Singapore Air Show

Malaysian Flankers poised to be operational by year-end

 - February 11, 2008, 6:00 AM

The ninth Langkawi International Maritime & Aerospace (LIMA) show, held in December, gave the Malaysian air force the opportunity to showcase its newly received Sukhoi Su-30MKM fighters. Three of the six Su-30s delivered to date were on display at the show and one, flown by a Malaysian crew, participated in the daily flying routine.

The first two aircraft were handed over last May 24 at the Irkut Corp. plant in Irkutsk and were transported to Malaysia aboard an Antonov An-124, arriving at their Gong Kedak air base home on June 18. Four more arrived in August and two more batches of six each are to follow later this year, with deliveries to be complete by year-end. The government of Malaysia signed the RM3.4 billion ($900 million) contract in May 2003  with Rosoboronexport, the Russian defense exporter, for 18 multi-role Su-30MKM aircraft to be built by Irkut.

Gong Kedak in Terengganu, Kelentan Province, is on Malaysia’s east coast, about 190 miles northeast of Kuala Lumpur. It has undergone extensive capital improvements to receive the Sukhois, all 18 of which will be consolidated within the newly re-formed No. 11 Squadron under the command of C.O. Kol Suri Mohd Daud.

As the Su-30MKM is a multi-role aircraft, operated by a pilot and weapons system operator (WSO), initial crews have come from the Boeing F/A-18D Hornets of No. 18 Squadron based at Butterworth Air Force Base in Penang, each with a minimum of 300 hours on type. Six crews initially trained on Sukhoi Su-30MK2s in Russia and follow-on training was carried out at Gong Kedak. Sukhoi is contracted to perform initial training at both locations, and product support in-country.

The training is divided into three stages, taking approximately six months from start to finish. For the first candidates this was split almost evenly between Moscow and Gong Kedak. This initial cadre has completed the first two stages of the training syllabus, comprising both theoretical and practical applications. The practical phase was completed at the beginning of last October and the third phase, including basic weapons training, is to get under way early this year. Full weapons training will follow throughout the year and the No. 11 Squadron expects to be declared operational at the end of the year, coinciding with the final deliveries of the aircraft.

The initial six pilots will form the cadre of qualified flying instructors (QFIs) within the No. 11 Squadron, and four of them–divided into two crews–took turns performing the spirited and impressive flying display at LIMA.

In the 1990s, when Malaysia purchased 18 MiG-29Ns, the government set up a company–Aerospace Technology Systems Corp. Sdn Bhd (ATSC)–to provide local through-life support. ATSC will also provide support for the Su-30s at Gong Kedak thanks to a product support agreement signed with Russian arms export agency Rosoboronexport during the LIMA show.

The Su-30MKM (MKM: Modernizirovannyi Kommercheskiy Malaysia–Modernized Commercial Malaysia) is very similar to the Indian Su-30MKI aircraft, but with Israeli-supplied components replaced by similar items from other manufacturers because of political sensitivities.

The Su-30MKM uses the same airframe structure, Saturn AL-31FP Thrust Vector Control engines and NIIP N011M Bars radar as the Indian fighters, but manufacturers in France, Russia and South Africa provide much of its avionics and electronic warfare equipment. Thales supplies the wide-angle head-up display and, according to Sukhoi, the functions remain the same as the Israeli Elbit unit in the Su-30MKI. Thales also supplies the Damocles targeting pod and IFF system.

Avitronics, Saab’s South African subsidiary, provides the missile approach warning (MAWS 300) and laser warning systems. Russian manufacturers supply the DECM active jammer (SAP518M), UV-30MK CMDS, RWR (L-150-30 Pastel) and IRST (UOMZ OLS-30I), as well as the display processor, replacing the Su-30MKI’s locally manufactured processor.

Although Indian sources reveal that discussions have been held regarding the acquisition of the joint Indian/Russian BrahMos supersonic cruise missile, Malaysian authorities have made no such announcement.

The Malaysian Su-30MKMs will be capable of buddy refueling, and Cobham of the UK announced during LIMA that it had signed an $18 million contract to integrate the 754 Buddy Refueling System pods onto the aircraft. Cobham qualified the system on the Su-30 fighter in 2005, and during the show also announced a agreement with Protank Technologies for in-country support.

Malaysian air force sources acknowledge some integration problems with the unique mix of systems aboard the aircraft, but they say with great pride that they now field one of the most potent multi-role fighter aircraft in the world.

Local School, Russian Instructors

While Malaysia’s air force prepares to take a second batch of six Sukhoi Su-30MKM fighters this spring and the remaining six at year-end, the pilots of the No. 11 Squadron are training at Gong Kedak air base under the guidance of Russian instructors. This month crews are beginning weapons and electronic warfare training. The Russians also help with aircraft maintenance and are building a dedicated service center.

Malaysian air force commander Gen. Azizan bin Ariffin said he is seeking government approval to purchase aircraft to equip a second squadron. “Obviously, we want to add more Su-30s to our inventory, but it depends on government approval and budget availability,” No. 11 Squadron commander Col. Suri Daud told AIN. As a sweetener, Russia prepared to take 14 Mikoyan MiG-29Ns in a trade-in deal.

“Our crews are senior, experienced pilots,” Suri said. “They were trained by Sukhoi test pilots, very competent and experienced instructors who have [a lot] of experience flying Su-30s.” At the time of the LIMA show, the air force boasted four pilots qualified in the Su-30MKM: Lt. Col. Muhammad Norazlan Aris, and Majors Azman Jantan, Fadzli Sabirin and Choy Swee On. Each of them had logged some 3,000 flying hours before undergoing type conversion training in Zhukovsky near Moscow, at which time they added 60 hours in Su-30MKM cockpit.

The Malaysian pilots were instructed by Sukhoi test pilots Eugeny Frolov, Sergei Bogdan and Sergei Kostin, with high-altitude aerobatics taught by Sukhoi chief test pilot Victor Pugachev. “We had good instructors,” Lt. Col. Norazlan told AIN. “They offered us every support throughout the training program. Even though we had only five months of flying the aircraft, they gave us good guidance. I used thrust vectoring on my very first flight in the Su-30MKM cockpit.”

When No. 11 Squadron is completely formed in 2009, it will have some younger pilots. “We are waiting for the combat simulator and computer-based training classes to be begin as soon as possible,” explained Colonel Suri. “The training facilities are included in the contract and respective offset program.”

Sukhoi is acting as systems integrator for the Su-30MKM full-motion flight simulator and is negotiating with Malaysian companies with experience in this field, such as Sapura and Airod, about their possible involvement in this project.

Su-30MKM Weaponry

Malaysian air force sources reveal that weaponry purchased for the Su-30MKMs

Air defense weapons:
• Vympel RVV-AE (R-77) medium-range active radar-guided missiles.

• R-73 short-range IR and R-27R1 medium-range semi-active missiles.

Air-to-ground ordnance:
• OFAB 100-120, 25-270 and FAB 500 series of HE munitions.

• KAB 500KR and KAB 1500KR TV-correlated guided bombs.

Other weapons:
• Vympel Kh-29 AGM series missiles: Kh-29T (TV seeker), Kh-29TE (TV seeker/penetration warhead) and Kh-29L (laser seeker) variants.

• Zvezda-Strela Kh-31A (active radar) and Kh-31P (passive radar) anti-radiation weapons.

• Raduga NPO Kh-59ME long-range/TV-guided missile.

As with the Su-30MKI, the Malaysian version of the Su-30MKM retains the 30-mm GsH30-1 cannon with 150 rounds of ammunition.