RMAF Upgrade Programmes Green Lighted

SHAH ALAM: DESPITE the economic headwinds, it appears that RMAF upgrade programmes – Hercules, Hawk and Nuri – have been green lighted. However it remained to be seen whether the contracts will be signed at the upcoming DSA 2016.

Even if they could not signed the contracts at the exhibition, it is expected that it will be done shortly after the show. The decision to approve the upgrades is a big relief to the local defence industry as many had feared that the “difficult funding environment” will work against them.

RMAF Hawk 208
RMAF Hawk 208

Defence industry sources said the Hawk upgrades are expected to be completed within the next two years while the Hercules and Nuri ones will likely stretch past 2020. As the Hawks are needed for operations in Sabah, the shorter period for upgrades is elementary. And as the Nuri and Hercules are expected to serve past 2020 the longer period for their upgrades will not be an issue.

RBAF S-70A Blackhawk helicopter.  USAF photo
RBAF S-70A Blackhawk helicopter. USAF photo

The fulfillment of the upgrade programmes will be credited to the Defence Ministry “readiness” initiative but there are of course other reasons for the approval. One of it was the decision to procure the four ex-Brunei Blackhawks.

Yes, we paying for the Blackhawks instead getting them FOC as previously reported. As with any procurement (or gifts) of assets, maintenance and support issues will come into play. In this case, the work will be done by Airod Sdn Bhd which had been maintaining the RMAF VVIP Blackhawks all this while. The ISS contract for the Blackhawks could also be signed at DSA 2016 as well.

M46-02 VVIP Blackhawk. Although crewed by RMAF personnel, their tasking come under the PMO. Malaysian Defence
M46-02 VVIP Blackhawk. Although crewed by RMAF personnel, their tasking come under the PMO. Malaysian Defence

And Airod will also be the main player for the three upgrades. On the Hercules upgrade as reported previously, Airod was awarded a letter of intent at DSA 2014 for the upgrade of the avionics and communications systems aboard the RMAF’s fleet of 14 Hercules to meet international aviation traffic standards. The work is to be done with Canada’s Esterline-CMC which was selected by the government for the programme.

Hercules M30-12, one of the planes of the 20th Squadron.
Hercules M30-12, one of the planes of the 20th Squadron.

However, the work had yet to start as the contract had not been signed as Airod seek to work with Rockwell Collins, its long time partner. Industry sources told Malaysian Defence that the government was adamant though that the project be carried out with Esterline. I believed that the government chose Esterline as part of the deal which allowed Petronas to buy a shale gas field in Canada in 2014.

Rockwell Collins Pro-line cockpit install on a S-61.
Rockwell Collins Pro-line cockpit install on a S-61.

As for the Nuri upgrade, previously Airod worked with Vector Aerospace. The Nuri Upgrade was completed with a single helicopter – M23-36 – which is already operational with No 3 Squadron. However this time around, Airod is expected to work with another international helicopter MRO company.

RMAF Nuri S61A4 M23-36 at the fly-past rehearsal on Feb 26, 2016. The 36 is the only Nuri which has undergone the digital cockpit upgrade.
RMAF Nuri S61A4 M23-36 at the fly-past rehearsal on Feb 26, 2016. The 36 is the only Nuri which has undergone the digital cockpit upgrade.

It is expected after the first Nuri is upgraded, the rest of the helicopters in service – at least 22 – including those of PUTD – will also be fitted with the Rockwell Collins Pro-Line digital cockpit and other enhancements which will reduce operating costs and offer higher performance benefits.

A digital camo Nuri of the PUTD at the opening ceremony of the Johor Military Force camp in Johor Bahru, last week. Johor Southern Tigers photo.
A digital camo Nuri of the PUTD at the opening ceremony of the Johor Military Force camp in Johor Bahru, last week. Johor Southern Tigers photo.

It must be noted that only PUTD Nuri had been painted in the digital camouflage as shown in the two pictures used here. The camo seen here is different from the two Nuris delivered at LIMA as green tones had been added, similar to ones on PUTD’s AW109s.

One of the digital camoed Nuri handed over to the Army at LIMA 15.
One of the digital camoed Nuri handed over to the Army at LIMA 15.

Army chief Tan Sri Raja Affandi Raja Mohamed Nor – when met at the Starstreak missile firing late March – told Malaysian Defence that he preferred the camo on the two Nuris at LIMA as “it is much better in breaking up the silhouette”.

A digital camo Nuri of PUTD conducting a fast roping exercise during the opening ceremony of the Johor Military Force camp in Johor Bahru, last week. Johor Southern Tigers photo.
A digital camo Nuri of PUTD conducting a fast roping exercise during the opening ceremony of the Johor Military Force camp in Johor Bahru, last week. Johor Southern Tigers photo.

The Hawk upgrades, according to industry sources will only involved the single seaters, the Hawk 208s, in service with RMAF. Again as reported previously, the upgrades planned are limited mostly involving the cockpit displays, HUDs and the RWR.

RMAF Hawk M40-25 which carries the Lahad Datu mission markings.
RMAF Hawk M40-25 which carries the Lahad Datu mission markings.

BAE Systems as the OEM will be providing the equipment with Airod doing the upgrading work. The decision to base the Hawks in Sabah really tip the scale this time around.

As did the Blackhawk deal.

— Malaysian Defence

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