Malaysia could delay a competition for airborne early warning and control aircraft until the middle of the next decade due to a shortage of funds, says the country's top military officer.

Kuala Lumpur needs up to eight AEW&C aircraft to undertake 24h aerial surveillance of its coastline, says Gen Abdul Aziz Zainal, chief of the Malaysian defence force. While the nation's air force has sought funding for the requirement since the start of the decade, other pressing needs mean that the money is unlikely to be available until the 10th Malaysia Plan, covering 2011-15, or even the subsequent plan, spanning 2016-20, he says.

"We will leave it to the government for consideration. The question is whether we can afford it now or later," says Abdul Aziz, who adds: "We understand the government's financial situation." Malaysia has already cut its defence budget allocation for 2009 to channel more money towards boosting the local economy and on social welfare programmes due to the ongoing global economic crisis.

Abdul Aziz says the cuts will only slash unnecessary expenditure and will not adversely affect the armed forces' preparedness. However, one victim of the belt-tightening has been a planned purchase of Eurocopter's EC725 as a replacement for the army's Sikorsky S-61 "Nuri" utility helicopters. The government scrapped its October selection citing worsening economic conditions, and could delay a new tender until at least 2010.

Kuala Lumpur has held preliminary talks with several companies for its AEW&C requirement, with contenders likely to be the Embraer EMB-145 and Saab 2000 equipped with Saab Microwave Systems' Erieye radar, and Northrop Grumman's E-2C Hawkeye 2000.

Malaysia could hold a competition for additional multirole combat aircraft around the middle of the next decade, although a follow-on order for more Sukhoi Su-30MKMs seems possible. It also has requirements for maritime patrol aircraft and anti-submarine warfare helicopters.

Source: Flight International