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Malaysia Issues MPA and UAV Tenders

The much anticipated tenders for the supply of two Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) and three Medium Altitude Long Endurance Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (MALE UAV) have been issued to international bidders on August 25.

Apparently, the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) is looking for up to 4 new MPA to replace the 3 remaining Beechcraft B200TMP Super King Air currently soldering on with No 16 ‘Sintar’ Skn.

The recent tender is actually Phase 1 of the whole MPA program.According to a statement by Senior Minister of Defence, the Beechcraft is expected to be withdrawn from service by 2024, exactly 30 years since it was inducted into the RMAF in 1994.

The B200TMP lacks sufficient range and endurance. The small cabin space means that it is not able to carry much sensors for surveillance.Having said that, the Beechcraft has provided excellent service with sterling safety record of 22 years until a training hazard accident occurred on December 21, 2016 killing the pilot and instructor Mej (posthumously promoted to Lt Kol) Kayamboo Chellam TUDM.

In all, the RMAF operates two Beechcraft B350i King Air for Multi Engine and Crew Training (MECT) at Tactical Flight Training Centre – Transport (Pusat Latihan Terbang Taktikal – Angkut or PLTT-Angkut) and four B200TMP with No 16 Skn. The two units currently based at Subang AFB although the B350i has been pulled out of service after the leasing contract has lapsed.A tender has been issued for replacement of the B350i albeit in much smaller size. Two IAe CN235-220M tactical transport aircraft operated by No 1 Skn will be converted into MPA by the Indonesian Aerospace (IAe) at its Bandung facility under US funded Maritime Security Initiative (MSI).

The CN-235 and its larger development, the Airbus C-295 were considered as leading contenders as they share logistic commonality with the existing fleet including 4 Airbus A-400M Atlas strategic transport aircraft operated by No 22 Skn also at Subang AFB.

The fact that the CN-235 is built in Indonesia means that the procurement cost is much lower than any other contenders. No 1 Skn (previously No 21 Skn) has been operating the CN-235s for more than 20 years with commendable safety record. One CN-235-100 VIP transport aircraft was lost in an accident but the incident never tarnished the overall good record the fleet has.

As ad hoc MPA, the CN-235 was deployed to conduct maritime surveillance during the search of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in 2014 and Covid-19 border patrol as part of Ops Benteng.

In terms of provision of training, the existing flight simulator facility at Kuching AFB could be well used to train future MPA pilots. Even the CN-235 offers seamless maintenance support both in country and abroad.

As for the MALE UAV, preparation has been well on the way since the first time the RMAF mooted the idea for MPA configured MALE UAV REQUIREMENT during the Langkawi International Maritime & Aerospace (LIMA) 2017 airshow. By the time the 2019 edition of LIMA opened up its curtain, international Request for Information (RFI) has been issued to potential bidders.

The US Government has cleared Malaysia to purchase the General Atomic Sky Guardian MALE UAV, derived from the famous MQ-9 Reaper.Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) on the other hand has continously renewed its cooperation and relationships with Malaysia’s DEFTECH which also include local development of the former’s Anka MALE UAV.

In conjunction with RMAF anniversary on June 1, the Chief of the Air Force has announced that the squadron operating 18 KNAAPO-built Sukhoi Su-30MKM (NATO Reporting Name: Flanker) Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MRCA), No 11 ‘Bisa’ Skn will be undergoing number plate change to reflect its new role and preservation of historical facts.

The Sukhoi had since being operated by No 12 ‘Jengking Merah’ Skn while No 11 Skn will be operating a mix of Tactical UAV (TUAV) and the MALE UAV. A tender has been issued for the supply of unspecified number of TUAS for No 11 Skn out of Melaka International Airport near Batu Berendam.The spirit of the tender is nevertheless to provide training and surveillance platform in anticipation of delivery of the much capable MALE UAV.

The RMAF will certainly following closely the training syllabus and operational doctrine of two Maritime agencies namely the Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) Aviation Branch (Cawangan Udara TLDM –  CUT) with its US supplied Boeing/In-Situ ScanEagle Mk 2 operated by No 601 Skn and the Malaysian Coast Guard (officially known as the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency or MMEA) Thales Fulmar X TUAVs out of its Bagan Datuk class New Generation Patrol Craft (NGPV)

The MALE UAV tender is expected to be closed by November while the MPA tender is closed in early December 2020. This could mean that two winners might be selected in 2021, the first year of 12th Malaysia Plan.

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