Malaysia has selected the AgustaWestland A109 over the Eurocopter EC635 for the army's light-utility helicopter (LUH) programme. Contract talks between Malaysia and AgustaWestland have started, but the size and timing of the procurement is still unclear because most of the Malaysian defence budget for the year has been drained by the purchase of new fighters and naval helicopters.

AgustaWestland declines to comment on the potential purchase of up to 10 LUH variants of the A109 due to a non-disclosure agreement. Malaysia intended to group the army acquisition with the purchase of six Eurocopter AS555 Fennecs for the navy, but decided last year that the Fennec was unsuitable for the army's observation/scout mission. Eurocopter instead offered the larger EC635.

Despite the switch to the A109, the navy is moving forward with the Fennec deal and plans to operate the machines from its fleet of frigates in addition to acting as a trainer for six new AgustaWestland Super Lynx helicopters. The latter begin delivery this year, while the Fennecs are to arrive from 2004. Eurocopter will complete a new maintenance centre in August at Subang to support the Fennecs and 60 other locally operated machines. AgustaWestland, meanwhile, is delivering this week two fire-fighting variants of the A109 ordered by Malaysia in 2001. The government may soon disclose selection of the A109 for its fledgling army aviation unit.

Source: Flight International