A Malaysian Air Force team is expected to visit India soon to assess the suitability of the light combat aircraft (LCA) TEJAS, a locally developed system that has recently been ordered in large numbers by the Indian Air Force (IAF), as the force looks to acquire a line of new fighter jets. The Malaysian team is likely to visit Bangalore within two months, depending on travel restrictions, and will be given a full tour of the LCA production facilities, test infrastructure as well as a demonstration of its combat potential, said people aware of the matter.

They said the Indian TEJAS has emerged as a top contender for the Malaysian Air Force since it is being offered at cheaper rates than the Swedish SAAB Gripen and is more modern and capable than the China origin JF-17. India is offering the TEJAS MK-1A version, with a modern AESA radar, new avionics and the capability to integrate a variety of weapons, for the potential export order and is confident that the aircraft will be an ideal fit for the Malaysian requirement. The initial requirement is for 12 jets, with options for 24 more in the future, said the people.

Besides full support in training both ground and air personnel, India has offered to create a full maintenance, repair and overhaul facility for the TEJAS fleet in Malaysia to ensure a high rate of availability. India has been in talks with Malaysia on the potential order for more than three years now. In 2019, India had dispatched two of its TEJAS fighters for the LIMA show at Langkawi as part of its efforts to pitch the jets for the export order. India and Malaysia have also been engaging in multi-level joint exercises and training programmes as part of plans to upgrade defence cooperation.

The Indian aircraft is priced at just over $42 million per unit, a price made possible given economies of scale after the IAF placed an order for 83 fighter jets. This will make it the most lucrative aircraft on offer to Malaysia in the global scenario, said the people. Besides the Gripen and the JF 17, the South Korean T 50 is also a contender for the contract. Though Pakistan has also been pitching hard for its JF 17 fighter, its Chinese origins are likely to be an important consideration given that Malaysia has ongoing sea boundary disputes with Beijing.