With MRCA Project Stalled, Royal Malaysian Air Force Plans MiG-29 Upgrade

by Dan Darling, International Military Markets Analyst, Forecast International.

The Royal Malaysian Air Force plans to hold on to its fleet of MiG-29N Fulcrums a bit longer.

The MiG-29s form part of the RMAF’s mixed combat aircraft fleet, which also includes Boeing F/A-18D Hornets and Sukhoi Su-30MKMs. The Fulcrums are the oldest of the RMAF’s jet fighters, having been delivered in 1995 (the Hornets mostly arrived in 1997, while the Su-30s were delivered between 2006 and 2010).

The RMAF had outlined the replacement of the MiG-29s as a cornerstone project as far back as 2002, when plans were formulated to acquire two types of aircraft to meet the service’s need for an eventual frontline fighter force of some 36 aircraft. A purchase of 18 Su-30MKMs a year later fulfilled half of that goal.

Under the RMAF’s Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MRCA) program, the replacement of the MiG-29Ns with 18 new fighters had emerged as the core requirement. An initial Request for Proposals (RFP) was issued in March 2011 calling for 18 new fighters, plus an option for a further 18-unit batch. The Boeing F/A‑18E/F Super Hornet, Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, and Saab JAS 39 Gripen were all offered up as potential contenders to fill the RMAF requirement, with a further buy of Su-30MKMs ruled out by the service.

But as time passed, the Malaysian government began to get cold feet about such an expensive procurement, and reports coming out of Kuala Lumpur in April 2014 indicated a gathering consensus that a lease – or even a lease-to-buy – would be preferential to an outright purchase.

As the RMAF awaits the precise breakdown of the government’s latest five-year spending plan (the 11th Development Plan 2016-2020) presented to Parliament on May 21, it must determine whether to go forward with MRCA or instead shift its focus to MiG-29 retention. It appears the latter option is likely to win out.

RMAF chief Gen. Datuk Seri Roslan Saad noted to local media on June 1 that initial plans to phase out the MiG-29Ns – first by 2010, then by 2015 – have been tabled (for now), and instead the fleet will be put through an upgrade that will extend their service lives. This would likely push their serviceability out to around 2020 with the hope that the fighter procurement might be in motion by the time the next Development Plan is presented.

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