From top: Blackhawk, UH-1Y Super Huey and the AW149
KUALA LUMPUR: After a couple of days of research and evaluation, Malaysian Defence would like to offer these helicopters pictured above as the most cost-effective solution for the Nuri Replacement Tender.
With a budget of around RM1 billion (US$340 million) we cannot afford to buy medium/heavy helicopters in the class of the Nuri. The Nuri cost only around US$7 in the 60s when we purchased it, so we can afford to buy 40 of them. One wonder, however, how many choppers we could have got if the govt then had decided to purchase the much smaller and cheaper Hueys.
But thats water under bridge, the Nuri did performed admirably through the years even as it aged rather ungracefully. For the Nuri replacement tender, it is obvious that the military had wanted an aircraft with similar or more advanced capabilities especially in the range and carrying capacity.
The usual suspects the AW101, NH90, EC725, Chinook and the H92 certainly met the criteria. But all certainly failed in the price department.
The Mi-17 is left out from this discussion as I am told that it will not be considered for the project. Why? Because it has already chosen to equip the Army Air Wing Transport Sqdn. It was decided that the Mi-17s meet the army’s air taxi requirement. Since they like to divide the armed forces purchase between the west and the east, it seems about right.
How expensive are the Usual Suspects. For starters the AW101 basic version costs about US$27 million, the NH90 US$36 million; EC725 around US$25-30 million; Chinook US$30 million and H92 US$60 million. Add another US%10 million for CSAR capability for most of these helicopters.
The fly away price is usually lower, depending on the numbers purchased, but it will only go down by one or two million only. With our limited budget we will not be able to purchase 12 helicopters with the complete package including training, spare etc as specified by the tender.
To Malaysian Defence the best option is for RMAF to look at the three helicopters pictured, above, the Blackhawk, Super Huey and the AW149. And the best candidate to Malaysian Defence is in fact the Blackhawk. We already operate two Blackhawks for the VIP role. So the RMAF already has pilots and the aircraft to start training immediately should it was chosen to replace the Nuri.
If the current two helicopters are not to the latest standards, they could even be modified locally with the mission equipment destined for the new built aircraft and tested in local conditions, a key requirement to ensure reliability.
The Blackhawk could be purchased as low as US$10 million (basic, under the Foreign Military Sale programme, add another US$5 million for commercial sale) while for the CSAR version another US$10 to US$20 million is required for the added capability.
It is unfair to compare the Blackhawk with the usual suspects. The smaller airframe cannot be compared to the medium-heavies with their three engines and five fuel tanks.
USAF used the HH-60G or Pavehawk for 20 years bemoaning its range and carry capability all the while. But do we really need a 1,000km capable helicopter which we cannot afford in the first place while another machine with some 300km range is available and already flying locally?
The US Army with its shorter mission radius seemed to be more content with the Blackhawk as does the US Navy. Both services uses bigger helicopters for longer range missions for the obvious reasons of course.
With the US military set to operate the Blackhawk for another two decades, the cost savings will be tremendous. If in the future, if more funds were available, only then we should purchase the bigger and more capable medium-heavy helicopters.
RMAF Blackhawk (TUDM picture)
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