Malaysia Grounds MiG-29s and Rethinks Future Fighter

 - November 9, 2017, 10:11 AM
The Malaysian MiG-29s that served in two squadrons at Kuantan airbase have been grounded. (Photo: Chen Chuanren)

The Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) is no longer seeking a multi-role combat aircraft (MRCA) and is evaluating light combat aircraft (LCA) instead. In another change of policy, the service has grounded its remaining airworthy MiG-29s instead of upgrading them, although the government has not made a final decision about their future. The RMAF is also now seeking four-to-six new maritime patrol aircraft (MPA).

Over the past few years, the makers of fourth-generation combat aircraft such as Boeing (F/A-18 Super Hornet), Dassault (Rafale), Eurofighter (Typhoon) and Saab (Gripen) have all devoted considerable efforts to wooing the southeast Asian country. But an RMAF official said that Malaysia would defer further evaluation of an MRCA until at least 2025, because of budget constraints. Instead, it now wants to acquire “one or two squadrons” of a light, single-engine jet that would have some air-to-air performance, including supersonic speed, but that would mainly offer air-to-ground capability.

The Korean Aircraft Industries KA-50 would seem to be the frontrunner, since it has already been chosen by neighboring countries Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand. Moreover, it is powered by a GE F404—the same engine as found on the RMAF’s small fleet of eight Boeing F-18D Hornets. However, the official said that rival aircraft would be closely evaluated.

The RMAF is now seeking to expand its F-18 squadron by acquiring some second-hand F-18C/Ds. The RMAF official also confirmed that the service would retain, and seek to upgrade, its two squadrons of Sukhoi Su-30MKMs.   

On the MPA front, the official said that the RMAF had set a three-year timescale for acquisition of a converted medium-size twin-turboprop such as the Airbus C295, ATR-72 MP or Bombardier Q400. As an interim measure, the RMAF would retire the four Beechcraft Super King Airs that serve as maritime surveillance aircraft; remove their radars and mission systems; and have them re-installed in some of the RMAF’s CN-235 transports. Thales is a candidate to perform this work, since it provided the radar and mission system for the King Airs. However, PTDI of Indonesia is another candidate, since it provided the CN-235s and has done similar integration work for the Indonesian air force.