RMK11 Wish List: Helicopters

SHAH ALAM: THIS is the first of many posts (hopefully) on the RMK11 wish list. As helicopters are almost common user item among the services including other government agencies and a safe bet for procurement we might as well start with them. This post and others are not the official wish list, of course, and most had been reported previously.

Former RMAF chief Jen Tan Sri Rodzali Daud had in various times in the last two years had called for another 12 Airbus Helicopter EC725 Cougar to supplement the dozen procured back in 2010. His call was prescient as the Lahad Datu incident plus the flood relief operations within the last 14 months had clearly demonstrated the need for more rotary aircraft.

RMAF Cougar during flood operations in late 2014. TUDM picture
RMAF Cougar during flood operations in late 2014. TUDM picture

As of now, the Cougars are operated by two squadrons – 10 Squadron in Kuantan and 5th Squadron in Labuan.
Two other helicopter squadrons – the 7th and 3rd – Kuching and Butterworth respectively, are still operating Nuri helicopters although full mission capable (FMC) aircraft are limited.

According to the undated 7th Squadron official page, they only had three Nuri helicopters that were FMC. The page also stated that the 7th is the only Nuri operator that had been qualified to carry out fire support using a heavy-machine gun. It did not say what type of HMG however.

A Nuri armed with a 12.7mm machinegun during a visit by Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammudin Hussein in late 2014.
A Nuri armed with a 12.7mm machinegun during a visit by Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammudin Hussein in late 2014.

If the RMAF requirement for new helicopters is funded in RMK11, I believed the service can only expect another 12 Cougars only as had been requested before. For that reason, they have to rely on the Nuri for the next decade or so. To ensure the Nuri remained relevant, the upgrade programme – which had been proposed for the last twenty years is expected to start soon.

Nuri M23-18 of 7th Squadron on TDY at Tawau.
Nuri M23-18 of 7th Squadron on TDY at Tawau.

The Nuri upgrade programme is not on the RMK11 wish list although it is likely the project will start during the time period, with funds coming from the operational allocation. The programme is supported by the Defence Ministry with both RMAF and the Army serving as the less than enthusiastic participants. Both preferred new helicopters instead.

The Nuri upgrade is expected to start later this year after the formal contract is signed, most probably during Lima 2015 in mid March. The number of Nuris to be upgraded remain unclear at the moment – 25 may well be the number with half of the helicopters going to the Army after the modernisation.

Although the Army is not so keen on the upgraded Nuris, paradoxically, the project might free funds for one of the service’s important RMK11 wish list, the attack helicopter. It was reported recently, the Army had put on record of a requirement for 6 attack helicopters for RMK11.

Airbus Helicopters Tiger. Airbus Helicopters.
Airbus Helicopters Tiger. Airbus Helicopters.

Personally, I prefer the Army get utility helicopters instead of attack helicopters bearing in mind the other duties of the military. An attack helicopter cannot be used for flood relief operations while an utility helo could do so while at the same time they could also be fitted with weapons.

In the meantime, RMN is hoping that their quest for at least six ASW helicopters will be funded this time around. The programme had been in their wish list for at least two Malaysian Plan already but never realised.

RSAF Sikorsky S-70B Seahawk helicopter. Note the drum for the dipping sonar
RSAF Sikorsky S-70B Seahawk helicopter. Note the drum for the dipping sonar

The heli-borne ASW requirement was supposed to be funded in RMK10 but was instead deferred to RMK11. It was reported that Agusta Westland had offered the AW159 Wildcat while Sikorsky placed the Seahawk MH-60R as the other candidate for the requirement. Following the procurement of the Cougar for RMAF, Airbus Helicopters had also offered the same helicopter to RMN albeit with additional equipment to meet the ASW requirement.

Previously, it was said that the Agusta Westland AW101 was the preferred solution when the Multi-Role Support Ship (MRSS) project was supposed to be funded. However since the MRSS project have been put in the back burner, the Wildcat and Seahawk are probably the best option due to the size of ships in the RMN’s fleet.

Apart from new ASW helicopters, RMAF’s Fennec fleet probably need to be boosted also. They have been used quite extensively for a variety of missions from the Gulf of Aden anti-piracy mission to the Air Asia QZ8501 SAR operations since they were introduced into service in 2001.

RMN Super Lynx was also used during flood relief operations in late 2014. TLDM picture.
RMN Super Lynx was also used during flood relief operations in late 2014. TLDM picture.

As I had reported previously PDRM is also looking to boost its helicopter fleet. It had requested it during RMK10 but instead received five Super King Airs. It may get at least one to replace the Squirrel that crashed during a flood relief operations on Dec 31, 2014. From pictures of the crash, 9M-PHD looked like a total lost.

— Malaysian Defence

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