COVID 19 : The Impact and Challenges Towards Defence and Security - by Lt Col Dr. Maimunah Omar

 

INTRODUCTION

The world underestimated COVID-19, the disease caused by a novel strain of coronavirus that emerged late 2019, in terms of both its propensity to spread and cause harm and its ability to bring businesses and whole economies to a halt. Many countries are in the midst of executing either mitigation or all-out suppression strategies that are taking its toll on both the populace and the industry. The defence and security segment is not excluded too. Even though it appears to be a health issue for any country in the world, this pandemic does leave a huge impact and pose great challenges towards our defence and security.

CHALLENGES

Migration/ Border Security/ Illegal Influx

Malaysia is relatively a maritime country with a total coastline spanning 4,675 km and land border 2,669 km. Therefore, undoubtedly the most challenging part during this Covid 19 is the security of our border and the movement and migration of foreigners from the neighbouring countries. Some of them would take this opportunity as they think that our border security is lenient. Thus, they try to trespass it via our land and maritime border. It has been reported that there are a few attempts made by a group of Rohingya refugees to enter the country illegally through a boat in Langkawi but successfully it has been detected by a Royal Malaysian Air Force’s C-130H aircraft at 60 nautical miles west of Langkawi and the Royal Malaysian Navy has been notified for action. On the other hand, we are reminded by the current scenario in the Philippines where the clash between the Philippine troops with dozens of Abu Sayyaf armed fighters allied with the ISIL (ISIS) group in the country's southern island of Mindanao, leaving 11 soldiers dead and 14 others wounded recently also worried and challenged our security. The possibility of some of the members of Abu Sayyaf group fleeing to Malaysia via the sea to Sabah territories is very high.  Next, there is a reason to worry that the diseases could be transmitted due to the massive influx of Indonesians to our country through land - the Coronavirus might serve to be the reason for their migration to our country.

Other Crimes

Terrorism, piracy, smuggling, narcotics trade, human trafficking, and illegal immigrants are also major problems that need to be tackled during this crisis situation. Although data shows that during the Movement Control Order (MCO) crime rates have decreased it is reported that there are still active cases related to drug smuggling in the country. Nowadays, drug cartels use courier and delivery services as their modus operandi to sustain the activity. For example, during the MCO period the drug syndicates employ the service of delivery riders to send out their “packages”. While most people use delivery services to buy necessities, some parties are taking advantage of the MCO by using the riders to deliver drugs. According to Bukit Aman a total of 3,085 cases were recorded, including five big-scale drug trafficking cases between April 10 and April 13 and a total of 3,923 people were detained for drug-related offences nationwide between March 18 and April 16. From those detained, 208 of them were arrested for drug trafficking under Section 39B of the Dangerous Drug Act 1952. We also seized RM7.5mil worth of drugs during the same period.

Cyber Crime

Another issue that prevails during this Covid 19 outbreak is Cyber Crime or Cyber Threats. This crime is constantly evolving as some irresponsible people tend to take advantage of the online behaviour and trends as they tend to conduct more of their daily tasks online, including shopping. Cyber criminals are attacking the computer networks and systems of individuals, businesses and even global organizations at a time when cyber defences might be lowered due to the shift of focus to the health crisis. The already-strong presence of crime in the electronic space will likely be on the rise. Beyond typical efforts to hack bank accounts and online sites storing credit card information, as well as advance-fee scams, online loan sharking has a high chance of increasing as COVID-related unemployment and global economic downturn leave many in an accumulation of debts and in a state of poverty. Countries that provide economic relief to those unemployed as a result of coronavirus can expect a rise in scams, with online thieves pretending to represent social security agencies and seeking to obtain confidential information. While some are legitimate websites, cybercriminals are creating thousands of new sites every day to carry out spam campaigns, engage in phishing, and spread malware or to compromise Command and Control servers. Malaysia is not spared from it- since the MCO came into force, police have opened 393 investigation papers (IPs) with total losses incurred reaching RM3 million as of March 25. It involved online sales of face masks as well as fraudulent withdrawals of Employees Provident Fund (EPF) savings. The scammers tricked victims into surrendering their identification cards and bank account details on the pretext of assisting them to withdraw their EPF savings.

Defence Industry

Broadly speaking, the effects on the defence industry because of the spread of Covid-19 and related actions to curtail the contagion can be condensed into five major impact points which are production/manufacturing facilities and supply chains, business development efforts– some will lose, some may win, the demand for defence equipment and related services could drop, companies may have to make tough choices that could impact finances and competencies, and stock price declines and would spawn secondary effects. In another perspective, this pandemic also leaves an impact and challenge towards the defence industry and the supply chain process for military goods and needs. Countries around the world are now prioritising matters concerning the acts of combating Covid and halting other businesses including defence. For example in Western Europe, operations of many other defence firms in Europe, such as Navantia and Indra in Spain, may be affected by partial or complete shutdowns or regulated functioning, thus affecting production queues and deliveries. Even though there is no statement released by the defence industry players in Malaysia, it is predicted that there will be Supply Chain disruptions in which production and manufacturing facilities will be affected and demand for defence equipment and related services would be remarkably reduced. Maintaining all assembly lines and an active workforce in the face of reduced sales is a challenging condition for defence companies. The disruption of the Supply Chain can also cause a “Bullwhip Effect” in the Defence Supply Chain, thus it could cause lead-time issues such as manufacturing delays, cost changes and other price variations that disrupt regular buying patterns and also inaccurate forecasts from the over-reliance on the historical demands to predict future demands. All these will leave an impact on the military in terms of training and exercise when the supply could not meet the demand of the main users.

Military Readiness

Maintaining readiness during the pandemic has been a challenge for the military. It is well known that military training and exercises involves close contact of one and another action related to it. By imposing social distances, it does give a challenge to the military side because the nature of its work requires that a lot of people work together, often in tight spaces, under physical stress, and without a lot of personal distance. More over during this condition, military personnel have to assist other government agencies to fight the disease and this affects the manpower requirement because at the same time they have to ensure that the country in general, and our borders in particular, are well protected.

 

ACTION AND MEASURES TAKEN

In spite of all the challenges, the government and the respective ministry have taken proactive actions to curb and all the problems. As for border security, certainly the security of our land maritime and air has been tightened by the Malaysian Armed Forces (MAF) and more stringent control would be implemented with the cooperation from other security and enforcement agencies as stated by the Chief of Defence Force, General Tan Sri Affendi Buang. It includes a new strategic plan to tighten the country’s security, including in areas that are at risk of "lorong tikus" (illegal routes). Patrols along Malaysian waters would also be coordinated with Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency and the navy to prevent the smuggling of illegal immigrants.  Other than that, The Malaysian Armed Forces (MAF) and Royal Malaysian Police (RMP) have deployed micro and small-class unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) to support the enforcement of the government-mandated Movement Control Order (MCO). The UAS types - comprising vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) systems of various models - have been used in this effort.

In order to retrain the number of criminals cases especially the smuggling of drugs and illegal items, police have deployed a number of personnel from the Narcotics Investigation Criminal Department (NCID) at over 800 roadblocks nationwide to detect drug trafficking trends since the Movement Control Order began (MCO). The number of personnel at border checkpoints is also increased with a total of 2,197 General Operations Force (GOF) personnel stationed at various borders nationwide, which is 50% higher than before. As a result, the police have crippled several large-scale drug trafficking cases in separate operations conducted from April 10 to 13 involving two cases in Penang and one case each in Selangor, Perak and Kuala Lumpur. During a four-day operation, police arrested 15 individuals and seized 165kg and 61,566 pills of various drugs worth RM5.7 million. The drug dealers who use food delivery services (also some food delivery riders) were arrested- even if they did not take drugs, they were still arrested for taking the opportunity to ask for extra payment.

As for the military, an action that will continue to be taken is the reduction in big exercise and training. So far, the military around the world has cancelled or scaled down exercises such as in Korea, Japan, Morocco and even the United States of America. In our homeland, some advanced precautions have also been taken which is scaling back training and postponing few exercises to help limit the potential spread of the virus. Some ceremonial events are also deferred such as the graduation of officers from the National University of Defence Malaysia and also the recruitment activities. In the training line, most of the students have been asked to continue their work and do all the necessary requirements through online and video conferencing. The Armed Forces has secured its command arrangements, restricted duty travel and increased teleworking throughout the organisation. Work attendance rotation for those who served in headquarters is also implemented. Physical training may be carried out while keeping in mind the one-meter distance that should be observed.

While it is too early to accurately predict whether the industry will be flat, take a major or minor dip, or grow unaffected by the global pandemic, it is of utmost importance that defence companies identify what the major impact points are and assess their potential to affect business development plans and the supply chains.  While larger defence companies may have some contingency planning in place to wait out the worst-case scenario, local small and medium enterprises that run the liquidity risks and have high levels of debt on their balance sheets may not fare too well. These companies will need bail outs or some form of monetary support to continue. Therefore, they need to relook into their business model deployment. Irrespective of how the Covid-19 scenario may turn out, there are some common lessons for the defence industry. The uncertainty in today’s world must be accepted as a norm and the defence industry must explore into multiple facets of risk planning. Defence industry players should consider getting more prudent support from the government and issue a few suggestions such as the exemption of payment, issuing additional funds or readjusting the terms and clauses of the contract and many others. The Business in defence is fairly different from that of many other industries, characterized by long negotiation periods, protracted engagements, high stakes, government-to government (G2G) linkages, extensive testing and evaluation, and face-to-face meetings. The current scenario does not bode well for the business development in this industry

With an increasing number of countries encouraging citizens to stay, learn or work from home, now is the moment to focus on cyber-security, whether it is for individuals or organisations and the workplace. The ransomware can enter their systems through emails containing infected links or attachments, compromised employee credentials, or by exploiting vulnerability in the system. Some recommendations and prevention tips that could be implemented are to keep all information especially the sensitive information, safe , back up all your important files, and store them independently from the current system (e.g. in the cloud, in an external drive), make sure that you have the latest anti-virus software installed on your computers and mobile devices,  secure email gateways to thwart threats via spam, disable third-parties or out-dated components that could be used as entry points, do not click on links or open attachments in emails which you do not expect to receive, or which come from an unknown sender, always update passwords and ensure that they are strong passwords (a mix of uppercase, lowercase, numbers and special characters), regularly check and update the privacy settings on your social media accounts, and as always, if you believe you are the victim of a crime, alert your local police and be vigilant.

 

CONCLUSION

Apart from mobilising relevant agencies, it is suggested that the Malaysian government can also look into enhancing cross-border intelligence sharing and surveillance to identify and close the illegal routes (lorong tikus). Advanced technologies such as drones, state-of-the-art scanners and CCTVs can also be deployed at suspected entry points, also goods coming through ports and expressways must also be checked thoroughly. For those who are involved in criminal activities, the government should impose harsh punishment without hesitation such as revoking the company’s license (good delivery company) and the individual license. Irrespective of how the Covid-19 scenario may turn out, there are some common lessons for the defence industry. The uncertainty in today’s world must be accepted as a norm and the defence industry must probe into the multiple facets of risk planning. Strategy should not just be focusing on growth but must also include scenario-based resource planning and material substitution. The defence players have to set their priorities and revisit their business development plans. Despite the actions and precautions taken by the government, it is important to put an emphasis on self-awareness and self-discipline in every citizen. All actions set to be implemented can easily fail if each and every one of us takes for granted all the efforts exerted by the government. Netizens should be cooperative and supportive of the government’s action during this crisis and they should not breach any rule and law. As Malaysians, we should be proud that we have been recognised as among the countries in the world who have successfully handled the pandemic crisis with our effective and efficient front-liners, foresight stakeholders and a very caring and proactive government, thus as responsible citizens who love the country and our homeland, the responsibility to protect our national defence and security rests in our hands.

 

 

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