Malaysia will begin the process of replacing its main fleet of military helicopters in late October, with the nation's defence ministry expected to call a tender for 12 utility helicopters that can also be used for search and rescue missions.

The AgustaWestland EH101, Eurocopter EC725 and Sikorsky S-92 are likely to be offered for the requirement, with air force deputy chief Lt Gen Bashir Abu Bakar saying that a decision should be made by early 2008.

Eventually, the air force will procure up to 48 aircraft to replace its Sikorsky S-61 Nuri helicopters, 31 of which are still in use, according to Flight's HeliCAS database. Additional helicopters of the same type could also be bought for the Malaysian army, although Bashir did not say when a decision will be made on this.

The Royal Malaysian Air Force has given its technical specifications to the defence ministry, and set up a project team to evaluate the tenders. The twin-engined aircraft should be able to transport around 20 personnel, and to operate by day or night.

The tender has been on the cards since 2004 and Malaysia included S-61 replacements in its 2006-10 financial plan, but the purchase of 18 Sukhoi Su-30MKM fighters earlier this decade has consumed much of the nation's defence budget. However, industry sources say the prime minister is likely to sanction a special budget for the procurement.

Replacing the S-61s has taken on added urgency after several fatal crashes involving the helicopter over the last few years, including one in July that killed six passengers and crew. Almost 90 armed forces personnel and civilians have been killed in crashes involving the helicopter since it was introduced in 1968.

Informal discussions between the helicopter manufacturers and the government have been taking place over the last few months, and industry sources say the companies are ready to respond to the requirement and fulfil it within a compressed timeframe. The government is believed to want to complete the delivery of the helicopters by early 2010.

The Malaysian defence ministry last November signed a 55.8 million ringitt ($16.3 million) contract with local maintenance company Airod to upgrade its remaining S-61s.

Malaysia has several other pending helicopter requirements, including for an additional six AgustaWestland Super Lynx 300 helicopters and six search-and-rescue aircraft for its Maritime Enforcement Agency.


Source: Flight International