In recent years, the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) has moved maritime surveillance to one of its top procurement priorities ahead of other combat needs such as the Multi-Role Combat Aircraft program, in an effort to protect the country’s maritime interests, especially in the contested South China Sea and pirate-infested Malacca Straits.
The RMAF could be looking at a total of four maritime patrol aircraft (MPA), according to Elfien Goentoro, the president director of Indonesia’s PT Dirgantara Indonesia (PTDI). After preliminary talks at the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace show held March 26-30, he said that the RMAF is considering options for two new MPAs, in this case, PT DI’s CN235 MPA variant, and two more to be converted from the RMAF’s current CN235 transport fleet. In addition, the RMAF is also looking at a CN235 conversion for VIP transport.
At LIMA 19, PT DI gave the Certificate of Completion and Certificate of Competency to the RMAF for the CN235 Rewiring Program, completing the transfer of technology to the air force. RMAF’s seven CN235s will undergo a Service Life Extension Program (SLEP), under which the first three airframes will go through processes such as structural inspection, rewiring, and replacement of obsolescent equipment in 2019, with the remainder following in 2020.
Meanwhile, Boeing is hopeful that the P-8 Poseidon’s successful campaign around Asia-Pacific will continue to spill into Southeast Asia, and has offered the P-8 to the RMAF. Yeong Tae Pak, Boeing Southeast Asia regional director, acknowledged that the standard P-8 capabilities could be beyond Malaysia’s requirements. “We are willing to discuss with Malaysia to understand their needs and equip the P-8 accordingly to their requirements and budget,” he said.
Unlike at previous airshows where Boeing recommended installing the Maritime Surveillance Aircraft mission system in a Bombardier Challenger 605 business jet for nations with smaller requirements, Pak said that the proposal to Malaysia would still be based on the Boeing 737 airframe.
Italy’s Leonardo is continuing its push for its ATR 72MP, the military version of the highly successful ATR 72 turboprop airliner. Leonardo sent an Italian navy ATR 72MP, known as the P-72, to the 2017 LIMA show. Cristiano Biancani, Leonardo’s v-p of marketing and sales for the aircraft division, said that Leonardo is probably the only manufacturer that is able to provide a “whole-of-system” package to Malaysia, comprising the airframe, radar, mission systems, and ECM suites. He added that Malaysia has a large domestic fleet of ATR 72s, operated by airlines such as Firefly and Malindo. The large pool of aircraft would mean a high level of expertise in manpower and also lower overheads in maintenance.
It is noteworthy that Leonardo is also the only OEM that has reacted to both Malaysia’s Light Combat Aircraft and MPA RFIs, and it will be interesting to see if the Italian government or Leonardo is able to combine its proposals for both RMAF requirements into a single package.