Malaysia to add AW139s for maritime SAR ops
The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) will step up plans this year to expand its operations with the delivery of three new helicopters. At December’s LIMA airshow in Langkawi, First Admiral Zammani Mohd Amin, the agency’s director of Air Wing operations, told AIN that it will continue to grow.
Before forming MMEA in 2004, the Malaysians studied existing maritime enforcement agencies in Australia, Canada, India, Japan and the U.S., and settled on the U.S. Coast Guard as its role model. However, Amin said that he intends to incorporate some aspects from the Australian Coastwatch operation as well.
The MMEA, effectively the Malaysian Coast Guard, came into being as the result of an amalgamation of government agencies, such as the departments of customs, fisheries and wildlife. The Air Wing received its first helicopter in 2007 and since then has been flying missions, including maritime patrol and surveillance, search and rescue, and medical evacuation from its base at Subang Airport near Kuala Lumpur.
The agency’s fleet currently consists of five aircraft: three Eurocopter SA 365N3 Dauphin helicopters and a pair of Bombardier CL-415MPs. Three AgustaWestland AW139s are due to be delivered later this year.
This rapid expansion has resulted in crewing problems. Both the Royal Malaysian Army and Air Force have loaned pilots and crew, who fly the Dauphins; the CL-415s are flown by Air Force pilots with Beech King Air 200 and C-130 maritime patrol experience. Zammani said he also would like to use Navy crews, but at this time that service cannot spare personnel.
The MMEA’s operations are headquartered at the Subang air station, and it also has a base at Kota Kinabalu in the east of Malaysia, where the AW139s will be stationed. Zammani said the Air Wing’s charter is to respond to a call within 30 minutes and be on station within two hours. All the aircraft are capable of carrying and employing weapons (under strict rules of engagement) should there be a requirement.
The Dauphins are fully operational and a group of 10 pilots and crewmen recently have been qualified for both day and night search and rescue. The nominal requirement is for three complete crews. All training is carried out in Malaysia. The agency also has a policy of contracting out maintenance; for example, Eurocopter Malaysia is responsible for maintenance at Subang.
The first CL-415 arrived in December 2008 and flew in utility configuration, without mission equipment installed, until returning to the manufacturer after LIMA for this work to be carried out. It is due to return to Subang by mid-year. The second aircraft arrived last November, equipped with all its mission gear.
The CL-415s also have a firebombing role, with the first aircraft already having been used to fight underground pit fires in Selangor state in August and September. It also provided assistance during a fire aboard the Navy’s landing ship RMN Sri Inderapura in October. However, when mission equipment is installed the aircraft will not be used for firebombing. But Zammani said removal and reinstallation of that gear will not take more than four hours.
The mission system comprises a Swedish Space Systems MSS-6000 SLAR mounted on the rear fuselage, weather radar and Flir Systems’ SeaFLIR 2 turret under the port wing. Nominal crew comprises two pilots, a mission systems operator and a crewman. The cockpit is not night-vision-goggle-compatible, but goggles can be employed by the crewman.
The AW139s are being acquired for SAR duties from Kota Kinabalu, but will also be used on interdiction missions in the maritime area of operations.
According to Zammani, the CL-415 is regarded as an interim maritime patrol aircraft and two of them may not be enough to satisfy current requirements. He also said there is a requirement for a fixed-wing aircraft with a longer range within the next five to 10 years, and noted that the agency is currently considering the ATR 42MP, the Bombardier Dash 8 family and the Indonesian Aerospace CN 235-220MPA. He also flagged up a requirement for a larger, longer range helicopter in the intermediate future.