Malaysia plans to consider a variety of options for its medium multi-role fighter requirement once the direction of its economic fortunes becomes clearer.

"We are assessing whether to get the new jets from the United States, France, Sweden or Britain. The purchase will also depend on the country's economic recovery," says defence minister Zahid Hamidi.

Industry sources say the Royal Malaysian Air Force could assess the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon and Saab Gripen if it decides to launch a competition. The selected type would replace some of its RSK MiG-29s and F/A-18Ds.

Kuala Lumpur wants to phase out its MiG-29s by the end of 2010, with Zahid saying the type's high maintenance costs - estimated at 17 million ringgit ($5 million) per aircraft annually - is the main reason for the decision. The air force's Sukhoi Su-30MKMs will take over the roles currently performed by the MiG-29.

"The government will save 260 million ringgit per year in maintenance costs, and these savings will be used to maintain other types of aircraft in the air force inventory," says Zahid. "Malaysia bought the MiG-29s at a relatively low price, but later on had to contend with higher expenses in spare parts replacement and maintenance work."

Separately, Malaysia's government has increased the air force's budget for the coming fiscal year, despite a 10% drop in its overall defence budget. The service will get 1.61 billion ringgit, up from 1.48 billion ringgit. Most of this sum will go towards paying for its 18 Su-30MKMs, and to finance the purchase of 12 utility helicopters.

Source: Flight International