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06 Apr 04. Reuters reported that Malaysia is in the market for an airborne early warning system, surface vessels and tactical communications equipment but must determine its budget first, Defence Minister Najib Razak said on Tuesday.

“Our shopping list is quite extensive. No defence ministry has a small shopping list,” Najib told a news conference to publicise the biennial Defence Services Asia exhibition to be held in Kuala Lumpur next week.Other items Malaysia wants include all types of vehicles and additional firepower, Najib said, without giving more detail.

Asked on Malaysia’s plan to buy 18 F/A-18E/F Super Hornets from Boeing, Najib said there had been no decision yet.

“It’s still under consideration but we cannot make any statement at this stage,” he said, citing the cost involved and constraints imposed by the wider national budget.

The New Straits Times daily reported last year that the Boeing deal, if all options were exercised, could cost as much as $1.5 billion, although the U.S. firm might offset it with industrial collaboration programmes. Malaysia is already paying $1 billion over five years until 2008 for 18 Russian Sukoi Su-30MKM aircraft and spare parts, with 30 percent of it due by 2005. The balance is to be paid under the Ninth Malaysia Plan, which may also include the Boeing attack fighter and other weapons purchases. The Boeing deal has been dogged by political and budgetary problems, with Washington taking issue last year with former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad after his scathing criticism of the U.S.-led attack on Iraq. Malay Muslims’ distress over the war also made any decision to buy U.S. jets politically risky.

Defence accounted for 10.75 billion ringgit ($2.8 billion) or 10 percent of the total government development budget under the Eighth Malaysia Plan, which runs until the end of 2005. The defence ministry spent its allocation with heavy outlays on French submarines, British and Russian air-defence systems, Polish tanks, guns for the troops and new bases for the navy. Malaysia, with no real enemies or pressing defence needs, began an arms-buying drive after the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis stalled the modernisation of its forces. The Royal Malaysian Air Force is among those eager for kit, saying it needs a minimum of four Airborne Early Warning Control and Surveillance (AWACS) aircraft.It has said it is looking at AWACS including the Brazilian Embraer EMB-145, the Northrop-Grumman E-2C Hawkeye 2000 and Boeing’s 737 Wedgetail. (US$1 = 3.80 ringgit).

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