Su-30MKM Life Extension May Put off Malaysian MRCA Procurement

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Malaysia’s SU-30MKM fighter jets are now almost certain to get a life extension following the launch of a local enterprise to perform deep maintenance on the Russian-made fighter jets.

Consequently, a plan to purchase the Dassault Rafale or the Eurofighter, as part of the Multi-role Combat Aircraft (MRCA) project may be delayed indefinitely as Kaula Lumpur grapples with budget cuts and a deepening palm oil crisis with the European Union.

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed more or less shut the door the MRCA in the near future when he launched the first locally-overhauled Su-30MKM at the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace (LIMA) show last week.

The overhaul had been performed by Aerospace Technology Systems Corp (ATSC) a Malaysian-Russian company formed especially for spares and servicing of Russian Su-30MKM. An ATSC executive told, “it is possible that we will progress from service and overhaul to full upgrade. The airframe and engines of the Sukhois is still very good and we are talking of a life extension of 10-15 years.”

During a ceremony to launch the refurbished Su-30MKM, Mahathir said, “the aircraft we bought some time back still can perform well with proper maintenance.”  He was most probably hinting at the Su-30MKMs of which only 4 out of 18 were reportedly in a fly-worthy condition according to Defence Minister Mohammed Sabu who  had told parliament in August 2018.

However, at the LIMA event, some 10 S-30MKMs could be seen on the airfield at Langkawi and one performed dazzling aerobatics setting at rest some of the speculation.

“We will think of buying airplanes from China or any other country,” Dr Mahathir said during the course of a press conference during LIMA. The PM was responding to questions regarding purchase of European jets in the light of the EU’s proposed plan to end the use of palm oil in biofuels.

Mahathir is known for his anti-western stance. The MRCA procurement had moved forward during the time of his predecessor, Najib Razak whose government was reported to have opened negotiations with France for buying a squadron of the Rafale jets.  An executive from Dassault Aviation, told this correspondent at LIMA, “we are hopeful of selling to Malaysia as the MRCA is needed by its Air Force.”

However, the Russians now seem to be smelling blood. Viktor Kladov, director, international cooperation of Russia’s Rostec holding company said in LIMA, “we have offered  to substantially hike palm oil imports from Malaysia in exchange for increased arms sales.  He saw sales possibilities of not only the Su-30 but also the Su-57 as part of Kuala Lumpur’s future procurement plans.”