24 September 2012

RMAF May Lease Gripens an Option

24 September 2012

Swedish Gripen (photo : Militaryphotos)

PETALING JAYA : The Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) is considering an offer from Sweden to lease up to 18 JAS39 Gripen fighter jets for its Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MRCA) programme.

RMAF chief Tan Sri Rodzali Daud told theSun leasing the Gripens is a cheaper solution considering the huge capital expenditure needed for the procurement of new fighters.

"The Gripens had been leased to European air forces, so there is nothing new about such a deal.

"The aircraft also meets all of our MRCA requirements although I admit it is short on gas and range due to its small size," he said when asked to comment on claims by defence industry sources that Sweden has offered a lease-buy option for the Gripens.

Sources told theSun that offer was made after Gripen and the Sukhoi Su-30MKM were eliminated from the MRCA programme following technical evaluation by RMAF test pilots.

They said the three top contenders, namely Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, Dassault Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon, would compete for the final stage of the programme, where their transfer of technology packages and off-set offers would be evaluated before the winner is selected.

Rodzali denied that Gripen and Sukhoi were no longer considered for the MRCA programme as "we are still evaluating all of the aircraft".

He also denied that RMAF had ranked the aircraft in the technical evaluation.

Instead, he said, the aircraft's strengths and weaknesses were documented for further evaluation.

According to him, one important factor for the final selection would be the lowest support cost. "If the Super Hornet is seen as the favourite, it is because we already have the Hornets (eight units) in service."

Asked how many Gripens will be leased if the offer is accepted, he said "preferably it will be 18 planes as specified in the MRCA".

He said despite budgetary constraints, the MRCA programme will go ahead as the air force has planned to retire the 10 MiG-29N Fulcrum air superiority fighters by 2015. "We may need a special budget, one that covers three Malaysian plans," he added.

Rodzali declined to confirm the budget allocation for the MRCA programme but sources told theSun the air force could only procure 12 jets if it opts for the Super Hornet, Rafale or Typhoon.

Hungary and Czech operate the Gripens under a 10-year lease-and-buy contract, for around RM398 million a year, which covers servicing and training.
Rodzali dismissed any hint of an arm race in the impending buy.

"The reason we are looking for new fighters is because of the capability gap. We need to ensure we are on par with other nations.

"Another reason is technology. Technology is moving rapidly. We cannot afford to be left behind."

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