The hefty RM8 billion worth Letter of Intent (LOI) awarded to Deftech for the production of 257 of the 8x8 Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) and other variants by the government recently has come under public scrutiny. The public demands an explanation for such hefty spending, for little is known to the public as to what really constitutes the RM8 billion spending. To the ordinary man on the street, they will just divide 8 billion by 257, and the answer is RM32 million for each IFV. This figure is certainly out of the ordinary; an unbelievable amount.
As a basis of comparison, the British government in 2007 opened to all international 8x8 IFV manufacturers to compete for a 16 billion pound sterling supply of 3,500 vehicles to the British Army. If one were to convert the total costs into RM and divide it by the total number of vehicles, the cost per vehicle would just be around RM22 million i.e. RM10 million cheaper than that offered by Deftech. RM10 million is certainly not RM10 ringgit, and this is where the government need to come out with a comprehensive explanation to appease public skepticism.
I have in an earlier posting argued that an 8x8 IFV is not suited for the Malaysian terrain. My views differed from that of the present army leadership; hence the purchase. But what I do believe is that the army has not given serious thoughts to the practical utilization of this huge monster vehicle in an actual battle situation in the Malaysian environment. Having such a huge and cumbersome vehicle does not mean that it can outperform other armoured vehicle, or has a much superior combat capabilities. This is a false notion, as size of the vehicle is certainly not the primary factor to determine combat superiority.
I am not an armoured trained officer; hence I cannot speak for the armour corps. But I have gone through some military exercises with the Indian Army in armoured warfare while a student at the Indian Staff College. It was difficult enough to deploy the vehicles in a tactical armoured maneuver in the Indian plains, and I think it will be worse in the Malaysian terrain. The emphasis here is in the effective tactical armoured maneuvers, and I do not see such a maneuver anywhere in our terrain. What good if the IFV is strung along the highway in single file formation without the opportunity of utilizing the inherent characteristics of the IFV? May I suggest that students of our staff college be given the opportunity to exercise the deployment of the 8x8 IFV during TEWTs; not just a troop but a regimental deployment in support of a formation? I would also like to suggest that the Armour Corps itself conducts an exercise and to evaluate the practicability in the effective tactical maneuver of such monstrous vehicles. I can bet that the deployment is going to be a major fiasco.
Here, I would also like to raise the issue with regards to awarding Denel of South Africa as the subcontractor for Weapons System Integration and the joint manufacturer of turrets for the IFV. I am told that the IFV will be equipped with the Denel Land System turret incorporating Denel’s Two Man Light Compact Turret 30mm, Denel’s ATGW, and Denel’s Prototype 30mm Cannon; the latter I am told is currently not used by the SA Army, and neither is it used by other armies, for reason that the weapon is believed to have some ‘unresolved problems’.
It was reported that in early November 2009, a team of selected senior army officers had made a quick visit to Denel’s facilities in South Africa, together with the local agent. Upon their return, the team quickly decided to support Denel as the integrator of the weapons system for the 8x8 IFV project. What actually transpired during the visit is not known, but rumours have it that there were some promises of a hefty kickback to a certain senior army officer by the local agent. I hope this isn’t true, but if it does, it calls for some serious rethinking and of necessity, a thorough investigation. Will the Military Police Criminal Investigation Division be willing to start the investigation, or are they toothless to do so?
The question that needs to be asked is what was the purpose of the visit? Was it to observe a weapon shooting demonstration of all the weapon systems earmarked for the project, or was it merely a visit of the facilities, and to be briefed of the systems? If it was merely a briefing and a visit around the facilities, then I would say that the visit was a worthless one. If it was a shooting demonstration, then there must be an evaluation report, and this report must be transparent to others as well. The concern of many is about the Prototype 30mm Cannon which may be a cause of problems later, and will the local agent or the manufacturer be willing to offer a guarantee that the weapon does not cause any problems, and a replacement made at their costs? And most importantly, why was the final decision to offer Denel made in such haste? Wasn’t there an open tender? To those involved in the decision making, it is pointless to hide because everyone knows who represents Denel, and the reason why Denel was selected.
Anyway, one would tend to believe in a rumour that there was a kickback, because the deal was done without inviting tenders to other international bidders. It was an arbitrary decision, so they say. Most would have thought that the 30mm Mk 44 Bushmaster would be the better choice for the 8x8 IFV, as the Turkish version is equipped with the 30mm Mk 44 Bushmaster, a weapon system that is already proven with the Turkish Army. And why was the 30mm Mk 44 Bushmaster not given a chance to be evaluated?
What we do not wish to see is a similar failure in the weapons used in the Scorpion and the Sibmas, or has army failed to learn from past lessons and experience? Hence, a review of the Denel’s Prototype 30mm Cannon by the new army leadership needs serious consideration.
For the billions spend, the army deserves something that will truly improve its fighting prowess. The people will also demand that the money is well spend, as the nation’s defence and security will be in jeopardy if the army is to be equipped with a worthless weapon system. Let not this RM8 billion become another blunder, and blunders in defence acquisition seemed quite in vogue and trendy of late.
Finally, let it be known that it is not the agents to decide what and how the army should be equipped; it is the army’s leadership. And if army fails, it is the leadership that will bear the brunt; not the agents.
Now, may I ask……………is the army leadership willing to accept such blame? And this is also the very reason why I have said all along that the army’s top leadership should avoid being associated or being seen to be associated with local defence agents. The army, and I suppose the same goes for the other two services as well, has assigned committees to study, evaluate and make their professional recommendations on all major equipment purchases. Heed the findings of these professional committees, and the top leadership must never exert the authority or influence in the final decision making. I am made to believe that there was top army leadership influence in the final decision to accept Denel.
CRUSADE AGAINST CORRUPTION