Malaysia's old Sikorsky S-61 A-4 "Nuri" helicopters will be decommissioned with only a dozen French Eurocopter EC725 Cougars for the military to depend on.
"The tough decision was made after deliberations over the past two decades. The Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) strongly recommended that these Nuri helicopters be decommissioned," RMAF chief General Datuk Seri Ackbal Abdul Samad was quoted as saying by New Straits Times on Wednesday.
He said the Defence Ministry was preparing the documents for the cabinet’s approval.
“The wear and tear, after flying laboriously for 52 years, is beyond imagination with exorbitant costs for their upkeep that includes like maintenance, servicing, repair and parts. Frankly, they have come to their tail-end, especially due to logistics difficulties as well as time-consuming to source spare parts," the RMAF chief explained.
The RMAF recently operated fewer than 20 Nuri helicopters at its No. 3 Squadron in Butterworth and No. 7 Squadron in Kuching.
In March 2015, the RMAF gave away 14 Nuri helicopters from its fleet of 38 to the army’s air wing. Aside of Nuri helicopters and Cougars, Malaysia operates four Sikorsky S-70A Blackhawks in VIP configuration from its Subang base.
Ackbal said the RMAF had forwarded its recommendations to the Defence Ministry to either lease or procure new helicopters.
“A lot depends on the availability of funds, which is the crux of the matter. Hopefully, a firm decision can be made in the 12th Malaysia Plan (2021-2025)," he said.
Nuri helicopters had been grounded following a near-fatal crash at the Gubir army camp in Kedah on August 2 last year. The rotorcraft reportedly suffered a mechanical failure.
Malaysia previously planned to phase out the helicopters by 2012, after more than 80 personnel were reportedly killed in more than 20 crashes since they were first introduced in 1967.
The helicopters subsequently underwent life-extension fuselage and avionics upgrades at Airod Sdn Bhd in Subang. Their main and tail rotor blades and gearboxes were upgraded, and they were equipped with digital datalinks, self-protection equipment, armoured protection and pintle-mounted machine guns at the cargo doors.
Last year, the then RMAF chief Affendi had revealed that 40% of the RMAF’s assets needed upgrading. He said system upgrades were necessary to ensure they operated at an optimum level and required less maintenance expenditure.