Malaysia’s Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein has denied media reports that the country is considering the Sino-Pakistani JF-17 Thunder as part of its Air Force modernization plans. Analysts nevertheless think the JF-17 is on the cusp of export success.
Hussein was responding to a question put to him by Malaysian news media after an interview Malaysia’s High Commissioner to Pakistan Dr Hasrul Sani gave the Associated Press of Pakistan (APP). He was reported to have discussed the JF-17 in the context of boosting the wider bilateral relationship.
However, even before the official denial of interest, analysts were unsure Malaysia would buy the JF-17 despite believing the aircraft is well-suited to its requirements.
Though it would complement the heavier Su-30MKM Flanker fighters in service, Malaysian sources privately indicated that Western fighters already under consideration stand a more realistic chance of being selected.
Malaysia has long indicated a desire to replace its remaining US-supplied F-5E/F fighter aircraft, and the MiG-29s it acquired from Russia in the ’90s. This may result in an order for 36 to 40 aircraft, according to information available on the program.
Prior to Tuesday’s denial, author, analyst and former Australian defense attache to Islamabad Brian Cloughley believed the Malaysian interest to be genuine, but cautioned there was more to consider.
“Heads of diplomatic missions don’t usually say things publicly that aren’t accurate”, he said. “So there is probably something in this, in that interest appears to have been expressed, but the devil is as always in the detail, and there will have to be agreement by Beijing to any movement toward a deal.”
He has therefore been surprised by the turn around.
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