HAL TEJAS aircraft from IAF's No. 45 Squadron participated in this year's LIMA show

A string of aircraft manufacturers has responded to the new requirement of the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) for Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) at the LIMA 2019 airshow held in Langkawi, with Saab confirming that it has also thrown its hat into the ring with the Gripen.

The Swedish manufacturer said that it had submitted its proposal to the RMAF in late February, offering the latest Gripen C MS20 sub-variant, with access to the MBDA Meteor beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile and other improved munitions and avionics. The Swedish National Export Credits Guarantee Board (EKN) could offer export credit support and be the possible solution for the budgetary issues faced by the RMAF.

Russia’s Rostec and South Korea’s Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) are both hoping regional exports in Southeast Asia would be a good report card for the Yak-130 and FA/T-50, respectively. The former has exported Yak-130s to Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Laos. Speaking to the media during LIMA, Sergey Gorbenko, Rosoboronexport’s Chief of Directorate, said it will be proposing 18 Yak-130s for the first phase with an option for 36 more in the second phase. A sole Yak-130 from the Russian Air Force participated at LIMA as a flying demonstrator.

Irkut Corporation’s head of regional marketing department, Viktor Lichaev, told AIN that as it is very expensive to establish Yak-130 MRO facilities for individual countries with small numbers of jets, Irkut is considerating setting up a facility in southeast Asia to cater to the “coalition” of Yak-130 users.

Leonardo is proposing the M346FA, the attack variant of the M346 trainer, which was recently launched in July 2018. “The M346 has stood out amongst some of the most discerning and demanding customers in open tender, such as Israel, Singapore, and Poland,” said Cristiano Biancani, Leonardo v-p of marketing and sales for the aircraft division. “The RMAF knows we are interested and we are going through the proper process.”

BAE Systems is not responding directly to the RFI, but instead is continuing talks with the RMAF to potentially enhance the capability of the current Hawk108/208 fleet. “We are happy that the RMAF is casting a wide net to see what’s available there, and they are very familiar with the Hawk,” said Andy Lavin, BAE Systems international sales director for the Typhoon and Hawk. “We are in talks to ensure the Hawks are relevant and working to update their capabilities.” BAE Systems and Malaysia MRO firm Airod signed an MOU in 2017 to update the Hawk with Leonardo Seer radar warning receivers, Thales Vicon 78 XF electronic countermeasures and Zodiac digital video recorder, but that has not yet materialised into a contract.

Other companies that have responded to the LCA RFI are Chengdu/PAI with the JF-17 and HAL with its Tejas/LCA. The Indian aircraft participated in its first Asia-Pacific airshow at LIMA 19, with two Indian Air Force Mk 1 jets arriving from Sulur Airbase in Tamil Nadu.

Although Boeing is currently sitting out the LCA program, it noticed that the need for LCA would be more pertinent in the region as air arms try to match capabilities with their budgets. Yeong Tae Pak, Boeing Southeast Asia regional director, said that Boeing could consider developing an LCA version of the T-X trainer and is receiving global intent and interest on this option.