The 2019 Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace exhibition (LIMA 19) was held on the Malaysian resort island on March 26-28.
The recently elected Malaysian Government, led by Dr Mahathir Mohamad, is promising to draft a new Defence White Paper in July for public release in the September timeframe, but in the meantime, there appears to be very little money available for defence spending and no major contracts were announced at the show.
However, there are several significant Malaysian defence requirements, some emerging and others on the backburner, and LIMA 19 was well attended by an ever-optimistic global industry.
Reflecting the ongoing budgetary malaise, the number of companies was down from 555 (from 36 countries) in 2019, to 406 (from 32 countries) at the 2019 event. Furthermore, the proportion of defence business fell from 70 per cent to 60 per cent of total participation between the two shows.
From a display point of view however, the numbers of ships and aircraft on display showed a significant increase over the 2017 event, with show organisers claiming a presence of 61 ships and maritime assets (including HMAS Diamantina) and 133 aircraft.
From a display perspective, the highlights of the show included the Russian Knights aerobatic team, flying the Sukhoi Su-30SM fighter and Indonesia’s Team Jupiter, using the Korean KT-1B Wong Bee turboprop trainer.
Light Combat Aircraft
The major focus at LIMA 19 was around a Royal Malaysian Air Force requirement for up to 36 Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), to be delivered in two tranches, under the Capability 2055 (CAP55) plan to modernise Malaysia’s defence capabilities.
A Request For Information (RFI) was leased to eastern and western aircraft manufacturers in January and RMAF Chief General Seri Affendi Buang, said at LIMA that, while the RMAF’s priorities were tailored to the requirements of the budget, deliveries of the new aircraft would begin “two or three years” after a decision is made.
The program is reportedly valued at between 6-7 billion Ringgit (US$1.4-1.7 billion).
Two of the main contenders for the LCA program – India’s Tejas LCA, manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), and Russia’s YAK-130, built by the Irkut Corporation, were prominent in the daily flying display at LIMA 19. Other contenders include the Leonardo M-346FA, Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) FA-50 Golden Eagle and Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) JF-17 Thunder.
Although not in the LCA category, Saab confirmed to ADM at LIMA 19 that it has responded to the RFI with the JAS-39C/D Gripen, which it says can fulfil both the RMAF’s LCA and (currently dormant) Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MRCA) requirements.
The Gripen was previously a contender for the stalled MRCA requirement, which the Malaysian Government says will now follow the LCA program by around a decade. Saab says the Gripen offer, a mix of new-build single-seat JAS-39Cs and twin-seat JAS-39Ds will satisfy both requirements and allow the MRCA program to move back to the left.
MPA and UAVs
An RFI for a maritime surveillance capability was also released to industry in February, although several industry representatives told ADM at the show that the Malaysian Government’s requirements were not abundantly clear. Previous maritime surveillance requirements have indicated a preference for a two-tiered approach, encompassing a high-end platform such as the Airbus C-295MPA, Boeing P-8A or Leonardo P-72, down to littoral solutions such as the Beechcraft King Air 350 and Viking Guardian 400 (Twin Otter).
Head of South East Asia for Airbus Defence and Space, Johan Pelissier, confirmed to ADM that the company has responded to the RFI with a solution based upon the C-295 platform, but he says the number of aircraft required has not yet been fully-defined.
“We have a long-standing arrangement with the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) for coastal surveillance (using ground-based radars and sensors) and we have responded to the RFI,” Pelissier told ADM. “We see the C-295 as an ideal fit.”
There is also a Malaysian requirement for a medium altitude, long endurance (MALE) unmanned system for the surveillance of the country’s large coastline. The specific requirements for such a system have been shaped by the 2013 incursion of armed militants from the Philippines in Sabah, East Malaysia and ADM understands an armed MALE UAS is preferred.
Contenders include GA-ASI’s MQ-9B SeaGuardian derivative of the Predator/Reaper series, the Chengdu Wing Loong II (Pterodactyl) from China, and Turkish Aerospace (TAI) Anka platform. Examples of the latter pair were displayed prominently at either side of the entrance to the MIEC hall at LIMA 19.
Team Defence Australia
Australian defence industry was on prominent display LIMA 2019, once again under the Team Defence Australia banner Australia was one of 12 countries to have a pavilion.
Under the leadership of Chef de Mission, Rear Admiral (Ret.) Mark Campbell, Australian companies represented at LIMA included: Armour Australia, Austal, AVT Australia, GE Aviation Systems, Hawker Pacific, Holmwood Highgate, Moog Australia, Point Trading, Prism Defence, Rosebank Engineering Australia, Sentient Vision Systems, TAE Aerospace and Zone Products Australia.
This article first appeared in the May 2019 edition of ADM.