The Dassault Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon have made debut appearances in Langkawi as the rivals pursue Malaysia's multi-role combat aircraft (MRCA) requirement against the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and Saab Gripen.

Dassault mounted a major campaign, with the head of the French air force visiting the show. The company also had a large stand and two French air force Rafales were on static display and performed flight demonstrations. The company also confirmed media reports it had opened a Kuala Lumpur office in October, establishing itself as a late entrant to replace the Royal Malaysian Air Force's RSK MiG-29 aircraft.

"The Rafale International team has brought together French and Malaysian expertise with the key objective of encouraging the Malaysian government to purchase its leading multi-role combat aircraft, the Rafale," said Dassault.

The company also discussed its willingness to work with Malaysian industry in the area of offsets. At a media briefing, Malaysian defence minister Ahmad Zahid said offsets will play a key role in the nation's decision for the 18-aircraft MRCA deal.

Boeing also mounted a major campaign. Using two Super Hornets leased from the US Navy, it conducted aerial displays and also hosted Malaysian VIPs and journalists to media flights. Company representatives said the F/A-18E/F is highly compatible with Malaysia's current eight F/A-18Ds, and its pilots could fly the newer type with little training, although they would need to master the Super Hornet's more advanced systems and sensors.

Boeing also highlighted the F/A-18E/F's ability to operate as a tactical tanker, and the aircraft's Raytheon APG-79 active electronic scanned array radar. The APG-79 is the only operational AESA in the competition, although its rivals should have the technology by the time the MRCA winner enters service in 2015-2016.

Eurofighter, meanwhile, conducted flying displays with two Royal Air Force Typhoons that remained in Malaysia after participating in the region's Bersama Lima exercise in early November. The European consortium also brought a full-sized mock-up to the show and stressed the long history of programme partners such as BAE Systems and EADS in Malaysia's aerospace industry.

Saab was represented by two Royal Thai Air Force Gripens. Bangkok has ordered 12 of the single-engined fighters and received six so far.

Thai Gripen LIMA 2011 - Greg Waldron

© Greg Waldron/Flightglobal

Irrespective of the interest shown by foreign aerospace companies, Malaysia has yet to issue a formal request for proposals for MRCA. Royal Malaysian Air Force chief Gen Rodzali Daud told Flightglobal a decision will be made before the finalisation of the country's 11th Malaysia plan. This means a winner could be announced in 2013 - possibly at the next Langkawi International Maritime & Aerospace exhibition - or in 2014.

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Source: Flight International