BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Defence spending for the upcoming fiscal year will focus on asset development and enhancement, in line with the strategic objectives set out in the Defence White Paper 2021, the second minister of defence said Wednesday. 

Speaking during a session of the Legislative Council, Pehin Dato Hj Halbi Hj Mohd Yussof said geopolitical shifts, economic fragility, climate change and extremism will continue to influence Brunei’s security environment.

“The need for improvement in asset and weapon capabilities, especially in maintaining the readiness and preparedness of the Royal Brunei Armed Forces (RBAF) cannot be taken lightly. Maintaining national security is a priority that cannot be compromised,” he said.

“The value of security cannot be measured by any form of currency. But rather, more expenses will arise without security and safety.” 

Pehin Halbi said one of the challenges faced by the military is obsolescence and the deterioration of equipment and infrastructure, some of which are already in critical condition. 

“This requires planning for repair or replacement to reduce the existing capability gap… MinDef (Ministry of Defence) and RBAF are currently formulating a more efficient and effective asset disposal and write-off policy.”

Female soldiers march during the National Day parade on Feb 13, 2023. Photo: Information Department

He added that MinDef and the RBAF will proceed with asset development and enhancement, so that the military is equipped to face global threats that are “dynamic, rapid and cross-border”. 

“Acquiring new and modern defence assets and weapons is crucial, and must be prioritised to reduce capability gaps,” he stressed. 

MinDef recently signed a contract to acquire three Airbus C295MW tactical transport aircraft to replace the current CN235, which the RBAF has operated since 1997. The new aircraft will be used for strategic airlift, humanitarian and disaster relief operations, as well as search and rescue missions. 

The acquisition represents a significant capability enhancement for the Royal Brunei Air Force. Its transport and logistics force currently consists of a single CN235 transport aircraft, 16 Sikorsky S-70i helicopters and six Airbus BO-105 surveillance helicopters.

File photo of the Airbus C295MW tactical transport aircraft. Photo: Airbus

The RBAirF also operates a number of Insitu Integrator drones for maritime surveillance and intelligence-gathering. The Defence White Paper listed tensions in the South China Sea as one of the main strategic threats Brunei must respond to over the next 15 years.

The Defence White Paper, along with Force 2035 and the Force Structure Review, are three key documents used to guide decision-making on the military’s medium to long-term capacity.

The defence ministry’s core strategies are to enhance deterrence and response capabilities, promote defence diplomacy, and create a holistic approach to defence.

During his readout at the Legislative Council, the minister did not disclose MinDef’s budget allocation for the 2023/24 fiscal year. No reason was given as to why.

The ministry’s budget allocation for the previous fiscal year was $597 million.