Military expenditures: 2.03 percent of GDP (2005 est.), country comparison to the world: 65. From fiscal year (FY) 2002 to FY2004, Malaysia’s defense budget increased from US$2.2 billion to US$2.2 billion but decreased from 2.3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2002 to 1.9 percent of GDP in 2004. In the same period, foreign military assistance increased 50 percent from US$800,000 to US$1.2 million.

Malaysia has three military services—the army, navy, and air force. Foreign observers estimate that in 2005 active-duty armed forces personnel totaled 110,000: 80,000 in the Malaysian Army (Tentera Darat Malaysia), 15,000 in the Royal Malaysian Navy (Tentera Laut Diraja Malaysia), and 15,000 in the Royal Malaysian Air Force (Tentera Udara 23 Diraja Malaysia,). There were also 51,600 reserves—50,000 in the army, 1,000 in the navy, and 600 in the air force. Historically, security threats have been largely internal. Thus, the country’s military is primarily organized to address internal security matters and is strongly oriented toward infantry. The government also has attempted to address internal security through emphasizing ethnic harmony and economic growth. [Source: Library of Congress, 2006]

Malaysia’s geography poses inherent security problems and benefits. The physical separation of Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia by the South China Sea, numerous shared borders, and an extensive coast create obstacles for securing the country. However, the peninsula’s position on one of the world’s busiest sea lanes, the Strait of Malacca, also means that numerous countries are economically interdependent with Malaysia and thus invested in its national security and stability.

External Threat: Malaysia has no immediate external security threats. The country does have territorial disputes with other countries, but none has resulted in a militarized dispute since the 1960s or is expected to do so in the near future. Foreign Military Relations: In terms of multilateral military relations, Malaysia has a common defense agreement with other nations in the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and is a member of the Five Power Defence Agreement with Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, and the United Kingdom. In regard to bilateral military relations, Malaysia allows the United States to use naval and air repair and maintenance facilities in Malaysia.

Military Branches and Units in Malaysia

Malaysia's Armed Forces are responsible for the protection of the country against internal and external threats. They serve in a wide variety of situations such as assisting civil authorities in addressing domestics threats, maintaining public security, providing aid following the onset of natural disasters, and assisting in national development programmes. [Source: Malaysian Government]

The Malaysian Armed Forces (Angkatan Tentera Malaysia, ATM) is comprised of three branches of service: 1) The Malaysian Army (RMA, Tentera Darat Malaysia)) is responsible for the safeguarding of the nation against land-based threats. 2) The Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN, Tentera Laut Diraja Malaysia, TLDM), protects Malaysia's coastlines, territorial waters, and economic zones from potential trespass or illegal activity. 3) The Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF, Tentera Udara Diraja Malaysia, TUDM) maintains and operates a capability that is ready and able to project aerospace power to secure Malaysia's airspace and protect her national interests. 3) The Malaysian Armed Forces' Official website provides a substantial amount of information relating to these branches of service, as well details relating to military colleges and careers in the armed forces.

The army consists of two military regions, one headquarters field command, and four area commands. In addition, the army has one mechanized infantry brigade, 11 infantry brigades, and one airborne brigade. The army’s combat units include five armored regiments, 28 infantry battalions, three mechanized infantry battalions, three airborne battalions, five engineering regiments, one helicopter squadron, and one special forces regiment. The army’s reserves are officially called the Territorial Army, consisting of 16 infantry regiments and five highway security battalions. The navy is organized into two commands: Naval Area 1 for the peninsula and Naval Area 2 for Sabah and Sarawak. The navy also has an aviation wing and a naval commando unit. The air force is organized into one air operations headquarters, two air divisions, one training and logistics command, and the Integrated Air Defence Systems Headquarters. The air force has three ground attack squadrons, two fighter squadrons, one reconnaissance squadron, one maritime reconnaissance squadron, and four transport squadrons. [Source: Library of Congress, 2006]

Paramilitary Forces: Malaysia has numerous paramilitary organizations, but estimates of their total personnel vary. Malaysian paramilitary forces include the General Operational Force with approximately 10,000 personnel, the marine police with 2,100 personnel, the police air unit whose personnel numbers are publicly unavailable, and area security units—an auxiliary force of the General Operations Force—with 35,000 personnel. In addition, there are 1,200 border scouts (in Sabah and Sarawak) and the People’s Volunteer Corps, which has approximately 300,000 members and is involved in domestic security and community development projects.

Foreign Military Forces: Australia has 148 military personnel in Butterworth, Malaysia, as part of an ongoing commitment to the Five-Power Defence Agreement. Military Forces Abroad: As of 2006, Malaysian troops were serving in United Nations (UN) peacekeeping operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, East Timor, Eritrea and Ethiopia, Liberia, Serbia and Montenegro, Sierra Leone, and Western Sahara. Malaysian troops previously have served on other UN peacekeeping missions.

Military Service in Malaysia

Military service age and obligation: 17 years 6 months of age for voluntary military service (younger with parental consent and proof of age); mandatory retirement age 60; women serve in the Malaysian Armed Forces; no conscription (2013)

Women can serve in the military but only in noncombat positions. Malaysia’s only form of conscription is the National Service Program, which requires three months of military service for approximately 80,000 18-year-old men and women randomly selected from the population. The program was established in February 2004 to improve the military and to promote national integration and patriotism. However, the program has been revamped to address problems such as its poor organization and ethnic divisions among recruits.

In June 2003, Malaysia announced that it would start calling up 18-year-olds of both sexes in 2004 for compulsory national service aimed at instilling patriotism and building national unity. Using an annual lottery, the government selected 85,000 recent high school grads for a three-month camp with military-style physical training and community service. Each group has 60 percent ethnic Malays, 28 percent Chinese, 10 percent Indians and 2 percent others — a mirror of Malaysia's makeup — to promote patriotism and racial harmony. [Source: Time magazine]

Manpower available for military service: males age 16-49: 7,501,518, females age 16-49: 7,315,999 (2010 est.). Manpower fit for military service: males age 16-49: 6,247,306, females age 16-49: 6,175,274 (2010 est.). Manpower reaching militarily significant age annually: male: 265,008, female: 254,812 (2010 est.) [Source: CIA World Factbook]

In October 2007, Reuters reported: “ Malaysia's army, facing complaints of bullying by officers, says the men turning up at recruitment centers these days are too soft for the force, a newspaper reported on Wednesday. "Gone are the days when they used to be tough when they signed up to serve the country," Lieutenant-General Muhammad Effendi Mustaffa said at celebrations to mark the end of the Ramadan fasting month in the eastern state of Sarawak. Today's recruits are better educated, but lack the physical and mental fitness for basic training, and see the army as their last resort for a job, the New Straits Times quoted Effendi, the commander of the army's first infantry division, as saying. "Those who whine and cry to their families during the first phase of training should not sign up," he added. "There should not be complaints from them or their parents." [Source: Reuters, October 16, 2007]

In September 2007, two recruits complained of serious abuse by their seniors and officers, with one saying he had been forced to drink weapon-cleaning fluid and another saying his arm was scarred after an officer cut it with a knife, the paper said. The claims were being investigated, but new recruits were bound to face ragging in military camps, Effendi said, adding: "They have to be tough because they are the country's defenders. We do not want those who hide in the event of a war." [Ibid]

Racial Harmony in Malaysia's New Model Army?

In October 2004, The Economist reported: “In a prefabricated building at the edge of the jungle, some 100 young Malaysians are discussing their failings. They talk about the need to show greater respect for the common good, to take more interest in the future of the nation and to build ties between Malaysia's three biggest races: Malays, Chinese and Indians. In fact, they are already doing so, by participating in the country's new National Service programme—a sort of state-run, civic-minded summer camp designed to force Malaysian teenagers of all races to mix. But when the formal discussion ends, and the participants drift off to lunch, the integration also stops. Malays, Chinese and Indians all split up into separate groups, to follow their respective dietary restrictions, speak their different languages and mingle with their own kind. [Source: The Economist , October 21, 2004 /*]

“This sort of voluntary segregation is precisely what the National Service programme is designed to combat. On the whole, Malaysia's races rub along quite well. There has been little outright violence since a traumatic burst of rioting in 1969. Chinese and Indians, for the most part, grudgingly accept the government's various preferment schemes for the Malay majority as the price they must pay for stability and security. But for all this outward harmony, Malaysians tend to live, work and socialise among members of their own community. Almost all political parties are in practice organised along racial lines. Intermarriage is rare. /*\

“Children of different backgrounds do not even mix in school, thanks to the Chinese and Indian communities' insistence that children should study in their native language. About 90 percent of Chinese children attend state-financed Mandarin-medium schools, while some 70 percent of young Indians are taught in Tamil. That leaves very few non-Malays studying in the mainstream public schools, where Malay is the main language of instruction. (In all schools, maths and science are taught in English.) So from an early age, Malaysians become accustomed to racial segregation. If anything, this trend has strengthened recently, to the government's alarm. Before his retirement last year, Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia's long-serving prime minister, decreed that the country should attempt to forge a united “Malaysian nation” by 2020. Hence the National Service, which parliament mandated “to achieve unity and national integration”, among other goals./*\

In 2004, “the government has drafted 85,000 17-year-olds to take part in the three-month programme. Those who fail to turn up face fines, and must still attend the next session. The participants are assigned to spartan camps in rural areas according to a complex formula designed to maximise diversity. People from different regions and races are thrown together within each of the six-man canvas tents that serve as accommodation. /*\

“The training itself consists in part of half-baked military drills and learning dubious skills such as climbing ropes and finding edible roots in the jungle. But the trainees also clean bus shelters or plant trees, and visit hospitals, police stations and orphanages in an attempt to promote volunteer work. Most important of all, they hold formal discussions about Malaysia's history, constitution and government. That, some of the participants confide, provided their first opportunity to hear how members of other races view the country's racial divisions—normally a taboo subject. /*\

“The programme has had plenty of teething problems. Many of the notices informing people that they had been selected went to the wrong addresses. So many failed to show up that the government laid on extra sessions for the truants. It has also struggled to recruit Chinese and Indian staff. There were many reports of gangs (organised by race) and crime, prompting the authorities to reduce the size of each camp and improve oversight. /*\

“But the biggest drawback is the programme's limited scope. The 85,000 participants constitute barely one-sixth of Malaysia's 17-year-olds. Najib Tun Razak, who oversees the National Service as minister of defence, says the government cannot afford to increase the intake next year. A cheaper and more profound form of integration would come from unifying the school system, but that, he thinks, is politically impossible. The main thing Malaysians of different races have in common, it seems, is hostility to the government's attempts at integration. /*\

Weapons and Military Equipment of the Malaysian Military

In 2005 the army was believed to have 26 light tanks, 186 reconnaissance vehicles, 111 armored personnel carriers, 130 105-millimeter towed artillery, 34 155-millimeter towed artillery, 232 81-millimeter mortars, 18 multiple rocket launchers, 60 antitank guided weapons, 584 rocket launchers, 260 recoilless launchers, 60 air defense guns, 48 surface-to-air missiles, 9 helicopters, and 165 assault craft. The navy has 4 frigates, 41 patrol and 24 coastal combat vessels, 4 mine warfare vessels, 1 amphibious vessel, 4 support vessels, and 6 armed helicopters. The air force inventory includes 73 combat aircraft, 59 fighter and ground attack aircraft, 19 reconnaissance aircraft, 35 transport aircraft, 40 transport and search-and-rescue helicopters, 3 reconnaissance unmanned aerial vehicles, 20 training aircraft, and 13 training helicopters. The air force also has air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles, although the number is publicly unavailable. Since the mid-1990s, the countries that have provided the most military hardware to Malaysia have been France, New Zealand, Poland, Russia, and the United Kingdom.

Malaysia possesses British-built Lekiu-class frigates, the most technologically advanced warships in Southeast Asia. Malaysia has ordered three submarines made by France and Spain, in part to keep up with Singapore which also has submarines.

Malaysia has 18 MIG-29s, Russian planes which resemble American-made F-16 and have two powerful engines that allow them to take off almost vertically like a rocket. Pilots have sight-and-shoot helmets which allow them to fire laser-guided missiles under the wings by simply staring at the enemy target for two seconds.

Malaysia has purchased Russian fighters with air-to-air missiles, British Starburst surface-to-air missiles, U.S. F-18 fighters. In 2003, Malaysia made a deal with Russia to purchase 18 advanced Sukhoi-30MKM fighters for $900 million. The first planes are expected to be delivered in mid-2006.

In January 2009, Bernama reported: Malaysia has taken delivery of its first submarine - a Scorpene built by French military shipyard DCNS in partnership with Spanish shipyard Navantia. The Scorpene, a conventional submarine built in Cherbourg, France, can monitor the country's waters to a depth of between 100 and 200 metres, the statement said. It also said that the submarine was equipped with six torpedo tubes, which can fire simultaneously, anti-ship surface missiles and anti-submarine torpedoes. The vessel has the capacity to carry 10 torpedoes and 30 mines, it added. Malaysia has ordered another similar submarine. [Source: Bernama, January 29, 2009]

In March 2013, Siva Sithraputhran of Reuters wrote: “Malaysia has shortlisted five manufacturers as it seeks to buy 18 combat aircraft by 2015 to replace its ageing fleet of Russian-made MIG-29s, the defense minister said on Thursday. The choice was between the Britain-backed Eurofighter Typhoon, Sweden’s SAAB JAS-39 Gripen, France’s Dassault Aviation Rafale, Boeing’s F/A 18E/F SuperHornet and Russia’s Sukhoi Su-30, Zahid Hamidi told Reuters. Industry sources said the purchase could run into billions of dollars. [Source: Siva Sithraputhran, Reuters, March 29, 2013] Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated June 2015

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