Pros and Cons of LCA/FLIT Candidates

Boeing t-& Redtail. USAF picture

SHAH ALAM: Pros and cons of the LCA/FLIT candidates. As reported previously, the RMAF is planning the procurement of the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA)/Fighter Lead-In Trainer (FLIT) within the next five years. RMAF had said that it had been given the go-ahead with the programme though it is still yet unclear when it will be green-lighted.

One of the two RTAF T-50 at Kuantan airbase in Jan,. 2018. via @KaptRahmat

Anyhow we know that the details of eight aircraft had been submitted to RMAF following the issuance of an RFI in late 2018 which made LIMA 19 a more lively event than it should have been. The eight aircraft list (in alphabetical order) are:

Aero Vodochody L-39NG
Boeing T-7 Red Hawk
Irkut YAK-130
Leonardo M-346/FA

Leonardo M346FA. Leonardo

The Outsiders
Despite what has been said here or elsewhere, Malaysian Defence can surmised that – the L-39NG, T-7, L-15B, YAK-130 and the JF-17 – are ranked outsiders for the requirement for various reasons from being relatively new aircraft to subject to sanctions if purchased (CAATSA).

HAL Tejas MK 1 LCA. Indian Air Force

With five of the eight in the outsiders category we are now left with three most likely candidates, the T/FA-50s, M-346 and the Tejas. The Tejas is the dark horse as it will be the one having the highest national interest quotient.

Yakovlev Yak-130 Mitten performing a display at LIMA 2019. Zaq Sayuti.

On technical specifications, numbers in service and maturity, the T/FA-50 has the highest ranking with the M-346 coming in a distant second. It is ranked higher than the Tejas as it has been in service much longer and in more countries. Its LCA offering the FA, however, is the least mature of the three candidates though it ranked higher than the Tejas for FLIT as it was designed from the start as the South Korean candidate.

AVIC L-15 Falcon. Wikipedia

It must be noted that the Tejas will be part of the outsiders grouping if not for the fact that India may well offer barter trade for palm oil for the aircraft. That is good enough to put it in the favourites group.

AVIC/PAC JF-17. YouTube

I have no idea which aircraft will be selected for the LCA/LIFT programme though personally I am incline to the KAI aircraft. It may well be that RMAF has a pretty good idea of its preferred candidate as well but again it will not solely the one making decision.

Boeing T-7 Redtail. USAF picture

— Malaysian Defence

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About Marhalim Abas 2227 Articles
Shah Alam


  1. Interesting, I agree with your first two choices but consider L15b as the darhorse and not the tejas. China can similarly offer barter trade with palm oil as apart from India and Pakistan, they also a large importer of our palm oil. Except for the engine which uses a Ukrainian engine which last I check is not subject to caaTsa, the rest of the match 1.4 plane are indigenous to China. Plus it already had an export customer being an African country. But other politician and SCS issues would complicate the matter

  2. Marhalim – “ though personally I am incline to the KAI aircraft”

    Agreed. From a logical and practical perspective it should be the one selected. If course I’m assuming that the RMAF satisfied with the overall capabilities as both a LCA and a LIFT.

    The only issues – apart from the price tag – is integrating a suitable radar and targeting/navigational pod and our planners not being bothered that it’s operated by several immediate neighbours. .

  3. Though I personally think the M346 will win but the price tag which is about usd 35 mil a piece based on the Italian army order of 9 for 300 mil euro, is almost the price of Russian mig29 m of Egypt and j10 of China, but off course none of those are LIFT

  4. No preference; I trust that the RMAF knows what it wants. What I do hope that the selected aircraft is the result of careful technical deliberation and assessment and less of political influence.

  5. In terms of barter trade, the Italians too had a precedent when selling the M346, and with commodity prices going up again, there is chance they might be interested in some of our agricultural produces. Learn from the best in the region, there must be some reasons they chose M346 over T/FA-50.

  6. Am inclined to agree with joe’s last comment. I do feel M346FA is not exactly the best out there for our needs but it does have many positives compared to even the hot favourites, the KAI offering, FA50. And definitely the final decision makers has got to be BARMY if the Tejas is chosen when even the IAF is said to be vociferously against the Tejas. Or unless as mentioned, the Indians can be cajoled to complete the ‘purchased’ planes on time and via barter trade for our palm oil🤪!

  7. ASM – “No preference; I trust that the RMAF knows what it wants”

    Agreed. By this stage it has a pretty good idea as to which platform comes closest to meeting its requirements. The RMAF’s requirements will differ from other air arms as each will go about things differently. The problem or rather the challenge is the need for a common platform.

    Depends on the trade offs RMAF is willing to make; the platform it wants might meet all its requirements as a LCA but less as a LIFT it vice versa. Others might choose a particular platform because it’s ideal as a LIFT and because it has no need for a LCA. For the RSAF it’s LIFTs serve primarily as LIFTs but for others a LIFT also must have a combat utility.

  8. For me personally go italian for a LIFT and buy YAK-130 for LCA, same aircraft but different origin…hopefully those planes parts can be interchange with one another….now RMAF will have the best of both world…

    We cannot buy the Yak due to CAATSA

  9. Both the KAI and 346 are excellent platforms. They should get on with it.

    The issue now is the usual government procrastination because every petty politician, many completely clueless, has to have his say and his 20 seconds of fame.

  10. Tom Tom – “The issue now is the usual government ”

    3 issues actually. …

    – After deliberation on the political/national interest factors; weighted against affordability and m the RMAF’s operational requirements; ensuring the RMAF comes as close as possible to getting something which meets and is suitable for its needs.

    – Ensuring the 2nd batch of LCAs/LIFTs are funded on time and are not delayed indefinitely. Failure to get a follow in batch on time will result in a “bit of everything but not enough of anything” situation again which leaves the services in a neither here not there situation; challenging to meet both peacetime and wartime commitments.

    – Ensuring we get the key “enablers” to enable us to get the most of the capabilities offered by whatever we buy. Unlike the platform level operated Hawks; the LCAs have to be operated at a systems level. If we don’t do that it won’t matter what we buy.

  11. @RedSot
    Why in the world would you buy a YAK 130??? It’s like buying the same 🍞 bread type from 2 different manufacturers! Just buy all Mittens or just Masters instead.

  12. If we get mi-17, will affected by CAATSA? If yes, how Philippines make it? Is there any exception?

    Of course. When did Philippines take delivery of the Mi-17s? I didn’t see them when the President came to the air force base two days ago to see the newly delivered aircraft including the Hermes UAVs

  13. Michael,

    It’s up to Uncle Sam to decide who to go after for breaching CAATSA. There will be exceptions: when it’s in the national interests of Uncle Sam to look the other way : depends on which country it is.

    The Philippines reputedly is interested in Brahmos (pointless IMO due to the lack of a recce/strike capability) and technically could be in breach of CAATSA because Brahmos is a Indian/Russian collaboration. As it stands however; with Uncle Sam so keen on cementing regional ties as a counterweight to China and the Philippines having bases which Uncle San wants access to : doubt Uncle Sam will make a fuss if the Bharmos deal proceeds

    Same goes with Vietnam. The U.S. is not going to penalise Vietnam for buying Russian gear. That would be counter productive to U.S. interests.

    The talk is that US will apply the CAATSA on Vietnam for the Yak-130. Its not yet to be confirmed though.

  14. Marhalim,

    What about us getting Metis reloads and ordnance/parts for the Su-30s? Or Singapore buying Igla reloads.

    It’s a very drastic and self serving move in the part of the Americans. Depriving the Russians of a source of revenue and hoping countries in turn buy American. I’m surprised Russian reaction has been largely mute.

    Also remains to be seen what happens if countries which are strategically vital for the U.S; like Saudi, India, etc, but Russian.

    I have been told that it will be ok for us to buy spare parts and ordnance already in service with the military. No new things however. I have no idea on the conditions with other countries. But I am guessing it will be on case by case as you had mentioned earlier.

  15. It’s ironic; CAATSA. At one point a few years ago the U.S. became the largest buyer of AK-74s (from Bulgaria and other countries); for Iraq and Afghanistan. It was also buying MiL-17s for 3rd countries and for itself (CIA).

    If you buy things from Bulgaria it won’t be CAATSAed. The Philippines Army got their deliveries PG7 rockets from Bulgaria, last year, the ones from Russia were not delivered likely due CAATSA

  16. Hello guys. Am just wondering if we do end up purchasing the Leonardo M346FA. Will we buy it plus the gun pods or just the standard missiles/bombs? We have the missiles and bombs that can pair up with the plane but what about gunpods? I keep reading the standard gunpod for the AJT model is the 12.7mm gunpod. So no 20/25/30mm gunpods then?
    The FA50 has an internal rotary 20mm gun

    There is always the Hawk gunpods

  17. Taib – “I keep reading the standard gunpod for the AJT model is the 12.7mm gunpod”

    The advantage of going for a 12.7mm pod is that it’s lighter and technically more rounds can be carried compared to 20 and 30mm. The disadvantage is that the actual round will have less penetrating effect on AFVs and other things compared to a 20 or 30mm round.

    IMO this is a small trade off to make; what is the likelihood of a LCA having to go low with guns?
    Another issue is that if we go for a a pod which is not already certified by use of a particular platform: we have to to get the platform’s OEM to certify it first.

    On the subject of gun pods; the MBB-339As had 30mm pods but I never saw a pic of one. The Tebuans also had mini guns.

  18. Azlan

    former warsaw pact country≠russia. Even freaking CZ (from CZech republic) bought Colt, one of the biggest small arms contractor for US military.

    Colt no longer holds that distinction, that’s the reason they have to find a buyer

  19. Btw I wonder if by leonardo would develop a true supersonic light fighter based on M346. They probably need to redesign the entire airframe since current aircraft never exceed speed (basically the speed of which the aircraft could withstand before shredding into a million pieces) is in low supersonic speed. Still, I’d imagine the redesign doesn’t need to be too significant since Honeywell also made an afterburning version of their F124 engine.

    Third world countries are looking for cheaper alternative to Gripen and KAI is making fast bucks producing FA-50 (with single seat F-50 in development), Boeing is trying to jump in the bandwagon with their own version of supersonic light fighter aircraft based on the red hawk as well as china’s FTC-2000G/JL-9 so there is a market for cheap,supersonic light fighter aircraft

    If they got a customer for 100 aircraft with what you said perhaps they will do it. At the moment I don’t think they will do so

  20. “customer for 100 aircraft …. perhaps they will do it”
    That’s the rub. We don’t have that volume to justify making changes to suit our needs so whatever we get must tick the most boxes in our requirement right out from the bat. Also as I argued it doesn’t have to be the outright winner on paper as certain specs could be less meaningful to our needs, so our assessment needs to put higher weightage on those specs critical to us.

  21. @dundun
    If that does happen (a true supersonic M346FA or AJT), Leonardo would probably go with Honeywell. They already have a supersonic engine in the F125. Honeywell very nearly got the IAF interested in their F125 engines for their Sepecat Jaguars.

  22. O/T (not related)

    In the RAMD and RRD wikipedia’s page it’s stated they are a line and light infantry regiments. I find the latter a bit puzzling, as I think the RRD is actually a line infantry, which I take to be standard soldiers instead of light infantry which is more towards special forces/ rapid reaction (like the Paras) kind of guys.

    Any thoughts?
    And … is really banned from here, is he?

  23. ASM,

    The “Royal Ranger Regiment” is a line infantry regiment. The “Rangers” designation was indeed originally intended for “light infantry” units; like the U.S’s Ranger units and others.

    In our army; the regiment which comes closest to being a “light infantry” unit are the pair of Gerak Khas Commando battalions; originally modelled on the Royal Marines. Another unit we have which can also be called “light units” (because of the “lighter” or less heavy TOE it has) is the Border Regiment.

    ASM – “of light infantry which is more towards special forces/ rapid reaction (like the Paras) kind of guys”

    The term “light” is intended to make the distinction between units which have a heavier TOE (“heavier” weapons” for one) and those with a lighter one.

  24. Azlan,

    Yeah, that’s what I thought. Our RRD is line infantry, not light, like RAMD.

    I was wondering why RRD is described as light infantry in Wiki; as you mentioned the GGK is closest to light infantry role. What’s even stranger RAMD is correctly described as line infantry.

    I am not sure how the term has evolved over the period, based on my understanding light infantry is focused more on mobility and harassment, compared to heavy (or line) infantry on armour and firepower.

  25. @ASM
    Anybody can create, edit & modify Wiki articles. Don’t take it as the gospel truth. That is what my professor used to tell us and that fact still holds true. Of course, unless the description comes from ATM itself.

  26. ASM – “I was wondering why RRD is described as light infantry in Wiki”

    One has to be selective when assessing info presented on Wiki

    ASM – “.GGK is closest to light infantry role”

    For its intended roles (raiding, armed recce, etc) ; the 2 Commando units do not have a heavy organic weapons and vehicle capability; thus are light” infantry units.

    Then we come to the part where we make the distinction between a “light” unit and a “special forces” one. In the Malaysian the only “sf” unit would be the 11th Special Service Regiment. In the U.S. army “sf” units would include Delta and the “Special Forces” (Green Berets) but not the Ranger Regiment.

    ASM – “based on my understanding light infantry is focused more on mobility and harassment”

    It can mean different things different armies; depends also on the period. Units like the “U.S. Rangers, Royal Marines, RAF Regiment, U.S. WW2 Marine Raiders, WW2 German “Jäger” units, Chindits, Merill’s Marauder’s, etc can be described as “light” based on their force structure and roles.

    In the other hand you can have a mechanised or motorised “light” unit with AFVs and organic support arms which is “light” and a mechanised MBT equipped “heavy” unit.

  27. Agree with Kamal that L-15 is the dark horse. Being twin-engined also helps.
    Tejas is also not safe from CAATSA as India plans to buy S400s.

  28. Dear Shah, I think India highly unlikely will be slapped with CAATSA, unless US don’t want Boeing to enter the MRCA tender part India is a growing customer of US weaponry from apache t on poseidon. US would need a strong mitigator to China, so my gut sense tells me even if India buy the S400, US may growl a bit a nd may be ask India to buy more American stuff as an offset but don’t think CAATSA will be applied.

  29. Marhalim and Azlan : Any news on Drone tender result and MPA?? When could we hear in your blogpost?

    PS it is very difficult to post comments here. could you check why?

    Wait for it.

  30. I have some feeling (maybe wrong) that the tender will be cancelled… maybe good for Malaysia as funds could be diverted for perhaps new LIFT jets?

  31. Honestly, I think India will ditch S400, its just not worth the effort.

    If either-way India went for it, the US will CAATSA, Turkey got snared albeit being a US ally,NATO member and f35 partners, dont think India will escape.

  32. Kamal,

    The U.S. and India also signed a multi billion dollar deal for nuke reactors. There’s not only the strategic geo political aspect to factor in but also bilateral trade/business.

    For India; it not be buying lots of stuff from the U.S. Europe and Israel but its main supplier and tech provider is still Russia.

  33. If tender got cancelled, better jump in to hurjet.

    Deftech already deep with Turkish firm so another venture down the road doesnt make a difference I guess, probably CTRM under it can chip in on fabrication supply line etc. The only hurdles for the jet is engines,which is a major stopper for the programme. But once settled, like a poster said above its the 3rd super sonic lca available(?), quite lucrative gamble.

    The Hurjet is basically a paper airplane. RMAF wants an LCA/FLIT ready to go once contract is signed

  34. Khairul – “A, Turkey got snared albeit being a US ally,NATO member and f35 partners, dont think India will escape”

    The circumstances are different ..

    The main worry with the S-400s is that to be integrated with the NATO network – including IFFs – sharing of source/object codes are needed – the U.S. is worried that certain info will be obtained by the Russians.

    India has been a buyer of Russian stuff since the 1960’s and despite India turning to other sources; Russia is still its main supplier and tech provider.

    For the sake of its own national interests the U.S. will be very selective – certain countries will just get a slap on the wrist; nothing more.

  35. Frankly speaking, I had a sneaking feeling whomever had the best palm oil trade deal will bag the LCA/LIFT … Russian Yak-130 is outta question due to CAATSA.

    For me the dark horse is JF-17. As much I despise China-made armaments, if Pakistan offered a barter deal that benefitted Malaysian palm oil industry, there’s no doubt the Government will bitten the bullet and go ahead with Sino-Pakistani fighter. I really hope not and KAI FA-50 make the final cut instead, but stranger things had happen with Malaysian procurement such as TOT for exotic Eastern Europea horse breed to buy a certain tank based of a Cold War platform.

    I relegated the JF-17 to the outsider group as the ties between Malaysia and India had gotten better following the end of the PH government. And it has not been rosy with Malaysia and Pakistan ties since then

  36. Reza – ”g, I had a sneaking feeling whomever had the best palm oil trade deal will bag the LCA/LIFT”

    A bit more to it than that. Existing bilateral ties plays a part as do the level of trade existing; plans for the said country to invest here; willingness to offer ToTs/off sets, etc. The RMAF however will have emphasised the point that if it’s
    forced to get something ill suited to it’s needs; there will be penalties later.

    Reza – ”I despise China-made armaments”

    You shouldn’t… There are things worth buying and things which are not – same applies to every country. China has reached a high state of technological development in missiles and other areas but less so in other areas. As for ships; what the user specifies is what he gets; if he wants tough DC standards nd a certain grade of steel he has to be willing to pay for it. For some countries buying Chinese gear suits their requirements; for us this is largely not the case due to commonality issues but there are certain things which we can buy; things which don’t create commonality issues.

    rexa – ”to buy a certain tank based of a Cold War platform.”

    A platform designed for Soviet operational requirements and doctrine; one intended to a light and small as possible and one crewed by just 3.

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