The planned demonstration yesterday was cancelled. The reason could be the current heat spell and Ramadhan. Was told by Penang sources that there was no support to hold it.
The often cited reason to oppose moving the TUDM air base and development of the current site was low cost housing. So Penang UMNO's statement yesterday seemed to divert the issue to state government's delay for PR1MA development [read in TMI here]. It turns out they were referring to allegation by state exco on housing, Jagdeep Singh Deo [read The Star here].
Utusan Malaysia today still reported Zainal expressing UMNO Penang's opposition and citing Bumiputera interest as reason [read here]. Either they do not know or hiding it from the public, more than half of the targeted low cost housing will be achieved by the move.
In NST today, there is a two-article feature which highlights the security risk of the most important RMAF air base in the country. How could BN's opposition leader, Datuk Jahara Hamid claim the air base is 'underdeveloped'.
The first article described in disbelieve the security risk of the biggest air base in the country:
The article indicate that the security risk had developed as a result of the 'tidak apa' attitude of the local government. If the politicians had to take responsibility for the slackening attitude of the state government officers, then it applies to both the past BN and present DAP government.
Danger right under their noses
VULNERABLE: NST Probes Team finds security lapses at RMAF Butterworth
FROM where we were, we could see it all — aircraft hangars, the control tower, aircraft dispersal areas with two Royal Australian Air Force P-3C Orions and two Nuri helicopters parked next to each other, the Alert 5 hangar, and aircraft shelters with several F/A-18D Hornets and British Aerospace Hawks inside.
Over four days, the New Straits Times Probes Team surveyed the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) base here for gaps and chinks in security.
The lapses in security that we found at the airbase, which the RMAF categorises as its main facility, were shocking.
Housing developments on the periphery of one of the nation's most sensitive military installations present a serious security risk.
Houses built inches away from the base perimeter wall provide ideal firing positions for terrorists to launch a coordinated attack.
Multi-storey homes on opposite sides of the runway give a clear and unobstructed view of targets, including the ammunition storage dump, and of military aircraft taking off and landing.
A portion of land at the end of the base's runway has also been encroached on by squatters.
In some instances, the runway approach lights sit right in the squatters' backyard.
The lights jut out in between 23 makeshift houses and 17 illegal workshops, factories and storage units. Structures have been built around a Series of light bars and strobe lights, some of which stand as tall as the approach lights.
It is understood the encroached land and approach light belongs to the RMAF. The lights allows pilots to see the runway and align their aircraft upon arriving at a prescribed point. This approach lighting system is designed to enhance the safety of aircraft operations, particularly in conditions of reduced visibility.
RMAF insiders spoke to the NST to voice their concerns over the encroachment, which they said affects operational security and puts their lives at risk.
"These buildings clearly are a threat to the military establishment," said a pilot, call sign "Poohbear".
Another concern was that the air-base often plays host to a number of air forces and is almost always the staging point for large-scale air exercises. These include the Five-Power Defence Agreement exercises and Cope Taufan. With these come top-secret, highly-classified assets, such as the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor stealth fighter.
"Where were these taken? I'll take this up with Canberra," was all he said.
Granted, the current array of "standoff" and "smart" weapons available precludes having to get up close to the targets, but the ability to get real-time intel and eyes-on-tar-get analysis is still crucial in firming up any battle plans.
The unfettered development at the periphery of the airbase also contravenes International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) regulations, which spell out a clear safety buffer zone.
The Seberang Prai Municipal Council (MPSP) is the local authority with jurisdiction over developments in the area, but said it should not be held solely responsible if there are suggestions that structures surrounding the airbase pose a serious threat to the base.
"It would be unfair to blame us as there were many parties, including from the air force itself, who are part of the group. There are 22 people sitting in the meetings, including technical and planning department experts, engineers, the Public Works Department and RMAF itself.
"The projects (around the air-base) would have been referred to the RMAF and they had the chance to vet it before giving the nod... If they had any reservations, the developer would have been advised," said Maimunah, who is also chairman of the approving committee.
She added that the council had never heard of any concerns pertaining to high-rise buildings in the area during the meetings.
Maimunah said housing developments surrounding the airbase 1 had complied with the local authority's rules and regulations.
"Of course, the local authority is sqi the approving body, but everyone has had a fair say prior, so if anything happens, it will be unfair for the council to be solely blamed," she said at her office.
There have been calls for the airbase to be relocated 16km east of its current location in Ara Kuda.
Air Force chief Tan Sri Roslan Saad categorically denies Maimunah's claims, saying the RMAF had, on many occasions, registered its objection to the council and state government.
"The base has been there for decades and structures have been built around it over the years. The airbase needs a buffer zone."
The Department of Civil Aviation, in a document the NST team saw, had also voiced concerns over the squatters' encroachment. It cautions that surrounding structures, including those built by squatters at the end of the runway, could pose a safety and security threat.
The NST had also been made to understand that the RMAF is not totally opposed to the idea of relocating but had listed more than 10 conditions if it were to happen.
These included the realignment of electric cables that passed through the northern region of the new site that could interfere with operations of aircraft placement.
Several hills in the new area, namely Bukit Batu and Bukit Seraya, also needed to be lowered to a safe level for aircraft to land.
It is understood that before any relocation is initiated, the RMAF wants an undertaking from the local authorities to take control of a 15km radius at the site to curb new developments and comply with ICAO requirements.
Maybe it partly explains Lim Guan Eng willingness to see the move to Ara Kuda and reject the application for development by Perda adjacent to the new air base site. The rejected development was written in the previous posting as the ulterior motive behind UMNO Penang leaders' opposition to the project [read here].
In the second article, news editor Fara Naz Karrim felt she could have done much damage to the air base had she been a terrorist and armed with more than her camera.
Thank God, I was armed only with a camera...
NST news editor
FARRAH NAZ KARIM
DID you guys realise that when you were about to JLS land on the runaway after your morning sortie, you were at eye-level with me? I could actually see you in the cockpit."
"Where were you? No I didn't."
The tone of the sahur session I was having with a group of fighter pilots based at one of the country's most strategic installations quickly turned intense.
Earlier in the day, I had secured a spot at a housing project adjacent to the base. From my elevated vantage point, I watched a squadron of jet-fighters take off and land.
1 noted their types, their take-off times, how many there were in each formation or element, their weapon loadouts to see if they were tasked with air-to-air, air-to-ground or maritime recon/strike missions, and if they carried external tanks — details that would be valuable to a foreign power or terror organisation intent on doing us harm.
A day earlier, I found another spot at the opposite side of the runway that gave me a clear, unobstructed view of the control tower, the aircraft shelters, with three Hornets and four Hawks inside them, an aircraft dispersal area with two Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) P-3C Orion maritime surveillance aircraft, a fuel storage farm and an ammunition dump.
I was armed with a small compact camera with 20-times magnification. If I had been part of a terrorist cell armed with man-portable air defence systems (MANPADS), the amount of damage my team and I could inflict in one afternoon would be incalculable.
Rapid development around the Royal Malaysian Air Force base in Teluk Air Tawar, Butterworth, Penang, had not escaped the attention of these men, who are at the tip of the spear.
"This has been our concern for a while. The threats against this base are real, but we are mere soldiers," said "Gump", a call sign this reporter shall use to refer to one of the pilots, who wore an increasingly worried look as this reporter unveiled more.
Out came the camera, that for two days before, had been recording sensitive images and footage of the high-security area that should never be in the hands of a civilian.
They watched silently and concurred that even those with little knowledge of security and defence would be able to pinpoint exactly where strategic assets and high-value targets were located.
These included the very fleet of aircraft that had been deployed to chase away unwelcomed aircraft straying into our airspace and those used in the fight against foreign intruders in Sabah in 2013.
The New Straits Times Probes team made a thorough assessment of the airbase's periphery. Structures from two massive housing projects near the airbase tower over its perimeter wall, offering a tantalising glimpse of the juicy targets that lay beyond.
At the first construction site, which is about 70 per cent complete, the team scaled the top of the four-storey-high superlink house. The view from the bathroom was arresting.
If the buyer was a defence enthusiast, or God forbid, a foreign agent sent to monitor these assets and their movements, he would have had unbridled access to intelligence that our enemies would pay millions for and not blink an eye.
At the next project, the fence was practically inches away ffom the base perimeter walls. You don't have to be a high jumper to cross over and make your way to Alert 5 hangar, or the "Last Chance" pit, where the safeties for the ordinance are removed before the jets take-off.
Just beyond that lay the ammunition bunker (the team shall withhold its location). On a moonless night, a saboteur with satchel charges and C-4 plastic explosives could make a quick, surreptitious dash to the facility, blow the armoured doors off the hinges, lob the charges inside, and wait for mayhem to ensue.
From the balcony of the master bedroom of the house that stands no less than 6.1m-high, the team observed the goings-on in the base. Regular, roving security patrols were non-existent. Not once were we challenged, hailed or queried from the time we got there at 9am, to the time we left at 1.30pm.
On one or two occasions, we saw one or two Provos making their way beside the perimeter wall, but our presence went unnoticed.
With the global threat of terrorism, one that the country is not excluded from, security at this critical, strategic base and others like it must be fortified.
The Butterworth base has traditionally been the staging area of large-scale exercises and missions, and hosts some of the world's major air forces, including the United States Air Force (USAF), the United Kingdom's Royal Air Force (RAF) and the RAAF, with their sophisticated, top-secret assets.
Just last year, the USAF deployed its much-vaunted and super-secret stealth fighter, the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, to this region — a first.
Accompanying the Raptors were the Boeing F-15C Eagles, which, despite being in service for almost 40 years, have never been defeated in combat and is still a closely-guarded secret.
It was only in April that the Home Ministry had warned that army camps were believed to be among the targets of Islamic State militants rounded up by the authorities.One reason known for increasing disenchantment by military personnel against the BN government have been the poor working condition, inadequate facility and welfare provided to them. Seldom the case the reason had oftenly been attributed to political intervention and politicians' self interest.
The NST would also like to bring up an incident which, to date, has not received media attention, just to illustrate the fact that this threat is real. Soon after the Sabah incursion, an attack was carried out at the RMAF Labuan base. The suspects were Suluks who had wanted to send a message to the military that if they "had wanted to, they could have".
The incident resulted in a lock-down at the base that primarily housed their engineers.
It happened once. It could happen again...
With community social role taken care, the defense of the realm should take precedent over the "self interest" of local government bureaucrats and politicians. Government must stand firm by their decision and UMNO Penang should stop their typical 'mamak' antic.