LIMA welcomes China, bids adieu to Indonesia before show begins
The People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) chose LIMA 2015 as the venue for its ‘August 1st’ aerobatic team to debut in its first ever venture outside China into Asia. In the meantime, the Jupiter aerobatic team of the Indonesian Air Force (TNI-AU) departed Langkawi the day before the show officially opened following a mid-air collision.
During an aerobatic rehearsal involving six TNI-AU aircraft on 15 March, two Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) KT-1B trainers were lost after they clipped wings and crashed into a house on the ground. However, ‘All four pilots ejected successfully,’ according to a statement issued by show organisers. Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) search and rescue assets attended to the pilots, who were kept in hospital overnight.
Malaysian Defence Minister Datuk Seri Panglima Hishammuddin bin Tun Hussein said, ‘We’re just glad it wasn’t more serious than it was. All those on the ground are safe.’ This incident prompted the Jupiter team to withdraw its participation in the LIMA show, and the remaining KT-1B aircraft flew home the following day.
In a press conference aboard the frigate KD Jebat, Hishammuddin also revealed that numerous aerobatic teams had requested to attend LIMA 2015, but that not all were allowed to because of security and space constraints.
Although the Indonesian presence was cut short, the PLAAF brought seven Chengdu Aircraft Corporation J-10 fighters in their first foray to Southeast Asia. On their flight from China, they stopped over at Don Mueang International Airport in Bangkok, Thailand.
The J-10s’ presence is all the more intriguing given the RMAF’s long-deferred quest to find a replacement multirole combat aircraft for its ageing MiG-29N fleet. Other contenders with a heavy presence at LIMA are the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon and Saab Gripen. China has attempted to sell military equipment to Malaysia in the past but has made negligible progress to date.
The PLAAF’s August 1st aerobatic team was supposed to participate in the Singapore Air Show in 2014 but this did not occur as Beijing appeared to develop cold feet at the last minute.
Regional air shows are not immune from such issues. At Airshow China in Zhuhai last November, the Black Eagles aerobatic team of the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) was scheduled to appear. However, due to last minute politicking and complaints from the USA, the ROKAF’s T-50B aircraft, a by-product of KAI and Lockheed Martin collaboration, did not attend. The USA was unhappy about these military jets featuring sensitive technology being stationed on Chinese territory.