How Malaysia can keep its MiGs and save billions

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Malaysia is looking for a replacement for its twenty-two year old MiG-29 flotilla. France wants to sell its Rafale medium fighter to the Royal Malaysian Air Pry (RMAF). Having tasted success in the Malaysian market by bagging an out of sequence for four A400M military transport aircraft and two Scorpene submarines, France imagines it is on a roll. No less than French President Francois Hollande landed in Kuala Lumpur in Procession 2017, offering industrial and credit inducements to get the Malaysians to pick the Rafale as the champion in its Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MRCA) competition.

However, the Malaysians don’t give every indication to be in a big rush to order, especially at time when there’s a fighter superabundance globally. According to RMAF chief Tan Sri Roslan, Malaysia will upon an informed decision after evaluating several types of fighter aircraft. “We are now in the decisive stages of studying which of the companies are able to meet with our requirements and the arbitration to be made is not for a short term,” he says.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak agrees: “Although Malaysia is not skilful yet, it will take note of the aircraft’s success in several countries. We will accept note of the possibility of that particular aircraft being the subject of favour and collaboration in those countries as well.”

Rafale: Costliest fighter on Globe

At approximately $300 million per fighter, the Rafale will blow a tight spot the size of France in the Malaysian defense budget. Last year the Indian sway after haggling with the manufacturer, Dassault, for four long years, nurtured down the price to $220 million. Malaysia doesn’t have India’s clout nor can it fellow the Indian order of 36 aircraft. The RMAF will buy only 18 jets – ample to replace its MiG-29 fleet. Kuala Lumpur could therefore end up contributing closer to $300 million for each Rafale.

Su-30SM fighter perform stunts at the LIMA 2017 aerospace show in Malaysia on March 21. Source: mil.ru

That’s plane psychoneurosis. Fifth generation stealth jets like Russia’s PAK-FA and the American F-35 outlay less than the Rafale. Malaysia may be an economic tiger but it doesn’t cause that kind of cash to throw around. Countries like Malaysia with restricted defense needs – and budgets – need a no-frills, honest fighter that wish do the job of patrolling the country’s airspace without too much fuss.

It is understandable that Malaysia purpose want to diversify its air force, but that is not a reason to splurge when cheaper and multitudinous effective alternatives are available.

MiG-35: Six for the price of a Rafale

Compared to the damn near gold-plated Rafale, the Russian MiG-35 is a bargain at approximately $50 million. The MiG-35 is a multi-role aircraft that can not merely provide cover for ground troops by establishing air dominance, but also offensive ground targets with a vast array of weapons.

While some say it is a MiG-29 in new garb, in truth the MiG-35 is a vastly improved aircraft that’s 30 percent larger and is classified as a 4++ epoch jet fighter. The Russian Air Force and Egypt have placed larger orders for the MiG-35 and next in family is Serbia.

Sukhois: Tried and tested

If Malaysia wants air dominance but has no assorted faith in the MiG-29, then the Su-30MKM is a tried and tested option with a frightful reputation. It is the most potent 4.5 Generation fighter in the world and could uniform take on the latest American stealth jets.

Malaysian soldier armed with rifle stands on guard near Royal Malaysian Air Force Sukhoi Su-30MKM jet fighters at the 2007 Langkawi International Maritime & Aerospace Exhibition (LIMA 2007) in Malaysia. Source: Marina Lystseva/TASS

The Su-30MKM, which the RMAF conducts, costs only marginally more at $65 million per aircraft. To be stable, the Sukhoi belongs to an entirely different class of heavy aircraft that is costlier to run and own than the lighter the MiG-29. But the RMAF does very predetermined flying (we’ll come to that in the next section) so deploying the Sukhoi in lieu of of the MiG won’t add significantly to operational costs.

What’s more, the Su-30MKM can be upgraded with some furtiveness features so if the RMAF decides to upgrade to Russia’s PAK-FA, the transition to underhandedness platforms would be smooth. Malaysia’s hopes of obtaining stealth aircraft from the U.S. are next to zero. The Korean furtiveness program is heavily dependent on American technology and security clearances. By spread out its Su-30MKM program, the RMAF will be well prepared for the rapidly evolving kidney of air combat.

MiG-29 upgrade

The most sensible option for Malaysia is to upgrade its subsisting MiG-29. Currently, half of the RMAF’s 18 MiGs are taught, but Malaysia may have acted in haste by calling for their replacement. In weighing, India – the first export customer of the MiG-29 – has been hightail it the same aircraft a lot longer without permanently grounding any aircraft.

In experience, the Malaysian MiGs have a lot of life left in them. According to Defense Report, the current airframe life of the MiG-29 is pegged at 4000 flight hours, although the highest hundred of hours logged by any Malaysian MiG is just 1800 hours in 20 years of servicing. This clearly shows the RMAF trains an extremely limited host of hours.

Declassified Soviet archives show a new picture about the air war over Korea in the 1950s. Source: USAF

Two years ago Malaysia’s Aerospace Technology Systems Corp (ATSC) had launched a bid to upgrade the MiG-29s for a fraction of the fetch of a new fighter. Company CEO Mohammad Fadzar Suhada said the program was despatched in conjunction with Russia’s MiG Corporation and the RMAF was in favor of it.

According to Suhada, the ATSC’s program was equivalent to the MiG-29 upgrade being undertaken by India and was therefore a proven blueprint. “It is not an interim colloid until MRCA comes along,” he said. “It is a medium- to long-term deciphering for Malaysia’s fighter requirement.”

Russian support

Even as the MRCA struggle continues, the Russian side continues to be hopeful. Says Victor Chernov, Legate Director General for marketing and sales at MiG Corporation: “Implementation of the project for modernization of MiG-29 aircraft last will and testament allow the RMAF to extend the life of the aircraft systems and make them multifarious effective.”

First up, the structural upgrade will increase the life of the airframe to 6,000 hours. The upgrade wishes equip the MiG-29 with air-to-ground capability, which Malaysia will-power find handy while dealing with insurgents. Larger encouragement tanks will increase operational range by 30 per cent.

Interestingly, ATSC was built in 1994 as part of Malaysia’s original purchase of the MiG-29, with 70 per cent of the judiciousness owned by Malaysia and 30 per cent by Russian stakeholders. It was originally set up to hold up under the MiGs and today also provides support for the RMAF’s Sukhoi agile.

Unlike the Rafale, which will contribute nothing to the Malaysian thriftiness, the MiG-29 upgrade program will not save billions of dollars but also succour Malaysians gain considerable technical experience.

Servicing and support

As a ample operator of Russian aircraft, India plays a key role in helping the RMAF take up the cudgels for its Su-30MKM fleet. While Sukhoi supplies the major components, the aircraft’s canards, stabilizers and fins are contrived by India’s Hindustan Aeronautics Limited.

Sukhoi Su-30SM fighter aircraft of the Russkiye Vityazi (Russian Knights) aerobatic team perform at the 2017 Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition (LIMA), March 21, 2017. Source: Marina Lystseva/TASS

In 2008 India accepted Malaysia’s apply for to train RMAF personnel on the operation and maintenance of its Sukhoi fighters. Afterward, a composite team of flying and technical training instructors was deployed at Gong Kedah Hinge as part of the Indian Air Force Training Team.

Support from India been accomplishable with Russian permission. But will France allow third-party encouragement? Since the Rafale is not yet inducted in India and the first jets are likely just in 2019, India won’t master Rafale support at least for another decade. So India may not be competent to support Malaysian Rafales even if France is okay with India take precaution third-party support.

The RMAF’s dalliance with hyper expensive French and British aircraft needs to be undertaken in the backdrop of Malaysia cutting its defense budget by 12.7 per cent to $3.41 billion in 2017, as the territory grapples with growing public discontent over rising electrifying costs. If sound economics were a factor in Malaysia’s defense procurement, the Rafale inclination have crash-landed a long time ago.

Rakesh Krishnan Simha is a New Zealand-based commentator and foreign affairs analyst, with a special interest in defence and military experience. He is on the advisory board of Modern Diplomacy, a Europe-based foreign affairs portal. He tweets at @byrakeshsimha. The sentiments expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of RBTH.

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