Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace (LIMA) 2015

Langkawi, a small island off the west coast of Malaysia,  is the setting for the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace exhibition, and Mark Rourke of Pixelsnipers was there braving the high temperatures to attend the event.

This year marked the 13th edition in its 25 year history. With 512 companies from 36 countries, an 18% increase in company participation compared to its previous edition, and an expected 168,500 trade and public visitors from all over the world, with 70% of the world’s top 25 aerospace and defence companies along with the world’s top 5 helicopter manufacturers, LIMA ’15 recorded the highest ever attendance and was slated to be the biggest and best to date.

In honour of Malaysia’s 2015 role of chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), this year was heavily focused on ASEAN, and judging by the growth in participation, LIMA ’15 shaped up to be the best gateway to ASEAN maritime and aerospace industries.

Unfortunately LIMA ’15 started with rather to much excitement with a mid-air collision during practice by the Indonesian Air Force Jupiter aerobatic team, when two KAI (Korean Aerospace Industries) KT-1B trainer aircraft ,numbered 5 and 6, crashed after clipping wings on Sunday March 15th. One of the Turbo-prop planes crashed into a house near the airport, but nobody was hurt, as thankfully the house was empty and the two pilots ejected and parachuted safely. As a result the Jupiter aerobatic team called off their participation and flew home the next day.

The show started officially with an opening ceremony from the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF), which performed a base attack and formations with 4 Sukhoi SU-30MKMs, 2 Aermacchi MB-339CMs, 2 BAe Hawk 208s, 2 BAe Hawk 108s, 2 F/A-18Ds and 4 EC-725s.

The highlight of the show was the debut of the Airbus Defence A400M strategic airlifter belonging to the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF), M54-01 is the first of four ordered and the aircraft was formally delivered on the opening day of the show after being handed over to the RMAF on March 16th at the Subang airbase. The aircraft will equip 22 Squadron in operation.

The Malaysian Book of Records gained a new entry at LIMA ’15, with “1Malaysia Aerial Display Team” now officially known as “Krisakti,” becoming the first ever full time Malaysian national air display team. The name “Krisakti,” which derives from a Malaysian traditional weapon, was chosen as it represents empowerment with sacred force, power and energy. Comprised of four Extra 330L stunt planes, the team were put together with the delivery of their first aircraft back in June 2011. In November of the same year the team were sent to the United Kingdom where they trained with The Blades aerobatic team at their home base of Sywell Aerodrome in Northamptonshire. After their training the team returned to Malaysia where they continued training more intensely and finally on the 6th of December 2011 they made their inaugural aerial display at LIMA 2011. Krisakti are based out of Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) Butterworth Air Base.

Making their ASEAN debut at LIMA ’15 were August 1st, the aerobatic demonstration team of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF). It is named after the date of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the team is part of the PLAAF Beijing Military Region. The unit was founded in 1962 and has over the years performed more than 500 times for delegations from 166 countries and regions. Its first show abroad happened in August 2013 at the Russian MAKS air show. The team was initially equipped with the JJ-5 fighter-trainer jets, a Chinese version of the MiG-17. In later years The JJ-5s were replaced with the Chengdu J-7EB, then again by the newer J-7GB in 2001. In May 2009 the team upgraded their aircraft to the more advanced Chengdu J-10 multirole fighter; there are eight aircraft in the team but only six display at any one time. Not only is it the team’s debut at LIMA but it is also the teams debut of the first batch of female pilots flying the J-10. Preparing for the big day hasn’t been easy for them, to perfect their display for the show these pilots have trained for more than 800 hours according to a PLAAF spokesman.

Apart from the August 1st team, the United Arab Emirates Air Forces Al Fursan (The Knights) also made their ASEAN debut at this year’s show. It was formed in 2010 with Italian built Aermacchi MB-339NAT jet trainer aircraft. The team has a total of ten of these trainers, of which seven are used for the show.

Adding to the plefora of aerobatic teams at LIMA this year were two F-16Cs of the rarely seen Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) Black Knights. The team usually consists of six General Dynamics F-16C Fighting Falcons and surprisingly enough are not a full-time aerobatics team due to the limited airspace in which they can rehearse back home. The name and emblem of the Black Knights was chosen, as the knight in chess is the most manoeuvrable piece on the board, and also because the knight is the mascot of Tengah Airbase which is home for the team.

Host country Malaysia was amply represented in the flying display with 20 aircraft from the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) including the SU-30MKM which thrilled the spectators with arguable with one of, if not the best display of the whole show. McDonnell Douglas F/A-18D Hornet, BAe Systems Hawk 108 and 208, Aermacchi MB-339CM and Airbus Helicopters (Eurocopter) EC-725 Super Cougar/Caracal also took part in this demonstration of Malaysian airpower. Absent from the show were the MiG-29N Fulcrums, which are slated for retirement at the end of 2015. These were on air defence duty at the time and as each squadron has this responsibility, and there are so few of them, they couldn’t attend because of this reason.

The Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) has hinted that they may be keeping their MiG-29Ns in operation, even though they have stated that the type is to be retired at the end of 2015. This may be due to the fact that the RMAF is planning to boost their maritime patrol with a long range aircraft. RMAF Chief General Dato’ Sri Haji Roslan Bin Saad has said “The RMAF is still identifying the numbers versus affordability. We need one Maritime Surveillance Aircraft (MSA) squadron consisting of four to six aircraft to fulfil our strategic and operational requirements”.

He declines to name the aircraft types being considered, but another source in the RMAF claims the types being considered are the ATR72MP, Airbus Defence and Space C-295MP and the SAAB 2000. The source also says that there is a faction within the RMAF pushing for some of the air force’s Lockheed Martin C-130 transports to be configured for maritime patrol. Lockheed Martin does have some ‘roll-on, roll-off’ solutions for equipping the C-130 for this role.

When asked why the air force now wants maritime patrol aircraft, the Air Chief said “Malaysia, with its large territorial waters, needs aircraft that are capable of patrolling, and also helping with enforcement of policies, as well as helping with intelligence gathering to ensure sovereignty of the country remains intact. This capability would present a deterrent posture and protect strategic national resources”.

Other sources in the RMAF and elsewhere confirm another reason for the shift in acquiring maritime patrol aircraft is in response to the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 last year. The RMAF lacked the range with their Beechcraft Super KingAir B200T’s to assist in the search for the missing plane.

The Malaysian government had earlier said that the air force’s remaining MiG-29Ns were to be phased out this year, when the aircraft are due to have major engine inspections, but now the government and air force are declining to say if this is still the case. When asked about the future of the MiG-29N Roslan said “We are looking at several options for the Fulcrums, we will decide according to our needs to fulfil strategic and operational requirements”. Malaysia’s defence minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, also declined to comment adding “there will be some announcements made about the MiG-29Ns but now is not the time to disclose that publicly”. See part two of this article for more news on the potential for an updated MiG 29 for the RMAF.

The United States Air Force (USAF) and United States Navy (USN) were well represented in the static park. Flying participation from the USAF came from a Lockheed Martin F-16C from the 35th Fighter Wing based at Misawa Air Base in Japan flown by the PACAF (Pacific Air Forces) F-16 demonstration pilot Captain Austin Brown. A real coup for LIMA on Tuesday March 18th, , a Boeing B-52H of the 20th Bombardment Squadron ‘Buccaneers’ of Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, flew a 20 hour round trip from Anderson Air Force Base on Guam, and made two fly pasts at the show.

At the Mahsuri Exhibition Centre more than 40 aircraft were on static display including fighters and transport aircraft from ASEAN air forces. One highlight was from 800 Squadron of the Indonesian Navy with their CASA CN-235MPA P-862.

On March The Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) handed over the first two of twelve of its upgraded Agusta S61A-4 Nuri helicopters to the Malaysian Army. Chief of Air Force Gen Datuk Seri Roslan Saad handed over the aircraft to Chief of Army Gen Tan Sri Raja Mohamed Affandi Raja Mohamed Noor at a handing over ceremony witnessed by Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein. The Nuri helicopters have been in the service of the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) for 48 years, and each aircraft has completed 14,000 hours of flying. The RMAF has 38 of these aircraft. Defence Minister Hishammuddin said the handing over of the 12 helicopters was a historic and a nostalgic moment for him as the decision to purchase the helicopters 48 years ago was made by his father, the late prime minister Tun Hussein Onn.

Also of note was the attendance of Boeing Maritime Surveillance Aircraft (MSA) making its second appearance at LIMA, based on the Bombardier’s Challenger 605, the MSA is a new generation of surveillance aircraft that takes most of its technology from the Boeing P-8I Neptune which is the export variant for the Indian Navy. The MSA carries two pilots and a mission crew of just 5 and can deliver an endurance of eight plus hours Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) and Maritime Patrol (MP) profiles. With systems from the P-8I fitted inside the Challenger 605 could this be a more viable and cheaper option for the British Government and Royal Air Force (RAF) to fill the void in Maritime Patrol which was left with the disbandment of the Nimrod MR2 fleet back in March 2010? It would certainly make a great deal of sense with the shrinking defence budget. As the British Government are keeping tight-lipped about any decision on any asset requirement until after the next Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) ,which will happen after the UK general election in May, only time will tell.

Overall the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace exhibition was a success again for the Malaysian government and industry, just as in previous years. It’s also so a great chance to get close to aircraft and ships rarely seen in the west.