Update on Malaysia’s fighter procurement expected next week

However, official announcement on the winner could be delayed until after LIMA 2023

by PRIYA VASU / pic by TMR FILE

THE Defence Ministry is expected to make some crucial updates on the status of 18 Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) procurement in the upcoming Defence Services Asia (DSA) Exhibition & Conference next week that will be held from March 28-31.

The Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) opened a tender in October last year to modernise its combat fleet that saw participation of five foreign defence companies that submitted bids.

According to one defence industry analyst, although a decision on the tender is imminent, it could take another year before the government makes the announcement.

“The reason being is that the government will have to finalise a date for the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition (LIMA) that was cancelled last year due to overwhelming resurgence of Covid-19 cases.

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“If the government were to announce the winner of the LCA programme soon then other world-renowned defence companies and the already bidding defence companies might not turn up for the LIMA exhibition and this will be a huge loss of tourism and trade revenue for the country,” the analyst told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) recently.

LIMA, which is held every two years, was last organised in 2019.

“We are expecting the government to update the defence industry players on the dates of LIMA in the upcoming DSA next week. That will keep the ball rolling for all the interested parties looking to formalise and sign procurement contracts,” he added.

He said something would be tabled regarding the LCA upgrades in the four-day DSA event.

The analyst said the government usually sets aside a big budget for international events such as LIMA, and that fewer participants to such events will provide poor return of investment.

The analyst believed the government has shortlisted four bids and that Russia’s Sukhoi bid may not be in that list due to poor servicing and maintenance issues including difficulty in getting parts and replacement components in the past.

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Last December, Indonesian Air Force confirmed that its government has dropped a plan to purchase 11 Russian Su-35 jets in favour of the French-made Rafale and American F-15s.

Turkish-made Drones’ Success in Ukraine Likely to Pique Interest from Malaysia

The Turkish defence equipment manufacturing companies are likely to find great support and interest from Malaysia and other Asian countries looking to upgrade and replace older military equipment due to their overwhelming success in Ukraine’s effort to fend off Russia’s invasion.

“The Turk defence firms manufacture very precise Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV),” said Fatih Ipek, Asia Pacific manager from an Ankara-based private military equipment manufacturer — Savunma Teknolojileri Mühendislik ve Ticaret AS (STM).

STM makes its own indigenous UAV systems.

“We have been getting enquiries from a lot of European countries for our drones’ system. We hope to get similar demand from Asia, particularly Malaysia. We are looking forward to DSA where there might be meaningful deals,” said Fatih.

He added that Malaysia has in the past already expressed interest in STM’s KARGU Autonomous Tactical Multi-Rotor Attack UAV in the past defence roadshows.

KARGU is a portable rotary wing attack drone designed to provide tactical and precision strike capabilities for ground troops.

The UAV is capable of detecting and striking static or mobile targets with high precision during day and night conditions with munition system integration.

Turkey is one of the five bidders eyeing to supply RMAF with its indigenous LCA named “Hürjet” manufactured by Turkish Aerospace Industries.

Military Readiness High on Malaysia’s Radar

Although Malaysia is largely conflict free, military preparedness is high on the list for the government who sees procuring the latest defence equipment will be seen as an act of deterrent for potential attacks.

“Since the Lahad Datu militant invasion in Sabah, the Malaysian government has been on high alert to modernise its armed forces — land, sea and air. It is important to maintain constant vigilance of coastline and airspace be it in peacetime or war.

“It’s best to be prepared in the eventuality of something potentially bad like Lahad Datu episodes could happen again,” the analyst said.

He added that the latest 16 Chinese aircraft intrusion in airspace off the Borneo coast have pushed Malaysia government to the edge that resulted in issuing a diplomatic note of protest to Beijing and summon the China ambassador “to provide (an) explanation regarding this breach of the Malaysian air space and sovereignty”.

“These are the aggressions our military force would have to ward off. The preparedness will eventually make other countries to evade even the act of ‘testing the water’ just like China did,” he told TMR.

He added that although the intention is not to engage in warfare but the government should at least strive for seeking dominance over its rivals through arming with competitive air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons to intimidate potential threats.

“Announcing the purchase of the fighter jets will be a great place to start to ward off such threats from happening again,” he added.