PETALING JAYA: Two more fighter jet engines were "lost" by the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) in 2007, apart from the two F5 engines that were stolen from its Sungai Besi air base.
The other two engines "lost" belonged to a newly-delivered Sukhoi Su-30MKM Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MRCA). The aircraft suffered "foreign object damage" (FOD), as it goes in air force lingo, after its engines sucked in stones and other objects as it landed in June 2007.
Sources said the two NPO Saturn AL-31FP engines were scrapped after suffering "catastrophic damage" when the brand-new Sukhoi jet landed on the runway at the Gong Kedak air base in Kelantan.
However, RMAF chief Datuk Seri Rodzali Daud told The Malay Mail at Parliament recently that the engines were not scrapped but sent for repair.
He declined to elaborate, but did say that FOD was a normal occurrence in fighter jet operations. If the engines could be repaired, they would have been sent back to the Russian manufacturer, NPO Saturn.
Although the Sukhoi planes were equipped with titanium mesh doors that swing down over the air intake to protect the engines from FOD, the feature only worked during take-off and slow taxiing, not during landing.
Local defence industry sources who confirmed that the damaged engines were "lost" said it was difficult to estimate the cost of a brand new AL-31FP engine. The Sukhois cost the country RM155 million each and the government purchased 18 Su-30MKM from Russia in May 2003 at a cost of RM3.42 billion.
The Malay Mail learnt that the aircraft in the FOD incident was not grounded for long as the RMAF, as with other air forces, had procured spare engines for its Sukhoi fleet.
The sources said the Sukhoi was one of five fighter jets delivered in batches from May 2007.
These were transported from Russia to the Subang airbase in Antonov An-124 transport planes and re-assembled for trials before being handed over to the RMAF.
It is learnt that the damaged Sukhoi jet was flown by a Sukhoi Design Bureau test crew when the incident occurred, and that RMAF had initially demanded that the Russian company replaces the two engines.
However, Sukhoi refused on grounds that the test crew was only following the orders of RMAF officials to land at the Gong Kedak air base. The runway had been cleared for other RMAF aircraft such as the Hercules C-130 but at that point, the Sukhois had yet to be given the greenlight to land.
The Gong Kedak base had undergone massive re-development to host the new MRCA squadron.
More than RM200 million was spent to re-develop the air base, which now boasts an extended runway and new facilities, including hardened aircraft shelters for the Sukhoi squadron.
Although the incident was a clear violation of RMAF standing orders, no one has been hauled up over the loss of the two engines.
The Sukhoi made its public debut in the country at the 2007 Merdeka Day parade and the jets also took part in the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace show in December that year.