Yesterday was the 10th anniversary of the arrival of the first 2 units of SU30MKM to serve with RMAF. Both birds, with tail number M52-01 and M52-02, were soon followed by the rest of the SU30MKM. In total, RMAF procured 18 units of this unique Russian jet with western, specifically French avionics system.
Source Wikipedia Common
The 10th year is also means a Russian-made plane has technically reached its midlife. It is usually the time when a military would decide if the plane requires an upgrading to be improved to face current threat. Or if a country would want to procure a replacement in 10 years time.
MRCA Replacement Programme
We were at this juncture some 10 years ago. Soon after we received our SU30MKM, we were beginning to look for replacements for our MiG29N.
Yet, there is no foreseeable replacement for the MiG29, and availability is now below 50%, assuming claims that only 6 units are available.
I hate to say this, but RMAF today is more or less a paper tiger. If it is not one today, it will be in another 5 years.
Block obsolescence in RMAF is real and worrying.
Gen Dato' Sri Affendi Buang does have mountain in front of him to move. Thanks to political intervention in the past, nearly all the assets under his force are ageing.
Despite the situation he is in, I have trust in him. Not because we share the same home state (orang kampung, kan), but because he has went through what the majority of the force had went through.
The recent crash of BAe Hawk 108 and Beechcraft, both incidents with loss of lives definitely a painful reminder to him. As a pilot, he was flying in the same formation in his A4PTM when Lt Wahi went missing somewhere over South China Sea. He too was involved in another crash, when the A4PTM he was in crashed and he had to eject from his plane.
Therefore, I was heartened when Rentaka published the article on what RMAF is looking for at Paris Air Show.
Hope in the Horizon
The lack of new MRCA though, should not be taken as end of hope.
If we were to look at the most advanced combat system for air forces today, the only real new designs are FA22 Raptor, F35 Lightning II, Russian PAKFA, and Chinese J-31. These are considered new designs as they incorporate stealth technology.
Cold War Designs
These leave many other fighters, including those offered to Malaysia for the MRCA replacement programmes, such as Eurofighter Typhoons, Super Hornets, and even the Rafale, are legacy aircrafts with roots in the height of Cold War.
If these Cold War era designs can be refreshed and be renewed, may be that would be another option that RMAF should consider.
Thus, instead of mothballing the legacy MiG29N, what could be done with it is to have ways to upgrade the system; avionics, weapons, navigation, etc.
Currently, we are seeing the United States is doing exactly this.
Too Expensive to Fly
As mentioned, the new generation of MRCA, while are much more highly advanced compared to the previous generation, they have a key weakness. It is too expensive to be flown. Nations operating the stealth planes would find themselves basically naked most of the time as the planes would need longer down time for normal maintenance and stealth coating paint. In fact, I eagerly wait for non-US F35 large scale deployment. I would really want to see how long these air forces can maintain their air force before replacing them with older jets.
Hence, I would not be surprised that in the next 5 to 10 years, many air forces may choose to operate these legacy aircrafts instead of buying these state of the art jet fighters due to operational costs.
With even the US Navy dusting off their mothballed F18, it would be time before we realise that this might be the way forward for us in our MRCA replacement programme.
Time to Give Way
With this, allow me to conclude this article with a call to all to give way to Gen Dato' Sri Affendi Buang, better known as Apai to have his own way to clean up and reform RMAF.
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