LANGKAWI, March 23 – The fight is over the Royal Malaysian Air Force’s (RMAF) requirement for 18 fighters to replace its aging MiG-29N fleet. The Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MRCA) programme has been in limbo due to budgetary problems since Malaysia issued an RfP in 2011.
Expectations are that the competition will be finalised after the 2020 defence budget is allocated, but BAE Systems claimed its Eurofighter and the French-made Dassault Rafale had been down-selected for the MRCA.
Dassault Aviation could not be reached for comment.
This year the French Air Force brought a pair of Rafales to LIMA, as it has done for several shows now.
Meanwhile, Saab representative Rob Hewson expressed disbelief over the BAE announcement. ‘Despite what BAE has said, no decision has been made and no decision will be made by 2020.’ Further, ‘This is a Malaysian government decision not budgeted at present.’
Hewson went on to explain why Saab’s Gripen was the only rational fighter choice for the MRCA, with the RMAF expressing interest in Saab’s unique leasing option, with export credit as an inducement.
The Gripen is the only fighter you can buy, lease and/or both, he said. The Gripen was the only fighter with a ‘hot production line’ and it could deliver in 18 months from contract signing.
Hewson also cited Malaysia’s neighbour, Thailand, which procured both the Gripen and the company’s 340 Erieye airborne early warning aircraft. The Royal Thai Air Force brought two Gripens to LIMA 2017.
BAE Systems countered with the successful operational history of the Typhoon in the Middle East, citing combat deployments by the UK and Saudi Arabia in Iraq and Syria, as well as procurements by Oman and Kuwait.
In the fairness of juxtaposition, both companies appear to be meeting the original requirements of the Malaysian RfP for industrial partnerships, offsets and host government support for financial assistance to Malaysia to improve the chance of winning the competition.
Neither company appeared to be lying about their fighter programmes, and both offered strong arguments to support their bids for winning the MRCA programme.
Meanwhile, the US Navy brought two Super Hornets to LIMA 2017. Boeing is forging its campaign on the fact that the RMAF already flies the Hornet.
Meanwhile, the Russian Knights aerobatic team flew the flag for the Sukhoi Su-30 as Moscow’s option for the MRCA requirement