Malaysia’s 2015 Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition LIMA held in March, was the busiest ever, according to show organisers, with contracts and documents worth RM9.3 billion (A$3.36 billion) signed over the three trade show days.
The organisers said that the activity represented a 121 per cent increase over the 2013 show and the signing of seven contracts, five memoranda of understanding, six letters of intent and six letters of acceptance were witnessed by Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin bin Hussein during the period.
This year was the 13th edition of the biennial series of events, held on the resort island of Langkawi and was held between March 17 and 20, with the two days following open to the general public.
The exposition is held at the Mahsuri International Exhibition Centre (MIEC) located adjacent to Langkawi’s international airport and a series of maritime demonstrations are also held at the nearby Awana Porto Malai, which this year played host to 65 naval vessels of all sizes from 13 different countries, including Australia.
Malaysia’s defence acquisition plan
LIMA also coincided this year with the 9th Association of South East Asia Defence Minister’s Meeting (ADMM), which addressed issues facing security in the region.
Speaking to media on the eve of the show aboard the Royal Malaysian Navy frigate KD Jebat, alongside at Awana Porto Malai, Hishammuddin revealed that his focus was currently on local threats, including the recent emergence of the Islamic State (IS) organisation. This focus began with the incursion into the East Malaysian state of Sabah in Borneo in 2013 and will affect the next Five Year Defence Plan currently being put together by the Malaysian government and which will come into effect in January next year.
“We need to look at what we see as the threats and the threat from IS is different from our traditional terrorist threats that we have faced in the past. Those don’t compare with the threats that we’re facing from IS,” he said, adding that future defence acquisition will be based on the possible threats ASEAN countries will have to face.
One of the responses to the 2013 incursion has been the transfer of some Sikorsky S-61A Nuri helicopters from the Royal Malaysian Air Force to the Army and arming them with 7.62mm door guns. The first two Nuris were handed over to Army control at LIMA on March 20.
A further response has been the project to modify Army AgustaWestland A109 light utility helicopters with a Dillon Aerospace M134D 7.62mm Gatling Gun mounted in the cabin and capable of firing from either side door. One such armed example was also on display for the first time at the show.
“So whatever acquisitions we make in the future will depend very much on threats, the perceived threats and the real threats, that we have to face. I believe that it is important for us to think outside the box, it is important for us to work in tandem with the other neighbouring countries that we have in this region, because there are common enemies,” Hishammuddin said.
“You will see the Gatling gun that we have fitted on our A109s at the show and maybe the threat that we face just requires a Gatling gun.”
The first of four Airbus Defence and Space A400M Atlas airlifters for the Royal Malaysian Air Force arrived at Subang, outside Kuala Lumpur, on the Sunday before LIMA and the aircraft took part in a flypast to mark the opening of the show just two days later.
Following the official opening it took pride of place in the static display, where it was ceremonially handed over to Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.
The aircraft (MSN 22) is the first to be delivered to an export customer (rather than a European partner nation) and Airbus D & S A400M market development manager Raúl Tena said that all four will have been delivered by the end of 2016.
The European manufacturer also predicts that it will have sold the A400M to a new customer by the end of this year and continues to talk with the Royal New Zealand Air Force about replacing their ageing C-130H Hercules before the end of the decade.
A French Air Force A400M was also at the recent Avalon air show, where it was inspected by New Zealand Secretary of Defence, Helene Quilter. The RNZAF is also considering the Boeing C-17A Globemaster III as an alternative to the A400M.
One of the longest-running fighter competitions anywhere in the world is Malaysia’s Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MRCA) program, which aims to replace the RMAF’s ageing MiG-29N air defence fighters with 18 modern multi role aircraft.
The competition has been running in one form or another for several years and fighter manufacturers around the world have been well represented at several LIMA events.
Boeing (F/A-18E/F Super Hornet), Dassault (Rafale), Eurofighter (Typhoon) and Saab (JAS 39C/D Gripen) have all displayed their wares at LIMA and this year was no exception, however only Dassault had an aircraft in the flying display, with the other companies content to discuss their options in the expo halls.
However with the current focus on counter-terrorism operations, industry sources close to the competition say they do not expect a decision on a replacement for the MiG-29 fleet until at least 2017.
LIMA 2015 was significant however for the entrance of a new competitor, which plans to upgrade the 16 surviving MiG-29Ns with new avionics, radar and fire control systems for what it says is a fraction of the cost of a new aircraft.
Known as the MiG-29NM, the upgraded aircraft will have structural enhancements to airframe life to be extended by fifty per cent, to 6000 hours, and conformal fuel tanks which will increase operational range by 30 percent.
Malaysia’s Aerospace Technology Systems Corporation (ATSC), which currently supports the RMAF’s MiG-29 and Sukhoi Su-30MKM fighters, said that the upgrade proposal has been developed in conjunction with RSK-MiG – the original equipment manufacturer – and is similar to the MiG-29UPG (upgrade) being undertaken in India at the present time.
ATSC chief executive officer, Lieutenant Colonel (ret.) Mohd Fadzar Suhada, said a prototype MiG-29NM could be produced within 18 months of contract signature and all 16 aircraft could be upgraded for 20 per cent of the cost of a new type.
Australia was represented at the airshow by the presence of an RAAF King Air in the static display and by Chief of Air Force, Air Marshal Geoff Brown, who attended a Chiefs of Air Force Conference.
The Royal Australian Navy also had an Armidale class patrol boat, HMAS Bathurst in the maritime review and Australian defence industry had a strong presence in the halls of the MIEC.
Led by Chef De Mission Air Commodore John Harvey under the DMO ‘Team Defence Australia’ banner, the Australian industry contingent was there to cement ties with local Malaysian industry as well as showcasing their skills on the world stage.
Speaking on the first day of LIMA 2015, AIRCDRE Harvey said that the Team Defence Australia presence was one of several at recent defence shows in the region and the stand had already enjoyed the early attention of high-ranking political and military visitors.
Companies and organisations represented on the Team Defence Australia stand included Applied Satellite Technology Australia, Austal, Blueye Eyewear, Bohemia Interactive Simulation, Britton Marine, Doen Waterjets, GE Aviation Systems, General Dynamics Mediaware, Global Defence Solutions, Innovasys, James Fisher Divex, Liquip, Maritime Australia Limited, Ocean Software, Pacific 2015, Refuel International, SOS Marine, TAE and Zone Advanced Protection Systems.
This article first appeared in Australian Defence Magazine VOL.23 No.5, May 2015