Malaysia's navy has put its requirement for anti-submarine warfare helicopters at the top of a list of priorities, with the service planning to ask for funding for the procurement during the country's 2011-15 spending plan.
"ASW helicopters are a higher priority than maritime patrol aircraft or other aerial assets. We will need around six to operate with our new Scorpene submarines," says navy chief Adm Abdul Aziz Jaafar. "Money is tight and there are a lot of things that everyone wants, but we'll ask the government to put aside some funds in the 10th Malaysia Plan."
A competition is likely to begin around 2010 at the earliest, with the order likely to include an option for an additional six helicopters, say industry sources in Kuala Lumpur. The contenders are likely to include the AgustaWestland Super Lynx, Kaman SH-2 Seasprite, Kamov Ka-28, NH Industries NH90 and Sikorsky SH-60 Seahawk. "Whichever company can give us the better technology, the better it is for us," says Abdul Aziz.
The helicopters would eventually replace the navy's six AgustaWestland Super Lynx 300s and six Eurocopter AS555 Fennecs. The service retired a fleet of Westland Wasps in 1999.
"When you have ASW helicopters, you can work effectively with and against submarines. Both are force multipliers, and their sheer presence will undoubtedly enhance underwater and anti-submarine warfare capability. This is very conducive considering the fact that Malaysia has a large maritime area and vast economic potential that needs to be protected," says Abdul Aziz.
He adds that the service is keen on acquiring maritime patrol aircraft capabilities, with Embraer and Lockheed Martin having held informal talks with the Malaysian government about providing aircraft. "The reality is that this will be an expensive purchase and it is not really our highest priority. When we do go forward on this, we will work together with our colleagues in the air force to decide on the best aircraft."
Priority will also be given to the acquisition of unmanned air vehicles, which can also be used for maritime patrol missions along the Malacca Straits and the South China Sea. "We are giving a greater emphasis on UAVs as we feel that this technology will be useful for us. Again, we will work with the air force," says Abdul Aziz.