Malaysia is evaluating the lease of 17 ex-Royal New Zealand Air Force Aermacchi MB339CD trainers as it lacks the defence funding for a purchase.

The purchase of 18 Sukhoi Su-30 fighters for $900 million and 10 Mil Mi-171 helicopters for $100 million has drained most of the budget.

Several other programmes are competing for scarce remaining funds, including the roughly $75 million project covering the purchase of 17 MB339CDs and upgrade of eight in-service MB339As.

Malaysia's defence ministry in May tentatively accepted New Zealand's offer to sell its 17 retired MB339s, but the finance ministry never approved the deal.

The UK's VT Aerospace has since offered a lease deal, which the defence ministry is evaluating. Under the proposal, VT would buy the trainers from New Zealand and lease them by the hour to Malaysia.

VT may provide maintenance while Malaysia's National Aerospace and Defence Industries would upgrade the eight MB339As to CD configuration. The resulting 25 MB339CDs would give Malaysia a lead-in fighter trainer, needed to transition pilots to the Su-30s and Boeing F/A-18Ds.

If the deal is rejected, several manufacturers are prepared to offer new-build trainers. But funds for such a purchase will not be available for several years.

Industry sources say only a few of the many proposed procurements will go ahead this year. A deal for 10 AgustaWestland A109s and several contracts that support the Sukhoi purchase, including a Thales avionics package, are expected to be signed in three weeks' time at the Langkawi 2003 air show.

But programmes to upgrade Northrop F-5s and RSK MiG-29s and to acquire F/A-18Fs and airborne early warning aircraft will likely be delayed until next year.

Source: Flight International