Sukhoi jets to fly high,maintenance costs low, say RMAF


Senior Member
Sep 3, 2009
STUNG by the controversy surrounding the high maintenance bill for the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) fleet of MiG-29N Fulcrum fleet, the Russian defence industry is to roll out a thorough “life support” for RMAF’s newly acquired Sukhoi multi-role jets.

Defence industry sources told Malay Mail that the programme would ensure that RMAF’s Sukhoi Su-30MKM Flanker fleet would not suffer the same fate as the 15-year-old Fulcrums.

The Fulcrum will be retired from service by end of next year, some 10 years before its scheduled date of retirement.

And unlike the Fulcrum, the Sukhoi support contract would be on a government-to-government basis. The support contract was part of the off-set programme of the RM3.1 billion deal for the Flankers, signed in 2003.

Another off-set programme was training of Malaysian astronauts.

“The support contract was mutually insisted by the RMAF and the Russians during negotiations prior to contract signing. Both parties acknowledged the problems faced by the MiG fleet,” the sources added.

They said the new arrangement was designed to ensure that the cost of maintaining the 18 Flankers,
already delivered to RMAF, would not become prohibitively expensive, unlike the Fulcrums, that was cited as the main reason for its premature retirement.

The service centre is expected to completed by the middle of next year at the RMAF Gong Kedak air base on the border of Kelantan and Terengganu, where the Flanker squadron is located.

Defence Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi on Wednesday told Parliament that the government was expected to save RM260 million annually by phasing out the MiG-29N Fulcrum fighter jets on Dec 31, next year.

In 1993, the government paid some RM1.3 billion for 18 Fulcrums, 16 single-seater and two twin-seater. The aircraft were delivered in batches from 1995.

Ahmad Zahid said the fighter jets were being phased out as it was difficult and costly to maintain some old components and systems for the fighter jets.

“The weaponry for the jets has reached the end of its lifespan and extending the lifespan would be costly and not be viable,” he told the Dewan Rakyat.

Ahmad Zahid said this when replying to Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahlan (BN-Kota Belud) who wanted to know the rationale for phasing out the Russian-made fighters.

According to Ahmad Zahid, each MiG also needed to undergo preventive and restoration work that would cost RM10 million, and RM7 million for engine overhaul every year after completing flights between 1,000 hours and 4,000 hours.

He said the cost of maintaining the MiGs was also high as the jets needed to be sent to Russia for overhaul.

The Flankers are expected to assume the role of the Fulcrums.

On the need to send the planes to Russia, the sources said it was not economical for the overhaul or upgrading work to be done locally.

“Only India, that operates a large number of MiG-29s, has the capability to do such programmes in their own country,” the sources said, adding that the issue had actually cropped about four years ago when the Fulcrum fleet celebrated its 10th year anniversary,.

The sources also said the cost of maintenance was not included in the original Fulcrum procurement contract, unlike the contracts for Western-made aircraft. That was the main reason that the Fulcrums initial procurement cost was about three times cheaper than its Western-made counterparts.

The sources said back in 1993, Russian arms exporters had not reached the level of sophistication of Western arms manufacturers.

“They (Russians) relied mostly on Soviet-style support system that unfortunately caused a lot of problems to non-traditional clients like Malaysia”.

The problem was exacerbated by the Malaysian government procurement policy that only limited the spares and parts suppliers to local companies. Some 20 local companies were involved in supplying parts and spares to RMAF and its authorised maintenance organisation, ATSC Sdn Bhd.

“Everybody wanted to make money and in the end, it was the air force that ended up with high repair bills. The MiG-29s remain in service in many poor countries including Myanmar, Bangladesh, Belarus, Cuba and Peru.

Some of these countries are operating even older versions of the Fulcrum.”

The sources said if Malaysia could sell the planes, the Fulcrums could theoretically remain in service
for another 15 years.

The sources admitted that the Fulcrum saga had seriously damaged any future prospects of arms purchases from Russia.

Indeed, Ahmad Zahid told reporters, the ministry was looking to France, United States, Sweden and United Kingdom for its next fighter jets.


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