MELBOURNE, Australia – Malaysia is hoping to buy Kuwait’s entire fleet of Boeing F/A-18 Hornet multi-role fighter jets, although discussions between both governments over the sale have yet to begin.
Speaking during a question-and-answer session in Malaysia’s parliament, the country’s deputy defense minister Ikmal Hisham Abdul Aziz said the southeast Asian country is seeking to purchase the Kuwaiti Air Force’s fleet of 33 jets “lock, stock and barrel.”
He noted the Kuwaiti Hornets are still in good condition with relatively low flight hours and adding them to the Royal Malaysian Air Force, or RMAF, inventory “will definitely increase the level of preparedness and capability of the RMAF in safeguarding the country’s [air]space.”
He also added the country is planning on operating the type till 2035.
Malaysia currently operates a fleet of eight F/A-18D twin-seat fighters in the air defense and strike role, serving alongside 18 Russian-built Sukhoi Su-30MKM Flanker-H jets. The Hornets were acquired in 1997 and have been upgraded over the past decade.
The incremental improvements include the integration of the Joint Helmet Cueing System, AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missile and satellite-guided Joint Direct Attack Munitions as well as the addition of the Link 16 datalink.
Kuwait is seeking to dispose of its fleet of F/A-18C single-seaters and F/A-18Ds, 40 of which were acquired in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War. The small Persian Gulf emirate is currently taking delivery of 28 Eurofighter Typhoons and a similar number of F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighters.
Malaysia has evaluated the Super Hornet and Typhoon alongside the French Dassault Rafale as it flirted with the procurement of a new multi-role combat aircraft. However, budget problems have meant the country’s Russian-built MiG-29 Fulcrum interceptors have been quietly withdrawn from service without a replacement.
The country has instead put its emphasis on acquiring a new light combat aircraft to replace the RMAF’s fleet of Hawk 108 jet trainers and Hawk 208 light combat aircraft, which also date back to the late 1990s and have suffered from a series of crashes and accidents.
Acquiring the Kuwaiti Hornets would allow the RMAF to beef up its existing, albeit understrength, inventory of the type with eight aircraft being short of a typical fighter jet squadron’s strength of at least 12 aircraft.
However, should Malaysia be successful in acquiring the Kuwaiti jets, it’s likely to need to refurbish the Kuwaiti jets to bring them in line with its existing fleet of Hornets to ensure fleet commonality.
The desire to boost Malaysia’s air defenses have added impetus with the widely publicized flight of 16 Chinese transport aircraft over a disputed South China Sea shoal in late May. The Chinese jets approached to within 60 miles of Malaysia’s coast and prompted the RMAF to scramble Hawks in response.
The country would likely face competition for the Kuwait Hornets from other interested parties, however, as Tunisia is also reportedly keen on buying the jets. Any potential buyer will also need U.S. government permission to complete the sale.
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.