Malaysia's defence minister has revealed that the country will delay phasing out its RSK MiG-29s and that, as a consequence of this policy change, it will delay buying new fighters.

Ahmad Hamidi stated publicly several times in 2009 that Malaysia planned to phase out its MiG-29s at the end of 2010. However, the air force will now "keep around 10 MiG-29s for at least the next five years", the minister's spokesman confirms.

Six MiG-29s have already been decommissioned, but Aerospace Technology System will be contracted to maintain the other 10. Formerly called Malaysian Russian Aviation Services, the company is already responsible for maintaining the air force's MiG-29s.

The decision to keep the current type operational means Malaysia's plan to purchase new multirole combat aircraft has been put on hold until the economic situation improves, according to remarks made by the defence minister.

Last year, he said Kuala Lumpur would decommission its MiG-29s because they are costing 260 million ringgit ($76 million) a year to maintain. The fleet could be sold to a third-world country, he added.

But Ahmad's comments caught the attention of Dr Mahathir Mohammad, who was Malaysia's prime minister when the MiG-29s joined the air force fleet in 1995. Writing on his widely read blog, he noted that the aircraft are less than 20 years old and that other countries such as India still operate MiG-29s, and questioned why Malaysia would need to phase them out.

Mahathir also said the government's move to publicly condemn the MiG-29 as too expensive to maintain would only end up costing it more money when it tried to sell them.

Source: Flight International