Malaysia to delay CSAR replacement

Singapore
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Malaysia's plans to issue a tender for combat search-and-rescue (CSAR) helicopters have again been postponed - this time for about six months until late 2006 - because of insufficient funding. Kuala Lumpur has been thinking about replacements for its 27 Sikorsky S-61s for several years and had planned to issue a tender for the requirement late last year.

"The mid-2006 deadline has passed and everyone is keeping quiet about it," says an industry source familiar with the programme. "However, there remains an urgent need to replace the S-61 fleet, which was introduced in the late 1960s."

Malaysia's defence budget continues to be constrained by a 2003 order for 18 Sukhoi Su-30MK fighters, which has taken up much of the funds available from 2006 to 2010.

Another industry source says Malaysia's air force probably has funds available now to acquire two or three helicopters worth less than $7 million each - well short of a planned first-batch order for 10 aircraft. "You cannot conduct effective search-and-rescue operations with only three helicopters," says the source. "You need at least six, and ideally eight or 10. Until the air force secures the funds for this, the tender is unlikely to go ahead." Helicopters under consideration include the AgustaWestland EH101, Eurocopter EC725 and Sikorsky S-92.

Malaysia has several other pending helicopter requirements, including one for an additional six AgustaWestland Super Lynx 300 helicopters, plus six SAR aircraft for its Maritime Enforcement Agency. Decisions on both could be made before year-end.