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LIMA 2015: Malaysia looks at air priorities

13th March 2015 - 9:05 by Dzirhan Mahadzir in Kuala Lumpur

LIMA 2015: Malaysia looks at air priorities

As Malaysia is coming to the end of the 10th Malaysian Plan (2011-2015), which outlines government spending, no major procurement is expected to be undertaken for this year. However, companies are already positioning themselves for the beginning the next plan when new procurement priorities will be announced.

All three services of the Malaysian Armed Forces, plus Malaysian Armed Forces Headquarters (for overall MAF and tri-service requirements), have to submit their funding requests to the government for the 11th Plan and the programmes that will be funded under it by mid-June this year.

Whether these programmes will be approved is open to question, given Malaysia’s financial constraints. Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s administration has preferred a rolling approach to the Malaysia plan rather than setting the complete five year allocations at the outset; recent five year plan allocations have been decided on a year to year basis during the plan’s timeframe based on Malaysia’s fiscal capability to support projects. As a result some of the armed forces request for the 11th plan may be not be approved at the outset but instead placed on hold for later consideration.

Among the Royal Malaysian Air Force’s (RMAF’s) requests under the 11th Plan is the Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MRCA) replacement for its MiG-29s. Although the project has been ongoing since 2011 little has been done because of the costs and it is unlikely any purchase will be signed in the near term despite the RMAF’s fighter fleet depletion.

The air force has deactivated its F-5 fleet of six aircraft and still plans on retiring the MiG-29 by December this year. There is the possibility of a life extension programme for the MiGs as a stop-gap measure.

In addition, recent events, including the loss of MH370, have led to a reprioritisation away from the MRCA to the need to maintain adequate airspace domain awareness. At the top of the list are additional ground based radars systems and beyond that is the procurement of an airborne early warning and command (AEW&C) aircraft with secondary maritime surveillance capabilities.

Both Northrop Grumman with the E-2D Hawkeye and Saab with the Erieye are pushing their capabilities. Saab has an MOU signed in 2011 with local company Deftech on an AEW&C collaboration and in January this year signed an MOU on industrial cooperation on the Gripen.

However, given the cost of an AEW aircraft, it would seem unlikely that funding for such a programme would become available in the near future.

Two programmes are likely to be signed at LIMA 2015. These are for the upgrade of the RMAF’s C-130 fleet and S-61 helicopter fleet. Malaysia’s Airod was awarded MOUs for both programmes during DSA 2014. The LOI for the C-130 upgrade covers the upgrade of the RMAF’s entire fleet of 14 C-130s’ avionics and communications to meet international aviation standards and the installation of glass cockpits to the aircraft, while the LOI for the S-61 upgrade covers upgrades to the entire fleet of 26 helicopters.

Airod’s proposed upgrade for the S-61 was displayed at DSA 2014 and the systems to be installed include a 5 x 10.4in Sagem Integrated Cockpit Display, a 6in Sagem Caution Advisory System Display, Dual Garmin GNS-530W GPS/NAV/Com systems, Dual Rockwell Collins Att/Hdg reference system, Garmin Weather Radar/ Satellite  Weather Radar, Rockwell Collins mode S transponder and a new DC fuel quantity system. Airod has also proposed as an option night vision goggle compliant displays. Some of the S-61s will be transferred to the Army Air Corps this year as an initial step towards providing the army with a tactical transport capability though the army is looking towards obtaining new transport helicopters also.

The Malaysian Army is set to request six attack helicopters under the 11th Plan; this was revealed by deputy defence minister Abdul Rahim Bakri in Parliament on 18th December last year. Abdul Rahim also stated that the attack helicopters were required for the conduct of security operations in the Eastern Sabah Security Zone, which was established in response to the incursion by Sulu militants in 2013.

Again the cost of the programme may see the procurement postponed in the near term, Airbus Helicopters have been marketing the Tiger for this requirement, but the US military together with Bell have been heavily pushing an armed UH-1Y as a cheaper alternate solution to the East Malaysia requirements and also the AH-1Z should Malaysia require a dedicated attack helicopter. Boeing is offering the AH-64 with the AH-6i also available as a cheaper option.

The attack helicopter operational requirement for East Malaysia could also be postponed given Malaysia’s arming of several of the RMAF S-61s and Army Air Corps AW109s with Hybrid M134D-H Gatling guns plus the transfer of four Royal Brunei Air Force S-70A Blackhawks to Malaysia in September. The RMAF currently operates two S-70As in the VIP transport role but the four ex-RBAF Blackhawks are to be used in East Malaysia for security operations there and it is likely that Malaysia will seek to arm these helicopters as well.

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