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14 May 02. Malaysia may buy Boeing’s (NYSE:BA – News) Super Hornet FA-18E/F fighter jets if they are offered with the most sophisticated weaponry, a local newspaper reported on Tuesday.

“We may buy the planes if the offer is right,” Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad was quoted by the Malay-language Utusan Malaysia at the outset of a visit to Washington.

The paper said the prime minister was expected to discuss the possible purchase of the fighters during his four-day visit to the United States this week. Malaysia, on an arms-buying spree, has ordered Polish battle tanks and French submarines and last month bought air-defence systems from Britain and Russia.

Defence analysts say the sheer scope and scale of the purchases show Malaysia wants to expand its regional influence, and a strong military would add weight to its economic strength.

But Malaysian officials have said the country is not joining a regional arms race. Its arms procurement programme was merely put on hold during the 1997/98 financial crisis, they say.

Mahathir told Utusan Malaysia any decision on buying the fighter planes would not be made during the visit.

Malaysia, in the market for new combat aircraft in a deal estimated to be worth at least $1bn, is also considering the purchase of Russian-made Sukhoi Su-30MK to build a new squadron of 16 planes. Malaysia’s air force currently has Russian MiG-29s, F-18 Hornets and British-made Hawk jets.

In another development, Boeing Co (NYSE:BA – News) said on Wednesday it agreed to lower the price on a fighter jet order for South Korea worth about $4.5bn and expected a final contract in coming weeks.

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