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RMAF Under 14th Malaysia Plan | Mio Kitchen


07 Juli 2024

Sukhoi Su-57 Felon favorites for next MRCA program during 14th Malaysia Plan within period of time 2031-2035 (photo: peakpx)

The Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) is likely to select the Sukhoi Su-57E Felon fifth-generation stealth fighter as its next Multirole Combat Aircraft (MRCA).

Sources tell Twentytwo13 that the deliveries are expected to take place at the end of the 14th Malaysia Plan. In total, an unconfirmed number of airframes will equip one squadron. The RMAF will likely have options for follow-on orders.

MRCA – Multirole Combat Aircraft

The RMAF’s MRCA requirement is for a twin-engined fighter with a high combat persistence, long loiter times, with air-to-air refuelling capability, and able to perform a variety of tasking, including air-to-air, air-to-ground, close air support, interdiction/strike, anti-shipping, and suppression of enemy air defences, among others.

Both the Felon and the Boramae were odds-on favourites in the RMAF’s MRCA competition, and fit into the RMAF’s force modernisation plans for a number of reasons. In the case of the Su-57, Malaysia already has extensive experience in operating, servicing, and maintaining Russian aircraft, beginning with the MiG-29N Fulcrum in 1995. The infrastructure is already in place and there is familiarity with the way the Russians conduct business.

Sources tell Twentytwo13 that the Su-57 Felon package being offered by the Russians to the RMAF included new-generation precision, and standoff weapons like the RVV-SDM (purportedly better than the AIM-120 C-7 beyond-visual-range missile), the RVV-MD (equal to the Raytheon AIM-9X all aspect, heat homer), and the Kh-35 Long Range, Air-to-Surface Missile (against sea, and ground targets).

KAI’s KF-21 Boramae meanwhile, was a frontrunner because it seemed like the logical progression from the FA-50M Block 20 Light Combat Aircraft that the RMAF will soon operate. The initial batch of four FA-50Ms is scheduled to be delivered in October 2026. The remaining 14 will be delivered by the end of 2027, and the RMAF has options for another 18 aircraft. The introduction of the FA-50M entails a comprehensive maintenance, spares, and support package that could easily be expanded to include the Boramae.

Observers pointed out that there was a third possible entry – Turkiye’s Kaan fighter. The aircraft, however, was just rolled out earlier this year. It is looking at a rather long and protracted flight test and development programme ahead of it, and was therefore, not a real contender.

Another important consideration is cost. While no numbers have been firmed up, analysts expect the initial acquisition costs to be much lower than other US or European, ‘gold-plated’ fighters, like the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II. And in Russia’s case, partial payment will most likely be made through palm oil.

Su-30 MKM (photo: Wiki)

Enter the ‘Super Flanker’

Currently, the ‘apex predator’ in the Flanker family is the Su-35, and Su-30SM variants, now in limited service with the Russian Air Force. Dubbed the ‘Super Flanker’, both variants incorporate new sensors and systems, including a new radar, electronic countermeasures (ECM), radar homing and warning (RHAW) gear, data link, radios, inertial navigation, cockpit displays, and infrared search and track (IRST) systems.

These sensor suites and improvements could easily be retrofitted and integrated into Malaysia’s 18 Su-30MKMs – bringing them to ‘Super Flanker’ standard – thereby expanding and enhancing their capabilities and combat survivability. The upgraded Su-30MKMs can then supplement the new MRCA, increasing the number of aircraft in the RMAF’s fighter inventory.

The cost of upgrading the Su-30MKM, in the region of RM2-3 billion, could be spread out if the programme is done in tandem with the Indian Air Force (IAF), which is planning to conduct a similar ‘mid-life’ update of their fleet of Su-30MKIs. The IAF has specified new radars, mission control, and weapon systems, reflecting India’s push for self-reliance in defence manufacturing. The upgrade will include the integration of indigenous systems, such as a new radar, and electronic warfare capabilities, improving air-to-air, and air-to-ground targeting.

F/A-18D Hornet of Kuwaiti Air Force (photo: Scramble)

Desert Hornets for Malaysia

In 2023, Malaysia’s then defence minister Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan, again announced that the RMAF was looking to acquire 33 Hornets from Kuwaiti Air Force’s (KAF) stocks. Earlier this month, the RMAF sent a delegation to Kuwait to resume talks. Twentytwo13 has learnt that the deal is finally on.

The initial roadmap for the RMAF’s current MRCAs – the eight F/A-18Ds, and 18 Su-30MKMs – called for the phasing out of both types by 2032, and 2035, respectively. However, under the revised plan, both types will soldier on well into the 2040s. Under the same plan, the Su-30MKM will be upgraded to ‘Super Flanker’ standard, using the Indian Air Force upgrade of their Su-30MKI as the baseline. The RMAF’s eight Hornets meanwhile, are fresh from their latest SCS-29C upgrade, undertaken by G7 Global Aerospace, under the LPM12Y programme.

Previously, Malaysia had approved the purchase of 18 KAI FA-50 Block 20 Light Combat Aircraft and option for 18 more (photo: BreakingDefence)

Jet tankers for RMAF

Another possible development in the RMAF’s force modernisation programme is the addition of two jet tanker transports to the air force’s tanker fleet.

Twentytwo13 learnt that the air force is looking at adding two dedicated jet-powered tanker transports to its fleet of tankers. The task of providing in-flight refuelling is currently being shouldered by the Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules, and the Airbus A-400M Atlas.

Malaysia will acquire two jet tanker aircraft (photo: Boeing)

The RMAF uses the ‘probe and drogue’ method of in-flight refuelling (IFR), which limits its ability to support other air forces that use the ‘flying boom’ method of IFR. Aside from interoperability issues, the Hercules and Atlas are limited by range and speed. The introduction of the new tanker aircraft will address both issues.

Currently, the most common tanker type in service is the Airbus A330 MRTT (multirole tanker transport). The United States has several types in service, such as the KC-46A Pegasus, a platform converted from the Boeing 767 jetliner that is slowly replacing the long-serving KC-135 Stratotanker. 

Funding remains a critical factor. However, one thing is certain. If the money is not forthcoming, the RMAF’s ability to effectively counter new and emerging threats, will be seriously degraded.

See full article TwentyTwo13 (1) | TwentyTwo13 (2)

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