MRCA: Rafale and the Master

SHAH ALAM: DASSAULT Aviation has teamed up with the Weststar Group to offer the Rafale for the MRCA programme, industry sources have revealed to Malaysian Defence. It was probably this industrial collaboration – led by Weststar – that led to various stories coming out from France that claimed the deal for the Rafale was imminent.

Unfortunately for them, it was another defence deal that Weststar’s subsidiary, Global Komited Sdn Bhd, signed for recently. The deal. Apart from this contract, Global Komited has also won contracts to supply the various types of 4X4s to the Army and recently the IAG Jaws APC to the police.

Malaysian Defence contacted Weststar for comments for this story, however, no comments were forthcoming.

Industry sources told Malaysian Defence that among others, if the Rafale was selected, at least 15 of the aircraft will be locally assembled by Weststar, which is also expected to lead the ISS for the fighters.

Alenia Aermacchi M346 Master advanced jet trainer.
Alenia Aermacchi M346 Master advanced jet trainer.

Apart from the local assembly, the Rafale team -according to the industry sources – is also offering the Alenia Aermacchi M346 advanced trainer aircraft as part of the deal. Details surrounding this part of the deal is limited however.

Alenia Aermacchi M346 Master at the Singapore Air Show 2012
Alenia Aermacchi M346 Master at the Singapore Air Show 2012

So what is the likely deal on offer? Most likely that the M346 will replaced the six MB339CMs LIFT in service with Pulatibang 3 at the Kuantan Airbase.

RMAF MB339CM
RMAF MB339CM

As the M346s will replace the CMs, the former’s FMS is expected to be part of the deal replacing the latter which is operational at the Kuantan airbase.

The M346 Full Mission Simulator
The M346 Full Mission Simulator

But wouldnt adding another aircraft will increased the cost of the Rafale offer then? Technically, no, as the trainer jets will be “FOC” as part of the package deal. We will have to pay for the cost of support and maintenance of course.

A Rafale pictured in a F3R standard weapon load,  AASM Hammer for strike missions and MICA and Meteor missiles for air-to-air work and extra fuel tanks.
A Rafale pictured in a F3R standard weapon load, AASM Hammer for strike missions and MICA and Meteor missiles for air-to-air work and extra fuel tanks.

Like the British, the French are aware that their aircraft (Rafale) is quite pricey. By offering the Master as part of a package deal, it hoped to kill two birds at the same time. Fulfilled the MRCA requirement with some economic justification while at the same time solved the looming LIFT gap as no upgrades are slated for the two jet trainers in RMAF in the near future.

Alenia Aermacchi MB339CM
Alenia Aermacchi MB339CM

As the Master is also capable conducting similar roles as the Hawks, it would also be the obvious candidate for the mission – extra ones – when the time come to retire them (Hawks). Anyhow, if the Typhoon is chosen instead, Alenia will still benefit from it. And it could still offer the M346 separately to RMAF for the LIFT and light strike missions.

A CGI imagery of modular weapon launchers on the Typhoon.
A CGI imagery of modular weapon launchers on the Typhoon.

Before anyone say T50, do note that, yes, I am aware that the plane is cheaper and more popular, than either the Hawk AJT and M346. However as the F16 or for that matter the F35 have not been selected for the MRCA programme, it is unlikely that the T50 will offered as part of a package. Honestly I don’t think Boeing is that desperate to offer the T50, bearing in mind the TX programme of the USAF.

That said I stand to be corrected.

Personally I think RMAF should get out of the LIFT and light strike role completely and send its trainee fast jet pilots to train overseas. It will be much cheaper than operating several LIFT and light strike squadrons.

RMAF Hawk 208 M40-34 taking off during Eks Paradise 2/2015 at Labuan airbase.
RMAF Hawk 208 M40-34 taking off during Eks Paradise 2/2015 at Labuan airbase.

What about the light strike role then? Well what is the use of the MRCAs if its not used for this type of missions? Its not like we are going to run into low intensity conflict that often. The Hornets were used during Lahad Datu so its not that the MRCA – which ever aircraft chosen – cannot do the same thing.

A Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) F/A-18D M45-02 Hornet aircraft lands at RMAF base Butterworth, Malaysia, June 11, 2014, during Cope Taufan 2014.  Note the bomb markings on the nose. U.S. Air Force photo.
A Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) F/A-18D M45-02 Hornet aircraft lands at RMAF base Butterworth, Malaysia, June 11, 2014, during Cope Taufan 2014. Note the bomb markings on the nose U.S. Air Force photo.

Yes, using a light strike aircraft in a permissive environment is cheaper but having three or four different type of fast jets are considerably more expensive. It is time for RMAF to cut down its aircraft inventory to reflect its budgetary realities. Which is why the MRCA programme is the best chance for it to do so though I admit the initial investment costs is simply staggering.

— Malaysian Defence

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