Malaysian Navy receives third AW139 naval helicopter and activates new Squadron 503

As reported by Asia Pacific Defense Journal and several other media, The Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) has formally received and inducted the first two AgustaWestland AW139 maritime utility helicopters. One more helicopter is expected to be delivered to Malaysia by September 2022.

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Malaysian Navy receives third AW139 naval helicopters and activates new Squadron 503 Leonardo AgustaWestland AW139. The Royal Malaysian Navy inaugurated its third helicopter squadron, 503 Squadron, along with RMN Kota Kinabalu Air Station, on 1 July. (Picture source: Royal Malaysian Navy)

Both helicopters, manufactured by Leonardo Helicopters, were handed over to the RMN on 1 July 2022, together with the opening of the Kota Kinabalu Air Station at the RMN’s Eastern Fleet Command Headquarters, at TLDM Sepanggar naval base. The new air assets are to be operated by the RMN’s Squadron 503, which was also activated on 1 July 2022 and will be responsible for monitoring the Malaysian Maritime Zone.

The helicopters would enable the RMN to conduct increased frequency on patrolling the waters of Sabah and Sarawak, including combat duties like Maritime Domain Awareness, Over the Horizon Targeting (OTHT), support of Special Operations, and training. It would also be used other duties including Search and Rescue (SAR), Medical Evacuation (MEDEVAC), Casualty Evacuation (CASEVAC), and Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) operations.

The newly activated Squadron 503 have a total of 25 officers and 92 personnel of various ranks are assigned in four divisions, namely aviation safety, operations and training, administration and logistics, and aerospace engineering. Kota Kinabalu Air Station, which forms part of the RMN Kota Kinabalu Naval Base, will host both 503 Squadron and 601 UAS Squadron, which operates 12 ScanEagle UAVs donated by the U.S. in 2020-21. The latter squadron was formally set up up on 4 March 2021.

The AW139 is a 15-seat medium-sized twin-engined helicopter developed and built by AgustaWestland (now part of Leonardo). It is marketed at several different roles, including VIP/corporate transport, offshore transport, fire fighting, law enforcement, search and rescue, emergency medical service, disaster relief, and maritime patrol. In addition to AgustaWestland's manufacturing facilities in Italy and the United States, the AW139 is produced in Russia by HeliVert, a joint venture between AgustaWestland and Russian Helicopters.

The AW139 was originally designed and developed jointly by Agusta and Bell Helicopters and marketed as the Agusta-Bell AB139, being redesignated AW139 when Bell withdrew from the project. Since entering service in 2003, the AW139 has become one of AgustaWestland's most influential products; it has been subsequently developed into the enlarged medium-lift military-orientated AW149.

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