New Delhi: Tejas, India’s indigenous supersonic Light Combat Aircraft, has evinced keen interest in Malaysia as the country looks to replace an ageing fleet of fighters with the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF). The Indian Air Force (IAF) had in late March taken two Tejas fighters of the No. 45 Squadron (Flying Daggers) for the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace 2019 (Lima) Exhibition in Malaysia.
The Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) manufactured Tejas along with the Russian YAK-130, Sino-Pakistani’s JF-17 jet Pakistan and Korea Aerospace Industry’s FA-50 Golden Eagle are considered the frontrunners to replace the RMAF fighters.
Malaysia has 18 Sukhoi SU-30MKM, eight Boeing F/A-18D Hornet and about 20 BAE Hawks in its arsenal but the deteriorating economy has led to issues of serviceability. The RMAF is able to fly just a handful of fighters at any given point of time due to the high cost involved in maintaining the aircraft. So, the Malaysian government is looking at a lighter and cheaper aircraft for its air force.
What gives the Tejas and other Asian fighter aircraft an edge is Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s comment that his country “will think of buying airplanes from China or any other country” after the European Union proposed plan to end the use of palm oil in biofuels. Malaysia is the world’s second-largest producer of palm oil with the commodity and in 2017 had 29 per cent share of the export market valued at $9.7 billion.
Following Mahathir Mohamad’s statement, the major European fighters – BAE System’s Typhoon, Dassault Aviation’s Rafale and Saab’s Gripen – are no longer in the running to equip the RMAF.
During Lima 2019, Malaysian news agency Bernama spoke to HAL Chairman and Managing Director R Madhavan who sounded confident that Tejas is a fighter which will be able to fulfil the requirements of the RMAF.
“I do think we can offer a good package for Malaysia. We are the largest manufacturing company in this part of the world for aeronautics and aerospace and we have a range of products which we can provide Malaysia. Indian Air Force has been using Tejas since 2016 and we have also received over 120 proposals to replace their old jets, pending orders from them,” he told Bernama on March 30.
On March 25, 2019, the HAL announced that it was able to produce the 16th Tejas in the initial operational clearance (IOC) configuration for the IAF before the March 31 deadline.