Up in Arms

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As a small country with a population of only 400,000 people, Brunei's air force faces limited technological and human resources. By upgrading its technological capabilities, the government believes it can help the military overcome these limitations and accomplish more advanced missions. The government wants to place the Royal Brunei Air Force (RBAF) in a position to exploit the advantages of technology to meet the country's security needs.

Deputy Minister of Defence Colonel Mohammad Yasmin said that the air force requires technology as a force multiplier. Not only must it prepare for conventional security threats, but is also expected to reinforce Brunei's borders, protect the nation's maritime interests and enhance counter-terrorism capacities.

As such, the government has begun developing a domestic defence industry. Yasmin said, "We are now in the early stages of reforming our financial management processes, upgrading our force and investing in enhancing our human resource capabilities."

Brunei hosted the first Brunei Darussalam International Defence Exhibition (BRIDEX) over the first weekend in June, with 108 companies from around the world displaying advanced security and defence equipment.

The exhibition highlighted business and trade opportunities as well as encouraged the private sector to venture into developing a local defence industry. About a third of Brunei's allocated defence budget is spent annually on maintenance and acquisition of defence equipment. Currently, most of this is supplied by foreign manufacturers, many of whom participated in the event.

"At the moment we don't have a defence industry, but this exhibition can spur on and set up a defence industry in Brunei. We must try and improve on our own capabilities so that we are not dependent on other sources. If we can do it on our own we must do it. Things like manufacturing bullets and halal rations, this should be done ourselves," said retired Major General Mohammad bin Haji Daud, minister of culture, youth and sports.

The private sector, particularly companies involved in information communication technology, have been encouraged to take an active role in the development of the defence industry. The deputy defence minister said he would like to see more partnerships between the private sector and Brunei's defence-related industries. That includes local and international technology industry players. This would also create new business opportunities, enterprises and employment as well as transferring invaluable skills and expertise.

General manager of Brunei International Air Cargo Centre, Ariffin Emran, told OBG, "I feel the private sector will definitely be in a position to capitalise on the government's move towards establishing a defence industry - for example those companies specialising in technical expertise. If foreign companies come in, there is also the potential for partnerships which will help local companies grow."

In an effort to upgrade and modernise the air force's weaponry, the ministry of defence signed a contract at the exhibition with Singapore Technologies Kinetic (STK) for the Ultimax-100 Light Machine Gun. The new weapns are lighter and more accurate than the automatic rifles currently being used.

The president of STK, Sew Chee Juen, said at BRIDEX, "We definitely hope to do more business here in Brunei, in support of the defence force. With the white paper launched, we will study and see the possibilities in what we can offer."

The defence ministry is also in discussions with globally recognised US-based defence company Raytheon to provide tailored solutions to meet the goals of the sultanate's Defence White Paper, first launched in 2004. Raytheon provides national security solutions to countries in Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

The Defence White Paper 2007 outlines the strategies in place to promote more regional outreach and strengthen interaction between nations. It also addresses the need to develop a response mechanism to deal with major security crises at home and overseas. This will be achieved through enhancing the capabilities of the RBAF.

Through establishing a defence industry in Brunei, the government is hoping to facilitate and strengthen ties with nations like Singapore who are able to provide the necessary technology and expertise required by the sultanate.

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