BAE Systems believes a Hawk upgrade is a cost effective way for the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) to address future attack requirements, as it eyes additional emerging opportunities.

Natasha Pheiffer, the company’s managing director in Asia, believes a Hawk upgrade is a viable alternative to the country’s plans to buy 36 fighters under its light combat aircraft competition. She contends that such an upgrade could possibly free funds for the long frozen Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MRCA) deal for 18 advanced fighters.

Cirium’s Fleets Analyzer shows that the RMAF operates 18 Hawks, of which five are two-seat Mk 108s used at trainers, and 13 are single seat Mk 208s used for ground attack. Over the years, five Mk 108s and four Mk 208s have been written off, and one Mk 208 retired.

Following a request for information earlier this year, contenders for the LCA requirement include the Korea Aerospace Industries FA-50, Hindustan Aeronautics Tejas, Chengdu/Pakistan Aeronautical Complex JF-17, and Yakovlev Yak-130. Kuala Lumpur is still considering its options for LCA and it is not clear when, or if, a request for proposals will be forthcoming.

Pheiffer says that BAE did not receive the LCA RFI, but this was mainly due to the RMAF's view that it is intimately familiar with the Hawk after operating it for a quarter of a century.

Pheiffer, a long-term veteran of the company, has been in her role for the last five months and is based in KL.

Though contractors no longer view MRCA as an active competition, eventually KL could buy new fighters. Contenders could include BAE with the Eurofighter Typhoon, the Saab Gripen, Boeing F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet, and Dassault Rafale. The aircraft the MRCA was supposed to replace, the Mikoyan MiG-29, is already in storage.

As for other opportunities, BAE Systems is watching government-to-government talks between the United Kingdom and Japan on future fighter technologies. The development of the UK's Tempest fighter, in which BAE plays a role, will coincide with Japan's efforts to replace the Mitsubishi F-2 with an advanced fighter developed locally or in conjunction with international partners.

Tokyo has yet to decide how it will proceed, but appreciates the opportunities offered by international partners. US companies such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin have also provided information to Tokyo.

Another area where Pheiffer sees a possible opportunity is Tokyo's intention to modify two Izumo class helicopter destroyers to carry Lockheed Martin F-35B fighters.

She feels that BAE is well placed to assist Tokyo with the integration of fixed wing fighters aboard the two ships owing to its work on the UK’s Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers, which will also operate the F-35B.