BY INS Contributors

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia--The recent fatal crash of a BAE Systems Hawk 108 fighter on Nov. 7 has again brought Malaysia’s need for a replacement light combat aircraft (LCA) under the spotlight.

The Royal Malaysian Airforce (RMAF) operates a wide variety of aircraft ranging from the U.S. built Boeing F/A-18 and excellent Sukhoi Su-30 fighters along with a variety of other aging light fighters including the ill-fated Hawk 108.

Malaysia has also apparently pulled the relatively more capable Mig-29 out of active service with the last known flight of the type being observed in 2016, while the Northrop F-5 has been retired.

What is apparent is the RMAF lacks a cost effective, modern and capable light fighter for its airfleet. Being the last type of light fighter in service with the RMAF, the Hawk 108 has seen at least nine crashes between 1996 and 2021. Several of these have been fatal.

Trend towards LCA

A light combat aircraft (LCA) is a light, multirole jet military aircraft, commonly derived from advanced trainer designs, designed for engaging in light combat missions. The mission can either be in a light strike or attack missions, reconnaissance, interdiction roles or trainer roles.

A light fighter leans towards the low end of the practical range of weight, cost, and complexity over which fighters are fielded. The light fighter retains carefully selected competitive features, in order to provide cost-effective design and performance.

Following the end of the Cold War and the age of many legacy fighters has driven many smaller air forces to adopt lighter, more cost effective aircraft for a variety of tasks while still retaining the ability to strike hard. Epitomising this trend is the introduction of new turbo-propeller aircraft like the Embraer EMB 314 Super Tucano.

The Yak-130

Starting life as an advanced trainer and light combat aircraft, the Yak-130 was developed in the early 1990s by the Yakovlev Design Bureau and Italy’s Aermacchi. Able to replicate the flight characteristics of 4+ generation fights, it already has a solid pedigree as a trainer.

But the aircraft is so much more than a mere trainer, having been ordered or exported to at least eight countries, with more deliveries expected as the capabilities of this remarkable aircraft become apparent, with nearly 180 units having been manufactured.

It can carry a combat load of 3,000 kilograms, consisting of various guided and unguided weapons, auxiliary fuel tanks and electronic pods, or any ordinance in service with the Russian air force weighing up to 500 kilograms.

The Yak-130 has three hard-points under each wing and is caable of carrying up to three tons of air-to-air missiles, air-to-surface missiles, precision-guided bombs, free-fall bombs, rockets, gun pods and external fuel tanks.

Another two stations at the wingtips can carry air-to-air missiles or decoy launchers as countermeasures against air-to-air and surface to air missiles, besides being able to mount a 23mm autocannon on its belly.

The aircraft has seen service in a wide variety of climatic conditions ranging from arctic to desert and tropical climates and has been combat tested.

Strengthening Malaysia’s capabilities

Malaysia is divided between Peninsula Malaysia and the northern Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak as well as a total coastline of 4,675 kilometres and claims an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of 334,671 sq km,with 200 nautical miles (370.4 km) from its shores.

The country has faced numerous incursions into its territory in the South China Sea and had faced an invasion of its eastern state of Sabah in 2013, with armed militants invading the country before being driven out. The security challenges facing the country are recent and real.

With news of one fatal crash after another, and the retirement of numerous combat aircraft over costs, lack of spares and other issues, the country’s ability to defend its borders may be a reason for various elements to take advantage of the situation.

As with any national military, the idea is to present a credible deterrence and failing that, to respond to aggression with suitable and effective military force. The Yak-130 will give Malaysia all those capabilities and more at a fraction of the cost of other as yet untested and less than reliable options.