Tri-nation agreement prompts push for new and upgraded surveillance platforms, with Malaysia nearing deal
Malaysia is expected to bolster its maritime patrol capability by upgrading two Beechcraft King Air 200s, converting up to six Indonesian Aerospace (IAe) CN-235s and leasing two used Bombardier Dash 8s.
Industry sources say Malaysia has selected Thales to supply its Amascos mission system, which will be installed this year on at least two of the air force’s four King Air 200 maritime patrol aircraft. Malaysia is now negotiating a contract with local maintenance and upgrade firm Airod to integrate the new suite, which also includes infrared sensors from FLIR Systems.
The air force also needs to urgently expand its MPA fleet to meet a new commitment to operate joint maritime patrols with Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand. Sources say Malaysia is negotiating a deal with IAe to convert between two and six existing CN-235 transports to an MPA configuration to also include installing Amascos equipment. Other platforms, including the Dassault Falcon 900 and Fokker 50, are also being evaluated, but modifying the current CN-235s could be achieved sooner and within the programme’s budget.
The newly created Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) also has been looking to wet-lease two unarmed MPAs for 10 years, but contract award, originally expected late last year, has been delayed several times. Sources say the MMEA has identified Malaysia Helicopter Services (MHS) and Falcon Aviation, both of which are proposing to operate used Dash 8s, as preferred bidders and that a contract should be awarded within the next two months.
Falcon Aviation is believed to be the favourite because it is partnered with Cobham, which is currently providing Dash 8s for Australia’s Coastwatch programme. However, the agency has also asked several non-preferred bidders offering ATR 42s, Fokker 50s and King Air 350s, to extend their bids until June in case a Dash 8 contract cannot be concluded.
The MMEA has also identified MHS and Westar as preferred bidders for a wet-lease of two Eurocopter AS365N3 Dauphin search-and-rescue (SAR) helicopters and later this year plans to launch competitions to purchase six medium twin-engine SAR helicopters and two amphibious fixed-wing aircraft.
Currently only Singapore, with nine Fokker 50s, is fully meeting its commitment for joint patrols. Sources say Thailand is discussing with Fokker Services upgrading its fleet of five Fokker 27s, only three of which are currently operational, with new missions systems and radars. Indonesia plans to acquire at least three CN-235s with IAe-installed Amascos suites, but is also evaluating other solutions.
BRENDAN SOBIE / SINGAPORE