Malaysia tells France it's not ready to decide on purchase of Rafale fighter jets

A French Dassault Rafale jet receives fuel from a US Air Force KC-10 tanker aircraft near Iraq on Oct 26, 2016. French President Francois Hollande said in his speech during his bilateral visit to Malaysia on March 27, 2017, that the Rafale jet "is the best in its category". PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR (REUTERS) - Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said on Tuesday (March 28) that he discussed the possible purchase of Dassault Aviation SA's Rafale fighter jets with French President Francois Hollande but remained undecided.

"We're not ready yet to make a decision, but we take note of its success in other countries...," Najib said at a joint news conference with Hollande in Kuala Lumpur.

Rafale is seen as a frontrunner as Malaysia looks to buy up to 18 jets in a deal potentially worth more than US$2 billion (S$2.8 billion), sources have said.

Malaysia's plan is to replace the Royal Malaysian Air Force's (RMAF) squadron of Russian MiG-29 combat planes, nearly half of which are grounded.

Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein was reported in the media as saying the race for new fighter jets has narrowed to the Rafale and the Eurofighter Typhoon, built by BAE Systems.

"I know you will be making a decision, and against that background, we want to provide the necessary support," Hollande said in his speech after comments from Najib.

"Our ministers are already working to that effect. All I would like to say is that the Rafale jet is the best in its category, and then we propose to discuss the prices, and the specifications. I trust you will make the decision when the time comes," he added.

Hollande held bilateral talks with Najib during his visit to Malaysia, which is part of a three-nation tour of South-east Asia. Hollande was in Singapore earlier this week and is headed to Indonesia later on Tuesday.

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