So, I fill up the entrance with chipped wax (or plastic, but I usually use wax), light up a match or a candle and place the flame underneath  the nest.... Then I open up the nest and got a thrill looking at the dead ants, entombed in wax (or plastic)...... just like the victims of Vesuvius in Pompeii....

On every pressurized can was the warning to not to dispose off of the can in fire. Yet that still didn't stop me from burning discarded insecticide cans! Originally 'discovered' by accident while burning the trash (which was my usual chore at home), I tried to create the same effect whenever a can was discarded. However I took a rudimentary (ineffective really) safety precaution. Instead of placing the entire can in the fire, I just place the spraying nozzle in (so that the fire will melt the nozzle - then igniting the residual propellant and oil-based insecticide, without increasing the pressure inside the can, or so I hoped). I then retire to a safe (perhaps not) distance, wait for a few seconds and out came the flame from the can, complete with the 'whoosh' sound a la military flamethrowers!

Nowadays, even many of the Chinese find the firecrackers annoyingly loud and a nuisance. The last Chinese New Year was relatively quiet compared to 20 years ago. Then, it became a virtual battleground with sounds of 'machineguns' and most annoyingly 'aerial bombs'. So did we make a police report? No! We decided to get even. So during Hari Raya we bought mercun roket (the larger ones which gave 'pom!' sound rather that the smaller 'pop!' one). These fireworks were intended to fly straight up but we decided to angle them so that they will fly on a low trajectory, exploding on top of the particularly noisy neighbour's house (during CNY) as a form of 'revenge'. Apart from launching the fireworks at a slanted angle, I also made a 'launcher' for them using a 2x4 board on which were attached a 3/4" plastic pipe and shorter pieces of wood. I originally intended to use this contraption as a 'bazooka' but decided not to and instead using it as a 'mortar'. Apart from fulfilling its mission as a Vergeltungswaffe, I also got a kick from hearing the 'whoosh' sound as the fireworks made its way through the pipe.....

There are number of other naughty acts we did as children but I simply cannot recall them at the moment.....

Monday, February 14, 2011

SGPV : What 'They' Really Want

Name : SGPV (Second Generation Patrol Vessel) to be named 'Sampan' (since the first generation vessel were logs and dugouts)
Length : Not more than 10 meters
Displacement : Depends on building material. We consider wood
Propulsion : COPAM (Combination Petrol And Manpower) Main propulsion system is outboard motors. All suppliers of motorcycles, hardwares and just anybody who stock outboards are welcome to submit their tender proposals. To save petrol since all available fuel are to be distributed freely to the rakyat, oar positions are to be incorporated.
Sensors : Eyeball Mk1, Eyeglass Mk2, Windcock, windsock, psychic sensors (when available)
Weapons : Giant sized catapult, swords (for boarding), loudhailers (a personal request by the 'PM' since they remind him of his student and reformasi days) for delivering harsh words.
Aircraft : No hangar. Deck facilities for Cheapskate UAV (RC toy chopper with digital video recorder hanged aboard)
Tender method : Open. All ship contractors around the world are invited. Your specs will be revealed to other parties participating in the bid.

"This design is so much cheaper than the previous government's proposal for SGPV. 6 Billion RM for just 6 six ships, bah! With Sampan class, we can build more than 600-ship navy! Should he still be around, President Reagan would tear his guts out  since even he can't build a 600-ship Navy! We are going to build a Navy so that people can walk from Semenanjung to Sarawak without getting their feet wet!" Said one gomen spokesman, Mr Non Sen Se.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Six Billion Ringgit Question

Recently the Ministry of Defence announced its intention to acquire six SGPVs (Second Generation Patrol Vessels) in order to strengthen the Royal Malaysian Navy. The programme was budgeted to cost RM6 billion...definitely a huge sum of money whichever way you look at it. However, that announcement provided the ammunition for the Opposition to start blasting the government. Mr Tony Pua of DAP alleged that that purchase price, which is RM1 billion per ship was 'over-inflated' by as much as 870%! He quoted that similar ships, such as the Irish Roisin-class cost RM103m, Greek Super Vita (Roussen-clas) (RM329m), German K130 (Braunschweig-class) (RM572m), the 'at war' Israeli Sa'ar 5-class (RM791m) and even the US Littoral Combat Ship (RM913m). The supporters of them quickly nod their collective head while firing off in the 'Net. And as usual, their buzzwords are 'corruption', 'crony', 'why do we need more weapons?' and similar words and sentences.

Impliedly, they allege that there is hanky-panky around that humongous price inflation. They present evidence in the shape of the price paid by other countries who use similar ships. On the surface, yes it seem so, especially when we compare the price paid by the other countries. However just like an iceberg, there is more under the surface, which the esteemed Mr Pua chose to ignore...shall we examine them?

1. The term PV (patrol vessel). Despite the designation the ships are to be armed to the teeth, ready to fight off enemy warships, not chasing after some smuggler's sampan or illegal immigrants' tongkang (according to certain quarters in a well-known local online forum). In actuality they are corvettes or light frigates - I believe the decision to designate the ships as 'patrol vessels' was a political one, to avoid accusations of arms race. Even so many thought that the SGPV REALLY are 'patrol vessels' and thus are overpriced for their supposed job of going after smugglers, pirates and illegal immigrants.

2. As I have stated before, purchasing weapons systems is not the same as buying your groceries. Sardines are sardines whatever their labels...if you're skint, buy the cheaper ones. Weapons systems such as ships are different matter altogether - you simply can't look up on Wikipedia and start comparing prices! As Dzirhan  Mahathir said in his Facebook page, a corvette is a ship which displaces anywhere from 500 to 2000 tons with various permutations of electronics and weapons fit, speaking of which.....

3. Tony Pua made that 'apples vs oranges' comparison (or according to Dzirhan Mahathir, comparing between a Mini Cooper to a 4WD). Here are the specs of the various ships he quoted plus Dzirhan's humorous additions (in italics)! [Prices in USD]

Proposed Second Generation Patrol Vessel (Malaysia)
Meko A100 concept
DCNS Gowind concept

Displacement: 2000 tons
Length: 99 meters
Contract date / price per unit : 2011/2012 / USD329 million
Weapons: 76mm gun (OTO?), light autocannon (20/30mm?), SAM (RAM? Aster?), Anti-ship missiles (MM40 Exocet?), ASW weapons (324mm torpedoes?)
Aircraft Support Facilities: Helipad/ hangar for ASW/Multipurpose Helicopter
Main Role: Frontline warship
Ancilliary Role: Annoying Indonesia by patrolling disputed waters, annoying the Opposition by being build by Boustead Naval Shipyard (BNS) (BN = Barisan Nasional, get it?)

Roisin class Offshore Patrol Vessel (Ireland)

Displacement: 1700 tons
Length: 78.9m
Contract date / price per unit : 1997 / USD34 million
Weapons: 1 x OTO 76mm, 4 x 7.62mm GPMG
Aircraft Support Facilities: None
Main Role: Fisheries/ EEZ Protection, SAR, maritime enforcement
Ancilliary Role: Proving the Irish are still relevant outside rugby, St. Patrick's Day and Irish jokes
Differences from SGPV: 13 years ago price, guns only (OK make it 1 gun and 4 machineguns), 700 tons lighter, 11 meters shorter, no helicopter facilities.

K130 Braunschweig class Corvette (Germany) 

Displacement: 1,840 tons
Length: 89m
Contract date / price per unit : 2001 / USD 185 million (Pua quoted USD108 million)
Weapons: 1 x OTO 76mm gun, 2 x Rheinmetall MLG 27 27mm cannon, 4 x RBS-15 anti-ship missiles, 2 x RAM CIWS
Aircraft Support Facilities: mine-laying capability, helicopter hangar for 2 UAVs
Main Role: surface combatant, supplementing Gepard-class FAC(M)
Ancilliary Role: Scaring the French when it cruises in the English Channel
Differences to the SGPV: Minelaying capability, no conventional helicopter hangar, no ASW capability, 300 tons lighter.

Protector-class Offshore Patrol Vessel (New Zealand)

Displacement: 1,900 tons
Length: 85 m
Contract date / Price per unit : 2004 / USD70.5 million (but could get higher according to NZDF)
Weapons: 1 x MSI DS25 / M242 Bushmaster 25mm cannon, 2 x Browning M2HB 12.7mm HMG
Aircraft Support Facilities: Flightdeck and hangar for ASW/GP helicopter
Main Role: Maritime surveillance / EEZ enforcement
Ancilliary Role: Saving Middle Earth from seaborne invasion (no need to enlist the help of the Army of The Dead)
Diffrences to SGPV : light guns only, ASW capability rests with embarked helicopter only, 300 tons lighter, 10 meters shorter

Sa'ar 5-class Corvette (Israel)

Displacement: 1,275 tons
Length: 85.6 m
Contract date / Price per unit : Early 1980s / USD260 million. But bear in mind the special US-Israeli tie which may help the Israelis in securing a favourable price plus most of the electronics and combat system plus the Barak SAM are locally-built which may help keeping the costs down
Weapons: 8 x Harpoon ASM, 1 x Phalanx 20mm CIWS, 8-cell Barak SAM, 2 x Mk32 324mm torpedo tubes
Aircraft Support Facilities: helicopter deck and hangar
Main Role: Frontline warship
Ancilliary Role: Inviting attacks by anyone who hates Israel (missile magnet for Hezbollah or just anyone who have access to anti-ship missiles!)
Diffrences to SGPV : Some 700 tons lighter, 10 meters shorter, virtually gunless, possible favourable price (not to mention 20 years ago).

Super Vita (Roussen) - class Fast Attack Craft (Missile) (Greece)

Displacement: 580 tons
Length: 62m
Contract date / Price per unit : 2000 / USD108 million
Weapons: 8 x MM40 Exocet ASM, 1 x RAM CIWS, 1 x OTO 76mm gun, 2 x OTO 30mm autocannons
Aircraft Support Facilities: None
Main Role: Fast Attack Craft
Ancilliary Role: Discouraging the Turkish Navy in the Aegean
Diffrences to SGPV : 1700 tons lighter, 30 meters shorter, no ASW capability, no helicopter facility, different class altogether.

Littoral Combat Ship 1 (Freedom-class) (USA)

Displacement: 3,000 tons
Length: 115m
Contract Date / Price Per Unit : 2005 / USS Freedom (LCS-1) costs USD637 million. Rest of the class could be between USD430 million to USD440 million.
Weapons: 1 x 57mm gun, 2 x 30mm autocannons, 4 x 12.7mm M2HB HMG, 1 x RAM CIWS, N-LOS missile
Aircraft Support Facilities: Flight deck and hangar for 2 MH-60 helicopters and UAVs
Main Role: Operations in the littoral zone
Ancilliary Role: Showing that there are always money available at the Pentagon
Differences to SGPV: HEAVIER and L-O-N-G-E-R than the SGPV. Weapons and aircraft support facilities comparable to SGPV. Actually MORE EXPENSIVE than the SGPV

Littoral Combat Ship 2 (Independence-class) (USA)

Displacement: 2,784 tons
Length: 127.4m
Contract Date / Price Per Unit: 2005 / USS Independence (LCS-2) costs USD704 million. Rest of the class could be around USD430 million to USD440 million
Weapons: Guns fit similar to Freedom-class, 1 x SeaRAM CIWS, modular weapons fit
Aircraft Support Facilities: As Freedom-class
Main role: As Freedom-class
Ancilliary role: As Freedom-class
Differences to SGPV : See Freedom-class

So, there you have it. While indeed the most of the prices quoted by the well-versed Mr Tony Pua is spot on and lower than the one projected for the SGPV project, all of them are for ships smaller than the SGPV and in most cases, less capable. Furthermore most of the contracts were signed a number of years ago and in the case of the Israeli Sa'ar 5-class, more than 20 years ago! I mean come on, even the price of roti canai was different just a couple of years ago! Even worse, the number-challenged Mr Pua also said that the LCS Project cost less than the SGPV...well I'm not sure in what Universe does 329 million is LARGER than 440 million....

Anyway, even with these hard numbers, I don't believe Mr Pua's supporters would detract from their position. Well what do you expect from people who said that the SGPVs are only to be used for 'fighting pirates and smugglers' (which by the way, is the job of the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency - have they never heard of this Agency? Even if the Navy is involved, they would rather use the smaller, more maneuverable CB90 HEX fast boats), our submarines are second-hand and cannot dive (they were submerged a number of times during their journey home from France and Spain and have fired their missiles while submerged) or that RM314 million is enough for this year's defence budget (conveniently forgetting that the allocation for defence also covers regular maintenance costs of existing items and even staff pay!)

Thanks to Dzirhan and Mumuchi for providing the facts and figures.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Sub Base Nearby = The Whole Area Is Enemy Target?

A friend posted an article from an internet news portal (what else?) in our military-oriented forum ( The article raises 'concern' from Sabahans, specifically from Kota Kinabalu about the presence of Teluk Sepanggar naval base in their neighbourhood. Here's the article
Kota Kinabalu open to enemy attack
David Thien
| February 2, 2011
A surreptitious decision to park two offensive attack submarines in Kota Kinabalu has scared its citizens.

KOTA KINABALU: The federal government’s clandestine move to turn Kota Kinabalu into a naval city has angered its citizens who fear for their safety.

According to several local inhabitants here, there was “no notice of such a decision and no public feedback was sought”.

The Sapangar Bay Naval Base, just north of Kota Kinabalu, is said to house two offensive attack submarines that can lay sea mines and fire missiles besides sinking ships with torpedoes.

Jesselton, the former name for Kota Kinabalu, was totally destroyed by bombs during the Second World War except for its damaged clock tower and two other buildings.

Many of the city’s inhabitants and historians are concerned that the secretive decison
(sic) to stack such weapons would endanger the community.

Said Amran, a lecturer with a tertiary college, here, said: “The positioning of the submarines just south across from Cam Ranh Bay Naval Base in Vietnam and the Spratly Islands South China Sea lane choke point may expose Kota Kinabalu to military strikes in the event hostilities break out (against territories) which Malaysia is also claiming.

“Also, Vietnam has reportedly ordered more than six submarines from Russia… it is cause for concern.”

Vulnerable to attack

Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, Malaysia’s longest-serving Defence Minister, was the architect of many of the procurement of military hardwares.

In addition to the Kota Kinabalu naval base, Malaysia has a lagoon-sheltered base and airfield on one of the bigger islands.

Yusof, a retired serviceman upset with the move, said any enemy would seek to first destroy the base.

“Any enemy would want to put out of action any mine-laying and missile-launching vessels by destroying their bases and supporting facilities including food and water supply sources.

“We cannot assume that such a situation will not arise…” he said.

Underscoring his concern is the fact that Malaysia is among six countries staking a claim on the Spratly Islands.

Other countries staking their claim on the oil- and gas-rich Spratly Islands are China, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines and Brunei.

All except Brunei have a military presence among the 45 islands.

The basis of Malaysia’s stake on the Spratlys is its close proximity to Sabah.
(Emphasis added by me)

 The article was obviously nothing more than another PR-supporting news portal attack on the government. The words I boldened were nothing more than 'spices' to add flavour to the article. I find it funny that the writer put the words 'clandestine' and 'secretive' when describing the government's decision to build the Sepanggar Naval Base - how can it be a secret when the decision was made publicly? And most importantly, why this matter was raised roughly 9 years AFTER that? And would the government really needs the consent from the locals in defence matters? And to suggest the high probability of the Perdana-class being priority targets, he added the word 'offensive'.

He also quoted history, saying that Kota Kinabalu was once levelled by bombings during World War 2 and the inhabitants do not want to repeat the experience. He should probably take into account that warring nations then would just level population centers in the name of strategic bombing or terror bombing. In fact anything that can be done to demoralise the enemy soldiers and civilians would be done. Furthermore the 21st century is the era of precision weapons. While I do not deny that Sepanggar will be an enemy's target, it will be done with smart weapons rather than dropping bombs a la B-17s and B-29s. Oh, by the way, Sepanggar is 20 miles away from KK! Also the writer also exposes his ignorance by stating that our country has another base in Sabah 'on one of the bigger islands'. Which island does he mean? Is it one of the islands off KK (of which there are no military bases whatsoever)? Or Labuan? Reporting should be based on facts, and he is unable to give that fact!

To support his article he quoted two residents of KK. One a 'lecturer' and another a 'retired serviceman'. Again this another attempt to give credibility to his article. Again I am bemused by the 'retired serviceman's' comment..apparently he was concerned that his residence could be bombed, forgetting it was he himself would be the target should hostilities occur when he was in the service! As for the bit where Vietnam has ordered six more SSKs from Russia, it should be of concern to the submariners rather than KK residents!

Should this way of thinking (military base nearby = I'm also a target) pervades the whole country, then maybe the residents of Lumut, Butterworth, Kepala Batas, Kuantan, Gong Kedak, Langkawi, Gemas and many other towns with co-located military bases should also be frightfully concerned and the government should relocate these bases to the hinterland, far from towns and where they did not fulfil their purpose.....

Oh well, that's the quality of internet news portal to you!