The events in Sabah, Malaysia, this past March, when local forces conducted Operation Daulat used combat jets to quell the resistance of the Filipino gunmen on the island of Borneo, may have prompted a spate of arms sales to that country and her closest neighbors. The armed forces do have a big wish list for weapons, but procurement processes for the most expensive and longest-lead items are likely to be launched properly only after the general elections in Malaysia later this year. In the meantime, the ministry of finance and the royal treasury–the two main watchdogs–are loosening their grips somewhat so as to give the air force the means to improve its fleet readiness.
In late March, Sukhoi won a three-year contract called “The supply of articles, services and technical assistance for Su-30MKM aircraft” worth RM300 million (more than U.S.$100 million), three times the allocation over the previous three-year period. Respective documents were signed by MOD secretary general Datuk Dr. Haji Ismail Haji Ahmad, with Sukhoi deputy general director for marketing Alexander Klementiev and director for after-sales support Vyacheslav Lozan. The increased spending is meant to boost combat readiness of the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) Su-30MKM fleet from the current level of 65 to 70 percent to 85 percent in the “near term” and eventually increase this to 100 percent. The RMAF’s 11th Squadron stationed at Gong Kedak has 18 heavyweight twin-engine vectored-thrust fighters received new from Irkut’s IAZ factory in 2007-2011. After the manufacturer’s guarantee period expired, most of the Russian support team departed Gong Kedak AFB, leaving only three of their number–and they then left this past January following expiration of the previous service contract.
“The notable increase in spending on our services will allow our specialists to more closely monitor the aircraft operations and shorten the reaction time to RMAF requests for spares and repair services. Importantly, the new contract calls for a permanent presence of Sukhoi advisors and technicians at Gong Kedak,” Klementiev told AIN. The contract calls for deliveries of additional aerodrome equipment, increase of spares and expendables stocks, carrying out on-site repairs of onboard equipment, consultancy and training for RMAF maintainers.
As part of the aircraft delivery contract, Russia built the Sukhoi Technical Center (STC) at Gong Kedak. It was completed and handed over to the Malaysian government, which appointed Aerospace Technology Systems Corp. (ATSC) to be the operator. To work at full capacity, STC’s warehouses need to be filled with spares, expendables and maintenance tools, as necessary, which will be done under the new contract. The facility has several workshops and will permit RMAF and ATSC to perform maintenance, except major overhaul of airframes, engines and the most complex parts of onboard systems. Sukhoi assessed ATSC staff members as “well educated” but indicated they need more training in performing manufacturer-prescribed work on Russian-made jets.
RMAF crews have mastered aerobatics and use of vectored thrust, attracting praise from the Russian air force commander Gen. Victor Bondarev, while he was attending the LIMA 2013 show. Following training of the initial group of Malaysian fighter pilots, Sukhoi and Irkut ceased such services four years ago. They hoped the customer would award them a new contract for pilot training “sometime in the future to ensure that the RMAF 11th Squadron crews are able to use the Su-30MKM capabilities to full extent,” including application of precision-guided munitions. “This would require us to send a group of highly skilled engineers and pilots there who have the complete knowledge of the type’s functional capabilities,” said Klementiev.
ATSC was founded in 1994 as a joint venture with a 70-percent stake held by National Aerospace and Defense Industries, and the rest by Russian partners, and runs the MiG Technical Center at Kuantan AFB and MiG Component Repair Center at MEC City. The company claims to have mastered checks on the Su-30MKM after each 200 flight hours and servicing procedures on the airplane’s OEPrNK optronic aiming and navigation complex system, OLS optical locator, N011M “Bars” fire control radar and fly-by-wire systems, as well as AL-31FP engine module changes.
Despite the increase in funding for RMAF, salesmen remain cautious about prospects of replacement for 18 MiG-29N/NUBs delivered in 1995. “We know about the plans of the military, but we also hear about the economy slowdown and the respective position of the ministry of finance. Cost-effective upgrade solutions may win over,” Victor Komardin, deputy head of Russia’s Rosoboronexport arms sales agency, told AIN.
Guided by this knowledge, Rosoboronexport is offering an upgrade package to the RMAF’s 18-year-old MiGs, which will boost their capability and extend their lifetime to 40 years. Should the customer decide to replace the MiGs with newer aircraft, Russia is ready to supply additional quantities of advanced Su-30MKMs or even consider a request for a fifth-generation fighter. “We are keen to take part in any competition in Malaysia that is officially opened,” Komardin said. Other candidates to replace RMAF MiG-29s are the Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet, EF-2000 Eurofighter Typhoon, Dassault Rafale and Saab Gripen.