Six contenders for Royal Malaysian Air Force light combat aircraft tender

The Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) is looking to purchase new Fighter Lead‐In Trainer/Light Combat Aircraft (FLIT/LCA) within the next three years, according to Air Force Chief General Ackbal Abdul Samad. Samad said that under the RMAF Capability Development Plan 2055 (CAP55), the service plans to procure 36 FLIT/LCA aircraft in two steps. The new LCA will provide support to the current Boeing F/A-18D Hornet and Sukhoi Su-30MKM fighter aircraft.

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Six contenders remain for Royal Malaysian Air Force light combat aircraft tender

Royal Malaysian Air Force Hawk light combat aircraft (Picture source: RMAF)

In January 2021, as reported by Matteo Sanzani in BlogBeforeFlight, Air Force Chief General Ackbal Abdul Samad said: "The RMAF has asked the government for a budget for the acquisition of 18 aircraft in phase 1 through the submission of the new projects 2021 and another 18 aircraft in phase 2, under the 13th Malaysia Plan (RMK-13)". The RMAF currently operates two variants of the BAE Systems Hawk in the FLIT/LCA roles, as well as some Aermacchi MB339 trainers. Half of the fleet is nearing the end of its operational life and needs to be replaced within 10 years at the latest.

According to Valius Venckunas in Aerotime, six aircraft are currently submitted to Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) light combat aircraft (LCA) tender, Malaysian media reports. They include India’s Hindustan Aeronautics with the Tejas, a conglomerate of Russian-led companies with the MiG-35, China’s Catic with the L-15, Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) with the FA-50, Turkey Aerospace Industries (TAI) with the Hürjet, and Italy’s Leonardo with the M-346.

The information was reported by the Malaysian business newspaper The Edge Malaysia Weekly. As pointed by Valius Venckunas, the list does not contain the Pakistani-Chinese JF-17 Thunder, which was rumored to be one of the prime contenders. The Boeing T-7A Red Hawk and the Yakovlev Yak-130 are also absent.

According to The Edge, the tender documents were acquired by nine companies, while just six of them sent their bids before the closing date on October 6, 2021. Earlier reports by the Malaysian media indicated nine contenders. Besides the T7A, the Yak-130, and the JF-17, they also included the Czech Aero Vodochy L-39NH, but excluded the TAI Hürjet.

Malaysia announced the LCA tender in June 2021. Eight aircraft from the initial batch are intended to be used as trainers and 10 to act as light combat aircraft, performing both air-to-ground and air-to-air missions. Requirements for the aircraft include aerial refueling, beyond-visual-range (BVR) combat and supersonic flight capabilities, as well as containing at least 30% of parts produced in Malaysia. The manufacturer also has to be able to start deliveries within 36 months after the contract is signed. These requirements exclude the L-39NH, which is not supersonic. All the other aircraft appear to meet the requirements, or at least can be modified to do so.

The TAI Hürjet is the only aircraft of the six that has not yet performed a maiden flight ‒ its prototype is expected to enter production in late 2021, and fly before the end of 2022. It is intended to replace the Northrop T-38 Talon as an advanced trainer for the Turkish Air Force, and also has a light combat variant.