Royal Brunei Armed Forces defence planners are expected to focus their attention on concluding a deal for ten British Aerospace Hawk 100/200 trainer/light-combat aircraft, after signing an order with GEC-Marine for three missile-armed frigates.

The planned $300 million purchase of six Hawk 100s and four single-seat 200s has been effectively delayed by long-running negotiations with the UK Government and GEC on the warship deal. Brunei has only a small defence-equipment procurement team, and priority in recent years has been given to acquiring new surface combatants.

Last-minute unsolicited bids from competing US suppliers had threatened to delay further the B$1.7 billion ($944 million) order. The deal had earlier been held up by differences between London and Brunei on the ship's weapon and sensor fit and whether this met an earlier agreed provision of an 80% UK-supplier content.

The ships will be armed with British Aerospace vertical-launch GWS26 Seawolf surface-to-air missiles and Aerospatiale MM40 Exocet anti-ship missiles. The 2,000t vessels will be equipped with a helicopter platform and Brunei is now deciding whether to operate its four Sikorsky S-70 Black Hawks from the ships, or to acquire a dedicated naval machine.

Industry sources acknowledge that, now the ships deal is done, the Hawk programme rises to the top of priorities. One potential obstacle is the planned construction of a new military air base for the aircraft. A suggested interim solution is to build a bare operational base and to support the Hawks from Bandar International Airport.

Source: Flight International