MALAYSIA has put on hold a US$2 billion (RM8.6 billion) plan to replace its aging fleet of combat aircraft, a source with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.
The government had for several years been looking to buy up to 18 jets to replace its Russian MiG-29 fighters.
The Rafale fighter – built by Dassault Aviation SA – was until recently seen as the frontrunner, with the support of key officials in Malaysia’s Defence Ministry.
However, Malaysia has shelved those plans for now as it looks to boost aerial surveillance that will be critical in its fight against militancy, a ministry source was quoted as saying by Reuters.
“With regard to Rafale, France is still pushing for it as evidenced during the recent air show in Paris,” said the source.
“However, due to the current situation, Malaysia is focusing more on maritime patrol aircraft rather than multi-role combat aircraft.”
More than 400 people have been killed in fighting in Marawi, on the Philippine island of Mindanao, which was seized by pro-Islamic State militants on May 23.
The crisis in Marawi has spooked governments across Southeast Asia, worried the region could potentially become the next base for the Islamic State.
Besides conducting joint patrols, the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia have also agreed to pool intelligence and tackle militant financing.
The source said Malaysia’s jet fighter talks were only “temporarily suspended” and could resume in the future, but the priority was to secure new surveillance planes by 2020.
Malaysia has four Beechcraft BT200T surveillance aircraft, but one of the planes crashed in December, killing the pilot.
The ministry source said Putrajaya was looking at acquiring four more surveillance planes that were larger and had a longer range than its existing assets, such as aircraft built by Lockheed Martin.