The Malaysian Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu disclosed in a parliamentary session on July 31 that only four out of 28 Russian fighters in the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) fleet are airworthy.
The 28 aircraft comprise ten Mikoyan MiG-29N/NUBs – survivors from an original fleet of 18 that entered service in 1995 – and 18 Sukhoi Su-30MKMs delivered between 2007-09. The former have been grounded since 2016, pending funding for an overhaul, while only four of the twin-seat Flankers are available for operations.
In a statement on August 3 that clarified the poor serviceability of the Su-30MKM, the RMAF detailed that 12 examples have reached their full decade of service and are grounded until the mandatory tenth-year service programme is completed. Due to a lack of funding, an overhaul plan suggested by the manufacturer – Irkut Corporation – which required the Flankers to be shipped to Russia, could not be pursued. Irkut also required a substantial period of time to define the scope of work to be performed on the unique Malaysian MKM variant.
It was ascertained that substantial savings could be realised should the work be carried out in-country, after an Su-30MKM was used as a local overhaul testbed. The work will be carried out by local company Aerospace Technology Systems Corp, which also runs the Sukhoi Technical Centre at RMAF Gong Kedak, responsible for servicing the aircraft. The 12 Flankers will not be available for operations until they are put through the programme, the research and development phase of which is still in progress.
The defence minister’s speech and the RMAF statement appear to be a desperate cry for more funding for the service. In recent years, modernisation efforts have stalled, with the selection of a maritime patrol aircraft and multi-role combat aircraft being repeatedly postponed.
The RMAF also operates Hawk Mk108/208s and F/A-18D Hornets as part of its fighter force. Five of the fleet of eight F/A-18Ds have been deployed to Darwin in Australia’s Northern Territory since late July for the multinational Exercise Pitch Black 2018 and have demonstrated a high availability rate. Roy Choo