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Malaysian jet training faces a crunch

19th November 2021 - 00:07 GMT | by Dzirhan Mahadzir in Kuala Lumpur


Malaysia’s fleet of Hawk trainers has diminished further after a crash, exacerbating a shortage of twin-seat trainer platforms. (Photo: Dzirhan Mahadzir)

Malaysian fast-jet training is under strain with fleet attrition and groundings.

The crash of a Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) Hawk 108 trainer jet with one fatality on 16 November has reduced the Hawk 108 fleet to four aircraft, plus around 13 Hawk 208s.

Along with the continued grounding of seven MB-339CMs since 2018 due to engine issues, the RMAF’s two-seat trainer capability is strained.

The RMAF has alleviated this issue by sending pilots for lead-in fighter training to the International Test Pilots School in Ontario, Canada, for approximately seven months.

Eight pilots completed training there in 2020 and a further ten this year. It is unclear if another batch is undergoing training this year for graduation in 2022.

While this has somewhat helped overcome the shortage of two-seat trainers, the continuing depreciation of the ringgit has made this somewhat costly for the RMAF, and it still does not solve the shortage of aircraft for in-country training.

Malaysia’s tender for 18 light combat aircraft to replace the Hawk and MB-339CM closed on 22 September, although whether a procurement will actually materialise is open to question.

Indeed, with Malaysia on its third government since the 2018 election, and government finances battered by COVID-19, it seems unlikely this procurement will materialise anytime soon.

Furthermore, delivery of any aircraft will only occur around two years after contract signing, so the trainer shortage problem will persist for the RMAF for a while.

Deputy Defence Minister Ikmal Hashim stated in parliament on 30 September that, as per the government’s policy of casting off assets that have reached 20 years old, the RMAF plans to phase out the MB-339CM fleet in 2028.

He added that the future of the fleet currently rests upon an audit to be carried out by the Directorate General Technical Airworthiness on engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce, which was originally planned for 2020 but was postponed due to COVID-19.

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