SINGAPORE — Malaysia will convert two Indonesian-built CN-235 transport aircraft into maritime patrol platforms using U.S. funding set aside for regional nations to improve maritime security, a top general confirmed.
Malaysian Armed Forces chief Gen. Affendi Buang said the plan is to convert three of the military’s seven PT Dirgantara Indonesia-made CN-235s into unarmed maritime surveillance aircraft.
Work will be carried out by PTDI’s facilities in Indonesia using funding from the Maritime Security Initiative. The MSI, which set aside a total of $425 million over five years, was first announced by then-U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter in 2015. It was created to assist countries in the Asia-Pacific region improve their maritime domain awareness.
No details of the proposed conversions are available, but it is expected that the CN-235s will be mostly, if not wholly similar to the conversions PTDI previously performed for the Indonesian Air Force and Navy.
The Indonesian aircraft are fitted with the Merlin maritime surveillance mission suite developed by U.S. company Integrated Surveillance and Defense, based in Oregon. It also includes a maritime surveillance radar, an electro-optical turret and electronic support measures.
The southeast Asian country previously specified a need for an armed maritime patrol aircraft, although that program appears to have been put on hold due to budget issues, with no tender having been issued.
PTDI is currently participating at the ongoing Singapore Airshow, and its representatives at the show told Defense News they are confident of securing an order for new CN-235 in a maritime patrol variant from an “existing customer” of the platform, though they declined to name the operator.
The company displayed a model of a hybrid maritime patrol-gunship version of the CN-235 at the show, armed with torpedoes, rocket pods on hardpoints and a 30mm cannon firing sideways out of the left rear paratroop door.
Malaysia previously signed a $30 million sustainment and overhaul contract with PTDI that included an option for conversion of aircraft into maritime surveillance configuration, which it has now been taken up under this announcement. It also has a longstanding requirement for maritime patrol aircraft, with that need gaining more attention after the 2016 crash of one of its Beechcraft King Air 200 planes used for maritime surveillance.
It also previously used its Lockheed Martin C-130H Hercules transports and the CN-235 in the maritime surveillance role, but these lacked specialized equipment and solely relied on visual observations by personnel on board.
Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News. He wrote his first defense-related magazine article in 1998 before pursuing an aerospace engineering degree at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia. Following a stint in engineering, he became a freelance defense reporter in 2013 and has written for several media outlets.