A key focus area at this year's Langkawi International Maritime & Aerospace (LIMA) exhibition in Malaysia was Kuala Lumpur's maritime patrol capabilities.

During a speech at the show, defence minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) would be afforded a high priority in the future. Kuala Lumpur has yet to outline a definite requirement for its prospective MPA fleet, and industry sources are uncertain as to when - or even if - a request for proposals will emerge.

Nonetheless, at LIMA potential bidders quietly started the process of campaigning for what could be one of the Royal Malaysian Air Force's key acquisitions this decade.

The heightened focus on the maritime patrol mission follows a recent incursion by 200 Filipino gunmen in Malaysia's eastern state of Sabah, which resulted in an armed confrontation with Malaysian military forces. Although Kuala Lumpur eventually crushed the interlopers with artillery, air strikes and ground forces, the incident highlighted the vulnerability of Malaysia's long coastlines.

What is more, industry sources at the show say Malaysia and its neighbours are increasingly concerned about regional territorial disputes, fisheries monitoring, illegal immigration, smuggling and pollution in their maritime regions. The air force, however, has only four Beechcraft King Airs assigned to the MPA role.

Industry sources believe that if Kuala Lumpur decides to acquire an MPA fleet, it is likely to obtain between six and 10 aircraft.

Alenia Aermacchi made the most high-profile MPA push at the show. It held a briefing for trade and local media about the ATR 72MP, a variant of the ATR 72-600 twin turboprop airliner.

The company says the ATR 72MP has an affordable support base in the region given that regional airlines operate the aircraft. Its large size would also provide ample space for the carriage of two separate crews, enhancing the aircraft's endurance. In addition, the type can be modified to perform anti-submarine warfare (ASW) missions.

Beechcraft, Malaysia's current MPA supplier, kept a lower profile, but regional sales director Todd Hattaway says the King Air 350 is the ideal platform, with an endurance of 11h and the ability to take off from runways as short as 5,000ft (1,520m) in a fully mission-equipped configuration. In addition, he says the aircraft is relatively inexpensive and easy to maintain.

Another potential contender is the Ruag Do 228NG. The model's predecessor, the Do 228, is operated by a number of countries in the maritime patrol role. A Do 228NG appeared on the LIMA static line this year and at the previous show in December 2011.

As an interim MPA option, Indonesian Aerospace (IAe) has proposed Kuala Lumpur converts two of its Indonesian-built Airbus Military CN235 transport aircraft to the MPA role. During the 1990s, Malaysia obtained eight of the type, with six equipped for transport and two for VIP missions.

To fill the capability gap created by the conversion of the two CN235s to MPAs, IAe proposes selling Kuala Lumpur two Airbus Military C295s from its final assembly line in Bandung. It also sees an opportunity to sell Malaysia four additional C295s: two in an MPA configuration and two optimised for the ASW role.

Source: Flight International