Domestically, Malaysia has been undergoing a political crisis since 2020. Internationally, Malaysia’s Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) is looking for new fighter jets after decommissioning its MiG-29 fleet. However, since the South East Asian country launched its tender in June 2021, various questions have been raised about its veracity.
Political Coup and Ensuing Crisis in Malaysia
The polity of Malaysia is a constitutional, parliamentary monarchy akin to the UK. Unfortunately, the Malaysian Parliament is undergoing a political crisis similar to the UK. Since 2020, multiple causes have resulted in the collapse of two successive governments.
Malaysia’s current predicament started with a political coup in February 2020, popularly referred to as the ‘Sheraton Move’. This led to the collapse of a 22-month-old government. In a few months, the COVID pandemic struck. The new government faced its share of challenges when dealing with the pandemic. The Malaysian Parliament was put under a state of emergency to consolidate power, citing the pandemic. Eventually, in August 2021, after 17 months, Malaysia underwent another shuffle at the highest level of its polity.
Several states in Malaysia underwent elections in the aftermath, each mired in its own controversy. In Johor, a snap election was called prematurely after the majority was no longer with the incumbent. This was mere months after a similar suit followed in Malacca. Amidst regional difficulties, a leadership crisis at the ruling party came to the fore. This political storm claimed another government as a victim, triggering a snap election. The elections in Malaysia are set to be held on November 19, 2022.
Corruption Controversy Around Defence Procurement
In July 2022, reports from various Malaysian news agencies started coming in about irregularities in the procurement of the 18-Fighter Lead-In Trainer Light Combat Aircraft (FLIT LCA). As per those reports, it was understood that the RMAF had laid down five-point criteria. However, the front runners for the open tender needed to deliver as per these criteria. One of the criteria is understood to be aerial refuelling technology, which Hindustan Aeronautics Limited’s (HAL) LCA Tejas has demonstrated. Similarly, RMAF also necessarily sought a secured communication data link to share essential battlefield information. Other requirements include staggered delivery in three years, beyond visual range (BVR) missile capability, 30 per cent local content and supersonic performance.
HAL’s LCA Tejas Mark 1A, the offering to the RMAF, delivers spectacularly on their criteria. To adhere to the 30 per cent Malaysian content requirement, HAL partnered with the Malaysian firm Forte Drus.
Recently, Korean sources reported that allegedly an ex-General had joined the ranks of the Korean firm offering the FA-50 to Malaysia. The sources further alleged that the ex-General is negotiating to secure the deal on the company’s behalf. FA-50, although cheaper, loses out to the LCA Tejas Mark 1A on multiple parameters. Tejas comfortably outdoes the Korean offering with a superior service ceiling, maximum take-off weight, top speed, and an electronics suite. In aerial refuelling, FA-50’s probes are not in proper shape, allegedly lacking airworthiness.
Malaysian Brigadier General Date Lau Kong Cheng has publically cast doubt on the procurement’s legitimacy. He has also questioned another ongoing Malaysian defence tender for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). According to him, evil decisions and treacherous actions like abuse of power and corrupt practices deprive the nation in the South China Sea of the best defence.
Expressly, the latest allegations point towards the pre-selection of preferred bidders. The bulk of this claim relies on how only two companies, one per tender, were allowed to demonstrate their products adequately. Turkish Anka UAS were the only company for the UAV tender to demonstrate properly. In the FLIT LCA tender, it was Korean FA-50 on whom this luxury was bestowed. Even though partners like HAL went above and beyond to secure the deal, they seemed to have been sidelined.
HAL seemed the best bet for RMAF given their ability to not only fulfil this tender as per the criteria comfortably but also offer maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) for various Russian defence equipment like the Su-30. The recent sanctions on Russia have deprived many users like Malaysia of the support they need to continue defence operations. HAL established its first overseas office in Kuala Lumpur to facilitate its regional dealings.
Although the truth is unlikely to emerge, the entire Malaysian tender ordeal has been tainted for now. In the current political climate in Malaysia, the tender shall be dealt with by the next government in power, however long that might take and how long they remain in power.