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Royal Malaysian Air Force - Modernization

The 1990's saw the arrival of much larger aircraft, first with the Hawk Mk108/208 replacing the T/A-4PTM's with 6 Skn and 9 Skn in 1994, followed by the MiG-29N/NUB in 1995 forming 17 Skn and 19 Skn, and finally the F/A-18D forming 18 Skn in 1997. In 1998, the locally manufactured MD3-160 was added to the training fleet, and in August 1999 21 Skn was formed on the CN235-220M bought from Indonesia.

However, in 2000 the F-5 fleet was grounded and stored as an operational reserve. In May 2003 seventeen former RNZAF MB339CB's were earmarked to supplement the surviving MB339AM's with 15 Skn. On August 5th, 2003 a contract was signed worth $900 million for eighteen Su-30MKM's, to be based at the reserve base Gong Kedak, Terengganu. Deliveries were expected between June 2006 and late 2007. The 17 Skn (MiG-29N/NUB) was disbanded by July 2003, with all the MiG's concentrated in 19 Skn. It is reported that 11 Skn and 17 Skn will receive the Su-30's.

The Malaysian Air Force was well equipped, with two squadrons of MiG 29 and asquadron of 8 F/A 18 Hornet fighter aircraft and 4 KC 130 H tankers. ATM's modernisation in the early 90s, which saw it acquiring the R-77 Beyond Visual Range (BVR) guided missile from Russia for its MiG-29N/UB, had led defence analysts to regard Malaysia as starting an arms race with Singapore and Thailand. None of the other countries in the region had the BVR system. The Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) received and commissioned the first six Sukhoi Su-30MKM, which arrived in the country in June 2007. A dozen more Sukhois arrived before the end of 2008. With the addition of the Sukhois, the RMAF had about 60 combat aircraft in service, which included the BAE Systems Hawk 108/208s, Boeing F/A-18D Hornets and MiG-29 Fulcrums.

With the commission of new strike fighters, the service mulled whether its plans to have 72 combat aircraft in its fleet would be approved by the government. If the budget for the additional fighters is approved, Sukhoi will face a tough battle with Boeing, which had been promoting the F-18E/F Super Hornets to replace the eight Hornets in service with RMAF.

In October 2010 the Malaysian government decided to retire the country's MiG-29s because of their high operating costs. The air force planned to phase out its remaining eight operational MiG-29s by 2015. As of late 2011 the Dassault Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon were in the running against the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and Saab Gripen for Malaysia's multi-role combat aircraft (MRCA) requirement to replace the Royal Malaysian Air Force's MiG-29 aircraft, which entered service in the early 1990s.

Dassault was in talks aimed at supplying 16 of the multi-role combat jets to Malaysia. RAFALE for MALAYSIA is envisioned as a comprehensive Program addressing the needs and requirements of the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) to perform its primary role in defending the sovereignty of Malaysia as well as involving the Malaysian Industry into a strong and long lasting cooperation with companies in French RAFALE Team.

The Omnirole RAFALE proposed to Malaysia was the latest variant in service with the French Air Force which is combat-proven and its induction into RMAF will be supported by a technical assistance in Malaysia as RAFALE will be supported for 40 years after the last delivery. This arrangement will allow a smooth and efficient ramp up of RMAF capability with the objective to achieve maximum autonomy in operating the RAFALE.

Malaysian Industries will play a key role in the RAFALE for MALAYSIA Program and the envisioned concept is to federate several key Industry players with complementary capabilities in the domains of Aviation and Defence to become the Malaysian RAFALE Team. These partnerships will go beyond the RAFALE for MALAYSIA Program by offering other High technology co-operation as well as Education in line with the Economic Transformation Program.

With the November 2011 contract award to Boeing to upgrade the Royal Malaysian Air Force's eight F/A-18D Hornet fighter aircraft, it would seem that the Super Hornet would have an edge in this competition for at least 18 aircraft. The F-35 isn't involved in Malaysia's current fighter competition. A fifth aircraft in contention is Irkuts Su-30MKM, with the RMAF already having 18 of the Russian jets in service.

Flight Global reported on 07 December 2011 that "Malaysia has yet to issue a formal request for proposals for MRCA. Royal Malaysian Air Force chief Gen Rodzali Daud told Flightglobal a decision will be made before the finalisation of the country's 11th Malaysia plan. This meant a winner could be announced in 2013 - possibly at the next Langkawi International Maritime & Aerospace exhibition - or in 2014."

Typhoon aircraft were flown in March 2013 from the UK ahead of the LIMA 2013 air show. BAE is one of the four European partner industries that developed Typhoon and led a bid to offer the jet to the Royal Malaysian Air Force once its competition for MiG 29 replacement got underway.

By 2015 Malaysia, which wanted to replace its fleet of Russian MiG-29 fighters, was said to be looking at the Rafale, Boeing's F/A-18, Swedish firm Saab's Gripen and the Eurofighter Typhoon. French manufacturer Dassault Aviation, which builds the Rafale, was said to be in talks with Malaysia to supply 16 of the multi-role combat jets.

While the purchase was earlier expected by Malaysia to be completed in 2015 year, the country's fiscal troubles due to plunging oil and commodities prices meant delays in placing the order.

In March 2015 a local company, Aerospace Technology Systems Corp Sdn Bhd (ATSC), has offered to upgrade the 10 MiG-29N aircraft of the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) to Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MRCA). ATSC chief executive officer Lt Col (Rtd) Fadzar Suhada said today the enhancement proposed by the company would make the aircraft not only on par with other MRCA fighter jets in the market but also extend the lifespan by a minimum of 25 years. ATSC would be partnering Russia's RAC MiG company should its proposal receive the go-ahead from the government. The enhanced model he said, would be known as the MiG-29NM (modernisation).

The Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) fleet of MiG-29N fighter aircraft will remain an important asset to the country's air defense. RMAF chief General Datuk Seri Roslan Saad said 01 June 2015 there has been no decision to replace the MIG-29N which had been in service since 1990 and the aircraft will still remain in service.

He said RMAF will scrutinise the capabilities of the existing MIG-29N fleet to ensure it remains competitive and relevant in safeguarding the country's air space. "Initially, there were plans to phase out the aircraft and replace them with another multi-role combat aircraft.... However, we have decided to upgrade the aircraft to ensure it has similar capabilities with fighter jets owned by other countries," he told reporters after opening RMAF's 57th anniversary.

Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein was reported in media as saying that the race for new fighter jets has narrowed down to the Rafale and the Eurofighter Typhoon, built by BAE Systems. Malaysia was looking to buy up to 18 jets in a deal potentially worth more than $2 billion. By March 2017 the Rafale was emerging as the frontrunner to replace the aging fleet of combat aircraft. French President Francois Hollande made a pitch for the Rafale, made by Dassault Aviation SA, when he and his team visited Malaysia. The ministry's top leadership have been promoting the Rafale. The plan is to replace the Royal Malaysian Air Force's (RMAF) squadron of Russian MiG-29 combat planes, nearly half of which were grounded.

Financial troubles may force Malaysia to drop its plans to buy highly capable multirole combat aircraft (MRCA) and settle for cheaper, less capable fighter jets to replace its current fleet of Russian MiG 29s that are mostly grounded. Europe's MRCA makers Eurofighter and Dassault Aviation have been wooing Malaysia for almost a decade for a deal. By 2019 Kuala Lumpur was planning to buy 12 to 18 Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) in a deal that could be worth more than $1 billion (900 million). It called on various aircraft manufacturers to provide information about the capabilities of their fighter jets. Among those who have expressed an interest are Sweden's Saab Group and Italy's Leonardo. LCAs such as Saab's Gripen fighter jets are about 30% cheaper than the Rafales and Eurofighter Typhoons. Chinese JF-17s and J-10s, which are also in contention, are even cheaper.

Malaysian Defense Minister Mohamad Sabu said in May 2019 that Kuala Lumpur was considering bartering palm oil for advanced military equipment. Malaysian Defense Minister Mohamad Sabu said that Kuala Lumpur was considering bartering palm oil for advanced military equipment.

Palm oil has become a flash point in the European Union's relationship with Malaysia, the world's second-biggest exporter of palm oil. The 28-nation bloc planned to phase out palm oil from transport fuel after the European Commission concluded that palm oil cultivation, with some exceptions, caused deforestation and that its use in transport fuels could not be counted toward its renewable energy goals. The EU discredited Malaysia for deforestation, loss of biodiversity and the destruction of habitat that is critical for endangered species. The export markets for palm oil to the West are virtually closed.

Malaysia said China, Russia and Pakistan have expressed their willingness to be partly paid in palm oil for their fighter jets. This is likely to complicate matters for the RMAF, which has traditionally preferred using Western equipment, including on its Russian Sukhoi jets. Malaysia's latest attempt at barter trade could be beneficial for Russia, which has seen China walk away with many defense deals in the region and undercut Moscow's arm supplies. Russia has a long track record of swapping weapons for commodities in the region, including as part of its fighter jet deals with Indonesia and Vietnam.

Chinese jets also stand a good chance. Malaysia shares strong political and economic ties with China, which is its largest trading partner. Chinese Malaysians make up almost a quarter of the country's population. But buying Chinese jets could also be problematic for Malaysia not least because Beijing remains the country's biggest security concern in the South China Sea. There are also concerns related to difficulties in integrating Chinese jets with existing systems and weapons used by the Malaysian air force, which could lead to additional costs and also hurt the effectiveness of Malaysian defense forces. There might be a cost in terms of training and seamless information flows across existing assets.

Transport Aircraft

Malaysia will be among the first in the world to use the Airbus A400M military transport aircraft. The Royal Malaysian Air Force has ordered four A400M aircraft costing RM2.8 billion (US$840 million), to be delivered in 2015. Problems with the Airbus A400M transport program resulted in the RMAF having to accept up to a two-year delay in delivery (falling from 2013-2014 to 2015-2016). Germany and South Africa also ordered the aircraft which useful for humanitarian missions. An RMAF spokesperson said the aircraft could reduce flying time when sending troops to overseas missions. Previously the RMAF had to use commercial aircraft for foreign missions. He also added that although the RMAF would have the larger aircraft, the existing 20 Hercules transport aircraft would still be in service for domestic usage.

Airborne Early Warning and Control Aircraft (AEW&C)

While focus has primarily been on the MRCA program, the RMAF still has an outstanding requirement for up to four airborne early warning and control aircraft (AEW&C). However, funding for the program has yet to be officially allocated. Northrop Grumman has been strongly marketing the E-2D Hawkeye, while rival Saab has also been pushing the Erieye AEW&C system, which would be installed on a platform of Malaysias choice. Both the entire existing RMAF C-130 Hercules fleet and a significant portion of the S-61A Nuri helicopter fleet will continue to be in service and are slated for an upgrade and service life extension program. Despite the purchase of 12 EC725s, Malaysia has laid down the requirement that the RMAF must have a fleet of 27 medium-lift helicopters. With no funding available for additional EC725s, the RMAF is pursuing a service life extension and upgrade for 15 of the current 28 S-61 helicopters to keep them in service.



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