Malaysian AF Pushes for AEW&C Aircraft
By Wendell Minnick
Taipei - Malaysia plans to acquire up to eight airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft, Armed Forces chief Gen. Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Zainal said Sept. 15.
The requirement has existed for more than 10 years, but budget constraints have made it impossible. It appears the Air Force is pushing forward with a reported increase in the budget, but there remain skeptics who say Malaysia has a long history of mismanaging its defense procurement.
The requirement for an AEW&C has grown as its Air Force fleet expands with new Su-30MKMs joining a mixture of aircraft, including MiG-29Ns, F/A-18D Hornets and aging F-5 E/F Tiger IIs.
Abdul Aziz said the AEW&Cs procurement would "incur huge expenses," but the Air Force needed to be able to coordinate air, land and sea operations.
A U.S. defense official said Malaysia was only looking at two to four aircraft, and the only two platforms now being seriously considered were the Northrop Grumman E-2C Hawkeye and the refurbished Swedish Saab 2000s equipped with a spine-mounted Erieye PS-890 side-looking reconnaissance radar. Other sources point to the Brazilian Embraer EMB 145 aircraft as a possible competitor.
The U.S. official said Malaysia was considering overhauled E-2C aircraft from Israel Aircraft Industries' Bedek Aviation Group. Mexico bought three from IAI in 2004. However, an IAI spokesperson said there are no discussions at present with Malaysia.
The Pakistan Air Force ordered six Saab 2000 aircraft with Erieye radar in June 2006, but due to budget constraints the number has reportedly been reduced. Thailand's Air Force selected two Saab 340 aircraft with only one equipped with Erieye in October 2007. Despite Malaysia's growing need for an AEW&C, there is a long history of delayed procurements and program mismanagement.
"AEW&CS planes have been on the Malaysian Air Force requirements list since 1995," said a skeptical U.S. defense contractor in Malaysia. "The biggest issue is that they do not have the money. They can't even kick start the Batch II Frigate program and are still struggling with the Nuri [helicopter] replacement. I'm told this latter one will slide again despite proposals having been submitted."