The Indian proposal reportedly holds a favourable position in the Malaysian fighter aircraft acquisition programme, which seeks 10 Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) and 8 Fighter Lead-In Trainer (FLIT) for the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF).
While the original platform being pitched by India is Tejas Mk1A, designed indigenously by state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), New Delhi’s offer also includes a provision to supply spares and other logistics support for Su-30MKM- the heavyweight air dominance fighter currently in service with RMAF.
Tejas Mk1A offers several capabilities to RMAF and acts as a potent multirole solution. The aircraft will be integrated with Uttam Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) Radar, Astra Medium Range Active Radar Homing Air-to-Air Missile, Self-Protection Electronic Warfare (EW) suite, BrahMos-NG Anti-Ship Missile (AShM), and more to meet the standards of a 4th generation fighter aircraft equivalent to modern-day F-16 and J-10.
The tender for 18 aircraft was formally announced on June 22, 2021, nearly 3 weeks after air arm from mainland China breached Malaysian airspace, during which RMAF had to launch Hawk 208 aircraft for interception. The acquisition process is a part of the “Capability 55” plan, announced in 2018, which aims to modernize RMAF with 36 new aircraft in two phases to arm 2 LCA squadrons, replacing 18 BAE Systems Hawk Mk 108 and Mk 208 LCAs; 1 FLIT squadron, replacing 7 Aermacchi MB-339CM jet trainers currently in service.
Among the several demands made in the tender, it also seeks assurance from the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) to deliver the first aircraft within 36 months (3 years) of the contract signing. The first prototype example of the Tejas Mk1A, however, is scheduled to roll out this year only while production models are expected to take flight in 2024 or later.
Kuala Lumpur also seeks 30% of the production to be supplemented by locally produced sub-systems in Malaysia, for which the OEM needs to collaborate with a Malaysian firm. Boustead Heavy Industries Corporation (BHIC), a firm specializing in defense, security, and marine development is reportedly in talks with HAL to fulfill the demand.
In March 2019, Tejas took part in Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition (LIMA), and demonstrated its capabilities to the crowd and Malaysian authorities who were also keen enough to conduct multiple evaluations of the system.
Along with Tejas, India is ready to provide additional services to Malaysia that includes keeping the logistics supply chain active for the maintenance of the Su-30MKM fleet. As derived from Su-30MKI, the most produced export variant having a dedicated production facility based in India, Malaysia needs to rely on India for spares. With further strengthing of the supply chain, the RMAF can keep its inventory of Flanker aircraft airworthy, unlike the MiG-29N fleet that had to be grounded to budget and logistics constraints.
This government-to-government US$960 million deal might witness half proportion of the payment in form of palm oil worth US$480 million. India and Turkey, along with many states around the globe, already import a million tonnes of palm oil every year from Malaysia.
Talking about the competition, LCA Tejas is currently being rivaled by Leonardo M-346, Hongdu with L-15, Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI) with FA-50, Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) Hürjet, and Rosoboronexport with MiG-35 (hampered by CAATSA). However, only 3 OEMs are said to be qualified in stages of negotiations, one of which would be eventually chosen for procurement. It includes Hürjet, Tejas, and FA-50, as they fulfill the technical and offset requirements set in the tender. Turkey is reportedly open to setting up a dedicated production facility in Malaysia with a plan to set up an engineering and design office as well. The announcement of the winner is expected to be made in 2023.