Russian arms export agency Rosoboronexport is likely to offer the Sukhoi Su-30MKM for Malaysia's upcoming fighter tender instead of the newer Sukhoi Su-35 or RAC MiG-35.

The Royal Malaysian Air Force has bought 18 Su-30MKMs and has been considering a follow-on order. However, in October the service and the Malaysian government decided to retire the country's fleet of MiG-29s because of their high operating costs.

Defence minister Zahid Hamidi said then that although the Su-30s would temporarily replace the MiG-29s in some missions, Kuala Lumpur would eventually assess fighters from the USA, France, Sweden and the UK to replace them. Some observers said Russia's exclusion from that list showed the extent of unhappiness in Kuala Lumpur over the MiG-29s.

 Sukhoi Su-30MKM
 © Siva Govindasamy/Flightglobal

However, the leader of the Rosoboronexport delegation at the Langkawi International Maritime & Aerospace Exhibition 2009 remains confident. "Malaysia is a very good customer and we are confident they will assess our fighters when the time comes," says Victor Komardin, deputy director general of Roroboronexport. "They are very happy with the Sukhoi fighters and we believe it makes economic and logical sense for them to buy more of them to replace the MiG-29s.

"The Su-30MKM was designed with many of the subsystems Malaysia wanted, and it would fit the missions they want to operate them on. Russia has other fighters, too, but we believe that RMAF wants to have fewer makes of fighters in its fleet. The RMAF will only operate the [Boeing] F/A-18D and the Su-30s after it sells the MiG-29s, and it would not be logical to add a new aircraft type. Of course, it is Malaysia's decision. If it wants other types of fighter, we can offer them too."

Officials from Saab were promoting the Gripen to the Malaysians at the show, and EADS officials were pushing for Kuala Lumpur to assess the Eurofighter Typhoon. Boeing was not present at the show, but company officials have said the F/A-18E/F is likely to be a contender in any future Malaysian competition. France's Dassault was absent, too, although its Rafale fighter could be offered.

Komardin says Russia is "99% likely to give its consent" for Malaysia to sell the MiG-29s to another country. That permission is required as part the contract with Kuala Lumpur. However, Komardin says Rosoboronexport will not help Malaysia to dispose of the aircraft.

"Our role in this is purely legal - we only have to give our permission for the sale and that is likely to come through soon," he adds. "As for finding a potential buyer, we will leave it to the Malaysians. Of course, if a potential customer approaches us, we will be more than happy to convey this information to Malaysia."

Source: Flight International