Royal Malaysian Navy Stands Up Unmanned Aircraft Squadron

A ScanEagle UAS being displayed on its pneumatic launcher at the inauguration ceremony of Malaysia’s 601 Squadron on 4 March 2021. Royal Malaysian Navy

The Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) established the 601st Unmanned Aerial System Squadron on March 4, 2021, operating the Boeing Insitu ScanEagle UAS from its base at Kota Kinabalu in Sabah. It is the RMN’s first unit dedicated to unmanned aerial systems.

According to First Admiral Ahmad Shafirudin, commander of the Naval Air of the RMN, the squadron will acquire capability and knowledge for UAS operations and support for the RMN and Malaysia’s joint forces.

The RMN has already received six aircraft from Insitu Boeing as part of an order for a total of 12 systems, announced by the U.S. Department of Defense on May 31, 2019 under of the Foreign Military Sales program, and part of the U.S. government’s Maritime Security Initiative. The remaining six ScanEagles are to be delivered by 2022. The value of the contract is $19.3 million. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Maryland, is the contracting activity. That contract also announced systems for Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam. 

At that time, the U.S. Embassy in Kuala Lumpur issued a statement saying, “These UAVs will enhance the Royal Malaysian Navy’s ability to defend the country’s territorial integrity.”

The contract also included two pneumatic launchers, two SkyHook UAS retrieval systems, two ground control units, as well as spare payloads, spare and repair parts, support equipment, tools, training and maintenance technical services, and field service representatives. 

ScanEagle is a small, long-endurance, low-altitude system that can carry electro-optical imagers, long-wave infrared sensors and X-band radar payloads. The RMN intends to initially operate the systems from land with a mobile detachment concept, but eventually they could be hosted aboard ships. 

The 601 squadron will be located at RMN Naval Base at Kota Kinabalu in Sabah on the northern part of the island of Borneo, in East Malaysia. There are several reasons the squadron will be located in East Malaysia.  Unmanned air operations in Western Malaysia are complicated by the more complex and crowded airspace. More importantly, RMN officials acknowledge a more pressing need for maritime ISR across Malaysia’s eastern maritime border, where there is a current threat of non-state-sponsored militant activities.

Malaysia’s chief of navy, Adm. Tan Sri Mohd Reza bin Mohd Sany, participated in the event. U.S. Defense Attaché Capt. Muzzafar Khan, who attended the official handover ceremony, said, “For over 60 years the U.S. and Malaysia have shared a productive and mutually beneficial security cooperation partnership, and I am glad to see that continuing today.”