By Brendan Sobie in Kuala Lumpur
Malaysia may acquire four airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft this year and could couple the long-anticipated acquisition with the purchase of new maritime patrol aircraft (MPA).

Manufacturers attending the Defence Services Asia 2006 exhibition in Kuala Lumpur last week said Malaysia is showing interest in moving forward with its long-standing AEW&C requirement and could make it a national programme. AEW&C and several other high-priority military aircraft acquisition programmes are excluded from Malaysia’s new five-year defence budget, but manufacturers are encouraged by a big increase in the prime minister’s personal budget, which could be used to fund big-ticket military items.

“Since December there has been increased interest from the customer side, but no firm thing to touch upon,” says a Saab source.

Malaysia has been evaluating for several years the Saab 2000 AEW&C, Embraer EMB-145 AEW&C and Northrop Grumman E-2C Hawkeye 2000. Embraer came close in 2003 to securing a contract and remains the favourite. Embraer sources confirm Malaysia’s AEW programme has become “warmer” in recent months, but believe the air force prefers a jet and an aircraft that is in production.

Embraer and Saab sources say they are actively promoting one platform for dual use and believe a joint AEW&C and MPA acquisition is possible. Malaysia’s air force earlier this year awarded a contract to Malaysian company Airod to upgrade two of its Raytheon Beechcraft King Air 200 maritime surveillance aircraft and is now negotiating with Indonesian Aerospace (IAe) and Malaysia’s Sapura to convert two to four CN-235 transports to MPA configuration (Flight International, 4-10 April).

Italy’s Alenia, India’s Hindustan Aeronautics and Poland’s PZL-Meilec also exhibited at DSA to promote their MPA solutions.

Source: Flight International