Malaysia postpones purchase of new combat aircraft

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 24 (AFP) - Malaysia will postpone the purchase of new fighter jets and delay the retirement of its Russian-made MiG aircraft for five years, the defence ministry said Wednesday.

The plan to buy new multi-role combat aircraft has been held back by the economic downturn, a ministry official told AFP.

"We initially wanted to ground the (MiG) jets and sell them to a third country but after much thought and deliberation, we have decided to hold on," Defence Minister Zahid Hamidi said according to the New Straits Times.

He did not say what type of new combat aircraft the government would eventually buy, or when.

Last June, he said the air force would phase out its ageing 16 MiG-29N interceptor jets, purchased in 1994 for 380 million dollars, and would be looking to buy new planes to fill the gap.

In December, former premier Mahathir Mohamad criticised the phasing out of the jets as a waste of money.

In comments on his blog, Mahathir asked whether the interests of middlemen were influencing the decision to buy new aircraft as they would stand to make big profits.

Defence ministry officials told AFP Wednesday that 10 of the 16 MiGs would continue to fly, the other six have already been decommissioned.

The Malaysian air force also flies Boeing F/A-18D Hornets and Sukhoi SU-30 MKM Flanker jet fighters.

The ministry has recently come under fire over the 2008 theft of two US-made engines for its Northrop F-5E reconnaissance aircraft, which saw charges laid against an air force sergeant and a businessman last month.

The engines have been traced to Uruguay and Malaysian officials say they are working to get the engines returned.

MySinchew 2010.02.24