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Malaysia’s Air Defence Artillery Group (GAPU)

The Army’s Air Defence Artillery Group (GAPU) may be a small force but it plays a very large role in providing a protective umbrella to the military on the ground, important locations and strategic targets in the country.

The four-regiment GAPU combines armaments such as anti-aircraft guns and five types of low-level missile systems. A sub-unit is also deployed along with 10 Para Brigade and is  armed with shoulder-launched missiles to provide air defence protection to the rapid deployment team.

GAPU has high-tech assets when it operates the VERA-E remote-controlled passive surveillance radar system made by the Czech firm Omnipol with a range of up to 450 kilometers (km). The VERA-E system purchased in 2007 acts as an early warning that is capable of sniffing any movement in the country’s airspace. The same radar was also operated by the Vietnamese army.

VERA-E Passive Surveillance Radar

In modern conflict, the function of the air defence force is critical, which is to defend the country’s airspace and repel enemy air attacks so that the ground defence is not easily destroyed.

During Gulf War I, an early morning air strike by U.S.-led allied forces on January 17, 1991 that rocked the city of Baghdad was greeted with barrage of gunfire by Iraqi military air defence units.

Operation Desert Storm took another  dimension when it witnessed the world’s most powerful air power clash with a country that had an air defence system previously said to be the most cohesive.

Despite being hit hard, Iraq, which has about 10,000 different types of anti-aircraft weapons, as well as 154 Russian and European-made air defence missile launch systems, was able to provide fierce resistance at the start of the attack. However, Iraq is unable to repel hundreds of airstrikes because existing systems were developed to curb threats that can be expected, for example from Israel or Iran.

Only after Iraq’s air defence control base was crippled, then the country’s airspace could be easily controlled and further intensify ground attacks. Following the Scud missile attacks launched by Iraq against Saudi Arabia and Israel during the Gulf War, the two countries strengthened their respective airspace defences.

The Israeli defence industry is actively developing the country’s air protection system to adapt to the threats it faces. Thus, a barrage of rocket attacks retaliated by firing of Israel’s air defence system in the dark of night during the 11-day Hamas-Israel conflict last week shows how air space defence system plays a role.

The defensive capability of the Iron Dome or Israel’s iron dome has been questioned by some. However, it is still recognized as one of the best air defence systems.

In fact, not all countries have the technology to develop such defence systems despite the huge expences.

This is because the Iron Dome developed by the firm Rafael Advance Defense Systems was first used in 2011 to repel the rocket fire is part of Israel’s layered air defence system.

The Tamir missile in the Iron Dome can repel rockets or missiles launched at a range of four to 70km.

Neighbouring Singapore, for example, is applying a highly sophisticated layered air defence system in addition to upgrading existing armaments in line with technological changes to protect the island nation.

Singapore’s ASTER 30 missile system

Last year Singapore received the Aster 30 missile system to enhance its medium -level air defence capability to repel air threats up to a range of 70km.

Although modern war theory today no longer associates the party that can control airspace to the successful and subsequent win in the war on land, the importance of having good air defence is still needed.

The Israeli defence industry is actively developing the country’s air protection system.

  • Article written by Zaki Salleh, a defence analyst who has been writing in this field for the past 23 years.
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