28 November 2009

Aircraft Shortlist 'To Be Finalised Soon'

28 November 2009
Russia's Su-35 (photo : krblog)

KUALA LUMPUR: With the days of the Royal Malaysian Air Force's MiG-29N Fulcrum jets numbered, a procurement shortlist for multi-role combat aircraft (MRCA) is expected to be finalised soon.

Defence industry players expect a shortlist to be made during the Langkawi International Maritime and Aero-space 2009 exhibition.Among the bidders for the MRCA deal are companies reportedly from the United States, France, Sweden, Britain, Russia and China.

The shopping list is said to include, among others, the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and F-16 Fighting Falcons from the US, France's Dassault Rafale and Dassault Mirage 2000, Saab JAS 39 Grippen of Sweden, Panavia Tornado from Britain, Europe's Eurofighter Typhoon, Russia's Sukhoi Su-30 and Su-35, and China's Chengu J-7 and J-10, Shenyang J-8 and J-11 and JF-17 Thunder.

An MRCA is the aircraft of choice as it can be used as both a fighter and a ground attack aircraft.Defence Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi hinted that a firm decision might be made soon, probably utilising the budget under the 10th Malaysia Plan (2011-2015) or from the 11th Malaysia Plan.

He said this in reference to a projected procurement and development funding of RM7 billion for the entire defence and security sector under the 10th Malaysia Plan, for which more than RM5 billion is being sought for the defence industry proper.

Part of the budget is expected to be used to buy replacements for the S-61 Nuri helicopters for the air force, multi-role supply ships for the navy; and 8x8 heavy vehicles, armoured personnel carriers and missiles for the army.

Chinese J-10 (photo : China Defense Mashup)

"We are evaluating several MRCA makes that will best suit our needs, not only in terms of operations but other aspects like transfer of technology, trade spin-offs and cost-effectiveness."Zahid said to date, only 16 of the 18 MiG-29N delivered to the RMAF since 1995 under a RM1.3 billion package, were operational.

"By month end, six of the jets will be phased out. Another eight will be decommissioned by mid next year, with the remaining two phased out at the end of next year."

The two MiG-29N squadrons are being replaced by the 18 newly procured Sukhoi Su-30MKM interceptors. The deal was inked in 2003 for US$900 million (RM304.8 million).

Russia's state arms exporter Rosoboronexport reportedly offered to trade in the remaining 16 MiG-29Ns for an additional six Su-30MKMs.

The MiG-29N purchase made Malaysia the first non-Soviet block country to acquire Russian combat aircraft.However, rising operational and maintenance costs, to the tune of RM260 million a year, as the jets exceeded their life-span limit of 10 years is becoming too much to bear.
Two MiG-29Ns crashed in 1998 and 2005, respectively.
Apart from heavy wear and tear on spare parts, the MiG-29Ns have to undergo preventive and restoration work costing between RM7 million and RM10 million for engine overhaul every year for each cycle of between 1,000 and 4,000 flight hours.

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