The use of air power was an important part of the Commonwealth strategy in Malaya. The rough terrain of the Malayan peninsula made land operations difficult, and in the first years of the conflict the Commonwealth forces were not yet ready to undertake extensive land operations. Moreover, as the Communist forces did not have any aircraft of their own, Commonwealth aircraft were able to dominate the environment and to explore the boundaries of air power itself. The RAAF contributed transport, bomber, and fighter squadrons to the Commonwealth effort in Malaya.
The arrival of RAAF transport and bomber squadrons in 1950 represented Australia's first involvement in the Malayan Emergency. In June 1950 eight Dakota transport aircraft of No. 38 Transport Squadron RAAF landed in Malaya. The squadron was stationed east of Singapore at Changi airfield until April 1951, when it began operating from Kuala Lumpur with No. 1 squadron RNZAF. No. 38 Squadron moved back to Changi in July 1952 and returned to Australia in December that year.
Six Lincoln bombers of No. 1 Squadron (Bomber) RAAF arrived in Malaya in July 1950. The squadron was based at Tengah on the west of Singapore Island. The Lincolns operated in Malaya until 1958, when they were replaced by Canberra bombers of No. 2 Squadron RAAF.
Although at first serving in Malaya as part of Britain's Far East Air Force, RAAF transport and bomber squadrons received a degree of autonomy by being placed under the immediate control of RAAF Headquarters in Singapore. In the late 1950s, however, RAAF squadrons operated from the recently rebuilt Butterworth airbase in northern Malaya as part of the British Commonwealth Far East Strategic Reserve (BCFESR). As well as No. 2 Squadron, No. 3 Squadron RAAF and No. 77 Squadron RAAF were based at Butterworth, and both were equipped with Sabre jet fighters.
The RAAF's service in Malaya was both the foundation of Australia's contribution to the conflict, and a significant part of the wider Commonwealth effort. And the RAAF's role in the BCFESR meant that even after the official end of the Malayan Emergency in 1960, Australian squadrons continued to be stationed at Butterworth.