MALAYSIA'S FLEET OF new British Aerospace Hawk 100/200s is suffering from a low level of operational readiness, apparently caused by a combination of systems failures and spares shortages, along with a lack of trained manpower.

The Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) has taken delivery of all 28 aircraft ordered -18 tandem-seat Hawk 100s and ten single seat -200s. According to senior defence sources in Kuala Lumpur, however, as few as ten of the RMAF's Hawks are available at any one time.

Different explanations are offered to account for the poor availability of the RMAF Hawks, the oldest of which was produced less than two years ago. Sources suggest that the problem is the result of a combination of climatic, logistical and personnel factors.

The aircraft's avionic systems are understood to have suffered an unexpectedly high incidence of failure. The RMAF's higher-than-planned rate of aircraft utilisation and Malaysia's tropical climate - with particularly high humidity - have been cited as possible reasons.

This in turn has placed a strain on the air force's stock of spares, leading to shortages. Logistical support has been further complicated by the RMAF basing its Hawks at Butterworth and Lubuan ABs, rather than concentrating the aircraft solely at Kuantan AB as originally intended.

Aircraft availability has in addition been hit by the RMAF's shortage of trained technicians, as skilled personnel continue to leave the service for better-paid commercial employment. As a result, large numbers of aircraft have been sitting on aprons waiting to be serviced. An example is the Lockheed C-130 fleet, where utilisation rates were low as a result of the air force buying the wrong spares.

The shortage of manpower, has been further compounded, by the rapid expansion and modernisation of the RMAF's relatively small force. In addition to 28 Hawks, the service has also had to absorb 18 Mikoyan MiG-29Ns over the past six months and begin preparing for the arrival of eight McDonnell Douglas F-18Ds in 1998.

Malaysia's next five-year defence plan, is expected to be released shortly, is therefore not expected to ask for any new major F-18 or MiG-29 fighter-aircraft purchases between 1996 and 2000. The RMAF is planning a follow-on procurement of around 12 Hawks, but this is may now be pushed to later in the five-year plan.

Source: Flight International