Malaysia Goes on an Aviation Systems Shopping Spree

The Malaysian government inked over 40 defense deals worth $2.2 billion at the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace (LIMA) exhibition last week. The series of new defense contracts include agreements for the acquisition of light combat aircraft, armed drones, and maritime patrol aircraft.

The largest of the deals cover the purchase of 18 FA-50 light combat jets from Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI). Earlier in February, it was announced that Malaysia had opted for the FA-50 over India’s Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) Tejas Light Combat Aircraft to meet the Royal Malaysian Air Force’s Fighter Lead-In Trainer-Light Combat Aircraft (FLIT-LCA) requirement.

The $920 million FLIT-LCA tender was launched on June 22, 2021. It covered 18 aircraft (up from an initially planned 12). Of these 18 units, the tender sought eight configured for lead-in fighter-training (LIFT) duties and 10 configured as light combat aircraft. The trainers will replace seven grounded Aermacchi MB339CM trainers, with the LCAs replacing the RMAF’s legacy BAE Systems Hawk 208s (and Hawk 108 twin-seat trainers).

KAI aims to make delivery of the first FA-50 Block 20 “Fighting Eagle” to Malaysia in 2026.

The FLIT-LCA program is intended to meet a “Capability 55” (CAP55) future force structure requirement of the RMAF and calls for a second batch purchase of 18 units under the 13th Malaysia Plan, 2025-2029.

Another key contract inked at the LIMA exhibition involved a pair of Leonardo ATR 72 twin-turboprop maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) to meet Phase 1 of the RMAF’s MPA program. These will be equipped with Leonardo’s Airborne Tactical Observation and Surveillance mission system. The purchase is valued at MYR790 million ($172 million).

In addition, Malaysia purchased three Anka medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial systems from Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI). These can be equipped with guided bombs and missiles and would represent the first armed drones to enter RMAF service.

Earlier, on October 9, 2022, Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein confirmed that the government had selected the Leonardo ATR 72 and TAI Anka to meet the RMAF requirements for manned and unmanned MPA platforms.

The procurement of both systems at the LIMA exhibition marks a first step in bringing to conclusion a long-running RMAF requirement previously outlined in the 11th Malaysia Plan (2016-2020).

Rounding out the key acquisitions in the aerospace domain was a lease of four Sikorsky UH-60A Black Hawk transport helicopters from local company Aerotree Defense and Services. These units are secondhand models and will be operated by the Malaysian Army’s air wing for both training and operational duties.

The Malaysian Army has long held requirements for one squadron each of attack and transport helicopters. The lease appears to serve merely as a short-term stopgap measure.

About Daniel Darling

Dan Darling is Forecast International’s director of military and defense markets. In this role, Dan oversees a team of analysts tasked with covering everything from budgeting to weapons systems to defense electronics and military aerospace. Additionally, for over 17 years Dan has, at various times, authored the International Military Markets reports for Europe, Eurasia, the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region. Dan's work has been cited in Defense News, Real Clear Defense, Asian Military Review, Al Jazeera, and Financial Express, among others, and he has also contributed commentary to The Diplomat, The National Interest and World Politics Review. He has been quoted in Arabian Business, the Financial Times, Flight International, The New York Times, Bloomberg and National Defense Magazine. In addition, Dan has made guest appearances on the online radio show Midrats and on The Media Line, as well as The Red Line Podcast, plus media appearances on France 24 and World Is One News (WION).

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