By INS contributors

GONG KEDAK, Malaysia- The Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) Russian-made Sukhoi Su-30MKM Flankers are destined to remain airworthy for a good two more decades.

Giving this assurance, Aerospace Technology Systems Corporation Sdn Bhd (ATSC) chief executive officer Lt Col (Rtd) Datuk Mohd Fadzar Suhada said they were soundly furnished with highly-skilled personnel and equipment to ensure the 16-year-old fighter jets - the country's most advanced and sophisticated - were credibly maintained.

As a One Stop Centre for Su-30MKM, ATSC is the prime contractor to maintain, repair and overhaul the Royal Malaysian Air Force’s (RMAF) 18 Su-30MKM based at the Gong Kedak air force base, bordering Kelantan and Terengganu in the peninsula.

Fadzar said that ATSC had the capability to keep the jets serviceable and well maintained beyond the year 2035, provided the airframe was still airworthy and spares continued to be available.

“Apart from the principal suppliers from Russia, local defence and aerospace industries fully and readily support us in our mission.

“Suffice to say, all aspects like the depot-level overhaul of the Su-30MKM are formulated and regulated through indigenous formulae, international standards  and mechanisms via smart partnerships between ATSC, the RMAF, other original equipment manufacturers (OEM) and local industries," said Fadzar at the international-class award and certificate ceremony for ATSC by two top-notch organisations at the ATSC-Sukhoi Technical Centre (STC) located at the RMAF's 12th Squadron at the Gong Kedak base.

ATSC was presented with the ‘Global Performance Excellence Award (World Class) 2022’ and ‘International Best Practice (Platinum) Award 2022’ by the Asia Pacific Qualification Organistion’s (APQO) president Mangalika de Silva from Sri Lanka.

Fadzar also received the ‘ISO 9001:2015 for Quality Management Systems’ from the Standard and Industrial Research Institute of Malaysia (SIRIM) Berhad Management System Certification Department senior general manager Mohd Hamim Imam Mustain.

The awards’ presentation boosted ATSC and the RMAF’s morale to prepare the Su-30MKM for aerial displays at the ‘Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace (LIMA) 2023’ exhibition on May 23-27.

Malaysia became among the pioneer South-East Asian users of Russian fighter jets with the acquisition of 18 MiG-29N Fulcrum in 1995, followed by 18 Su-30MKM in 2007.

Their procurement discarded the country’s dependence on traditionally purchasing aircraft from either Britain, Europe or the United States.

Malaysia and Russia signed a US$900 million contract for 18 Su-30MKM (Modernizirovannyi Kommercheskiy Malaysia or Modernised Commercial Malaysia) jets that were delivered from 2007.

In return for the purchase, Russia agreed to train and send a Malaysian astronaut to the International Space Station.

The aged MiG-29N have since been decommissioned from the RMAF in 2015, with Malaysia recently announcing plans to initially procure 18 Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) FA-50 light combat aircraft (LCA) by 2026 under a US$920 million deal.

The KAI FA-50 are being acquired under the RMAF’s Fighter Lead-in Trainer (FLIT) programme as part of its ‘Capability Development 2055’ plan.

Fadzar explained that ATSC had the expertise to completely overhaul the Su-30MKM locally at half the cost, as compared with if they were to be sent to Russia for the purpose.

It is believed that each Su-30 required a sum of US$27 million to be completely overhauled over nine months, for every 1,500 hours of flight or 10 years of operation.

ATSC began locally overhauling the Su-30MKM with an initial batch of six jets from 2007, followed by another six a year later and the final six in 2009.

ATSC has been awarded a contract for the Flankers' full refurbishment package reportedly to the tune of RM1.2 billion for one overhaul cycle when done locally (as compared with the RM2.2 billion if it were to be done in Russia), until 2035.

The refurbishment package includes service-life extension for the Flankers' airframe, avionics, weapons systems and overhaul of its engines.

The refurbishment package allows for highly skilled Malaysian technicians and engineers to be employed, hence, providing job opportunities for locals.

It also enhances the entrepreneurial skills and capability of Malaysians in handling such a large task in the field of aviation and aerospace.

“At least 70 percent of our maintenance crew are retired RMAF technicians and engineers, who have been hired owing to their vast expertise in handling the jets.

"The engineers and technical crew involved in maintaining the jets are experienced and qualified to undertake various technical solutions.

“A majority of them still have age on their side, retain sound knowledge and skills that can be tapped to continue serving the industry.

“Employing them helps the country embark on the transfer-of-technology and in-country components repair capability, while ensuring localised servicing and maintenance of the jets,” said Fadzar.

He added that when ATSC was awarded the contract to overhaul the Su-30MKM in 2020, many critics were not convinced that the company, which is a subsidiary of the National Aerospace Defence Industries, could undertake the task.

“They were cynical of our ability to do so with just a crew of 200. But we proved our worthiness.

“Our expertise includes structural X-Ray scanning and simulation of aircraft stresses at critical locations during flights, to detect structural defects and cracks of stressed parts owing to metal fatigue.

“ATSC is also authorised by the Directorate General Technical Airworthiness Malaysia (DGTA) to locally develop and fabricate the jet’s drag-chute and rubberised parts,” said Fadzar.

He added ATSC’s expertise was equally sought by regional Sukhoi users like Indonesia, owing to the company’s credibility.

On another note, ATSC has retained master engineer Danis Khisamutdynov as a warranty expert from the Ufa Engine Industrial Association (JSC UMPO), based at the Republic of Bashkortostan in Russia, to oversee the Sukhoi’s AL-31FP engines at Gong Kedak.

Khisamutdynov - who will soon be replaced with another expert - was tasked with ensuring that all aspects pertaining to regulations, original equipment manufacturer's warranty and maintenance, repair and overhaul specifications of the engines are met and adhered with.

“His presence underlines the Russian authorities’ determination to ensure that the Flankers are adequately serviced and maintained to remain airworthy at all times for the RMAF.

“All the necessary initiatives have been put into place to keep the multi-role combat jets' operational capability at its optimum level.

"We are working very closely with the RMAF and the Malaysian government to ensure there is uninterrupted serviceability.

"More importantly, Russian pride and credibility are at stake as the Flankers are one of the most reliable fighter jets in the world,” said Fadzar.

The RMAF had initially retained Russian (from the Sukhoi Design Bureau and Rosoboronexport manufacturing and maintenance plants in Irkut and Moscow) and Indian air force experts - to maintain the Sukhois at Gong Kedak, before ATSC formally took over the task completely more than a decade ago.

Meanwhile, Mangalika said that the two APQO awards were a formal international recognition for ATSC’s performance and business excellence in promoting the excellent culture through innovation, continuous improvement, learning, transforming and sharing.

“ATSC has won the world-class award in recognition of the company’s excellent quality performance system.  

"ATSC has proven its sound and robust development as the primary MRO contractor for the RMAF's Sukhois," she said.

“ATSC has proven its sound and robust development as the primary maintenance, repair and overhaul contractor for the RMAF’s Sukhois,” she said.

Photo: (From left) ATSC chief executive officer Lt Col (Rtd) Datuk Mohd Fadzar Suhada, flanked by its supply chain division head Major (Rtd) Ashaari Shafie (left) and Sirim Berhad management system certification department senior general manager Mohd Hamim Imam Mustain (right), receiving the awards from APQO president Mangalika de Silva at the Sukhoi Technical Centre located at the RMAF's 12th Squadron at the Gong Kedak base.