The Malaysian Air Force is actively strengthening its forces with a plan to purchase 18 light fighters.

According to the announcement, the final two candidates for the competition: the Korean FA-50 by the Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) and the Indian LCA Tejas by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). And it seems that South Korea is leading in the race to supply fighter jets to Malaysia. Chinese media reported that the country is poised to sign an export contract for 18 FA-50s for $1 billion “as early as next week.”

Participating in the Malaysian light fighter competition are Pakistan’s JF-17, Russia’s MiG-35 and Yak-130, and Turkey’s Hurjet. However, these aircraft are no longer in the race due to multiple factors. According to Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, the negotiation between Malaysia and South Korea is in its final stage. This was in line with earlier reports that a senior KAI official purportedly told a Singapore-based media outlet that Malaysia could select KAI’s F-50 over the LCA-Tejas.

The latest revelation represents a significant blow for the Indian Tejas, which was widely regarded as the top contender for this contract. According to reports, India proposed a package deal to establish an MRO facility in Malaysia for its Russian-origin Sukhoi Su-30 fighter jet fleet. R Madhavan, Chairman and Managing Director of HAL, previously said, “It is almost in the final stages. We are the only country offering them the support for their Su-30 aircraft as well, as other than Russia, we are the only ones who can support them to the extent they require for that fleet.” 

The open architecture computer systems of the HAL Tejas are constantly advertised as having the ability to integrate both Western and Russian armaments. This was anticipated to be one of the key elements that would help India win this contract. The militaries of India and Malaysia operate both NATO and Russian weapons.

The report said that KAI wants to equip the exportable FA-50s with localized AESA radars and air-to-air missiles that can simultaneously detect multiple targets. The FA-50, equipped with combat data processing, self-protection systems, and precision-guided weapons, is modeled on the airframe of KAI’s T-50 trainer. The South Korean air force has employed the aircraft since 2013.

However, there is still some uncertainty around the deal. Negotiations between Malaysia and Korean Aerospace Industries for procuring 18 fighters have lately reached a snag. According to The Times of India, Malaysia’s finance ministry has returned the proposal to purchase 18 FA-50 planes, requesting that KAI stick to the basic price of 3.5 billion Malaysian ringgit (RM). KAI had set the price at RM 4.2 billion, well over the RM 3.4 billion for the Chinese JF-17 and the RM 3.75 billion for India’s indigenously developed Tejas-MARK1. The price per unit for the Tejas and the FA-50 is about $28 and $30 million, respectively.

The FA-50 Fighting Eagle is a supersonic light attack fighter designed by KAI in partnership with Lockheed Martin of the United States. It is a multirole fighter variant of the ‘T-50’ line, which comprises supersonic trainers, light combat aircraft, and multirole fighters.

According to data released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), South Korea accounted for only about 1% of global defense exports between 2012 and 2016, but this figure has skyrocketed to 2.8% over the next five years, as the value of South Korean arms exports increased by 177%, thereby helping Seoul become the 8th largest defense exporter in the world and 2nd in Asia.

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