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India and Malaysia reboot military ties during Rajnath visit, SU-30 tie up lifts partnership

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh with Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar bin Ibrahim in Kuala Lumpur on Monday (All images courtesy: Ministry of Defence)

Citing the commonality of their defence assets, India and Malaysia on Monday agreed to establish the SU-30 Forum and a Strategic Affairs Working Group to increase cooperation between the defence ministries of the two nations.

In another major development that took place during Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s meeting with his Malaysian counterpart Mohamad Hasan in Kuala Lumpur today, both countries signed a ‘Letter of Exchange’ to amend the Defence Cooperation Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that was signed in 1993.

It was also decided that senior officers and military personnel from both countries will now take forward defence-related matters using the Strategic Affairs Working Group platform to boost cooperation, majorly via inter-forces training, defence science, technology and industry.

Russian-made Sukhoi Su-30MKM fighter jets remain the mainstay of the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) and the idea to set up the SU-30 Forum for cooperation in training, maintenance, technical support and safety-related issues first came up during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Malaysia in November 2015.

It was built on the assistance provided by the Indian Air Force (IAF) when a team of trainers and technicians was deployed in Malaysia to train the RMAF pilots during the initial operation of the Su-30MKM aircraft from 2008 to 2010. IAF has also assisted Malaysia in setting up a Systems School for the Su-30MKM at Gong Kedak air base.

India Malaysia Defence

As they witnessed the signing ceremony of the Letter of Exchange between the governments of India and Malaysia to amend the defence cooperation MoU, Singh and Hasan emphaised on the commonality of defence assets and vowed to increase technical cooperation, particularly in Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO).

The Malaysian Defence Ministry described the meeting between the two ministers as a “very meaningful” one that will strengthen the already established bilateral relations.

While Service Chiefs from both countries regularly exchange visits, this is Singh’s first official trip to Malaysia since he took over as India’s Defence Minister in May 2019.

Ahead of Singh’s visit, Air Chief Marshal V R Chaudhari was at the Malaysian Air Operations Command Headquarters (MPOU) and Subang Air Base, earlier this month.

Besides holding meetings with the RMAF Commanders and the top executive line of the MPOU, the Chief of the Air Staff (COAS) was also given a briefing on the operation of the Su-30MKM aircraft.

Malaysia has been one of the several countries which has maintained its interest in acquiring made-in-India Tejas fighter aircraft for its air force.

Monday’s meeting between both the defence ministers saw a wide range of bilateral issues being discussed which relate to the ongoing defence cooperation between the two countries.

As Singh highlighted the potential of the Indian defence industry with capacity and capability to cooperate with Malaysian Armed Forces in its inventory modernisation and maintenance plans, it was agreed to hold the next Malaysia-India Defence Cooperation Committee (MIDCOM) meeting in India later this year.

The Indian Defence Ministry believes that the amendment in the MoU on defence cooperation will act as an enabler to expand bilateral defence cooperation in the areas of mutual interest.

Later in the day, Singh called on Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar bin Ibrahim and Foreign Minister Zambry Abd Kadir, discussing several issues of mutual interest aimed at further strengthening India-Malaysia Enhanced Strategic Partnership under India’s ‘Act East’ policy.

Singh also unveiled the bust of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose in the presence of distinguished Indian National Army (INA) veterans in Kuala Lumpur and felicitated Second Lieutenant Sundaram, a 99-year old INA veteran, who fought alongside Netaji at Burma border.