A tiger-painted Czech Gripen operates in a NATO activity. Saab has submitted information to the Malaysian government about a possible Gripen lease. (Milan Nikodym / Saab)
KUALA LUMPUR — Saab has confirmed it has submitted proposals to the Malaysian government for the lease of Gripen fighters but said it wasn’t responding to a formal request for information.
Company executives said they delivered proposals earlier this year but wouldn’t reveal how many ex-Swedish Air Force C/D model aircraft are involved or the length of a possible lease deal.
Local Malaysian company DRB Hicom Defence Technologies will be its partner. The two companies already team on Saab’s bid to secure an airborne early warning aircraft program in Malaysia.
The Gripen fighter jet maker is the only one of the potential suppliers for Malaysia’s requirement for a multirole aircraft to at least partially declare its hand after the government in Kuala Lumpur effectively stalled a program to purchase jets outright and encouraged competitors to come up with a more affordable solution.
The new aircraft were meant to replace 18 MiG-29s due to go out service in the next couple of years.
Without a replacement, the Malaysian Air Force fast jet fleet would comprise F/A-18 D and Sukhoi Su-30s.
Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet, Dassault’s Rafale, the Eurofighter Typhoon and Sukhoi have previously been involved in bidding for the program when it was a straight purchase.
One industry executive said there had been no official request for proposals and no timelines for leasing proposals to be submitted.
Speaking at the Singapore air show recently, Boeing’s regional business development executive, Jim Armington, conceded that politics, not Air Force requirements, was driving the timing of any decision.
“The fighters do need to be replaced from the point of view of the Air Force. But it’s a national decision, it’s domestic politics and economics. Despite the concerns and urgency from the Air Force, there are other factors at play,” he said.
Speaking at a briefing with reporters at the Defense Services Asia exhibition here April 15, Hakan Buskhe, Saab’s CEO, said the through-life costs of the single- engine Gripen are the lowest of any of the aircraft competing for the deal.
“We are offering a performance-based lease solution which guarantees availability of the Gripen,” he said.
Saab already has lengthy experience in leasing Gripen C and D model jets to the Czech and Hungarian air forces. Even some rival executives acknowledge the Swedes could have an impressive offer if judging by the recent renewal of the Czech lease.
Among the other potential bidders, Boeing is reckoned to have lodged proposals for an F/A-18 Super Hornet lease. It has the advantage of being the incumbent fighter supplier to the Malaysian Air Force.
The speculation is that Boeing offered a 10-year deal at $300 million a year, but company executives at the Singapore show said they didn’t recognize those figures and would not say whether a deal had been submitted or not.
The company declined an interview request at the DSA show.
A BAE offer based on second-hand Eurofighter Tranche 1 Typhoons failed to materialize this week as expected, but sources said it could be submitted soon.
At one point the British company, which represents the Eurofighter partners Airbus Defence and Finmeccanica, considered using Spanish Tranche 1s but have opted for Royal Air Force jets.
Dassault’s plans to address the Malaysian affordability issues are not known at this time.
Nikolay Dimidiuk, the special projects director at Rosoboronexport, the Russian state-owned defense export organization, said the company had not submitted a lease deal to the Malaysians but would do so if asked.
The Russians have been offering the Su-35MKM but could also offer the Su-30 in any lease deal if that was a better fit for the requirement, said Dimidiuk. ■