Reviewing the Armed Forces: Toward Enhanced Agility and Joint Operational Capability

Lt Kol Ahmad Ghazali Abu-Hassan (Retired)


The Current Armed Forces Structure – The Legacy of the Past

The current Malaysian Armed Forces (MAF) structure is inherited from the British. It was developed to perform mainly counter insurgency warfare (CIW) operations against Communist insurgents, and this has consequently influenced the military’s strategy, development and training.

The effort to develop the MAF into a institution capable of carrying out conventional military operations only started with the MAF Special Development (PERISTA) Plan, following the fall of Vietnam in 1975. The intensity and momentum of this effort were short lived, however, ending when the perceived threat from Vietnam was no longer there.

Post-1991, the MAF structure was influenced by the dictates of the then global, regional and domestic security situation during which its development was focused upon 1) continuing to maintain its CIW capability, 2) developing its conventional warfare capability, and 3) supporting Malaysia’s foreign policy and preparing itself to carry out UN-sanctioned peacekeeping operations.

This led to a lack in direction in how the MAF was to develop, causing a slit in its procurement priorities. For example, weapons and equipment acquired for specific peacekeeping operations may not in the long run be compatible with its conventional force development needs.

As a result the MAF was burdened with a motley of unsuitable equipment and weapons that lacked operational compatibility and that created logistical and maintenance problems.

Compounding this problem was the fact that the MAF also had to contend with privatization programme that resulted in it losing its ability to perform higher level maintenance work, suffering unnecessary and expensive delays in its logistical systems as these functions got outsourced to the private sector.


The New Armed Forces Structure – The Need for a Lean and Flexible Force

In the future, the MAF should continue to have the ability to perform the three currently identified roles. To be effective and efficient, it must be a capability-oriented and flexible force able to act as the nucleus for further expansion and development as dictated by the nation’s changing defence and security interests.

Toward this end, the following issues must be addressed.

Organization. This is to be based on the present and future assessment of our defence and security needs. The strength and structure of the three services should be reviewed to reflect this. For example, the situation may call for necessary changes in the size and development of one service due to priority having to be given to the others. To ensure efficient and effective joint service capability, it is mandatory that all development plans be carried out jointly by the three services. That way, the services are able to complement and support each other. Regardless of its shape or size, the MAF must be lean and trim and should not be a bloated rank structure and and multi-layered chain of command.

Training. Training at all levels must be systematic. Single service training should aim to ensure that officers and personnel are competent in their own respective specializations and trades. Having tri-service training would address the need to enable officers and personnel to operate in joint service environment seamlessly. As with organizational development in general, the planning of tri-service training must be jointly developed by the three services. The ultimate training objective for the MAF should be to have a force that is flexible in its capabilities and able to perform the various roles that is expected of it.

Equipment. Acquisition of weapons and equipment must be based on operational needs and situational priority supporting the organisational have development plan. The current privatization programem must be reviewed and elements that caused unnecessary and wasteful expenses and delays and that adversely affect operational readiness and efficiency, must be eliminated.

Joint command structure. A dedicated permanent specialized joint command structure with dedicated standing units must be established. The headquarters and the units involved must be conveniently co-located to enable efficient command and control, joint training and swift deployment.

Human resource. The main criterion for human resource selection should be quality. Human resource planning must strike a good balance between youth and experienced personnel. Career paths and attrition rate projections must also be aligned toward this. This should include good leadership development and succession plans.

Flexibility. There should not be a fixed strength as regards MAF organization. It must however be able to fulfill the nation’s current and projected defence and security needs while acting as a credible nucleus for further expansion when required. It must also be geared to perform its secondary tasks as and when needed.



The first step to be taken for MAF force development is to chart the route that it should take transform itself from its current state to a well organized, balanced, well trained and well equipped force able to operate jointly in support of national defence and security policy. Financial constraints may be the main stumbling block and the factor that could derail the programme. Any realistic planning must take the government’s financial ability into consideration. Due to this, the development time frame may be longer than desired. The programme therefore should be systematically and incrementally implemented, and focused to achieve the stated objectives.

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