By Girish Linganna
Malaysia has launched a tender for 18 jets as part of the Fighter Lead In Trainer-Light Combat Aircraft (FLIT-LCA) program. As part of the Royal Malaysian Air Force’s (RMAF) Capability Development 2055 strategy, Malaysia’s FLIT program plans to purchase 18 light combat aircraft with the first procurement and another 18 jets in the second procurement in 2025.
Potential contenders include the FA-50 from Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), the Sino-Pakistani JF-17 from Pakistan Aeronautical Complex and Chengdu Aircraft Corporation, the Italian M-346 from Leonardo, the Russian Yak-130 and the Indian Hindustan Aeronautics’ (HAL) Tejas Mk 1.
At the same time, BAE Systems, which has supplied the Malaysian fleet with Hawk 108 trainer aircraft and Hawk 208 attack aircraft, also said that its aircraft could be enhanced with various upgrades.
In general, Malaysia – with its limited budget – has a history of “postponing” defence procurement. So, for many years, it tried to replace the decommissioned MiG-29 fighters with 18 new combat aircraft, but this process did not lead to anything.
Malaysia recently received a reminder that combat aircraft are still necessary for today’s geopolitical environment. On June 1, 2021,16 Xi’an Y-20 and Ilyushin Il-76 transport aircraft of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force, or PLAAF, made an unprecedented foray into the depths of the South China Sea. They approached the territory of Malaysia at a distance of less than 111 km, where they were intercepted by fighters of the RMAF.
Among the reasons for such flights is the issue of oil resources in the exclusive economic zone of Kuala Lumpur and China’s attempts to explore Malaysia’s anti-aircraft capabilities.
HAL LCA has a fair chance
HAL presented its proposal to the Malaysian Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) in October 2021. According to HAL, the two-seat Tejas LIFT (Lead in Fighter Trainer) model had a good chance of winning the competition since it matched all of the RMAF’s requirements.
It is corroborated by ‘Janes Intel’, which recently wrote that the HAL offer of LCA-Tejas has a “fair chance” of winning the bid, as it has met “all the parameters sought by RMAF in its FLIT programme. The report also indicates that it faces some serious competition from the KAI-developed FA-50, which has been offered a similar sensor package at a lower cost.
According to an estimate by Janes Intel, the LCA-Tejas has been offered at $32 million per unit, while the FA-50 has been offered at $26.5 million per unit. The Koreans have offered in-flight refuelling capability on the aircraft, as requested by the RMAF, even though they have not been tested.
Janes says that LCA-Tejas, at $32 million, is the costliest jet on offer other than the Mig-35, which is unlikely to be approved by RMAF owing to its past with the Mig-29 type.
However, the figure may not be correctly ascertained. The offer price may be $32 million, but the final price where it will offset and they will agree nobody knows.
HAL recently inked a memorandum of understanding on August 18 to establish a Kuala Lumpur office. The KL office will be responsible for marketing HAL’s range of goods and services in South East Asia.
According to a press statement from HAL, the Malaysian office will assist in exploiting new business prospects for FLIT LCA and other RMAF needs. HAL anticipates that the Malaysian government will shortly announce the bid winner.
India’s Uttam Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar will replace the Israeli EL/M-2052 radar on the Tejas aircraft given to the RMAF. The indigenously built modern radar has an edge over the closest competitor FA-50’s mechanical radar. HAL reports that other Israeli components have alternatives. HAL is also willing to include any ammunition requested by the customer.
Tejas has the advantage of integrating advanced air-to-air missiles such as BrahMos for greater attacking power. Again, the FA-50 loses out here due to its inability to employ such munitions. HAL is also seeking contracts in the Philippines, where it signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Philippines Aerospace Development Corporation in April to establish an MRO facility.
Author is Aerospace, & Defence Analyst.
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