Andrew Doyle/SINGAPORE

Malaysia is being targeted as a key potential export customer for the Boeing F/A-18E/F as the US Government prepares to release the Super Hornet for foreign military sale (FMS) in the next few weeks (Flight International, 3 - 9 April).

Malaysia operates eight earlier generation two-seat F/A-18Ds and planned to acquire eight to 16 more aircraft before the 1997 Asian financial crisis forced a spending cut. Recently, however, Malaysian defence officials have indicated that multirole fighter acquisition is back on the agenda.

Industry sources confirm that Boeing is holding preliminary discussions with Malaysia over the F/A-18E/F, though the manufacturer is limited to providing the country with public domain performance data until FMS approval is received.

The sources say Malaysia could trade back its F/A-18Ds to the US Government for use by the US Navy and US Marine Corps, in return for new two-seat F/A-18Fs. The navy and marines are interested in acquiring additional earlier generation F/A-18s - which are out of production - as they face a shortfall in fighter numbers.

Malaysia is also believed to be considering additional Mikoyan MiG-29 Fulcrums or a buy of Sukhoi Su-27 Flankers or its derivatives. The air force has previously held discussions on an Su-27 procurement.

Malaysia's initial batch of eight F/A-18Ds was intended primarily to provide the Malaysian air force with experience of the type prior to the acquisition of additional aircraft.

The US fighter was selected in 1993 and deliveries of the eight aircraft were completed by the middle of 1997.

Boeing also plans to offer the F/A-18E/F to Singapore, which is gearing up to select a new multirole fighter. FMS Super Hornets are expected to be available for delivery from 2005.

Source: Flight International