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Malaysia's Choice to Lease Military Aircraft Portent of Things to Come?

Ministry of Defence Opts to Rent Combat Aircraft to Replace Aging Sea King Fleet

The Malaysian Ministry of Defence has announced a deal to lease a quartet of Sikorsky UH-60A Black Hawk helicopters from Aerotree Defence & Services of Kuala Lumpur.

The deal is somewhat unorthodox to see in the defense industry, where the vast majority of armies and air forces opt to own their aircraft outright, but the costs may just be the overriding benefit for the service, costing only $40.4 million US throughout a period of 5 years. Exactly what that amount entails is unknown, but, with the right support services and benefits it's not too unlikely that it's a better deal than the country could get buying so few aircraft outright.

The aircraft will be used as utility transport and training aircraft for the Malaysian army, and are expected to enter service next October when the first 2 make their way into Malaysian hands. The last 2 Black Hawks will be delivered some time in early 2024, according to a spokesman for the service. The Army Aviation wing expects to be able to partially restore the airborne capability of one of its aviation regiments with the new aircraft, according to one interview with Army personnel. The plan for now is to send them to the 882nd Regiment Nucleus team, whose fleet of a dozen S-61 Nuri helicopters - a variant of the Sikorsky SH-3 Sea King - was permanently grounded in 2019. The Nuri fleet had been worn out after almost 50 years of hard use, with spares increasingly rare to come by in Malaysia. While one of the fleet was modernized with some glass panels as a demonstration aircraft, the majority saw downtimes anywhere from 9 to 18 months in between replacements.

Procurement personnel had mentioned the intent to perform a search for the next fleet selection, but made no mention of whether or not the UH-60 would be the next selection for the entire force. It may be possible that the small number of Black Hawks is akin to a pilot project, a small bolus of test aircraft to acquaint personnel with a new type ahead of actual out-and-out fleet purchasing. Or, it could be a portent of things to come as inflationary costs, logistical delays, and aging fleets combine to decimate the fleet capabilities of international allies. Only time will tell, if additional aircraft are eventually procured, or if the lease deal expands to greater proportions.

The Malaysian Air Force took the old-fashioned approach to procurement at the same time, however, opting to purchase 18 FA-50 fighter trainer/light combat aircraft from Korea Aerospace Industries. The announcement of more than 40 contracts, letters of acceptance, and letters of intent capped off a spending spree for the Malaysian forces at the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition - with even more anticipated under the "Rolling Plan" currently underway. 



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