South Koreans Say Thunder Is Favourite

AVIC/PAC JF-17. YouTube

SHAH ALAM: South Koreans Say Thunder is favourite. A South Korean newspaper has reported that the Korean Aerospace Industries FA-50 and the Sino-Pakistani JF-17 Thunder have been shortlisted for RMAF Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) programme.

The Korea Times even quoted sources as saying that the FA-50 was behind the Thunder in the race as it “possess better mid-range weapons which is a requirement for the Malaysian Air Force.” It must be noted that the mid range weapons for the Thunder in Pakistani service are mainly China made ones though it has been reported that they are interesting in getting South African and Brazilian made ones. How is that is an advantage is beyond me.

AVIC/PAC JF-17

The FA-50, the nation’s first domestically developed light attack aircraft, is competing against the Pakistani-Chinese jointly manufactured JF-17 fighter for the Malaysian Air Force’s Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) program, under which Kuala Lumpur seeks to purchase 18 jets to replace its aging MiG-29 fleet, according to sources, Sunday.

“Despite interest from a diverse group of manufacturers, the FA-50 and JF-17 are the finalists,” the source said.

The FA-50 is a variant of the T-50 supersonic trainer jet, manufactured by Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI).

Since its first deployment in October 2013, 60 FA-50s are operated by the Korean Air Force. In addition, the FA-50 has been exported to Iraq, the Philippines and Thailand.

Tejas LCA MK 1. Wikipedia Commons

This is an interesting development as the South Korean newspaper and its sources -likely Koreans as well – didn’t even consider CAATSA as a hindrance for the selection of the Thunder.

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

The rather negative position taken by the South Koreans are interesting compared to the more positive ones taken by the Indians when in come to the LCA programme.

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

It is interesting to note as well that Pakistan has become an important market for a Malaysian car manufacturer. Whether or not this development bodes well for the Thunder is beyond me.

— Malaysian Defence

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38 Comments

  1. The last paragraph of this article is pertinent…I have commented here before (or elsewhere?) that perhaps the Pakistani Al Haj Automotive JV is offered in a hurry to entice Malaysia to buy Pakistani products, perhaps an aircraft contract. Politics again, is playing a huge role if the South Koreans are to be believed…

  2. I hope I’m wrong but as I first asked a long while ago : for our planners is the fact that the F/A-50 is already operated by 3 neighbours a prohibiting factor against it being selected?

  3. Taib – ”The last paragraph of this article is pertinent…”

    Perhaps, perhaps not. If we want to go on that basis; the Indians have an edge given they are a consistent buyer of palm oil in large quantities – in the longer term more cash value than cars . The Koreans are also in a much better position compared to Pakistan and India to offer a long term soft loan; ToTs and offsets.

    How the present government handles this and other programmes will be an indicator? Will the needs of the armed services take 2nd place behind national interests? Remains to be seen.

  4. I did remember your comment then Sdr Azlan. Our air force does seem to have a history of operating assets slightly different from that operated by our neighbors. Again if this Korean news is ‘true’ … then why stop at 18 JF17 LCAs? Why not add another 18 later? And add a few more Hawks (pre-owned) to the existing Hawk 108s as LIFTs. It’s getting more intriguing…

  5. @Azlan
    “is the fact that the F/A-50 is already operated by 3 neighbours a prohibiting factor against it being selected?”

    If the answer is yes then we now it is a bullshit that still keep played. What is so secret or strategic issue about it? It is just LCA.

  6. OT KF-X was officially launched 2 days ago
    https://www.airforce-technology.com/news/south-korea-unveils-kf-x-prototype/

    However its still a 4.5gen plane that looks like a 5th gen, with an unknown cost for further development to turn it into 5th gen.

    With SK also buying into F-35 use, there is likelihood that if such cost ultimately makes their plane nearly as pricey as flyaway F-35s they would scrap that idea and rather buy the more matured F-35 (whose price is falling), keeping KFX a purely 4.5 gen fighter.

  7. Too early to tell yet I suppose; similar to the Tejas story that was carried in Hindustan Times (do correct me if I got the name of the paper wrong) there’s no official word from RMAF yet about it. These anonymous “sources” could be anybody really, could be real or just hot air invented by that journalist.

    Or maybe mahathir. Haha…

  8. South African missiles that is available right now would be A-Darter infrared homing short range AAM with dual color 180 degree seeker, mid course guidance, ECCM etc which are typically what the western missiles have. Does KAI did not integrate aim9x block 2 on F/A-50 yet? For radar guided missiles it would be Chinese PL12 and PL15.

    Going for JF17 is almost similar going for Mig29 as JF17 use a derivative of Mig29 engines that have a lower life span of 2200 hours compared to GE F404’s 6000 hours on Hornets and FA-50. this meant higher maintenance cost in the long run. So will RMAF (or should i say the government) buy hardware that is expensive to maintain and repeat the same “mistakes” again?

  9. @Azlan
    “I hope I’m wrong but as I first asked a long while ago : for our planners is the fact that the F/A-50 is already operated by 3 neighbours a prohibiting factor against it being selected?”

    I too hope that you are wrong. But given that other neighbours also operate SU-30 variants (Indonesia and Vietnam), it would not be a huge factor in not selecting FA-50 but may certainly one of the factors. In fact as a member of ASEAN it would be more benefit to operate similar hardware alongside other countries. But if RMAF does not want that, Tejas Mk1 and JF17 would be the choice even though capability wise on a platform level they are quite similar. Any of these LCA can integrate any weapons the user required.

  10. Luqman – “ In fact as a member of ASEAN it would be more benefit to operate similar hardware alongside other countries”

    Interoperability with ASEAN members is not a priority. ASEAN as you know is an economic/trade grouping with zero mechanism for joint military in this regards.

    Luqman – “But if RMAF does not want that”

    Policy is set by the politicians. With regards to the actual aircraft the RMAF wants something with zero or little need for integration/certification because it’s a drain in resources.

    “Any of these LCA can integrate any weapons the user required”

    Of course. To be paid for by the Malaysian taxpayer. Logic dictates we don’t – again – go down the silly and resource intensive move of buying a small number and performing expensive and time consuming integration/certification.

  11. Luqman – “South African missiles”

    We simply can’t be in the position where we have LCAs armed with ordnance not compatible with what we already operate. It’s bad enough that a small under resourced air arm such as the RMAF has 2 frontline combat types – in small numbers – armed with different ordnance.

  12. Taib – “why stop at 18 JF17 LCAs? Why not add another 18 later?”

    As you’re aware; the intention is for an initial batch of 18; followed later by another batch.

    Taib – “And add a few more Hawks (pre-owned) to the existing Hawk 108s as LIFTs”

    The Hawk 100 is not a LIFT; thus it cannot serve as a LIFT. Like the MBB-339s it was/is a conversion platform or intermediary trainer but it’s not a “LIFT” per se.

  13. Performance, weapon choices, radar and avionics wise, if RMAF to follow its tradition of mix n match of what it believed to be among the best in the market that it could get from various reliable but cheaper sources, based on its own test, research and studies, capable of turning even the JF17 into a potent fontline interceptor/fighter/attacker albeit being a LCA, or even if it selected the FA50, to support the operations of the more expensive to operate SU30s n Hornets, I have no qualm to accept it. May the best choice wins.

  14. Romeo – “If the answer is yes then we now it is a bullshit that still keep played”

    “Bullshit” or not; agree or not; planners/policy makers have their own strategic concerns driven by various factors. Us diversifying our suppliers was also – like Indonesia – driven by the need to not be overly dependent on one or two suppliers; although unlike Indonesia we are striving for greater commonality and reduced logistical/support footprint.

    Us not following regional tends by following the F-16A/B route was also driven by strategic political factors. Although if we had gone down that route; our F-16A/Bs would still be flying and would have been a much more long term cost effective solution compared to the Fulcrums.

  15. @Luqman
    “may certainly one of the factors”
    I find that less likely unless ATM is concerned on certain electronics that are shared amongst base variants. As you pointed out the SU30 are used by other neighbours, so too as the Hawks (by IndonesiaAF), Mig29 used by MyanmarAF, F-5 used by various others (PinoyAF, SgAF, IndonesiaAF, ThaiAF). On the seas our subs & LCS were not unduly influenced by the fact that SG Formidables came from same shipmaker.

    We even got shared equipment with our neighbours in the form of CN235 & FirstWin (as the AV4). If we do deviate from those purchases by other armed forces, it is due to our specific needs, affordability, and of course political & economic relations with the seller nations.

  16. What about the Turkish Hurjet, it will be the Mk 20 by the time Malaysia makes up its mind..

    Reply
    The decision is supposed to be taken this year or at the latest next year. Further delays will mean we have to have a limited SLEP for the Hawks something the air force will try to avoid at all costs. That said who knows what will happened in the next 24 months

  17. Luqman – “also operate SU-30 variants (Indonesia and Vietnam)”

    Note that we were the first to get the Su-30 (Vietnam got Su-27s when it wasn’t part of ASEAN) and it was a variant unique to us.
    We were also the first to get the Fulcrum : would we have gotten both if they were already operated by close neighbours?
    Would we have gotten a sub which was already operated by a neighbour with which we had unresolved overlapping claims?

    With certain things we have no choice but to get stuff already operated by others. With other things we have a choice. We have security considerations peculiar to us. Never mind military stuff. With the security industry we have a policy of not allowing national workers from neighbouring countries to be legally employed as security guards; for matters relating to national security.

    In the 1970’s it was different. Our main focus was internal security and the geo political situation was different. If we didn’t get F-5s there was nothing else we could have gotten based on available resources.

  18. Tom Tom – “ time Malaysia makes up its mind..”

    As it stands things have actually progressed quite fast by normal standards. A RFI was made last year and an announcement is expected this year or the next.

  19. even Malaysia buys the same LCA as other countries, surely it wont be the ‘same’. like our PTMs, MKMs, Mk x08s etc..😜😜😜

  20. Mentally of requirements had been set by the politician due to?….. I don’t think RMAF should choosed the JF-17 even though we has good relationships with Pakistan and rejected the Indian proposal on Tejas…reject both in order to preserve the good relationship with these to countries… Go for Kpop made aircraft then……Joint the Turkish TF-X then, but take time, get some interim fighter for another 1 sqn for time being…It just a suggestion ok… No offence….

  21. My take is Leonardo M349 (FA) would be the frontrunner for the LCA & LIFT programs as it;
    1) Covers for both with the plane designed onset to be a dedicated LIFT for 5th gen fighters
    2) Designed onset to be very economical and total cost efficient for end users
    3) Twin engines making it less risky if one were to fail and Im guessing more forgiving to rookie pilot mistakes
    4) Can be equip with Grifo-E AESA radar. Barring JF17, others only come with pulse doppler type.
    5) Ease of integration with both US & EU payloads.
    6) OEM developed LO kit adaptability.
    7) We can trade in the outdated MB339s
    8) Can be fully barter traded (if we have what they want) as with the Israeli purchase.

  22. Do you reckon this is a Malaysian ploy? Perhaps the Korean jet IS the preferred option. We may just be dragging our feet just to get a better deal. Common trick at the pasar malam, right?

  23. Other than CAATSA, the unresolved MH17 incident & incompatibility issues if we go Western 5th gen MRCA, I see nothing wrong with going Russian.

    Compared to Western planes & engines, it needs more TLC but otherwise performs comparably and in no way imply a lower plane lifespan.

    We can find Mig21s flying in a dozen 3rd world AFs while the counterpart Phantoms are flown by a mere handful of AFs today and fast dwindling.

    Our Fulcrums could still fly regularly if we hadn’t skimp on maintaining them.

  24. Tom Tom – “Do you reckon this is a Malaysian ploy”

    You seriously think that we would arrange for a South Korean writer to quote non existing sources as part of a grand plan to get KAI to offer us a better deal ….

    Futility – “Seriously, Russian made engine again”

    “Seriously”? It’s just a news report which may or may not be accurate. Even if it’s accurate for now; it may not be so in the coming months; it’s not something set in stone….

    Far – “eject both in order to preserve the good relationship with these to countries”

    Firstly nothing has been selected. Secondly no bilateral relationship is equal. Do we have more trade with Pakistan or India? Do we have more business dealings and FDI with Pakistan or India?

  25. Azlan-“I hope I’m wrong but as I first asked a long while ago : for our planners is the fact that the F/A-50 is already operated by 3 neighbours a prohibiting factor against it being selected?” I believe as a small country with limited resources we can’t really afford to be shopping for “unique” or very different assets than our neighbours. We have to go for value buys i.e more numerous in the market thereby cost of ownership / life cycle costs will be lower. As with F-5s in the 70s and F-16s in the 80s/90s, these were good kits and had good value for money when compared to Russian equipment which we chose to buy (if the logic was to be different/non-common etc. ) The type of equipment we chose is just one part of equation, but more important is the training, availability and tactics of employment. By buying more reliable and well tested equipment, we probably need to spend less to keep the equipment up and running and thereby increasing their availability for crew training. Also with common equipment with some allied nations (non-Asean) eg. Australia, Korea or even perhaps Turkey we may also be able to leverage on relationships with crew exchange programs to gain better training. Because of this I would really hope that our services are not pushing for “unique” equipment just to have something different from our immediate neighbours.

  26. Nat – “these were good kits and had good value for money ”

    They were cost effective in the long run. A good return of investment; as per my earlier comment on the Fulcrums compared to had we gone the
    F-16 route; as an example.

    Nat – “ Because of this I would really hope that our services are not pushing for “unique” equipment”

    If course they aren’t. There’s a common misconception that the services want “unique” things; why would they when they know the penalties.

    The armed services know full well what they need and what they don’t. It’s the political angle. Lalok spoke of a “mix and match” tradition : it’s due to the politicians.

    Nat – “.just one part of equation, but more important is the training, availability and tactics of employment”

    Suitability, operating costs, support, growth potential, interoperability/commonality, etc.

    Take the MKMs; because we bought a variant unique to us the Russians couldn’t help us with a combat syllabus. Wouldn’t have happened if we had got Super Hornets.

    As for the LCA; many are still overly fixated by its performance; range of radar; types of ordnance; speed; etc but the determining factor is our ability to operate it at a “systems level” – it’s not the 1950’s anymore.

    Nat – “ we can’t really afford to be shopping for “unique” or very different assets than our neighbours”

    With certain things we should; with others we shouldn’t. Not “different” or “unique” per se but “selective”. Note I’m not suggesting we don’t get the
    F/A-50 because it’s operated by 3 immediate neighbours; 2 of which we have unresolved disputes with.

  27. @joe
    I have to concur with you. The M346FA has its merits. I still think the final shoot out is between the M346 and the FA50. The JF17 option (if we do get them), is a seriously politicised buy. It’s more so if we go for the HAL Tejas.
    @Azlan
    I realized that the older Hawk series aren’t serious fully LIFT capable but there aren’t many purpose-built LIFT aircraft shortlisted by MinDef. As things stand, we’re looking at only; 1) aircrafts that are LIFTs yet LCA capable, or 2) LCAs that’s perfect at doing its job as light fighters but sucks at being a LIFT aircraft. * I am not sure if the new 2-seater JF17s are LIFT aircraft.

  28. I wanted to comment on fUTILITY nonsensical comment but Azlan got to it first. Other than that I’m really quite intrigued by the following statement
    “possess better mid-range weapons which is a requirement for the Malaysian Air Force.”

    I found it quite ridiculous that this is the factor leaning in JF-17 favour; the fact this plane could probably only use mainly Chinese and Pakistani armament (not sure about Russian) means that most of the missiles in our inventory would be unusable. I don’t think we’re planning to get Chinese made missiles or any Chinese made armament at the moment

  29. Taib – “s fully LIFT capable but there aren’t many purpose-built LIFT aircraft s”

    Being a generation ahead of the Hawk 200; they would still have cockpits and other stuff which would make them more capable of preparing/transitioning pilots for the fast jet role. As it stands there is zero to be gained from adding the Hawk fleet : will consume resiurces.

    Taib – “ 1) aircrafts that are LIFTs yet LCA capable”

    That is the issue and trade offs have to made. I personally feel that far more important is how whatever we choose performs as a LIFT. What we buy now as a LIFT will also be used for future pilots who are transitioning to future MRCAs.

  30. @ASM
    “I don’t think we’re planning to get Chinese made missiles or any Chinese made armament at the moment”

    Given the current geopolitical situation hopefully that might not happen (getting Chinese made weapons). Like Azlan said previously, as small resource limited air force we could not afford to have weapons that cannot be used on other platforms or else we must integrate them on all platform which is extra cost. I personally believe in using the same missile on every platform wether using the one currently in our inventory or future ones (other models).

  31. Taib – “s. I still think the final shoot out is between the M346 and the FA50”

    In a perfect world we’d select either one. To achiever commonality we’ve specified a single airframe for both roles. The problem is that one might be better off as a LIFT than a LCA and vice versa thus we have to decide on the required trade off.

    Taib- “ a seriously politicised buy”

    All big ticket kit is “seriously politicised”. Even including Tejas and JF17 in the list of contenders is “seriously politicised”.

    Another question is whether whatever we buy now as a LIFT will suffice for the role in the coming years when we get a MRCA.

  32. If it takes 6 months. The safest bet is after the August PRU next year. Hopefully the new government will not just cancel the tender.

  33. @Khairul
    A few scenarios will likely happen.

    If decision already made and so happens retained the same government, nothing will happen and it will go thru unscathed.

    If decision already made & signed and change of government, either it will continue or gets cancelled with penalties.

    If decision already made but not signed and change of government, either it will renego to redirect benefits to ‘ehem’ parties, or reject the earlier selection and reselect again.

    If decision not yet made and change of government, either will outright cancel and retender with benefits redirected to ‘ehem’ parties, outright cancel, or continue in a modified form (3 planes instead of 6).

    The least likely outcome would be a change of government but retaining the same deal without prejudice or trying to score some political potshots, because that would mean the previous administration was doing it right, which is wrong in the political realm.

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