Kuantan (Malaysia) - Australia has expressed interest in the "Eyes in the Sky" concept and is ready to help the littoral states in carrying out air patrols of the MalaccaStrait. However, Canberra is waiting for an official request from the littoral states, said Royal Australia Navy Chief Vice-Admiral Russ Shalders on Sept 15.
He said the air patrols were useful in preventing terrorism and piracy in the world's busiest waterway. "We will be very happy to help in terms of providing the experience in air patrolling," he told reporters at the launch of the annual war games involving members of the Five Power Defence Agreement FPDA): Australia, New Zealand, Britain, Malaysia and Singapore.
Vice-Adm Shalders said the littoral states had yet to make a request. "We will wait and see."
New Zealand Air Component Commander R J Dick said though his country had limited capabilities, they were willing to share their experience in air surveillance.
"We only have two frigates but we will look at any request," he said.
Joint air patrols at the strait by Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand were launched by Deputy Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak on Sept 13 to enhance security against pirates and terrorists. Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia will contribute two aircraft each for the operations while Thailand will act as an observer during the initial stages.
The FPDA war games, which runs until Sept 28, is part of an upgrading of the pact, which was established in 1971 to protect Malaysia and Singapore, formerly British colonies, from invasion.
Twenty-six naval ships, one of the biggest fleets assembled in the 34-year-old joint exercise, have gathered in the South China Sea for drills designed to tackle terrorism rather than wage conventional war.
The heavy naval contingent reflects growing regional concerns on maritime security, military officials said. The exercise will also include 74 military aircraft, one submarine and 3,000 soldiers, and will cover Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore and the South China Sea.
"The main objective of the exercise is to conduct combined joint operations in a multi-threat scenario," Malaysian defence chief Admiral Mohamed Anwar Mohamed Nor said.
* Australia offers to help patrol Malacca Strait (Antara, Sept 16)
* Australia, New Zealand keen to patrol Malacca Strait (Bernama, Sept 15)