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Malaysian Tank Builder Wants To Build Aircraft

Apr. 21, 2014 - 11:20AM   |  
By WENDELL MINNICK   |   Comments
Looking for Work: DEFTECH hopes to be able to produce composite products for several platforms, including the Bell UH-1Y.
Looking for Work: DEFTECH hopes to be able to produce composite products for several platforms, including the Bell UH-1Y. (Wendell Minnick/Staff)
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KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s top armored vehicle and tank builder, DRB-HICOM Defence Technologies (DEFTECH), is expanding into military aviation.

During last week’s biennial Defence Services Asia (DSA) exhibition here, DEFTECH officials told Defense News the company has long-term plans to develop an aviation arm capable of building all types of aircraft components, equipment and parts.

DEFTECH is well known for its joint armored vehicle programs with Turkey’s FNSS Defense Systems, which include the new AV-8 armored eight-wheel-drive vehicle on display at DSA.

In 2013, DEFTECH bought a controlling interest in Composites Technology Research Malaysia (CTRM). The company makes aviation panels and other parts and DEFTECH wants to produce these components as part of an offset arrangement on future military deals for helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, a DEFTECH source said.

CTRM already produces parts for the Airbus A350 and A380, and the Boeing 737, 777 and 787 commercial airliners. CTRM is one of only two non-European companies producing composite materials for the Airbus A400M military transport.

CTRM also produces a variety of UAVs, including the fixed-wing Aludra UAV, which is operating at Semporna Sabah under a leasing contract with the Malaysian military for surveillance and reconnaissance missions along Sabah’s border. The company displayed models of the Aludra and the new SR-10 UAV at DSA last week.

DEFTECH has its eye on producing composite products for the Boeing F/A-18 Hornet fighter, Bell UH-1Y utility helicopter, AH-1Z attack helicopter, the Saab 2000 ERIEYE airborne early warning and control aircraft and Gripen fighter.

Saab confirmed that it is working on a deal with DEFTECH on the Gripen.

At DSA, Bell Helicopter Textron and Malaysia’s DEFTECH signed a “letter of expression of interest” on April 16. Bell Textron sources indicated the letter would best be described in the West as a memorandum of understanding to “seek collaborative projects and look for opportunities here in Malaysia.”

“We are looking at what they are doing in their aerospace industry and see where the fit is,” a Bell Textron official said. Both companies will explore “high value projects ... to develop new shore- and sea-based operations.”

A Bell Textron source said the letter would help pave the way for sales of new AH-1Z and UH-1Y helicopters in Malaysia and the region. The advantage of both helicopters is that they share an open architecture design and have 85 percent commonality, which reduces costs in training, components and support equipment. The company brought an operational UH-1Y to DSA, along with the flight simulator for the AH-1Z.

“The Malaysian Army wants the UH-1Y first and then the Zulu [AH-1Z],” a DEFTECH source said. The UH-1Y can be used as an armed transport and there is a pressing need for both since the Lahad Datu standoff in early 2013 that involved more than 300 militants in Sabah.

“The military had no real capability of putting men on the ground quickly with cover fire,” he said.

Textron AirLand hopes to sell the new fixed-wing Scorpion to Malaysia. The aircraft would provide the military with a number of options that were not available to it in Sabah.

The Scorpion can serve as a strike aircraft or a trainer, and can perform intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance missions.

“It is not a one-trick pony,” Textron’s Chuck Gummow said.

The aircraft has six hard points on the wings and can carry 3,000 tons of ISR packages under the middle fuselage. At $20 million per aircraft and an operating cost of $3,000 per flight hour, the Scorpion has a lot of potential in the marketplace, he said.

Email: wminnick@gannettgov.com.

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