MELBOURNE, Australia — Malaysia has selected Italy’s Leonardo as its preferred vendor for a maritime patrol aircraft program.

Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein made the announcement over the weekend following the receipt of a second transport aircraft that was converted for maritime surveillance missions with U.S. funding.

Leonardo has offered its ATR 72MP, which is based on the ATR 72 turboprop regional airliner and can perform maritime patrol, search and rescue, and electronic intelligence gathering missions using its suite of onboard systems, including radar, electro-optical sensors and satellite communication technology. The ATR 72Mp can also carry lightweight torpedoes for anti-submarine operations.

“For the procurement of two (2) MPAs, the Government has agreed to an offer by the Leornado company,” Hishammuddin said in a statement Sunday.

The purchase is funded under the Southeast Asian country’s five-year spending plan, rather than its defense budget, he added.

The minister also said the sustainment of Malaysia’s F/A-18D Hornet fleet is one of the country’s main priorities. The eight aircraft were due for delivery to Australia for overhaul work by Boeing beginning in 2020, but that plan fell through as a result of border closures during the COVID-19 pandemic and Australia’s retirement of its Hornets.

The aircraft are instead receiving overhaul work locally, with the first Hornet apparently already receiving upgrades, though it’s unclear what that entails.

The Royal Malaysian Air Force is also converting three Indonesian-built CN-235 transport aircraft to perform maritime surveillance roles, thanks to funding by the U.S. Maritime Security Initiative. Indonesian company PTDI announced Oct. 7 it had delivered the second aircraft to Malaysia.

Maritime domain awareness has proved challenging for Malaysia, with its military and Coast Guard preoccupied by piracy along its coasts as well as militancy and terrorism in the Sulu Sea, which lies between eastern Malaysia and the southern Philippines.

Malaysia is made up of two separate landmasses with coastlines along the strategic Strait of Malacca and the South China Sea. It is also one of six claimants of ownership over the disputed Spratly group of islands.

Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News.

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