LIMA: Mixed signals around MRCA fighter deal

Flightglobal.com, by Greg Waldron, Langkawi, 23 March 2017

Kuala Lumpur appears to be sending mixed signals about the status of its multi-role combat aircraft (MRCA) acquisition to replace its Mikoyan MiG-29s with 18 modern fighters.

This year’s Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition (LIMA) saw three major European manufacturers campaign at the show: Dassault, BAE Systems, and Saab.

Dassault had a large presence, with French air force Rafales appearing in both the static and flying displays.

BAE Systems, which is leading the Eurofighter consortium’s campaign in Malaysia, actively promoted the Typhoon. This included a full-sized mock-up that it has brought to the last four LIMA shows.

Saab also actively promoted its Gripen fighter. A Gripen C/D operated by the Royal Thai Air Force took part in the flying display.

At a BAE Systems briefing for defence reporters, a company executive said the firm had received indications that there has been a downselect to two twin-egined types, the Typhoon and Rafale.

At a subsequent Saab briefing, a spokesman from the Swedish company was quick to dismiss this notion.

“Despite what you may have been told, no decisions have been made here,” he says. “No clarity has emerged on what is going to happen. We have seen the same statements, but no decisions will be taken until 2020.”

A Saab executive told the group that he had been in a meeting where senior Malaysian officials extolled the benefits of single-engined fighters over those with two engines.

In the BAE briefing, BAE officials also discussed the Eurofighter’s recent involvement in combat operations in the Middle East, and efforts to integrate new weapons into the platform and the sustainability of the jet.

Saab, meanwhile, talked about the extensive weapons integration available for the Gripen, and stressed the industrial partnership opportunities and technology transfer it is willing to offer.

Saab also said it could provide Gripens to Malaysia under a lease agreement, a nod to Kuala Lumpur’s tight defence budget.

Boeing Defence & Space had no presence at this year’s show, although two US Navy F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets appeared on static with other US military aircraft.

Local MRO firm Airod also continues to push an upgrade of the ten MiG-29s to a new MiG-29SM standard. This proposal, which the air force apparently is against, would see the jets receive a new high-resolution, fire-control radar; improved cockpit ergonomics, and better avionics. The type’s airframe life would be extended to 6,000h from the current 4,000h.

Flight Fleets Analyzer shows that Kuala Lumpur operates 49 combat comprising eight F/A-18Ds, 13 Hawk 208s, 10 MiG-29s, and 18 Su-30s.

The MiG-29s have not appeared at LIMA since 2013. Sources say that only six remain airworthy, operating at a reduced capacity.

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