MALAYSIA HAS announced plans to order the Sikorsky S-70 Black Hawk. At the same time, the Westland Super Lynx is closer to being selected as the country's new naval helicopter.

According to defence minister Syed Hamid Albar, the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) will buy two Black Hawks for use as VIP transports. The helicopters will replace an Indonesian-built VIP Eurocopter NAS332 Super Puma, which crashed in December 1993.

Syed also indicates that the Royal Malaysian Navy will require at least two Super Lynx for two newly built frigates. Delivery of the two warships from the UK has been delayed by a year, until August 1997.

While the Black Hawk order had been widely anticipated, no decision on a naval helicopter had been expected until later in the year.

Westland has not yet received, official notification from Malaysia, but a source says that the minister's comments"-seem to be a positive indication of its selection".

Malaysia has a long-term requirement for a larger number of Black Hawks and Super Lynx. The air force is looking for a new utility and search-and-rescue machine to replace its fleet of around 30 Sikorsky S-61A Nuris.

Other helicopters offered to the Navy include the Eurocopter AS.565 Panther, Kaman SH-2G Super SeaSprite and the Sikorsky S-76N. The initial order is for six helicopters to replace Malaysia's elderly Westland Wasps. This number is likely to grow, with a fleet of up to 27 new offshore patrol-combatant ships planned.

Syed's apparent support for the Lynx comes at a critical time for Westland, with naval-helicopter competitions under way in Australia and New Zealand. All three countries have agreed to consult each other in the selection process.

New Zealand requires six helicopters, while Australia has an initial need for 14. New Zealand's final decision is already overdue, and the Navy is keen to conclude the deal before the country's 12 October general election.

Sources do not rule out the possibility of New Zealand delaying selection further and combining its final decision with that of Australia. Canberra has pushed back its decision towards the end of the year

Source: Flight International