Are Nuris “flying coffins”?

Are Nuris “flying coffins”? If not, why not just upgrade them for a few hundred million ringgit, a small fraction of the cost as compared to the billion-ringgit purchase of Cougar EC725 Eurocopters, which are 40-year-old Cougars in any event?

This is one important question which the Public Accounts Committee should probe, answer and report to Parliament by before the end of the month in its current inquiry into the billion-ringgit Cougar EC725 Eurocopter deal fiasco.

The Deputy Defence Minister, Datuk Abu Seman Yusop, in his winding-up on behalf of the Defence Ministry in the 2009 Budget debate on Thursday, was not only unable to rebut allegations concerning very grave issues about propriety, accountability and professionalism in the decision-making process in the tender for the helicopters to replace the Nuris , but reinforced concerns of unprofessional and below-par leadership running the Defence Ministry.

This raises the even more vital question whether Malaysian defence and security as well as the lives and welfare of the armed services personnel are really in safe and trustworthy hands and the topmost priority of those in the highest echelons of the Defence Ministry.

This is apparent from the video (embedded below) of the parliamentary grilling of Abu Seman by Pakatan Rakyat MPs in Parliament on Thursday.

I have received an email which make my question, “Are Nuris ‘flying coffins’? If not, why not just upgrade them for a small fraction of the cost of buying old Cougars?”, most relevant and pertinent, and which should be the subject of the current PAC inquiry.

This email from a former Nuri pilot claimed that 85 % of the RMAF Nuri crashes were due to human error, 10 % enemy aggression and another 5 % only maybe technical.

He also said that the RMAF Nuris are still “good for another 20 years and more”, having “very low airframe hours, with an average of 9000 hours per aircraft” as compared to “worldwide standard for this type of helicopter currently is more than 50,000 hours and some even reaching 60,000 hours”.

I am no spokesman or defender for Nuris, but the issues raised are of great public importance on national defence and the safety of RMAF personnel, and deserve a full investigation by PAC.

I am circulating a copy of this press statement to all the PAC members for their action. The email I have received is as follows:


In the tender process for the replacement of the Nuri helicopters (Sikorsky S61A), the Nuri helicopter had been portrayed here as cause for all the crashes. This is not true and very prejudicial for the image of Sikorsky aircraft, manufactured by the leading helicopter manufacturer Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation, USA who have also built well known aircraft like the CH53 Golly Green Giants, the legendry Blackhawks which had seen 2 Iraq wars and others like the S76C which are widely used in the offshore oil industry and the Nuri S61, Sea Kings. Needless to say Sikorsky helicopters are flown all over the world in the military, commercial, VIP and offshore oil industry.

The RMAF bought 40 Nuri in 1968. Over the years the Nuris have served Malaysia with distinction and is still flying. The Malaysian Armed Forces, especially the Army should be grateful as they had used them extensively during Malaysian Communist Emergency warfare. There are many servicemen today who must thank their present existence to the Nuri which had rescued them especially from the war zone infested with Communist Terrorists. Several Nuris were loss during this insurgency phase which came to a conclusion in 1989. There are many senior Armed forces officers who will be willing to provide their testimonies to the goodness of the Nuri helicopter.

RMAF has operated the Nuris for 40 years now. In any operation of this duration there will be a number of accidents. Accidents could be due to bad weather, poor terrain visibility, technical error, human error and maybe act of God. There are a number of casualties that has involved human lives both from the military and the civilian population. The RMAF lost a number of the Nuris in accidents and enemy action and is still operating 28 Nuris both in Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah/Sarawak. I am sure that if we were to check the records for these accidents, 85 % of these would be due to human error, 10 % enemy aggression and another 5 % only maybe technical. RMAF should be able to provide these statistics to prove the point on this before we go around shouting ‘change the heli’. I suppose that’s what happens when one gets old and when a new one comes along. “Sudah tua punya pasal, bukan sebab dia ta’baik lagi.”

In the press statement in STAR on the 29th, the DPM and former Defence Minister said, “we cannot forget the safety of our armed forces personnel and other Nuri passengers in the decision making process involving the purchase of Eurocopters”. Does the Minister mean to say that all the accidents are caused by the Nuri aircraft? This is definitely not so. More than 1000 of the S61s were produced and to date more than 600 are still flying in the commercial and military field. Even the seven S61s flown by MHS with over 40,000 hours clocked in each aircraft in Malaysia has not had any accidents involving any casualties. As a former Nuri pilot, I know for sure that most accidents in the RMAF are caused by human error- operational situation, lack of experience and poor decision making. This is in view that the aircraft is not fully equipped for adverse weather flying conditions that have led to these many accidents. So under these conditions, even if they have been given the best of aircraft, do you think there will not be any accidents?

I must congratulate our Prime Minister for stopping the Eurocopter chopper purchase. At a time like this you have made a very wise decision. With the current global financial fallout we must not get caught with a huge buy like this. We should continue using the Nuris as they are still in good condition. Our Nuris aircraft have very low airframe hours, with an average of 9000 hours per aircraft. Whereas, the worldwide standard for this type of helicopter currently is more than 50,000 hours and some even reaching 60,000 hours. More than 1000 of these machines have been produced and used by many countries especially the military services. There is still plenty of airframe life in these Malaysian Nuris and will be good for another 20 years and more. So why do we need to spend so much to purchase new aircraft. Why not upgrade our Nuris now to suit the current requirements which will only cost a small fraction of buying the old Cougar.

I had previously suggested that the PAC should invite representatives from all the aircraft manufactures who had submitted bids for the helicopter tender to appear to help the PAC in its inquiry.

The PAC should in particular invite representatives from Sikorsky to make a professional submission whether the Nuri helicopters (Sikorsky S61A) are “flying coffins” whose continued use constitute a constant danger to the welfare and lives of the RMAF personnel concerned to help the PAC in its inquiry and report to Parliament.

Even more important, PAC should invite pilots and former pilots of RMAF Nuris to testify to enable the PAC to answer the question which I have posed.

Videos of Parliamentary Proceeding:













  1. #1 by Godfather on Monday, 3 November 2008 - 11:31 am

    Alamak, Kit, if you keep refurbishing old equipment, then where is the chance for the thieves to make money ? It’s all about CONTRACTS. Contracts make money go round, contracts add to the velocity of money (in economic parlance, it means how fast money gets churned over, but in Bolehland terms, it means how fast money disappears), and contracts allow new leaders to amass their own political funding.

    The higher the price of the contract, the better for the leadership, since hiding (say) RM 500 million in a RM 3 billion contract is far easier than hiding RM 500 million in a RM 1 billion contract. Hence in Bolehland, the highest price tenderer wins !

  2. #2 by isahbiazhar on Monday, 3 November 2008 - 12:27 pm

    We can buy new helicopters if all the UMNO/BN corrupt money is collected from those who had abused political positions.The nation will sink further because everyone wants a cut.Why should the poor pilot use refurbished helicopters when politicians change cars every election?It looks like entering politics is another business.Every ministry will spend and every minister will make the cut.

  3. #3 by pulau_sibu on Monday, 3 November 2008 - 12:34 pm

    Do our ACA and police need to be certified internationally for his quality? I afraid they are not capable of catching these ‘professional’ criminals from they wrong doings.

  4. #4 by bentoh on Monday, 3 November 2008 - 1:13 pm

    Uncle Kit,

    It’s academic.

  5. #5 by Jeffrey on Monday, 3 November 2008 - 1:35 pm

    This happens worldwide with players – givers and receivers – from both developing and transition economies as well industrialised and advanced nations.

    Defence contracts are ‘mother’ of all public procurement contracts if one wants to make money because defence corporations worldwide sweeten deals with secret commissions and global slush funds to politicians, military officers and middlemen alike.

    It’s just damn good business because: –

    1. defence contract sum is huge (in billions), and a small percentage translates to huge once in a life time sum for many;

    2. defence contract is technical and public watchdogs and civil society are seldom in position to evaluate technical merits or demerits of the equipment compared to others in competition ;

    3. it is often protected by official secrecy justified on the necessity to protect vital strategic capabilities from potential enemies in the interest of national security;

    4. all normal check and balance eg over sight by external bodies, independent people or Civil Society or whistleblowing and all arguments for transparency are often overridden and denied due to overarching national security considerations stated in 3. above.

    What YB Kit is doing here, provoking discussion on such procurement, inviting people with military and techical experience to give input and encouraging public and civil society’s discussion is a good thing to counter this sector of government procurement (Defence), which worldwide has proven the most corruption-prone of all international businesses.

  6. #6 by cazz on Monday, 3 November 2008 - 1:52 pm

    What will happen to those old Nuris?

    Any thought on that? Would they be sold? overhauled? What would they be sold as? scrap metal? or as 2nd hand choppers? Where would the money go?

    See a financial plan of purchasing replacement for old equipment certainly will take this in to consideration.

    Or, most likely, the money from selling the old Nuris will just perish quietly. (Well, not perish, just silently relocated to someones’ bank account)

  7. #7 by Citizen Smith on Monday, 3 November 2008 - 3:54 pm

    The letter highlights the primary shortcoming of the Nuri, its lack of up to date avionics to allow it to safely fly at night and in adverse weather. This is due to a deliberate policy by the RMAF and MINDEF in order to facilitate the procurement of a new platform. Why? Simply because a properly upgraded Nuri would be as capable as its successor.

    Sikorsky/Carson Helicopters have a comprehensive upgrade that installs a SAGEM glass cockpit with all the latest doodads and new composite blades that gives impressive performance benefits. This was highlighted to the RMAF last year but the response was , “which part of replacement do you not understand?”.

    Of course there will be howls that this is not a ‘real military’ solution. That’s true, but Carson flies more hours with half as many S-61s as the RMAF. They are commercial concern that has to make money AND stay safe in the most litigious country in the world.

    S-61s with as low frame hours as the Nuris would be snapped up in heartbeat by the large user base. India bought ex-USN S-61s with a lot more hours on last year for their Navy. Providing the US green lights resale…otherwise they will end up like the A-4 Skyhawks, dumped in scrubland.

  8. #8 by The Enforcer on Monday, 3 November 2008 - 5:36 pm

    Uncle YB Lim, apparently the DDM doesn’t even know what his two ‘bosses’ were doing.
    Okay we can forget about the figure RM 1.67 bil which ‘Sleepy’ said he rounded up and apologised about it. ( wonder how he rounded up from RM 1.604 bil to nearest two decimal and ended with 1.67?)
    Now the difference is from 1.604 as claimed by the DDM and 1.1 as claimed by the KSU, variance of RM 504 million.
    The DDM claimed that the 1.1 bil is the original figure without the other ‘extras’ added and the final figure is RM 1.604 bil.
    Heard him saying an ‘offset’ figure of few hundred millions in terms of training, service, maintenance and what not.
    See the word ‘OFFSET’ in a contract is the sum to be subtracted from the original figure, which means the country is only paying RM 1.1bil and not RM 1.604 bil! (it is not ADD-ON)
    Yes, this can be true and correct. Claim from the government the latter figure and pay Eurocop the former figure thus pocketing the difference!
    Was uncle YB Lim given a copy of the contract?
    Check the details, eg:-
    Technical specification.
    Material specification.
    Validity of contract.
    Terms and condition of payment, delivery, warranty ( if there is percentage of warranty bond).
    It was also reported that the deal is postponed till 2011. Are we sure we want the same specs now in the year 2011 as was mention by MP Gombak?
    With the rated IT is improving by the day, the current specs will be obsolete by then!
    It’s also mentioned the payment is in Euro. By then we’ll be paying even more (with the conversation rate by then unless we locked the contracted figure now!)
    On another note. Ignore the Pasir Salak GOON. He looks as though he just got out of bed!
    Keep going uncle YB Lim and good luck!

  9. #9 by OldManoftheSea on Monday, 3 November 2008 - 5:39 pm

    Actually helicopter never got obsolete, they are re-furbish, change of parts until finally EVERY PARTS are new, except the chassis. Whether Nuri, Eurocopter of others.

    I spoke to the French Guy at their service center in Subang, and he show me pictures of the difference stages of “repair” change of parts etc. You can verify this with any military personnel.

  10. #10 by human1 on Monday, 3 November 2008 - 6:04 pm

    Lim Kit Siang has raised a valid possibility to have the Nuri upgraded and the life extended. This requires reassessment of the Nuri crash cause in the past, before ascertaining the need for the state-of-the-art Eurocopter EC725 Cougar purchase. In theory, this logic is politically correct. In reality, this is “academic”.

    Absolutely no way the middlemen are going to forego the slightest chance to engage and urge the defence ministry to seal the defence deal, once the financial state of the federal government is in the black again. The business is too lucrative to give up. It is like asking the these middlemen to shoot themselves in the foot.

    Check out the past and deferred shopping list youself,

    Sukhoi Su-30 MKM fighter jets
    Quantity: 18
    Made from: Russia
    Deal worth: USD 900 million
    Free gift: Russia bore the cost of training two Malaysians for space travel, sent one to the International Space Station (ISS)
    Utilization review: Once a while peform low altitude flying near MY-SG border, to show off and retaliate
    One piece: 900/18 ~ USD 50 million

    Scorpene submarines
    Quantity: 2 new Scorpene and 1 secondhand Agosta
    Made from: France and Spain joint venture
    Deal worth: EURO 1 billion
    Utilization review: Stroll along the straits of Melacca and it sure doesn’t scare those worthless pirates and smugglers
    One piece: 1 bil / 2 ~ EURO 500 million (excluding the Agosta junk)

    Eurocopter EC725 Cougar
    Quantity: 12
    Made from: France, Eurocopter a wholly-owned subsidiary of EADS, Netherland
    Deal worth: RM 1.604 billion (academic)
    Utilization review: Transport troops, search & rescue, and combat if things are very very very critical
    One piece: 1.604 bil / 12 ~ RM 135 million

    In layman’s term, that makes Scorpene the Lamborghini, Sukhoi the Honda Accord 2.4 and EC725 the Honda Accord 2.0.

    The government is well aware that majority Malaysians have always developed the “don’t-ask-questions” mentality. Thus the government has been happily implementing the “just-leave-everything-to-me” policy.

    There was no fuss over Sukhoi and Scorpene before. This time no wonder Najib said, “the oppsition is making a big DEAL out of this”.

  11. #11 by monsterball on Monday, 3 November 2008 - 6:16 pm

    Yes….those Nuris are flying coffins.
    But you see….UMNO is focusing on big kill..for big commission…they totally ignore those Nuris…which needs few replace all of them.
    They just cancel …. multi billion Copter deal….and now..feel lost…what to do with Nuris…afraid Malaysians will make big…..hue and cry…loosing more votes.
    Malaysians are no fools.
    If they replace those with safe and reliable new ones…at the real market price…who will dare to talk nonsense….when government is sincerely…trying to save lives.
    How can you expect crooks to think sincerely and logically.
    Everything they do ….must have huge big commission.
    Saving lives….is Greek to them.

  12. #12 by hadi on Tuesday, 4 November 2008 - 12:39 am

    YB Kit, the PAC chairman simply brushed aside your suggestion. What were the two Pakatan reps doing during the inquiry. Overwhelmed by the “after thought” explanation given by the team from Ministry of Defense.
    Can the people demand the PAC to make public on report of the outcome of the investigation for public scrutiny.
    Most of the crash investigation conducted by the RMAF lacked professionalism. How did the RMAF conduct technical investigation when the crashed helicopter remain in the jungle. A case in point, the Nuri crashed at Genting Sempah, the whole piece of the helicopter was not salvage and remained on the location of the crash site. And yet when the report was released, aircrew were blame, which I think is unfair .
    This is a typical below par leadership running the organization and I fully agree with you YB Kit and they need to be kicked out.
    I find it bewildered when the PAC chairman said everything is according to procedure despite the physical evaluation was not carried out which is called for in the tender document, something fishy here. What ever reason given by the defensive team from RMAF and defense ministry reps are dubious and all were “after thoughts” plan for cover up.
    In short, the members of PAC are incompetent and they need to do more homework.

  13. #13 by chengho on Tuesday, 4 November 2008 - 7:13 am

    Now everyone is an expert on helicopter and defence hardware . a matter of strategy you don’t discuss your defence secret in the open BUT then again we have a moron Abuseman who cannot give a simple straight answer . the deputy defence minister should do his home work before coming to Parliment he looked quite sleepy when answering the Q. He should take MC and ask Nazri to answer the Q.

  14. #14 by undergrad2 on Tuesday, 4 November 2008 - 7:40 am

    “This email from a former Nuri pilot claimed that 85 % of the RMAF Nuri crashes were due to human error, 10 % enemy aggression and another 5 % only maybe technical.”

    Nuris are not flying coffins but pilots are dead men walking. Perhaps it is time to go shopping for mercenary pilots.

  15. #15 by HJ Angus on Tuesday, 4 November 2008 - 8:48 am

    Did anyone REALLY expect a different outcome from the PAC meetings?
    Based on the NURI experience, the RM64mil question is how long do you think before the EUROCOPTERS start falling from the skies?
    With more gizmos that require a high standard of maintenance, the pilots will probably be less ready to deal with emergencies.

  16. #16 by undergrad2 on Tuesday, 4 November 2008 - 10:33 am

    “DPM and former Defence Minister said, “we cannot forget the safety of our armed forces personnel and other Nuri passengers…”

    There is no mention of the number of innocent lives that would be lost on the ground and property damage done should these helicopters crash due to whatever reason. This is deplorable!

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