Cheap Vipers Available….

PETALING JAYA: Ok, we already know we cannot afford to purchase those super-duper MRCA planes to replace the Fulcrums and other planes including the Hawks and Hornets in RMAF inventory.

We have mentioned before that buying second planes and other arms maybe the next best thing for resource stretch Armed Forces. Some had mentioned buying second hand Hornets or the Vipers. As I had mentioned before the RMAF is quite shy about going down the second hand route – following the Skyhawks and Albatross debacle. I am still skeptical about the Armed Forces buying second hand arms but the latest news from US need to be explained in the Malaysian context.

At a recent testimony in Congress, US Air Force general spoke about “upgrading” their F16 fleet. What they said:

“That means a service life extension program for newer-model F-16s, pushing them from life spans of 8,000 flight hours per jet to about 10,000 hours. Carlisle said the Air Force will SLEP between 300 and 350 of its Block 40 and Block 50 F-16s — though it has enough aircraft that it could upgrade around 600, if it ever needed to.


Lindell said officials expect that to cost about $9.4 million per airplane, enabling the fighters to stay in service until around 2030. “We expect some viability out of the F-16 fleet if we’re going to spend that much money to SLEP the aircraft,” he said.”

Since 2nd hand late generation Vipers could be procured below USD50 million (around RM155 million, could be lower if we bargain) and the cost of upgrading them is US9.4 million (RM28), for around RM3 billion we can get around 30 planes! And these jets could last until 2030! If the USAF think a fleet of Vipers is good enough, why cant we? Yes, I know buying second hand jets through FMS cheaply means no offsets (yes we could still ask for offsets but that why I said cheap) and the need to forgo other luxuries but….

–Malaysian Defence

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About Marhalim Abas 2141 Articles
Shah Alam


  1. Even without the notorious habit of cronyism within the government, Malaysia surely would have to pay more than the US Air Force.

    Perhaps lower because we may not get all the black boxes…but we could asked for the same electronic specs as the Block 6) as flown by the UAEs..I am using the US benchmark for price comparison…As I said if we follow the FMS route and let the USAF decide the things to .be installed on the upgraded Vipers we may get the same things minus US specific items of course

  2. FMS policies are the reason why we dont buy Americans, but not much to do with security clearance is a hint for the day.

  3. I wonder if they can actually make a new F-16 with engines, avionics and coatings designed for the F-35 and F-22. That would never happen for us, of course.

    Its better for us to buy the F-35 rather than designing a new planes. I know SLEP carries its own risks but beggars cannot be choosers…

  4. FareedLHS,

    According to Dzirhan Mahadzir on his FB page, the Su-30s have done DACTs with the USN.

    Yes the USN guys said it was interesting to dogfight at supersonic speed…

  5. Because FMS also means no one else gets a cut. IIRC, FMS was one of them main requirements specified by the Indonesia Parliament (DPR) before they agreed to the used F-16 deal (along with the Block 52 upgrade)

  6. We need to look at this proposition/possibility dispassionately. The RMAF requires numbers and refurbished Vipers are not exactly lemons provided any refurbishment is done well and not the half-hearted effort as was done with the A-4PTM/TA-4PTMs and SA-16 Albatross’.

    Thats why its must be done on a FMS basis with USAF as the manager so the warranty lies with them instead of a commercial procurement through a Sdn Bhd company which will become dormant once it had received all the commission for the project. In-fact this is the best way to procure any arms even from other countries although its difficult to have the same guarantees when purchasing them commercially like purchases of the Sukhois, Fulcrum, Scorpene, Lekiu, PT91M and even the AV8. Yes local manufacture sounds sexy but wait 10 years down the road…thats what happen with the Steyr, Pinzgauers and the other stuff.

  7. Azlan,

    That is good to hear. Too bad the story doesn’t come from official military sources.

    Re: F-16s

    We would be better off buying used F/A-18Ds than heavily-used USAF F-16s. We already fly the aircraft, and are set up to train for it, service it and so on. Introducing the F-16s would require a new training regime, from ground crews and service personnel to pilots.

    There is no large stock of 18Ds available to buy second hand, the USN C/Ds are nearing their life, moreover there is no official USN upgrade for the Ds, as they move to Super Hornet, so we will end up paying for the development. Unless we go for the first generation Super Hornets, the ones without the AESA radars….

    As for the DACT with USN, it was reported by the GW (if I remember correctly) news release but no pictures….

  8. I should think some shift in operational and training regimes would be necessary with the acquisition of any new type of combat aircraft. But a shift from Hornet to Viper would be less painful given they are both of US origin. Of course a shift from Hornet to Super Hornet would even be more agreeable but we are looking at less expensive alternatives.

  9. I am may be the odd one here, but i tend to disagree with the options of 2nd hand f16. First we will be adding another type of fighters to the mix though we may be familiar with its operations. Secondly apart from the 10 mig 29 and 10 f5e, the rest of RMAF fleet still got more than a lot of life in them, whats lacking is the money to maintain and operate them at optimal level.

    Even if we took out the mig completely and the F5E, we still have about 39 fighters/light bombers. It may not be adequate but for a deterrent level strategy it should be sufficient. Again what is lacking is the money to operate, weaponised and maintain them at optimal level.

    may be what we should get second hand from FMS for RMAF is some Hercules E (later upgrade to J), some E2C and some black hawks or chinook

    No problem Kamal…

  10. There is nothing wrong with buying second hand. Look at Chile.They have recently bought more than 36 F-16’s from the Dutch and these are modernised upgraded models too.Due to the Dutch defence cuts another 18 units are coming on stream soon. So its a good chance to nego with the Dutch to do the following:
    1. Extend the airframe life by appropriate strengthening
    2.Modern LCD cockpit
    3.Better Radar upgrade
    4.Re-engine if have more cash
    5.Latest AIM 9 X short raneg misiles and AMRAAM too?
    6. Maverick-the latest generation and smart bombs too
    7.Latest sniper pods?
    If others can maintain their F5M’s until today-look at Spain and use it as LIFT’s with proper maintenance and life extensions, why cant we?. We have airod. We can also upgared our F-5’s with LCD , Grifo Radars, new electronic gizmos and it will still be potent aircrafts.

  11. kamal,

    Agreed. Regarding the F-5s, as we operate only 4-5 ‘Es’, it makes no sense to upgrade them.

  12. The Dutch f-16s were MLU versions, with updated cockpits, color LCD night vison goggle compatible, upgraded radar upgraded structure and so on. They got it dirt cheap. The Jordanians got their MLU f-16 from Belgium I think. Those euro f-16 were good birds and were recently updated and didn’t need a lot of work like the u.s. f16 the Indonesians were offered.

  13. Whether the current level of air combat assets is adequate or not is debatable but procuring a further batch of “MRCA’s” keeps cropping up in the RMAF’s agenda. The declared need to replace the MiGs was just another way of keeping the agenda on the table. So I would give them the benefit of the doubt and say they do need that further batch.
    Whatever the brochures say about the Su-30MKMs being multirole fighters, they are, foremost, air-to-air assets. They are best deployed in the high altitudes, at supersonic speeds, using BVR capabilities. Since the MiG-29Ns are also essentially air-to-air assets, in my opinion they have already been replaced: by the MKMs.
    What the RMAF need therefore is to reinforce their attack/interdiction element. The F/A-18Ds are too few and the Hawks are not exactly effective in this role especially for longer ranges. Numbers are needed in attack given the need to generate sorties, the variety of targets, the expected losses etc.
    Thus the opportunity to obtain a considerable number of combat aircraft at a reasonable cost, albeit refurbished, such as the F-16, is attractive especially since there had been a tendency to acquire “expensive but few”. The Viper has developed into an effective multirole fighter and used units have been flown successfully by Portugal, Jordan and Chile. Soon Indonesia will be fielding ex-USAF (or NATO?) Vipers in addition to their long-serving A/Bs.

    36 MRCA is the stated requirements. So technically they can buy another 18 Flankers and be done with that but no one want to say publicly what is really wrong with the current ones that they need to buy a different MRCA. Support or the lack of it has been said as the main reason but I guess thats more to the issue. It is however safe to assume that RMAF is not comfortable with the Flankers no matter the numbers…

  14. A side of the upgrade packages,the Indonesian got theirs brand new, what do you mean a lot of work?

    And non of you realize the true key behind had nothing to do with affordability but something else which Marhalim post earlier?

  15. The indonesian did get new vipers but the ones they were recently offered were used vipers. USAF Vipers have had a VERY rough decade since 9-11 and need structural work done.

    Spoke to someone from RMAF recently, all they want is numbers. They are wary of shiny high tech MRCAs when experience tells them the running cost are incredibly high and the annual operational budget is stagnant resulting in low flight hours availabilty.

  16. Dear Hui,
    The Indonesian F-16’s the batch they are getting now is second hand and they have been given for free by the States but Indonesia neeeds to upgarde them and that is NOT FREE. The indons must pay for the upgrades. In fact we missed a golden opportunity to get the Dutch F-16’s as they are still flying and not stored in Davis Monthan like our Skyhawks and Albatrosses. If we get the European F-16’2 the RMAF has my full support.Of course life is not like that and the politicians will want a different aircraft for reasons they only would know better

  17. Actually Malaysia needs two types of planes and they are the long range attack planes like the SU-30MKM, the short range attack and defence planes.his is the concept of layered defence. What slips through the outer ring will get caught by the inner ring. Then there are the air superiority and the interdiction planes. The interdiction planes need not have long legs, need not be ultra sophisticated.Thay are the mud movers and they only need to bomb. Thus for such planes ranges is not an issue in Peninsular and East Malaysia.The F-18’s greatest use is in Maritime attack-against enemy ships.
    So we need both short and long range planes and planes able to do both air superiority and also that of interdiction

  18. YML,
    The Indo were offered both brand new and used asset, but the eventual deal chose the latter. And the the European overstock are not free too, dont understand your point there either. However the key here is not about buy used or other options, but rather why we are having a problem purchasing the appropriate asset when we should not be having any problem at all.
    As for your reasoning a combination of asset are rather off. The MKMs are no way near an attack aircraft due to its limited option in ASM, before the Russian figured out what they really want in the future ASM profile. And why would it be necessary to lay an “outer layer” with “not ultra sophisticated” facilities when it merely do its job by posing immediate threat to the enemy? BTW, which platform are you referring as the “interdiction planes”?

  19. Affordability is not just an issue of purchase price but paying for regular flying hours so the pilots can be efficient, regular maintenanice and repairs so can get optimal servicibility percentage, having optimal mix of weapon and sensors so that you could do the job properly and having enough trained personnel to operate and maintain the crafts. yep the purchase price of our previous assets may have been skewed by other greed factor but with out enough money to weaponised,operate and maintain, any jets western of russians, will only be a trophy at best and a besi buruk at worst.

  20. unless we can get our hands on those AEW&C planes,no matter used or brand new fighter aircraft,we cant fully utilized it.

  21. YM Lee – ”Thus for such planes ranges is not an issue in Peninsular and East Malaysia.The F-18′s greatest use is in Maritime attack-against enemy ships. So we need both short and long range planes and planes able to do both air superiority and also that of interdiction.”

    No offence but what you wrote is simply untrue. The F-18s from the onset was designed to perform a variety of roles and maritime strike was NOT the primary consideration in its design. On paper the MKMs have a better maritime strike capability as they are integrated with ordnance that has a bigger warhead, longer range and is faster than anything carried by the F-18, on paper. In reality the main problem will be actually locating the target. The RMAF does not need 2 types of fighters as a single type can fulfill all our requirements.

    Ghostrider Wan,

    The MKM and MKI indeed traces its linage to a long range interceptor but were designed for strike missions from day one, hence the 2 man crew and the range of air to ground ordnance already integrated.

  22. Very nice indeed to observe the discussions ongoing in this blog, refreshing to see the spirited interest in Malaysian Defence.

    I would like to share my small perspective on RMAF future acquisitions. Firstly, the need to support two theaters between Peninsular and Sabah/Sarawak puts in favor towards twin engined fighter platform as opposed with single engine for increased survivability rate not just in combat but also from any mishaps related with engine failures. Arguably current engine technologies are robust enough that single engines do not fare any differently in MTBF from the twin engines but at the high life cycle cost per piece, I am sure we would hedge on the extra engine assurance.

    Secondly, transition may seem to be easier between Hornets to Vipers but bear in mind that these two fighters are differing beast altogether (Navy vs Air Force, Differing avionics, relatively differing capabilities and support equipment, possibility of increased infrastructure etc etc, the list can go on). The addition of a new platform/system will also further strain the already overreached logistics capabilities that currently juggles six differing types from four differing countries with countless differing OEM support system (F5E/RF5, MB339CD, Hawk 108/208, Mig-29, F/A-18D, Su30MKM) and this is just looking at fighter types the list becomes daunting when other assets are placed in for logistics considerations. Therefore in my opinion the most logical progression for RMAF future MRCA squadron is either more Su-30MKM (IAPO produced not KNAAPO as they differing production companies) OR more Hornets to make up a credible deterrent air combat force until 2020 at which point we have to start thinking about the next step (another can of worms or Pandora’s Box).

    It is also worth thinking about an integrated surveillance platform for C4ISR enhancement as well as increasing C2 robustness, not a stop gap measure but a really capable platform with the likes of Wedgetail or enhanced E2 (obviously with local datalink content for increased security OR at least wired for local content while obtaining common interoperable capabilities in future acquisition). This isdue to our porous borders and airspace that still require extensive coverage to build a comprehensive recognised air and maritime picture to identify threats or potential situations. The combat assets are the sharp teeth, claws and talons that may not be effective without far reaching and wide focussed eyes and ears to tune in the responses.

    My two cents worth…. Thank you for the air time…

  23. With due respects to discussions between YM Lee and Azlan, both sides arguments have strong points yet some points are contestable. Just would like to share my thoughts on envisaged fighter roles for Malaysia.

    Contemporarily, looking at our NDP 2010, primary key joint operational capability stated for MAF is Airspace Control (pg 46) then followed by Maritime ops. This in my opinion reflects the stance that must be adopted as well in planning our defence procurement and operational planning. Malaysia cannot afford to have specific types for specific missions (ie interceptors, bombers, etc) rather must optimize existing resources towards mission effectiveness. Defence is an expensive business and costs are growing thus the need to make the best bang for the buck. Therefore, in my opinion, we must focus the fact that current and future fighter procurement will always focus on MRCA. Current stable of Su-30MKM and F/A-18D are capable to handle multi-role missions as it was designed around that particular concept so again I would like to reinforce my views posted earlier on the fallacy of adding a different platform to our fighter mix.

    In terms of long range and short range attacks, it goes back to what capabilities we have for surveillance and monitoring. Good eyes and ears means we can see the threats developing earlier thus giving more response time. Therefore I disagree with the idea of having differing types for long range and short range as there are means and ways to interpret and accomplish the concepts. Both Hornets and Su-30MKM are very capable air superiority fighters among their class (please do not compare with the likes of Raptors and Typhoons as those are full fledged 5th gen platforms) and are also very capable in air to surface attacks – making them a really potent mix. Another important factor to consider is not just the platform but also the capacity of our aircrew (which is a combination of various variables from flight hours per month to tactics and doctrinal contents).

    And to end I would like to comment on Hui’s remark on MKM not armed with ASM. Did you mean to say that we do not have Anti Ship Missiles for the Su-30MKM? Care to elaborate on that?

    Sorry for the lengthy prose, but just felt the need to elucidate.

    Thank you for everyone’s constructive comments

  24. now look whose talking? the jocky himself finally spoke to share his valuable points as a fighter pilot himself and i do seconded to him that all we need are additional numbers of either SU’s or Hornet’s…period!!!

  25. I am aware of the MKM’s anti-surface capability but wished to develop the point that if we are seeking a MiG replacement we already have it in the MKM given its equally potent a2a capability. Thus the RMAF indeed possess a multirole platform in the MKM.
    I was also trying to develop the point that the RMAF need the numbers for “critical mass”, if you like, and refurbished F-16s would fit the bill. It should also provide an opportunity to rationalise the inventory since we have sufficient numbers to do so: even the Hornets could be withdrawn, certainly the MiGs and F-5s.
    The single- vs twin-engine debate still rages on but I am of the opinion that the safety advantage is rendered marginal given the performance and reliability of modern jet engines and the cost of two engines versus one. (Sufficient numbers also enable the RMAF to deploy permanent combat elements in East Malaysia thus reducing over-water distances.)

  26. Hui – ”You forgot the fact that regardless the design, MKM are “not armed” with ASM.”

    At the Subang open day event some years back, a training round of the KH-31 was displayed, as well as the KAB500, which like the Maverick, can be used for the anti-ship role. More concern is not so much with what they are armed with but whether if the balloon goes up, we can coordinate our assets and actually find the targets.


    Only with an EASA and a data link, will the real potential of the MKMs be achieved. For reasons of compatibility, logic would dictate we go for the Super Hornet and forget about more ”sexy” stuff like the Typhoon.

    Now if only our the ‘tame’ writers at Perajurit, Tempur or anyone from the major dailies would ask our Defence Minister the million ringgit questions –

    1. just what can the Typhoon do that the cheaper Super Hornet can’t?
    2. Which is actually cheaper to operate and maintain for every hour flown??
    3. Which of the 2 is already integrated which a greater range of air to air and air to ground ordnance?
    4. Can the support provided by BAE Systems equal what is provided via FMS?
    5. How often do we actually train with RAF fighters, compared to our regular/annual training levels with the USN and the RAAF?

    One need to ask one question at a time…

  27. Betcha the french can outsnake the typhoon salesman when it comes to deal time 😉 hint..hint

  28. mantanfwi,
    There is only two valid maritime ASMs offered for Russian fighter platform, the X-31 and 59, in fact we got the X-31P and was shown two years ago to the public. They are decent creation and full of potential, however they also are let down by follow up development as the AA aspect had been a much greater deal to the RuAF. The guidance package that retains the 80s-ish data relay and INS is rather being asked for too much in the current and future environment. Glonass integration and a refresh guidance package is needed before these ASM is able to release their full potential. Azlan, I am only referring the maritime ASM profile, therefore the X-29 and KAB series were not included into the consideration.

  29. Anyone have an info regarding the recent MKM missile training in the Malacca Straits? Mindef did issue warnings towards the merchant vessels along the area during the exercise, I tried to find out, but no pics nor valuable info can be found.

  30. GhostRiderWan, I fully agree on MKM multirole capabilities and noted your point of creating ‘mass’ with refurbished F16s. However, I beg to differ in the feasibility of permanent basing in East Malaysia without proper infrastructure support. Lbn is an option but still need developments and in case where a new type is deployed permanently, large infra and support system must be developed ranging from second line and limited depot level repair facilities to training systems and hardened shelters. I am still very much for not introducing new types into RMAF service until we are able to fully support and optimize existing assets. The local defence industries must also play their part here and not simply act as ‘post office’ or ‘dispatch clerk’ for OEMs.

    Azlan, agree that anti-shipping requires the targets to be found first and the sea is a vast open space with lots of area to squirrel away. Having said that, there are means and ways but the question is on combat efficiency. Definitely the most efficient will be having proper ISTAR and MPA assets coupled with robust, network-enabled C2 but the sharp end of RMAF cannot simply say that they cannot do the job without all the gadgets available. The reality is that shortcomings must be expected and it is necessary to train the way we intend to fight by optimizing existing resources and adapting to new challenges.

    Defence procurement issues should be a hot ticket item that must be accountable to the public as this is our national insurance policy and paid for by our citizens. Maybe our politicians have yet to mature from certain ‘phenomenon’ of looking at defence procurement as ‘windfall’… (going really far out on a limb here thus I better halt).

    MeesterT, all defence procurements have strings attached to them, the only way to ensure it becomes a win-win situation is by having the local industry becoming more holistically involved (become development partnership instead of just another ToT recipient). Wishful thinking some may say but there are some possibilities and some good companies out there, only need the proper advise at the right time.

    Hui, not sure what your background are but possibly you have read that the X-31P is not the anti ship missile variant; its the X-31A. Both are similar in design with the main difference in their warhead and missile guidance systems (X-31P tracks and homes on EM signals from emitters, X-31A seeks targets actively with their own radar emitters). IMHO, although X-31A internal mechanisms and software design is not as sexy as western ASM, it is a potent anti ship missile capable of defeating ship defensive system by the sheer terminal velocity in ingress towards the target. 80ish data relay may be slower but is sufficiently effective based on the tactical methodology applied. INS is still commonly used as referencing system even by western standards. Tactical and combat rhetoric aside, any weapon have possibilities of being employed against any type of targets but bears the question of efficiency and effectiveness. In this essence, it is my opinion that MKM is equipped with an effective ASM that has sufficient efficiency to achieve its anti ship task/missions.

    The remark on exclusion of X-29 and KAB from being considered as a maritime strike weapon option is lost on me as I hold strongly that any targets can be attacked using any weapon types, the only question is what level of efficacy is intended or desired.

    Thanks for sharing your interests and keep up the good efforts and discussions.

  31. all fail to notice that singapore and malaysia will never buy similar combat aircraft.transport and trainers yes,but not fighter aircraft.

    Not true, we both procured the F-5 and Skyhawks. Singapore did opt for the F16s while we choose the Hornets due to its twin engines…

  32. mantanfwi,
    I have an aerospace design and system integration background. My comment in particular the ASM involve is based on a brief access to tech document of the missiles awhile ago. The X-31P is designed as an all purpose ARM and target displacement can be update by data relay from the launcher while the INS can also be adjust if necessary. I said ARM version was shown in the particular event I visited two years ago, nothing more than that. The long part of the reply rather showed there might be some misunderstanding since your original reply to Azlan and where I come into support. While the INS for automation system is less than decent today by the industry standard, it will be less than appropriate in the near future.

  33. I’m wondering why we don’t get single seater Su-35s. Aren’t the twin seater Su-30s more expensive to operate? Besides, the view to the rear in a Su-30 is non-existent.

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