The 14th edition of the biennial Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace exhibition ended last week leaving many in awe of the performances and displays in both the aerospace and maritime segments. Kudos to the EN Projects Sdn Bhd as the main organiser and also to the Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Transport as well as the supporting government agencies.
The 14th edition of LIMA saw an increase in the number of exhibitors compared to LIMA ’15. 555 exhibitors participated this time compared to 512 in 2015. While 39, 689 trade visitors visited LIMA ’15, 40,280 trade visitors were at LIMA ’17, surpassing the target of 40,000 trade visitors. 139,478 public visitors were at LIMA ’15. The target for this edition was 140,000 public visitors. Surprisingly, 236,689 public visitors visited this year’s LIMA – 104,557 visitors on the first open day, and 132,132 on the final day making a total of 276,969 visitors to LIMA ’17.
It must have been a boon to the Langkawi economy to have that increase in the number of visitors over five days and definitely helpful to the small traders especially in the Padang Matsirat, Pantai Cenang, Pantai Tengah, Kedawang, and Kuah areas.
A special commendation should be given to the Chief of the Royal Malaysian Air Force and Chief of the Royal Malaysian Navy for lending their support in driving the industries as well as foreign armed forces’ participation in all the activities during LIMA 17.
QUALITY OF EXHIBITORS
From my personal observation, since the 13th edition of LIMA there has been an inreasing number of unrelated government agencies and companies exhibiting at the Mahsuri International Exhibition Centre such as the Langkawi Development Authority (LADA), the Majlis Amanah Rakyat (MARA) and a Private Limited printing company!
Unless there is a masterplan to annouce Langkawi as an aviation and maritime hub, I do not see the relevancy in having LADA at the aviation exhibition hall. MARA would be relevant if it provides assistances for students to study maritime or aeronautical-related studies or for local small and medium enterpreneurs to participate in the local maritime and aviation industry which is rather limited.
What did not happen was for local universities to showcase their research projects in order to secure fundings from local and foreign aviation and maritime giants. LIMA would be a perfect platform for local universities to showcase their research in both the industries.
Local shipbuilders, other than the local giants in the defence sector, were largely missing from the exhibition. Local shipbuilders are mainly into constructing oil and gas and transportation of cargo, crude and gas products should have showcased their capabilities at LIMA. This is where the Ministry of Transport could help in getting the participation of more civilian-transport applications providers to exhibit at LIMA.
Kudos should also be given to both the Minister of Defence as well as the Minister for Youth and Sports in driving the National Transformation 2050 (TN50) programmes for the youth at LIMA. LIMA should also be about providing avenues for the youth to participate in the aviation and maritime industries.
LESSONS FROM THE OIL AND GAS INDUSTRY
The Malaysian Oil and Gas industry has its biennial Asian Oil, Gas and Petrochemical Engineering (OGA) Exhibition and is into its 16th edition this year. Unlike LIMA, OGA is fully industry-driven. The event is supported by the British-Malaysian Chamber of Commerce, Malaysian Gas Association, Malaysian Offshore Contractors Association, Malaysia Petroleum Resources Corporation, Offshore Support Vessels Owners Association and the Malaysia Oil and Gas Services Council.
LIMA is co-organised by EN Projects Sdn Bhd and the Ministry of Defence, supported by five ministries, the Malaysian Armed Forces, Royal Malaysian Police, Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency, Fire and Rescue Services Department, and the Royal Malaysian Customs. I am surprised that none of the industry councils and associations play the supporting role instead of just collaborating role.
We have so many defence and security contractors yet they all have to rely on the ministries and agencies above to put together an event for them to participate. Why does the government have to do the hard selling on their behalf? Isn’t it time, after 14 editions, for the industry players themselves to come together and become the co-organisers or event supporters?
Lined up at sea off Tanjung Malai were military vessels or vessels chartered by the military. I did not see a single vessel from the Malaysia Shipowners’ Association, or civilian and military boatbuilders showcasing their products at sea.
LIMA could be bigger than just a military/security party. Airlines did not send their aircraft this time around. At LIMA ’15 there was an Airbus A320-200 belonging to Air Asia. This was absent at LIMA ’17. Imagine a daily flypast of aircraft – perhaps an arrowhead formation with an Airbus A380 followed by an Airbus A330 and A320 flanked by Boeing 737-800s and Boeing 737-900s, followed by a smaller diamond four formation of ATR-72s.
The above will never happen unless industry players take the lead in supporting LIMA.
For the Royal Malaysian Air Force, opportunities to replace the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29N comes in the form of the Dassault Rafale. LIMA ’17 saw Dassault Aviation pulling no punches when promoting the Rafale for Malaysia. LIMA ’17 was followed by a visit by French President Francoise Hollande who also put the sale of the Dassault Rafale to Malaysia on the agenda. Although Malaysia had said that it was not time to purchase the Rafale, it is important to note that the F/A-18D Hornets will be 30 years old in 10 years while the Sukhoi Su-30MKM will be in its 20th year of service in the RMAF.
The other interesting Euro-Canard contender is the Saab JAS-39 Gripen. The Royal Thai Air Force’s Gripen participated in the aerobatic display in the first four days. Touted as a more affordable but equally potent as the Dassault Rafale, the Gripen’s cost would prove to be an attractive candidate to replace the MiG-29N.
At LIMA ’15, Saab had offered the Malaysian government a lease deal for 16 JAS-39C/D Gripens.
However, the tragedy involving a RTAF JAS-39 Gripen that killed its pilot earlier this year still plays in everyone’s mind. The Gripen was performing in Hatyai for the Thai Children’s Day. Footage of the accident shows the Gripen starting a slow aileron roll; once inverted, the aircraft fails to complete the maneuver, stops rolling and takes a nosedive crashing near the airfield’s runway.
There has been ten accidents involving the Gripen with nine hull losses and one fatality. At least two of the accidents have been attributed to Flight Control Software issues. The incident in Hatyai is still being investigated.
Of course there is also the option to upgrade the surviving 16 MiG-29Ns as a stop-gap mesure. At LIMA ’15, Malaysia’s Aerospace Technology Systems Corporation offered upgrades that would only be a fraction of the cost of purchasing new MRCAs.
The upgraded aircraft will be called the MiG-29NM and will include a Zhuk-ME FGM-229 slotted phased-array fire control radar that will provide an air-to-ground capability not available on the baseline aircraft, which are optimized for the air defense role.
The avionics system incorporates a night vision goggle-compatible glass cockpit, with two color multifunction displays and hands-on-throttle-and-stick (HOTAS) functionality.
Weapons systems and pylons will be upgraded, making the MiG-29NM capable of carrying the full range of air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons available to Malaysia’s Su-30s.
The Klimov RD-33 Series 3 engines of the MiG-29N will remain, but a conformal fuel tank added to the spine of the aircraft, together with an extra ventral tank, will increase operational range by 30 percent.
Malaysia, however, had declined this offer deemed expensive.
It would be interesting to note that other than the Indian Air Force, the Myanmar Air Force had also recently upgraded its MiG-29s at RAC MiG facilities near Moscow. This upgrade, said to be cheaper than what was initially offered to Malaysia, is now being offered to both Malaysia and Bangladesh which operates eight MiG-29B and is also seeking upgrades.
It would be interesting to see what the government’s decision on the MiG-29Ns would be.
Opportunities such as this is what local companies should get involved with. The aerospace industry that had taken off with the introduction of LIMA still remains status quo. Indonesia has gone on commercial production with its aircraft lines while we are stil struggling to even produce components that would be accepted internationally.
LIMA is here to stay. Other than the Singapore Air Show, this is one that is looked at in this region. While the Singapore Air Show is huge, LIMA is just of the right size for mission-specific companies to participate in. It is just unfortunate that the industry is not helping out to drive the show instead of relying on the government’s goodwill.
Hopefully EN Projects Sdn Bhd together with the Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Transport would flog the industry players to play a much bigger role in helping to drive LIMA into the exhibition every global industry player would look forward to.