Malaysia has issued a request for information for fighters and airborne early warning aircraft, with a view to placing orders in 2011-15.
The sudden flurry of activity has occurred because Malaysia's government is now formulating its 10th five-year national plan for the 2011-15 period, say industry sources.
Kuala Lumpur wants information on fighters such as the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Lockheed Martin F-16 and Saab Gripen. Russian arms export agency Rosoboronexport has stated publicly that it will offer the Sukhoi Su-30.
Malaysia wants to order enough aircraft for one to two squadrons, potentially totalling 36-40 airframes. It is seeking to phase out its older fighters, such as the Northrop F-5, and simplify its fleet.
Boeing and Sukhoi are arguably the strongest contenders because Malaysia already operates eight F/A-18Ds, that it ordered in the early 1990s, and 18 Su-30s that it ordered in 2003.
Meanwhile, the RFI for two AEW aircraft will bring the Northrop Grumman E-2 Hawkeye and Saab Erieye system in contention. The Swedish manufacturer has already been successful in selling one Erieye-equipped Saab 340 to Thailand, in addition to a first batch of six Gripens. The radar has also already been integrated with the Embraer EMB-145 and Saab 2000.
Northrop has previously sold E-2Cs to Japan, Singapore and Taiwan. The company is considered unlikely to offer the developmental E-2D for the Malaysian requirement.
Even though Malaysia has issued the new RFIs, suppliers have reason to be sceptical about its ability to progress to a contract award, as it has twice launched similar competitions in the past. A failure to follow-through with orders this time could result in some companies being reluctant to entertain future requests, some industry sources warn.