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Military 101: Royal Malaysian Air Force’s Reliable Transport Carriers

RMAF TUDM CN-235 Transport Military

The Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) even converted some of the CN-235 transport planes into maritime patrol roles which says a lot about the capabilities of a modern, well-designed transportation aircraft. Image source: Wikipedia.

When it comes to the air force’s mainstream inventory, one would often fancy their latest lineup of the latest jet fighters and perhaps their heavily armed & armoured attack helicopters but no one talks about the workhorse of the air force, the transport carriers.

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Caribou TUDM RMAF Transport De Havilland Canada DHC-4

There were plans by RMAF to turn a basic Caribou transport plane into a mean gunship that adds firepower from the air. Image source: DHC4and5

De Havilland Canada DHC-4 Caribou

The RMAF received 18 Caribou transport planes from 1966 to 1973 and was also heavily used by the US forces in the Vietnam War due to its good ruggedness in the bush and the ability to land in short runaways. The Americans had about 159 units of Caribous in operations in Vietnam.

The Caribou has a maximum speed of 346 kilometres per hour and a maximum operating range of 2,104 kilometres. It is capable of carrying a maximum of 32 paratroops or a payload of 4,000 kilograms. It has a service ceiling of 24,800 feet.

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RMAF used Caribou mainly for its mission against communist insurgency namely for troops transportation, airborne and medical evacuation and finally performed cloud seeding when the haze situation was bad. I have been inside one of these planes and you can see bloodstains all over the cargo bay.

An interesting fact is of RMAF Caribou crashing into the sea in 1979 and had to be retrieved by USS Tarawa, United States Navy amphibious assault ship.

RMAF finally retired the Caribou in 2000 after almost 40 years in service and opted for a joint Spanish – Indonesia designed CASA/IPTN CN-235 medium-range transport plane.

CASA/IPTN CN-235 TUDM RMAF Military Transport

Actually, a small transport – maritime patrol aircraft that can linger for hours can be a great asset for national security. Image source: NST


RMAF bought 8 units of CASA CN-235 transport planes from Indonesia in 1998 as part of an inter-government agreement and to support the Indonesian aircraft industry. CN-235 is able to do multiple roles from the usual transportation to maritime patrol.

RMAF is operating CN-235-200/220 which is the improved version of CN-235-100 with improved structural reinforcements, aerodynamic improvements and increased range & payload. Malaysia was supposed to purchase more CN-235 to compliment the bigger C-130 but the plans were cancelled as the Indonesian IPTN started to have financial problems and Malaysia opt for more C-130 in the inventory.

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RMAF has to todate converted 3 of the CN-235 in the inventory to handle maritime patrol under its Maritime Security Initiative program. Personally, I do feel that in addition adding more assets to conduct maritime patrols is a good move but there should be an increase in the naval assets on the ground to intercept and enforce security.

The CN-235 has a maximum speed of 248 kilometres per hour and a maximum operating range of 4,355 kilometres. It is capable of carrying a maximum of 35 paratroops or a payload of 6,000 kilograms. It has a service ceiling of 25,000 feet.

Lockheed C-130 Hercules TUDM RMAF Military Transport

C-130 or better known as Charlie is a design from the 1950s but it was well designed from the very start with the plane being very forgiving and capable of taking multiple roles and missions. Image source: TheStar

Lockheed C-130 Hercules

One of the best transport planes out there, the US-made Lockheed C-130 Hercules is a 4 engine transport plane that first made the operational flight in the 1950s and has continued to be in production with major improvements.

There is no lack of roles that the C-130 cannot handle which included being a bad-ass gunship. It is said that there are about 40 variants of the C-130 with the latest variant being the C-130J Super Hercules and is in service in 60 countries.

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RMAF bought about 15 C-130H which entered service in 1976 and C-130H-30 from 1995 and since 2003, a number of C-130H planes have been converted to KC-130T for air to air refuelling missions for the Russian made MiG29 and US-made F/A 18 fighter jets.

RMAF’s C-130H is also the main asset for the army’s Rapid Deployment Force which primarily consist of the 10th Parachute Brigade which is the elite brigade-sized airborne unit within the Malaysian Army.

They were also deployed for UN missions involving the Malaysian military in Somalia, Cambodia, Namibia dan Lebanon. It is expected that RMAF will continue to use C-130 in its missions even though the strategic transport missions are now undertaken by A400M.

The C-130H has a maximum speed of 590 kilometres per hour and a maximum operating range of 3,800 kilometres. It is capable of carrying a maximum of 64 paratroops or a payload of 19,000 kilograms. It has a service ceiling of 23,000 feet.

Malaysian surrounding countries namely Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore also deploy C-130 for their main transport missions.

TUDM RMAF Airbus A400M Transport

One that is out of the ordinary on a beautiful sky – a Royal Malaysian Air Force’s A400M that is designed for NATO and the European military. Image source: Defence News

Airbus A400M Atlas

The A400M’s most famous introduction would have been Tom Cruise holding for his dear life on an A400M in the 2015 movie, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. A400M was originally designed to replace the European key transport planes French-Germany made Transall C-160 with better capabilities and bush landing runaways.

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RMAF became the first non-NATO operator to use the European made, 4-engine Airbus A400M for its strategic heavy lifting transportation and mid-air refuelling missions with the first plane entering active service in 2015.

RMAF now has four A400M in total in its inventory. In addition to the military roles, RMAF have also frequently deployed its A400M for humanitarian missions:-

Speaking to media at the Avalon Airshow in Australia, where a Royal Malaysian Air Force A400M is on static display, A400M pilot Maj. Hasan, who has flown several types of aircraft over his 20-year RMAF career, called the A400M “the best aircraft that I have flown.”

He detailed the use of the A400M in humanitarian assistance and disaster operations, with the service having deployed the plane on such missions to Bangladesh, Laos and the Philippines since it was first delivered to Malaysia in 2015.

These missions also included a deployment to Palu on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi following a deadly earthquake and tsunami that devastated towns and villages in the western part of the island in late September 2018.

During that mission, the A400M demonstrated its ability to bring in outsized loads that smaller airlifters were unable to carry, and still operate from runways on which larger, heavier aircraft were unable to operate.

These included carrying a 22-ton excavator on one occasion and 21 tons of relief supplies on another.


The A400M has a maximum speed of almost 900 kilometres per hour and a maximum operating range of 6,400 kilometres. It is capable of carrying a maximum of 116 troops or a payload of 37,000 kilograms. It has a service ceiling of 40,000 feet.

Final Say

A strategic airlift, transportation and mid-air refuelling mission are critical components of air force capability. It is good that the RMAF deploying mixed assets of small and large transport planes for these missions.

Indonesian Air Force which has a larger area for patrol and runs its missions has a bigger inventory of transport planes namely the home manufactured CN-235, CN-295 and C-130. Singapore also relies on C-130 for its main transportation missions although they have more mid-air tankers to keep its fighter jets in the air for a very long time.

Malaysia made the right move by purchasing the newer, bigger, more capable A400M to progressively replace the more famous but ageing C-130 aircraft. However, this should not be the end considering that these transport planes have been tasked with missions other than simply moving cargoes or troops.

RMAF should look at AWACs capability using these same assets or look for dedicated AWACs like Northrop Grumman E-2D Hawkeye or Saab’s Erieye System considering the threat of intrusion from the Chinese military in the South China Sea needs more than a ground-based early warning detection system.

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