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Asia - Other | Other Corporation | Pre-RFP | Radars | Specialty Aircraft | Transformation

Malaysia Interested in AWACS Aircraft

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EMB-145 Erieye(click to view full) As Southeast Asia’s growing prosperity and political challenges filter down to it military buys, equipment in the region continues to become more sophisticated. An influx of modern submarines around critical ocean chokepoints has received the most attention, but parallel growth is occurring with fighter aircraft – and with other advanced […]
EMB-145 Erieye AWACS

EMB-145 Erieye
(click to view full)

As Southeast Asia’s growing prosperity and political challenges filter down to it military buys, equipment in the region continues to become more sophisticated. An influx of modern submarines around critical ocean chokepoints has received the most attention, but parallel growth is occurring with fighter aircraft – and with other advanced airplanes as well.

In October 2007, Thailand announced a 2-phase deal to buy both a handful of Saab’s 4.5 generation JAS-39 Gripen fighters, and Saab’s S-1000 Erieye airborne early warning planes. They join Pakistan, which has also ordered Saab’s Erieye, and Singapore, which operates E-2 Hawkeyes and has ordered Israeli G550 Phalcon AEW&C aircraft. India has ordered the larger and more capable IL-76 Phalcon from Russia and Israel, and may be looking to add a medium sized AWACS platform. To the south, Australia’s E-737 “Wedgetail” AWACS has faced delivery delays, but will arrive in the region shortly.

Now Malaysia is now expressing interest of its own.

SU-30MKM concept

SU-30MKM concept
(click to view full)

Malaysia already has one of the region’s more advanced fighter fleets, with a very unusual combination of its flagship SU-30MKMs, supplemented by MiG-29Ns, F/A-18D Hornets, and old F-5 E/F Tiger IIs. According to NST, General Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Zainal has said that the armed forces was seeking to add up to 8 airborne early-warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft to its fleet.

This does not mean that the request will be fulfilled, of course. AWACS aircraft are especially expensive, given the radars and electronics they need to carry. Nevertheless, high oil prices are offering Malaysia the same economic bonuses that other exporters are enjoying, and the prospect cannot be ruled out.

If a buy proves affordable, and gains political support, the next question is, what type? As yet, there is no firm indication, but a buy of 8 AWACS planes strongly indicates a smaller aircraft platform.

American E-2C Hawkeye aircraft will probably be available given that countries like Egypt also have it, and that Malaysia has been allowed to buy F/A-18D Hornets in the past. A 2013 report in UV Online went farther, and said that Malaysia had been approved to buy the newest E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, which offers substantial radar and electronic upgrades.

The other plausible contender in the small-mid size AWACS category is Saab, with its Erieye radar system. Malaysia’s neighbor Thailand already operates Saab Erieye turboprops, and Brazil’s Embraer offers its own Erieye-based AWACS jets. Saab is even discussing the possibility of mounting its Erieye radar on an EADS-CASA C-295 turboprop transport. This could be significant for Malaysia, which already operates the related CN-235.

Israeli Phalcon technology is featured in a number of alternative AWACS platforms around the world, from Chile’s E-707, to India’s A-50EI, to Israel & Singapore’s G550 CAEW. Malaysia can’t choose it, because they’re an Islamic country that adheres to the Arab League’s boycott of Israel. Persistent anti-Jewish comments by Malaysia’s leadership haven’t exactly warmed relations from the other direction, either.

Additional Readings

* DID – Malaysia’s SU-30MKMs – Will a New Competition Bring More? Saab is offering Malaysia a lease deal involving JAS-39C/D Gripen fighters, and S340 Erieye AEW turboprops – just as a fiasco with a disappeared Malaysia Airlines 777 makes airspace control a much bigger priority.

* Aviation Week (Feb 13/08) – Low-Cost and Effective AEW Systems Find Buyers [dead link]. Cites Saab’s Erieye on EMB-145 jets and Saab turboprops, and IAI’s G550 CAEW jet.

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