Sigh – There Goes Butterworth AFB

Thanks to John Magro for alerting us to this post.

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The Butterworth AFB will be transformed into a leisure-oriented development under a proposed joint venture (JV). Leading the project would be TSR Capital Bhd, Lembaga Tabung Angkatan Tentera and Pembinaan Bukit Timah Sdn Bhd to transform the 1,007-acre site via a land swap deal.

It said the JV company will be the master developer of the leisure-oriented project.

“The proposal which is presently being negotiated between the parties was mooted by the JV company to the Government along the lines of the Public Private Partnership concept,” it said.

TSR will hold 51% equity share in the JV, followed by Lembaga Tabung Angkatan Tentera at 30% and Pembinaan Bukit Timah at 19%.

The 407 hectares land occupied by the base in Teluk Air Tawar – which is about 8km from Butterworth directly opposite Penang Island – would be transformed into “a city of arts and leisure,” it said in a filing to Bursa Malaysia.

The air base will be relocated and reconstructed at a site soon to be identified.

“The Government shall pay the JVC for the new air force base through a land swap at the current market value of the Government land, which included but was not limited to the 407ha land where the existing Butterworth AFB is situated,” the statement said.

The statement added that the land swap meant that the Government need not fund the cost of relocating and reconstructing the air force base, and also secured it the opportunity to participate in the redevelopment of the land via LTAT’s 30% interest in the JVC.

The proposal, which is currently being negotiated between the parties, was mooted by the JVC to the Government along the lines of the public-private partnership concept, it said.

TSR Capital’s statement added that details of the agreement would be released after definitive and conclusive terms had been agreed upon, and a formal agreement entered into by the parties concerned.

Butterworth AFB has been the main military installation in this country ever since the earlier years of World War 2. Initially known as the RAF Butterworth, it was a part of the British defence plan for defending the Malayan Peninsula against an imminent threat of invasion by the Imperial Japanese forces during World War II.

During the Battle of Malaya, the airfield suffered some damage as a direct result of aerial bombing from Mitsubishi G3M and Mitsubishi G4M bombers of the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service based in Saigon, South Vietnam. Brewster Buffalos from the airbase rose to challenge the escorting Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighters but were mauled during several of these engagements by the highly trained and experienced Japanese fighter pilots.

The RAF airfield was subsequently captured by units of the advancing 25th Army (Imperial Japanese Army) on 20 December 1941 and the control of the airbase was to remain in the hands of IJA until the end of hostilities in September 1945. Whereupon the RAF resumed control of the station and Japanese prisoners of war were made to repair the airfield as well as to improve the runways before resuming air operations in May 1946.

In 1957, the RAF closed the station and it was transferred to the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and it was promptly renamed as RAAF Butterworth, becoming the home to numerous Australian fighter and bomber squadrons stationed in Malaya during the Cold War era.

The Australian fighters and bombers played a significant role in providing air support during Operation Firedog during the Emergency and later was part of Commonwealth air defence contribution against the might of the then Angkatan Udara Republik Indonesia (AURI now TNI-AU) during the Konfrontasi.

From 1970′s onwards, the airbase plays an important part to support Malaysia’s fight against the communist threats. Being the northernmost and nearest base to communists hotspots especially those near the Thai-Malaysian border, a dark episode looms over the airbase when a Sikorsky S-61A-4 Nuri helicopter operated by No 3 Skn was shot down by the communist terrorists over Gubir with the loss of all hands on-board.

The RMAF Butterworth, as the airbase is known back then, is also the birthplace of Malaysia’s jet fighter units namely No 11 Skn with CAC CA-27 Sabres in 1967. During Ops Gubir, F-5 fighters from the airbase were launched to pound communist hideouts in Gubir, Kedah.

This feat was later repeated again decades later, when two Hawk and five Hornet jets from No 15 SKn and No 18 Skn were deployed to Labuan AFB from the airbase and took part during the opening hour of Ops Daulat in March 2013.

Having had relinquished its control over the airbase in June 30, 1988 to the RMAF, the RAAF still maintained an infantry company (known as Butterworth Rifle Company) as well as a detachment of AP-3C Orion from No 92 Wing. The Five Power Defence Arrangement (FPDA) also has an Integrated Air Defence System HQ (IADS HQ) located at the airbase.

It is unknown whether this factors have been considered in the proposed development plan as Butterworth AFB has a long and rich history and heritage that is significant to this country. For the record, the Butterworth AFB is the second RMAF airbase which will be closed down after decision being made to close and redeveloped the historically important and significant Sg Besi AFB in Kuala Lumpur.


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