Malaysia is expected to shorten its list of contenders for a utility helicopter requirement from four to two in January, with the winner likely to be announced by mid-2008.
The AgustaWestland AW101 (formerly EH101), Eurocopter EC725, Sikorsky S-92 and a Russian helicopter, most likely the Mil Mi-17, are competing to replace Malaysia's more than 20 Sikorsky S-61 Nuri helicopters.
Kuala Lumpur is expected to order 12 aircraft initially, although this could eventually rise to 48. The successful bidder could also be asked to provide helicopters for an army utility requirement, say industry sources.
The rotorcraft, which will also be used for search and rescue operations, should be able to transport around 20 personnel and perform both day and night operations, according to Royal Malaysian Air Force requirements. The aircraft should also have a glass cockpit, retractable landing gear and foldable rotor blades.
The tender has been on the cards since 2004 and S-61 replacements were included in Malaysia's 2006-10 financial plan, but the purchase of 18 Sukhoi Su-30MKM fighters earlier this decade has taken up much of the budget. However, industry sources say the government 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. Almost 90 armed forces personnel and civilians have died in crashes involving the type since it was introduced in 1968, including six people killed in a July 2007 accident.
The government is believed to want to complete the delivery of the helicopters by early 2010 and manufacturers, who have been in informal talks for several years, are believed to be ready to respond to the requirement and fulfil it within a compressed timeframe, say industry sources.
Malaysia has several other pending helicopter requirements, including one for an additional six AgustaWestland Super Lynx 300 helicopters and six SAR aircraft for its Maritime Enforcement Agency.