Malaysia Released Tender for Lead-In Light Fighter/Trainer Aircraft

A file image showing a RMAF Hawk Mk 208 in the foreground and a Hawk Mk 108 in the background.

Malaysia’s Ministry of Defence (MinDef) announced on 22 June that it has launched a tender for the Royal Malaysian Air Force’s (RMAF’s) Light Combat Aircraft/Fighter Lead-In-Trainer (LCA/FLIT) programme.

Against a backdrop of Chinese military aircraft incursions into its airspace, the Malaysian Defense Ministry published a request for bids for the supply and delivery of new light combat aircraft that double as lead-in fighter trainers. The prospective procurement involves 18 aircraft under the Royal Malaysian Air Force’s fighter lead-in trainer/light combat aircraft (FLIT-LCA) requirement. These are to replace several inventories of aircraft serving in these two roles, including the BAE Hawk 108 and 208 light combat aircraft fleets and Aermacchi MB-339CM trainers.

View from inside an RMAF Hawk 208 light fighter of a PLAAF Il-76 intercepted on May 31, 2021.

Published on the ministry’s website, the brief announcement said the service aims to acquire an initial 18 aircraft, adding that the request for bids will close on 22 September.

No further details were provided, but industry sources told Janes that the RMAF wants eight of these platforms to be primarily configured for lead-in-fighter training, while the remaining 10 would be LCAs.

The programme is part of the RMAF’s ‘Capability 55′ plan. Launched in 2018 the plan calls for the procurement of 36 LCA/FLIT platforms in two phases, with 18 aircraft set to be purchased from 2021 and the rest from 2025. The 36 aircraft are intended to equip one LIFT and two LCA squadrons.

The FLITs are meant to replace the service’s currently grounded fleet of seven Aermacchi MB-339CM jet trainers, while the LCAs will replace the 18 BAE Systems Hawk Mk 108 twin-seat and Mk 208 single-seat LCAs in service.

The previous FLIT-LCA RFI drew responses from Boeing (offering its T-7 Red Hawk), South Korea’s KAI (the FA-50), Italy’s Leonardo (M-346 Master), India’s HAL (Tejas Light Combat Aircraft, or LCA), Saab’s Gripen C MS20, China-Pakistan PAC (JF-17 Thunder), China’s Hongdu (L-15 Falcon) and Czech Aero Vodochody (L-39NG).

Due to governmental unwillingness to provide requisite funding, the RMAF’s cornerstone project – the Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MRCA) program, involving 36 swing fighters forming two squadrons under CAP55 – has remained in abeyance since an initial Request for Proposals was released in March 2011.

But Malaysian military procurement has often fallen victim to economic pressure and corruption by Malaysian Defense Ministry. Fluctuations in the national currency hinder major acquisition projects, as unfavorable shifts in exchange rates shrink Malaysia’s purchasing power.

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