BANGKOK --- The Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) will set up a technical team to evaluate several types of maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) following government approval of the purchase of the surveillance aircraft as announced in the 2018 Budget recently.
According to RMAF Chief, Gen Tan Sri Affendi Buang, the technical team will analyse several aspects of the contender’s aircraft and choose the best option which fits the RMAF requirements.
“Besides the aircraft’s capabilities, the team will evaluate other functions of the aircraft, including its supportive aspect and whether it (the aircraft) could collaborate with our local industry. We need to look holistically on its long-term benefits,” he told the media while attending the Defence and Security 2017 exhibition here recently.
He said the government, as announced in the budget, had approved the procurement of four MPAs in line with RMAF’s minimum requirement, but the number of the aircraft could be added in the future, depending on the government’s financial ability.
Affendi said the impending purchase of the aircraft would definitely boost the air force’s ability to safeguard the country’s maritime borders and ward off any intrusion.
Currently, safeguarding the nation’s maritime sovereignty is primarily shouldered by three of the RMAF’s Beechcraft B200 aircraft, and aircraft from other agencies.
Meanwhile, the RMAF chief said to ensure the technical team made the best evaluation on the right aircraft for the air force, a Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) officer would also be included in the team due to several compelling reasons.
Although the MPA will be operated by the RMAF, the multi-spectral mission of the aircraft also consists of naval operations such as Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), which makes it imperative to have output from a naval officer in the evaluation team.
Besides ASW and maritime surveillance, the MPAs, according to Affendi also needs to perform missions such as Search And Rescue (SAR) and Electronic Intelligence (ELINT).
Among the contenders to fulfill RMAF’s MPA requirement include Airbus Defence and Space’s C295, Indonesia’s PT Dirgantara CN235, Leonardo’s ATR72 and P-8 Poseidon which are used by the United States and Australia’s armed forces.
P-8 Poseidon’s prohibitive price tag could overrule the pricey aircraft from the race, according to a defence analyst who declined to be named. He said the ATR72 which was in service with a number of countries could be the front-runner due to several reasons.
On offer by the Japanese Government to transfer its Kawasaki P-1 maritime surveillance aircraft to Malaysia for free, Affendi said the RMAF technical team had just left for the country to evaluate the offer.
“The air force needs to wait for the team’s return before making a decision,” he said, adding that the offer from Japan was nevertheless, not related to the MPA’s procurement mentioned in the recent budget but more of a stop-gap measure.
He noted that the Kawasaki P-1 aircraft had been in operation for more than 30 years and was nearing the end of its life cycle.
“The aircraft is not manufactured anymore by the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer). We don’t start buying aircraft which is obsolete... it’s an old system,” he said.