You are here
Home > MY ATM > Could Malaysia Armed Forces Win a War against Singapore?

Could Malaysia Armed Forces Win a War against Singapore?

The short answer here is that the readiness of the MAF is not good. The more nuanced answer is it depends on which service you are looking at.

The Army is in a decent state. The main strategic units in armor and artillery, the PT-91 Twardy and the Astros II MLRS, are both relatively recent purchases and remain in service. A major component of the Armored forces, the AV8 Gempita, has also recently been purchased and about half are delivered, while the Artillery are in the midst of being upgraded and expanded.

Malaysian AV8 Gempita- forming a large core of the Malaysian Armored Forces

The Navy is also in a decent state, and although there have been recent delays in modernisation and delivery of their new littoral combat ships, the RMN remains in good state by delaying the decommissioning of some older ships.

The 2 Scorpène class submarines, after long delays, are also new and should be in good fighting trim. More concerning, though, is that the delays and life extensions of older ships are indicative that the RMN will not be receiving new funds for equipment anytime soon.

For now, the RMN has enough resources to fulfill its duties – but with the threat of China in the South China Sea looming that may not be the case for much longer.

The RMAF, though, is in a damning state, and this is critical considering the importance of the air force in modern conflicts. Firstly, it suffers from using too many types of airplanes as its front line aircraft. The RMAF operates British, Russian, and American front-line aircraft from 3 different manufacturers, making it logistically and economically challenging to support all of them – and this is just their fighter aircraft.

Recently, in 2019, the RMAF sent out requests for information for the light combat aircraft program to several manufacturers in Korea, Italy, and Pakistan. This problem looks set to continue.

Signs are that the RMAF struggle to support them. In 2018 the Malaysian government admitted only 4 of 18 Sukhoi Su-30 jets were operational, the others not operational due to a lack of maintenance. This is not the first time this has befallen the RMAF either – Dr Mahatir has admitted to problems with the F-18 fleet, and the BaE hawks faced the same problem as the Su-30s in the 90s.

Similar issues cropped up with the MiG-29 fleet. First purchased in 1995, Malaysia stated as early as 2010 that they were to expensive to mantain and started to decommission some and look for a replacement. It was only in 2017 that the entire fleet of MiGs was finally grounded, with a replacement not likely till 2025. This replacement is also likely to be delayed given Malaysia’s parlous fiscal state – manufacturers have responded in kind and many do not currently view Malaysia as a serious buyer in the multi-role combat aircraft (MRCA) evaluation.

The Malaysian MiG 29 fleet, as of 2020, is in a parlous state and does not speak well of its capability to maintain operational readiness.
The Malaysian MiG 29 fleet, as of 2020, is in a parlous state and does not speak well of its capability to maintain operational readiness.

These persistent operational problems speak not very well of the RMAF’s ability to keep their equipment airworthy. Even more concerning is that Malaysia already has a very small fleet of available aircraft – even at full strength – 26 front line Su-30s and F-18s with 30 BaE hawks are not enough to cover the RMAF’s responsibilities, and the Maritime patrol fleet is overstretched to cover thousands of kilometers of coastline.

The most concerning outlook for the future – is money. Malaysia is in a poor fiscal position and strategic plans for renewal and upkeep of her armed forces simply lack the budget to do them in a timely manner. Already Malaysia has offered ‘palm oil for fighter jets’ which would be an alarming indicator of the available monies for not only the air force but the rest of the armed forces.

What then, about the SAF?

The Singapore Army has enough budget and capability to move a combined arms brigade-sized force several thousand kilometers to conduct its annual Exercise Wallaby, and also conducts training in far flung places like India and New Zealand.

Meanwhile the RSAF has the manpower and budget to maintain slightly less than 100 front line aircraft across Singapore, USA, Australia, and France, and the Peace Carvin detachment has won ‘best mantained unit’ several times at Exercise Red Flag. These alone should speak to there being quite a large difference between the SAF and MAF in maintaining their combat readiness.

How could Malaysia win a war against Singapore?

When evaluating any potential conflict between Singapore and Malaysia, it is important to consider the relative strengths and weaknesses of each armed force and what each would aim to do.

Firstly, it is important to note that any Malaysia-Singapore war is going to end at the negotiating table. Malaysia does not have the military might to defeat a fully armed, fully mobilised, SAF. Conversely, Singapore does not have the numbers or the time to defeat and occupy the whole of western and eastern Malaysia before economic and logistical factors come into play. The matter of ‘who wins the war’ comes down to who is in a more favorable negotiating position when both parties are forced into peace talks.

With that in mind, let’s look at the likely war scenarios:

Singapore makes no secret of its preemptive strike strategic doctrine. With its limited land area and reliance on Johor for water, in the event of a war, Singapore needs to quickly achieve the following objectives:

  1. Secure her water supplies and achieve strategic depth to defend them
  2. With almost 50% of Singapore’s food coming from Malaysia – secure food supply chain from northern Johor.
  3. Achieve strategic depth such that the airfields and bases of Singapore are safe from Artillery attack. This requires ~300km given the range of the Astros MRLS in Malaysia’s arsenal.
  4. Open maneuvering space for the navy to keep the Sea Lanes to Singapore open; this involves neutralising RMN bases and Tanjung Pegelih and the middle rocks, and threathening Muar. This will allow the RSN to exert much more effective control in the sea lanes around Singapore, particularly given the threat of the Submarine bases in Eastern Malaysia.

The minimum required for Singapore to achieve the following objectives is the so-called Mersing Line, running from Batu Pahat to Mersing, just before the central highlands of the Endau Rompin National Park (which would unnecessarily bog down the SAF in jungle fighting).

This is the MINIMUM geographical limit the SAF will aim to advance to. Thus the Singaporean strategy will be to advance into Malaysia, at least until the Mersing line, to achieve the above 4 objectives. The further north Singapore can advance, the better it is in terms of negotiating power in any peace talks, but it must balance this against over stretching itself.

Read Also: The “Mersing Line”, Reality Or Nonsense?

Map of Johor, the Mersing line hypothetically running from Mersing to Batu Pahat or Muar.
Map of Johor, the Mersing line hypothetically running from Mersing to Batu Pahat or Muar.

How would Singapore do this? The obvious approach would be invasion via the causeways at Woodlands and Tuas, but barring an almost monumental screw up by the Malaysian forces, these would be destroyed within hours of any conflict starting. Instead, the SAF is likely to attack Johor city via Woodlands to pin the defenders in place, then force a coastal landing on the western Johore (which is less populated and flat) – allowing for a rapid advance to envelop Johor City.

This has the added advantage of opening a safety buffer for critical infrastructure in western Singapore (Tengah airbase, Tuas megaport, Tuas naval base, various oil storage and utilities facilities).

Further landings on Eastern Johor will also be attempted to open up Pasir Gudang, but the route to envelop Johor City is more difficult due to the Johor river being a major water obstacle.

Map of Singapore and southern Johor, with green arrows showing a hypothetical invasion routes from Singapore. The main thrust is likely to the west due to favorable terrain for armor and proximity to the Tuas bridge and Tuas naval base. At low tide, amphibious vehicles may be able to cross themselves. Further attacks at Woodlands are necessary to pin the defenders in Johore city, while further landings in the Johor river estuary may also be possible.
Map of Singapore and southern Johor, with green arrows showing a hypothetical invasion routes from Singapore. The main thrust is likely to the west due to favorable terrain for armor and proximity to the Tuas bridge and Tuas naval base. At low tide, amphibious vehicles may be able to cross themselves. Further attacks at Woodlands are necessary to pin the defenders in Johore city, while further landings in the Johor river estuary may also be possible.

Unfortunately for Malaysia, Singapore given its small size and conscripted population, is able to mobilise a large force of in a small amount of time, and concentrated in a small area. This gives the initial ‘punch’ of the SAF significant weight against the MAF, because the MAF has obligations against a larger area and needs to spread its forces

The MAF may be underfunded, but they are hardly stupid, however.

The Malaysian Army comprises approximately 5 divisions, with 3 divisions on the mainland and 2 in eastern Malaysia. This, on paper, give the Malaysian Army close parity in numbers to the Singapore Army.

But as mentioned, the SAF is highly likely to have significant weight of numbers in the initial fighting. As a result, the main concentrations of Malaysian front line aircraft lie in north and north-central Malaysia, at Butterworth, Langkawi, Alor Star, Kuantan, Gong Kedak, and Kota Bahru, with also significant deployments in Selangor – out of reach of the initial ground push from Singapore.

This is mirrored by the major army formations lying north of Batu Pahat (3rd, 2nd and 4th Divisions, 10 Para and army rapid response Battalion) , with only the army air corps, Johor military force, and 21st Special Service Force in Johor itself.

Hence, Malaysia’s strategy is to trade space for time. ‘Roll’ the initial punch, then stop Singapore achieving its objectives and win through a war of attrition. Malaysia is aided here by the fact that Singapore ideally needs to capture the Johor waterworks and the Linggiu dam intact – which means the SAF can be predictable.

Firstly, Malaysia knows it cannot match the RSAF in the air – instead it will try its level best to stop the RSAF on the ground. RSAF airfields are well within range of Malaysian artillery and the opening hours of any war will see RSAF airfields being bombarded by Malaysian artillery, mortars, and rockets. Some estimates place that it will take 5–10 minutes of sustained bombardment by Malaysian artillery to put one airfield out of commission.

The SAF, of course, will be trying to stop them – the SAF does not own 12 counter battery radars for no reason, and no doubt strike aircraft will be waiting to pounce.

The SAF owns 12 advanced counter battery radars and has deployed them in Afghanistan. Even with such hardware, it may not be enough to stop Malaysian artillery from damaging RSAF airbases.
The SAF owns 12 advanced counter battery radars and has deployed them in Afghanistan. Even with such hardware, it may not be enough to stop Malaysian artillery from damaging RSAF airbases.

This part of the war is key – if the Malaysian army can severely damage the RSAF on the ground, then the Malaysian Air Force can fight the RSAF on somewhat even footing and challenge air superiority. If not, the RSAF will have air superiority over much of southern Malaysia, and will likely have destroyed most of the Malaysian artillery. This is very much a toss up – the outcome depends on how good the Malaysian artillery is, and whether the SAF can find and kill them quickly.

Malaysian ASTROS MLRS is probably the most dangerous threat to Singapore Airfields, but smaller pieces, such as mortars, can also be a threat as the the Johor strait is barely 1km wide.
Malaysian ASTROS MLRS is probably the most dangerous threat to Singapore Airfields, but smaller pieces, such as mortars, can also be a threat as the the Johor strait is barely 1km wide.

Assuming Malaysia has had some success in the first phase, the next phase will see the Malaysian armed forces try to bog down the SAF in Johore for reinforcements to arrive.

A strong defence of Johore City is obvious – the heavily urbanised area favors the defender – but it would also be key for Malaysia to quickly contest the amphibious landings. Singapore’s amphibious landing capacity, while significant, is not massive.

A spirited defence in depth of the western coast could cause significant delay and casualties for Singapore and give Malaysia critical time for reserves and reinforcements to reach south Johor. If it can bog down the Singapore advance, Malaysia can eventually bring more and more of their army to bear – and as noted earlier – Singapore cannot afford to fight a long attritional war.

On the Naval front, it is unlikely that Malaysia will be able to contest the RSN’s amphibious activities – the Malaysian fleet is too dispersed and too far away in Borneo to be able to fight its way through to Western Johor.

Instead, its contribution will be to attempt to cut off shipping to Singapore- and its submarines are well positioned to do so. Again, the success of this is a toss up – it would depend on how much support each side can get from their relevant air forces and how much of the RSN’s assets Malaysia can tie up in western Johor. The more pressure the Malaysian Navy can place here, the better – Singapore does not have time.

Map of Malaysian Navy bases. The fleet is too widely dispersed to be able to form up quickly, but the submarine base is well placed to threaten Singapore’s sea lanes.
Map of Malaysian Navy bases. The fleet is too widely dispersed to be able to form up quickly, but the submarine base is well placed to threaten Singapore’s sea lanes.

Thus, if Malaysia can drag the war out and stop Singapore from achieving the 4 objectives above, it will be in a far better position to bring Singapore to the negotiating table and end up the ‘winner’.

  • Source: Quora

Top
%d bloggers like this: