SHAH ALAM: Plan B, Part 1. As you are aware the new administration seemed to be swamped with many things that they said were done by the previous administration. I dont have time to go through all of them here but it is likely to have an impact on the military budget. It must be noted that even the previous administration had cut the military budget to give priorities to other areas.
Even though there are many issues affecting the military for this post I will like to concentrate on RMAF Lead In Fighter Trainer (LIFT), the rest will follow suit and in no particular order. As you are aware the MB339 CM fleet is long in the tooth, not the airframe of course as these were only bought some 10 years ago.
One of the MB-339CM getting ready for a test flight in 2008 prior to delivery to RMAF.
The problem is the engines, one each for the seven CM in service. As you are also aware the engines were recycled from the original MB-339AM we operated from the 1980s to 2007. As this engines are no longer manufactured, parts are hard to find, reducing the availability of the fleet. Engine failure was the reason one of the CM crashed in May, 2016. There are several ways to fix the problem which will be listed below.
A Nuri helicopter at the scene of the MB339CM crash in May 2016. Bomba picture.
There are several ways to fix the problem, these are listed below.
Buy new engines
This could be an issue as Leonardo no longer manufacture the CM. I am pretty sure we could find a suitable engine for the CMs but the investment (integration and cost of the new engines) will mean that we have to fly them for at least another 10 years or more to justify the cost.
79 Squadron Trainee, Flying Officer Iain Roberts-Thomson, operates the Hawk Simulator on a training evolution over a simulated Perth, Western Australia, at RAAF Base Pearce. Commonwealth Australia picture
LIFT training overseas
Retire the CMs and conduct the LIFT program overseas. Several countries offer LIFT programs for foreign militaries which we could turn to if we choose to retire the CMs without getting a replacement. Pakistan is not one of them as we have sent trainee pilots there to undergo a similar program but I was told that the result was less than satisfactory. I am pretty sure that the foreign countries running such LIFT programs would welcome Malaysian students but this will definitely cost more than Pakistan.
Replace the CM with Hawks
RMAF have been offered surplus Hawks, both the single seater 203 and twin seater trainer, 103 from the Royal Omani Air Force. The Omanis are taking delivery of 10 Hawk Advanced Jet Trainers to replace the 10 103s in service with the air force hence their availability. The Omani Hawks are very similar in age, flight hours and specifications to our own 108s and with these extra airframes, they could replace the CMs completely. Apart from the 103s, we could also buy the 203s to add to the 208s already in service. When all of these Hawks are upgraded these could be operated until 2030. We could also get the extra Hawks while still not get involved with LIFT with extra airframes used to beef up the two operational squadrons.
One of the two RTAF T-50 at Kuantan airbase in Jan,. 2018. via @KaptRahmat
Buy a new LIFT
Retire the CMs and buy a new LIFT aircraft. The obvious candidate is the KAI TA-50/FA-50. The problem is that by buying a new aircraft we are adding more cost to the air force apart from the initial procurement of course. RMAF do not have the budget to operate four fast jet types at the same time. If we buy a completely new LIFT, all of the Hawks must be retired as well so we need to buy at least 30 of the Korean made light jets. A huge undertaking in the current economic conditions. Not doing anything is also not option so take your pick. I prefer the second one if anyone asking.
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