Monday April 22, 6:04 am Eastern Time
KUALA LUMPUR, April 22 (Reuters) - Malaysia has not yet decided if it will buy Russian-made Sukhoi Su-30MK or other multi-role fighters, Defence Minister Najib Razak said on Monday after an Indian newspaper reported the project's approval.
``We have not made any decision,'' the official Bernama news agency quoted Najib as saying. ``They are people who probably jumped the gun.''
Malaysia, in the market for new combat aircraft in a deal estimated to be worth at least $1 billion, has been considering the Sukhoi Su-30MK or Boeing's (NYSE:BA - news) F/A-18 Super Hornets to build a new squadron of 16 planes.
The race has been joined by Anglo-Swedish group BAE/Saab (BA.L) (SAABb.ST), which is offering Jas 39 Gripen fighters.
India's Hindu newspaper said at the weekend that Russia and India would jointly manufacture a variant of the Sukhoi 30MK fighters for Malaysia.
Najib said the ministry was still looking at the proposal submitted by the Russian manufacturer. He did not say when a decision was expected.
Malaysia is on arms-buying spree. Last month it ordered Polish battle tanks and French submarines, and earlier this month it bought air-defence systems from Britain and Russia.
Defence analysts say the sheer scope and scale of the purchases show Malaysia wants to expand its regional influence, and a strong military would add weight to its economic strength.
But Malaysian officials denied the country was joining a regional arms race, saying that its arms procurement programme was slowed or put on hold during the 1997/98 financial crisis.
Malaysia's air force chief, Suleiman Mahmud, said last week that the air force had submitted an evaluation report on Sukhoi Su-30MK to the government.
But he said it has yet to complete a similar report on the Super Hornets.
Boeing last week won a $4.5 billion deal to supply 40 F-15 fighters to South Korea, beating the Rafale from France's Dassault Aviation SA (AVMD.PA).
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad visits Washington next month. He visited a Sukhoi plant while in Moscow last month.
Malaysia's air force currently has Russian MiG-29s, F-18 Hornets and British-made Hawk jets