MRCA: Fulcrum and Retirement

SHAH ALAM: IN my post about the RMK11, I mentioned the political considerations as one of the reasons for the retirement of RMAF Mig-29 Fulcrum fleet. Without approved funding in RMK11, the Fulcrum will simply grind out of service without any fanfare.

However as I had reported (the post is missing) during the 57th anniversary Press conference at the Kuantan air base on June 1 this year, RMAF chief Jen Tan Sri Roslan Saad refused to confirm nor deny the retirement date.

The reticence about Fulcrum exact retirement date was puzzling to say the least as the previous RMAF chief had unequivocally stated that the aircraft will be retired by the end of 2015.

The issue became more confusing when the New Straits Times the next day reported ( although the reporter stated that his story never said it) that the Government had agreed to fund the Fulcrum upgrade!

For the record the latest version of the story, available online, still contained a quote by Roslan that the Fulcrums will be upgraded. It is less sensational than the original story published on June 2, however. (My video recording of the whole Press conference clearly showed that Roslan never said such a thing).

As it was an NST report, a couple of aviation portals and even a magazine had subsequently reported that RMAF will upgrade the Fulcrums, claiming it will follow the upgrade path as proposed by Airod’s subsidiary, ATSC Sdn Bhd at LIMA 2015.

A model at ATSC stand featuring the proposed Fuclrum modernisation. Among others it will be fitted with the Flanker's avionics.
A model at ATSC stand featuring the proposed Fuclrum modernisation. Among others it will be fitted with the Flanker’s avionics.

This is the Aviation Week report on the proposal:

“The aircraft proposed by Airod’s Aerospace Technology Systems Corporation, in conjunction with Malaysia’s Sukhoi Technical Centre, would receive a new high-resolution, fire-control radar; improved cockpit ergonomics; and better avionics, while the type’s airframe life would be extended to 6,000h from the current 4,000h.”

To read the full story go here.

I did not report about the proposal as I was told bluntly by several officials at the air show that a political decision had been made on the Fulcrum. No more funding period. And then came the NST on June 2!

Well anyhow, I find out recently why the retirement of the Fulcrum is a sensitive one. Apparently, Russia is putting pressure on Malaysia to cancel the retirement plan. Instead of retiring the fighters, Russia offered to upgrade “all” surviving aircraft to the same standard as the Indian Air Force Mig-29 upgrade, the same one proposed by Airod.

The IAF Fulcrum UPG among others include the the new Zhuk-M2E radar made by Phazotron-NIIR, the OLS-UEM infrared search-and-track system (IRST) similar to the Indian Navy MiG-29Ks, thermal / TV / laser imaging made by Moscow-based NPK SPP, multi-functional full-colour LCDs in the cockpit, increased fuel capacity and more powerful RD-33 series 3 turbo-jet engines.

IAF MIG-29UPG. Note the distinctive dorsal spine where extra fuel is stored. RAC-MIG.
IAF MIG-29UPG. Note the distinctive dorsal spine where extra fuel is stored. RAC-MIG.

According to reports, the new radar range has increase to 200 nautical miles and the ability to track 60 targets simultaneously and adds terrain-following mode and ground-target acquisition.

However, there is a catch to the Russian proposal. Until we come up with the actual number of aircraft to be upgraded, the Russians cannot give an exact cost of the project. And apparently we have not replied hence the Russians cannot give us a quotation (perhaps this is a way for us not to say yes or not). I believed the cost upgrading the MIGs (at least 16 airframes), will be cheaper than buying a new batch of MRCAs, of course.

Mig-29N at LIMA 2009. last hurrah at Lima
Mig-29N at LIMA 2009. last hurrah at Lima

Why pressure Malaysia to continue flying the Fuclrums then?. Apart from pride, the Russian apparently are miffed that Malaysia wants to retire its pride and joy halfway through its expected service life.

With MIG design bureau continue to bleed money while at the same time Rosoboronexport, the state owned arms export agency continuing to market the Fulcrum, it is imperative that they ensure one of its main users continue flying the aircraft as long as possible.

RMAF MiG-29N M40-11 at Kuantan air base in 2014.
RMAF MiG-29N M40-11 at Kuantan air base in 2014.

So are we going to upgrade the Fulcrum after all especially with our funding difficulties? I was told, Nyet!.

— Malaysian Defence

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