KUALA LUMPUR: THE military’s workhorses, the Sikorsky S-61A-4 helicopters, better known as the Nuri, will finally be phased out after five decades of service.
Announcing this yesterday, newly-minted Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) chief General Datuk Seri Ackbal Abdul Samad said the helicopters had served their purpose.
He said it was a tough decision, made after deliberations over the past two decades.
Ackbal said the RMAF strongly recommended that Nuri helicopters be decommissioned.
He said the Defence Ministry was preparing the documents for the cabinet’s approval.
“The wear and tear, after flying laboriously for 52 years, is beyond imagination with exorbitant costs for their upkeep.
“They have served their tenure well in the military and it’s time for the Nuris to be phased out, given the enormous expenses for support services like maintenance, servicing, repair and parts.
“Frankly, they have come to their tail-end, especially due to logistics difficulties as well as time-consuming to source spare parts.
“The lives of the highly-trained crew are priceless and their safety is of utmost priority,” he said at the Defence Ministry in Jalan Padang Tembak here yesterday.
Earlier, Ackbal officially appointed Lieutenant-General Datuk Mohd Asghar Khan Goriman Khan, the former RMAF education and training commander, as RMAF deputy chief.
Ackbal was promoted to a four-star general last Friday, succeeding General Tan Sri Affendi Buang, who has been appointed as the armed forces chief.
The RMAF recently operated fewer than 20 Nuri helicopters at its No. 3 Squadron in Butterworth and No. 7 Squadron in Kuching.
It operates four Sikorsky S-70A Blackhawks in VIP configuration from its Subang base.
The RMAF has been depending on 12 French-made Eurocopter EC725 Cougar helicopters since December 2012.
In March 2015, the RMAF gave away 14 Nuri helicopters from its fleet of 38 to the army’s air wing.
Ackbal said the RMAF had forwarded its recommendations to the Defence Ministry to either lease or procure new helicopters.
“A lot depends on the availability of funds, which is the crux of the matter.
“Hopefully, a firm decision can be made in the 12th Malaysia Plan (2021-2025).”
Nuri helicopters had been grounded following a near-fatal crash at the Gubir army camp in Kedah on Aug 2 last year.
In that incident, one of the helicopters, which took off from the Butterworth air base, was carrying four crew members, 11 personnel and supplies for a mission when it apparently suffered a mechanical failure.
All on board sustained injuries.
Malaysia previously planned to phase out the helicopters by 2012, after more than 80 personnel were reportedly killed in more than 20 crashes since they were first introduced in 1967.
Two of the most serious crashes were on Nov 14, 1989, when 21 people, including 15 Police Field Force members, were killed in a crash between Gunung Gerah and Gunung Bilah on the Kelantan-Perak border, as well as on Dec 18, 1989, when 16 army officers were killed in a crash near Sungai Lundu in Sarawak, 54km north-east of Kuching.
Among the victims were 2nd Division Commanding Officer Major-General Datuk Mustaffa Awang and 3rd Infantry Brigade Commander Brigadier-General Datuk Hasbullah Yusoff.
Plans to phase out Nuri helicopters were put on hold due to financial constraints.
They subsequently underwent life-extension fuselage and avionics upgrades at Airod Sdn Bhd in Subang.
Their main and tail rotor blades and gearboxes were upgraded, and they were equipped with digital datalinks, self-protection equipment, armoured protection and pintle-mounted machine guns at the cargo doors.
Last year, the then RMAF chief Affendi had revealed that 40 per cent of the RMAF’s assets needed upgrading.
He said system upgrades were necessary to ensure they operated at an optimum level and required less maintenance expenditure.
Source: News Straits Times
Photo: The Sun Daily