Malaysia to acquire new fighters amid tense territorial situation

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The Malaysian government issued an international tender on June 22, 2021, for the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) Light Combat Aircraft/Fighter Lead-In-Trainer (LCA/FLIT) program.

The Ministry of Defense intends to acquire 18 FLIT/LCA aircraft. The tender will close on September 22, 2021. The light fighters will replace several aging aircraft, such as the BAe Hawk Mk 108 and Mk 208, and support the Boeing F/A-18D Hornet and Sukhoi Su-30MKM in service with the RMAF. As for the trainers, they will replace the Aermacchi MB-339CM trainer jets that are currently grounded. The proportion would be 8 trainers for 10 light combat aircraft, according to an industry source quoted by Janes.

Malaysia recently retired the MiG-29 Fulcrum due to its inability to maintain them. Since then, the RMAF has in dire need of aircraft capable of carrying out an interception. A similar tender had already been issued in 2018. It received proposals from several international manufacturers, including the Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) FA-50, India’s HAL Tejas, the Leonardo M-346, and the Boeing T-X, since renamed T-7 Red Hawk. Due to a lack of funding, the competition did not go forward.

However, the capability gap was most likely felt very recently by the Malaysian authorities. On May 31, 2021, RMAF Hawks from the Labuan Air Base intercepted a tactical formation of no less than 16 Chinese transport aircraft that came within 110 kilometers (60 nautical miles) from Sarawak, a Malaysian state on the island of Borneo. Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein issued a formal complaint to China, which minimized the incident, saying that the aircraft that were in training at the time “strictly abided by the relevant international law.”

Situated on the southwestern side of the tumultuous South China Sea, Malaysia has ongoing territorial disputes with its neighbors over the control of some of the Spratly Islands. The Swallow Reef, for example, that it controls since 1983 with a base of the Royal Malaysian Navy, is also claimed by Vietnam, Taiwan, and China.


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