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MGG: Malaysia to buy heavy military tanks
By M.G.G. Pillai
24/10/2001 12:55 am Wed
The defence minister, and the man the Prime Minister would rather
have as his successor, Dato' Seri Najib Tun Razak, made a curious
announcement shortly after the Lima defence show was over this
month: Malaysia would buy main military tanks. It was not
explained what this meant, nor why, nor what it cost, nor even if
they were suitable for the tropical forests in which they would
operate. But the main battle tanks he talks about are heavy-duty
and heavy tanks for offence for use in a terrain Malaysia does
not have. The United States have the A-1 M-1 Abrams tanks and
the Russians the T-72. Neither can stand up to the rigours of
the tropical jungles in Malaysia. So, why is Malaysia interested
in main battle tanks that is of no use? Tanks are offensive
weapons, for attack than defence. Who is then the enemy? Is it
Singapore or Thailand? And how was the decision arrived at?
The Panhard medium light tanks the Malaysian armed forces
bought 30 years ago had to be scrapped because even they were not
designed for Malaysia's terrain. Even the Cadillac armoured
carriers for the police were all but useless in anti-communist
actions, the terrain too soft for them to be used with effect.
And now, Malaysia considers main battle tanks. In military
purchases, the kickbacks are high, especially so in Malaysia, and
that is why Malaysia is receptive to any huckster with some
military equipment to sell.
So, it is with some surprise that the defence minister, who
along amongst the cabinet is interested in geopolitical and
defence issues, does not see the folly of buying these battle
tanks. Who decided on it? The Armed Forces Council usually
takes the decision. That is headed by the Prime Minister, Dato'
Seri Mahathir Mohamed. But there are experts amongst the
military officers on it to have raised the objections they should
in conscience have. Did they?
So we come to why we need these battle tanks. Their
purchase, even if they are thoroughly unsuited to the terrain,
sends wrong signals to our neighbours, Singapore and Thailand.
Our relations with either is not as good as it should be. The
banks should have been considered only if their purchase would
not raise shackles amongst our neighbours. Otherwise, the two
countries would beef up their defences far more carefully and for
defence and offence, leaving our defences open to attack.
Malaysia considered buying submarines. They dilly dallied,
unable to make up their minds, while competent proposals from
numerous arms sales men, usually retired military officers and
their captive politicians (or is it vice versa?), and which one
is bought often depending on the scale of the commissions
Meanwhile, the neighbours, seeing this, had quietly beefed
up their defences in anticipation. Malaysia then catches up,
without forethought or care, to buy weapons that are virtually
useless. Sophisticated technology and cutting edge of military
hardware is of no use if there are no competent men and women to
maintain them, as is often the case in Malaysia. The defence
minister should therefore explain why Malaysia needs these heavy
duty battle tanks, to Parliament and the country at large. For
his decision tickles the sleeping dogs north and south of
Malaysia's borders, and raise the ante unnecessarily.