Malaysia: Maritime Surveillance, UAV, Radars, LCA Are Priority

 - March 13, 2019, 7:56 AM
The RMAF is celebrating 25 years of Hawk operations, with a single-seat Hawk Mk 208 (foreground) and two-seat Mk 108 painted in anniversary markings. (Photo: Royal Malaysian Air Force)

The Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) is setting the procurement of maritime surveillance capability, an unmanned aircraft system (UAS), ground-based radar, and the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) as its top priorities as it awaits the new government’s defense white paper for direction and budget.

Speaking to AIN in an exclusive interview ahead of the LIMA exhibition to be held in Langkawi in the last week of March, RMAF Chief General Tan Sri Affendi Buang said that it is the first time that Malaysia is drafting a defense white paper as a “whole-of-government,” and he said it will give the government the right indication to equip the RMAF with the “right thing.”

Based on the new RMAF CAP55 roadmap released in 2018, the air force is seeking a single-type multi-role combat aircraft (MRCA), LCA, maritime patrol aircraft (MPA), a UAV, ground-based missiles, and radar, amongst others, by 2055.

“We are addressing Malaysia’s strategic environment as a maritime nation; we want to have the surveillance capability beefed up and want to have better situational awareness as our main agenda. We are talking about MPA and a medium-altitude long-endurance [MALE] UAV,” Affendi said. He added that the RMAF has received “dozens” of proposals for myriad solutions, including dedicated platforms, roll-on/roll-off platforms, or upgrades to the current Beechcraft King Air B200T with new systems. Boeing, Airbus, and Leonardo have confirmed to AIN that they have responded with the P-8A Poseidon, C295, and ATR-72MP, respectively.

After years of seeking a multi-role fighter, the RMAF has now pushed the LCA program to the top. The LCA is to replace the RMAF’s multi-type light aircraft fleet, consisting of the BAE Hawk 108/208 and the Aermacchi MB-339CM, which is having logistics and maintenance issues. He noted that a modern LCA has multi-role capability close to a full-fledged fighter, but has lower capital and operating costs.

Affendi acknowledged that the RMAF has received information on the Korea Aerospace Industries FA-50 Golden Eagle, Leonardo M346, HAL Tejas, PAC JF-17, and the Yakovlev Yak-130 and is expecting more proposals. “Starting the RFI now gives us the lead time to make feasibility studies as we await government approval to start the project. As we are also seeking a Fighter Lead-In Trainer (FLIT), the aircraft must complement both roles,” he said. “We are working under realistic financial capability, hence the LCA has to come ahead of the MRCA program unless the government has the budget to allow us to go ahead with both at the same time.”

Affendi commented that the Hawk 108/208 is in its 25th year of service and is approaching its "shelf-life," and maintenance costs are rising. It will be gradually replaced along with the MB-339CM over 10 to 15 years. He added that the RMAF is still open to operate a mix of Eastern- and Western-bloc aircraft, as the air arm wants to have the best balance of capability. “After 20 years of mixed platforms, we have learned quite a bit and are aware what are the things we want and what are the issues to look out for.”

The general reported that the RMAF will be able to resolve all maintenance issues for its Sukhoi Su-30MKMs by 2019. About two-thirds of the fleet has passed its 10-year heavy maintenance program that was delayed due to cost constraints. A Malaysian-led team, consisting of Aerospace Technology Systems and Caidmark and RMAF Central Aerospace Engineering Services Establishment, in collaboration with the Russian Sukhoi MRO company, drove its own maintenance and overhaul program. “We have also sent our team to the OEM in Russia and Sukhoi MRO companies in other Eastern Europe countries to learn," said Affendi. “Although work is done by our local experts, we follow strict aerospace industrial standard procedures.”

Looking further ahead, Affendi wants the RMAF to possess fifth- and sixth-generation fighters to keep his air force relevant, just as neighboring air arms are in the planning for procurement of these platforms, from F-35s to the K/I-FX. “We want to have the technology as we want to be on a par with the rest. Numbers are immaterial. If you want your force level to have the know-how, you have to be in the game or else you will be left behind. You must have the platform to develop the knowledge, which can’t be done overnight.”