Saturday, February 5, 2011

Civil Resources in action: Malaysia launches Operasi Piramid (Ops Piramid, Operation Pyramid) to airlift Malaysian citizens from Egypt

Malaysia's largest strategic airlift operation, codenamed Operasi Piramid (Operation Pyramid), is the angel of mercy which is flying Malaysians to safety from troubled Egypt.

Ops Pyramid demonstrates the ability of Malaysian authorities to rapidly plan, mobilise and deploy civil-military resources for a national effort, at short notice, with no rehearsal and at long range.

That the operation is taking place five time zones, some 7,400 km from its main support area in Kuala Lumpur and demands that flight schedules tie in with Malaysian Armed Forces (Angkatan Tentera Malaysia; ATM) ground support elements in Egypt illustrates the complexity of Ops Pyramid.

The operation's mission planners have on call three TUDM C-130 Hercules medium-lift transports, a pair of Malaysia Airlines (MAS) B-747 jumbos and an AirAsia A330 airliner. These planes are tasked to form an airbridge from Egypt to a forward staging area in the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah, where the Malaysians will be flown to Kuala Lumpur.

In addition, the MISC vessel, Bunga Mas 5, now on Q ship duty in the Gulf of Aden as pirate bait, has been retasked for Ops Pyramid. The converted merchant ship, with TLDM special forces elements embarked, will stage out of the Egyptian port city of Alexandria.

The operation makes a compelling case for anyone who underestimates Malaysia's ability to harness its civil resources. Although it is premature to dub the operation a resounding success, early indicators point to a positive start.

In particular:
1. The Malaysian Defence Ministry (KEMENTAH) and Markas Angkatan Tentera Malaysia (Malaysian Armed Forces HQ) launched Ops Pyramid on 2 Feb'2011 with no funding. Money apparently came from Malaysia's National Security Council.

2. Wisma Putra (Malaysian Foreign Ministry) and TUDM air operations planners were successful in negotiating overflight clearance over eight countries for the C-130s. There were also issues over visas for the flight crew and other bureaucratic hurdles, which were subsequently sorted out.

3. Inclusion of Malaysian Army religious teachers from Kor AGama Angkatan Tentera (KAGAT) and ATM medical personnel to muster and roster Malaysia's citizens for the airlift is a nod to Malaysia's understanding of the principles behind sound civil-military relations (CMR). The air evacuation is a complex task involving a passenger manifest totalling some 10,000-plus Malaysians, drawn to air hubs in Alexandria and Cairo amid traffic chaos and civil disorder in ancient cities which, even in peacetime, are not exactly models for traffic planning. In addition, the Malaysians in Egypt will probably turn up in no particular order and in varying states of distress. The passengers will need to be triaged, with the most pressing cases receiving priority seats, and family/student groups may need to be airlifted as a group to preserve some form of organisational cohesiveness.

4. No less important is the contribution of mission planners in the Saudi city of Jeddah, which is the transit point before Malaysians are flown home. TUDM air operations planners are working round-the-clock to ensure the airbridge can be sustained with fuel, fresh water and flight crews who are adequately rested.

5 It is likely, and prudent considering the volatile situation in Cairo, that Ops Pyramid packs a drawer plan to ratchet up security should central authority collapse in Egypt and airports there descend into chaos.

6. As Ops Pyramid gains traction, the growing number of evacuees in Jeddah demands close coordination to track every single person before assigning them follow-on flights to the Federation. Some 160 ATM personnel from TUDM and the Malaysian Army are forward deployed in Jeddah for this task.

7. The media plan for Ops Pyramid has ensured that Malaysia's Rakyat back home receive timely updates on the mission. National media embedded with the Ops Pyramid team in Jeddah provide on-the-spot coverage that has dominated Malaysian TV coverage during the long Chinese New Year weekend - usually a dry spell for hard news. The professionalism and operational readiness demonstrated by ATM personnel in this unprecedented recall and deployment of Malaysia's civil resources is a great advertisement for KEMENTAH/ATM recruiters.

8. Lessons learnt from Ops Pyramid are likely to reinforce the Federation's ability to plan, mount and support an airbridge between East and West Malaysia using TUDM transports and civilian airliners. That such experience gives ATM planners the ability to surge its forces in either theatre goes without saying. It is worth remembering that long-range TUDM fighters like the SU-30MKMs have the reach and endurance to prevent foreign forces from interfering with Malaysia's airbridge over the South China Sea.

All the best to Ops Pyramid personnel. Ta'at Setia.


Anthony said...

Go Malaysia

mumuchi said...

Thanks for the good wishes! Hope we too can work together in the spirit of ASEAN as we are now doing in Egypt with the Indonesians, even though I pray there will be no need to.

ben sungib said...

A very comprehensive overview of the evacuation mission of Malaysians out of Egypt. I salute you for the very objective and unbiased reporting.

TheSounDOne said...

Hi Boey,

very insightful into the amount of planning & co-ordination involved. How did Singapore fare in comparison during the evacuation from Cambodia few year back?

David Boey said...

Hi mumuchi,
Well, I prefer the M'sia-S'pura ASEAN spirit to the Thai-Cambodian one...


Anonymous said...

Hi Mr. Boey,

Would be interesting if you could shed some light into the Thai-Cambodian conflict.