The US Navy announced on August 3 that it has delivered the first of three upgraded Airbus CN-235M-220 maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) to the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF), following the type’s conversion from a medium-lift tactical transport.
This announcement comes just three-and-a-half years after the US signed a Letter of Offer and Acceptance (LOA) to begin increasing the capabilities of the Malaysian Armed Forces and the level of interoperability between Malaysian and US forces. As part of the upgrade package, the CN-235 received a maritime surveillance mission suite; maritime surveillance radar; line-of-sight datalink; an electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) turret and a roll-on/roll-off mission system operator station. To further increase the RMAF’s maritime intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities, compatible mobile and fixed ground control stations are also being delivered.
The project to integrate ISR equipment into the three CN-235s is being undertaken by the RMAF in cooperation with US Naval Air Systems Command’s (NAVAIR’s) Security Cooperation Office and Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division’s (NAWCAD’s) AIRWorks department. It was facilitated by the US Navy’s Building Partner Capacity programme in alignment with the US government’s Maritime Security Initiative. Ultimately, the move intends to help Malaysia to increase its security and awareness in the maritime domain within the Malaysian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
Commenting on this recent upgrade and delivery, Ron Weinberger – director of Security Cooperation Office at NAVAIR – said: “Building Partner Capacity programmes represent the highest level of return on engagement to the US. The Malaysian CN-235 programme will be a significant force multiplier to an indigenous Malaysian ISR capability and will directly support joint Malaysian and US efforts to ensure global security in the Indo-Pacific Command area of responsibility.”
According to NAVAIR, the project’s CN-235s were flown to Indonesia for completion and testing under COVID-19 restrictions in September 2020, with the first upgraded example completing its first flight in October 2021. These three CN-235s were initially manufactured under license by Indonesian aerospace company, Perseroan Terbatas Dirgantara Indonesia (PTDI), and entered operational RMAF service in August 1999 as medium-lift tactical transports. Work on the two remaining CN-235s and multiple ground stations continues and is scheduled for completion before the end of 2022.